On Authentic Marketing

Over the last several months, many people have been asking me questions about marketing in the yoga world.

I don't always know what to say.

I have my own experience and plenty of strong opinions gathered over the last several years as the Chief Marketing Officer at Kindness Yoga, but I've always been too busy doing the marketing to figure out how to talk about it.

Lately, though, I've been trying.

I've been trying because people are clearly hungry out there, and when I see hungry people I want to serve them. I've been trying because I'm often dismayed by all the noise and shouting that's passing for marketing these days in my industry. And I've been trying because it's a frontier for me, and I love frontiers.

So this is hopefully not a one-off post, but rather the start of something ongoing - not the exhortations of an adviser so much as the musings of a doer. A snapshot here and there of what I'm doing and how I'm thinking.

The other day a stranger reached out to me with some marketing questions and the vulnerable admission that business is slow, and the marketing that used to work well enough just isn't working anymore. I've taken an excerpt from my response to share with you here. Hopefully you find it useful and meaningful. Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments, or reach out to me to share your experience.

...as I said in the interview, I believe that most people are overwhelmed out there. There’s too much noise and there are too many offerings. At the same time, ritual and culture are going through cycles of creation and destruction at a very rapid pace. I believe that people are searching for ways to organize this flood of information and find something they feel is solid and real enough to hang onto - a social group or activity that won’t disappear or become boring or destructive.

In this environment, traveling for events is a challenging market to succeed in. It's easy to become part of the noise and hard to resound so that your message cuts through the din and truly inspires. Those who do succeed in this market seem to create a world for their audience to play in, even when they're not present. They become that figure who is consistently inspiring in a stabilizing, resounding sort of way. Consider Brene Brown, Seth Godin, and Michael Port. They deliver their message with consistency across many channels (social media, multiple written works, online programs, videos, partnerships, appearances, free offerings, whatever) and create communities larger than themselves which extend and sustain the work they've brought into fruition.

Not knowing your work or your business structure, if I were to offer you one thing, it might be the following: ask yourself these questions on a deep level. Use them to guide what you're doing.

  • What is the core of my message? This is not simply what you say, it’s the actual inspiration you transmit. It's your whole way of being and the message that way of being sends. Of course, people will interpret your message in their own ways. One person may see me and think, "That guy is a showoff and offers very little to others." Another may think, "That guy is a passionate performer who loves his craft and generously gives us everything he has!" I'm always searching for the grains of truth in what that first individual has to say about me, so that the core of my message - which is much closer to what the second individual thought - can shine through with greater frequency and vibrance.
  • Who is my audience? This is not a demographic. It's not a target market. It's not impersonal. This is a meditation on the actual people who are ready to hear - and be lit up by - your message. The people who want you to become a rock or a fortress for their lives on some level. Maybe it's the five people who show up to your 6:30am class. Maybe it's your friends and family on Facebook and nobody else. Maybe it's thousands of Instagram followers. 
  • How can I share with my audience every day? What do you like to share? What makes you feel creative and lit up, but is easy enough that you can do it every day (or nearly every day) without giving away your work? For example, as a yoga teacher, I love sharing artistic and sometimes jaw-dropping asana pictures of what I’m currently working on. I also love writing little musings on philosophy and messages I myself need to hear. I like to incorporate small snippets of my life outside yoga, but I also try to maintain certain boundaries. And of course, I love teaching regular asana classes every week. I do NOT love blogging. I do NOT love recording lectures or videos. So I don't do those much. You might be completely different. I do think your ways of sharing need to be relatively bite-sized and they need to be consistent and regular. They also need to be human; not mechanical, planned, or cranked-out. They're like eye contact or smiles. They go a long way.
  • Do I have what it takes? It takes a lot of things, but in general I think succeeding in a market like this takes patience, capital, and courage (and maybe creativity too). Do you have enough of all of these? Enough to offer yourself again and again over time, not because you need to but because you want to? Enough to hone and refine what you offer, and pay really close attention to your audience so you know what’s lighting them up and what’s falling flat? Enough to spend your nights and weekends working even if you have to get a day job to pay the bills? Of course, you’re not just starting out. But you may be just starting out on the path I’m pointing towards. And the path ahead is always brand new for all of us, especially now that things change so quickly and so drastically.
  • Who has my back? What is your group of trusted friends, peers, and collaborators? Who will always recommend you, and who will you always recommend? Who lifts you up when you’re down? Who has success they’re willing to share with you? Who are you willing to share whatever success you have with? These relationships are what you’re aiming to develop as you share with your audience and refine what you offer. For example, I have a wonderful relationship with one of my asana teachers, Christina Sell. We’re both fond of one another. I’ve helped her grow her presence in Denver because I’m her raving fan. And now that I’m offering workshops, studio owners who know her are reaching out to me because they know me through association with her. I never calculated this. It’s not something I asked for, and I don’t think it’s something Christina is doing intentionally. It just started happening because Christina truly genuinely has my back and I have hers. People see and feel that affection and respect, and they respond to it. The more people you create mutual bonds of affection and respect with, the better.

What's the point of all this? How does it translate into success?

With patience.

When you focus on the questions above, in my experience you start to develop these powerful relationships with people. They begin to see you as a meaningful touch point in their lives, someone whose message and way of being they remember and want to return to when they're away. And slowly but surely, your little group will grow and evolve. And depending on the universality of your message and the strength of your voice, your group may grow. Over time a handful will share your posts. Then a few will start to sign up for your events. Then you'll begin getting calls out of the blue offering you opportunities, and people will start to recognize you in the grocery store.

You can't demand this recognition or participation. I'm saying that the space is too crowded and noisy for those who shout to actually stand out. Instead you're metaphorically standing in the crowd with great uprightness, resoluteness, and calm. You're not asking for the mantle of leadership. You're putting it on. 

There's no guarantee that what you're doing now is going to garner you recognition. You can adjust your message within the bounds of your personal sense of integrity, but it's important that you're patient and undemanding. The whole idea is that you offer more than you ask for, day in and day out. You give yourself, and you share the messages you believe in unconditionally. People have the time to see you develop and grow and become a ship sailing proudly through the world. And some will want to climb on board. 

Just going back and re-reading this feels powerful, like something I myself need to return to over and over again. What do you think? Is this useful? Inspiring?

I wish I had some clever and beautiful way to wrap this up, but I'd rather get out there and make things happen. In general, I encourage you to do the same.