Ever get tired of how we pros “have to market”? You see ads all over the internet hawking things from megacorporation products to people’s webcomics. “Personal Branding,” a term I’m fond of, seems to be on it’s way to becoming a dirty word. If you’re looking for a job or working on your career, which is probably why you’re reading this, chances are you’re sick of being told to “market yourself.”
I’d even give odds at one point someone told you to “go market yourself/your book/etc.” and you responded with a rather creative use of obscenities.
We know we need to market ourselves these days. Gotta hustle the artbook. Have to make connections for the job. Time to get people to buy that indie game. The market changed five minutes ago and you have to refocus on a different audience. You may even work in marketing, which these days has to be a pretty crazy adventure to judge by my friends in the industry.
I’m entirely sympathetic and I’m a guy that enjoys marketing himself. We’d like to get away from it, probably because we’re tired of hearing about it all the time. “Marketing” is becoming like “Networking” in that everyone tells us we need to do it, and at this point we’d like them to dearly shut up about it.
Be it your career or your small business or your side gig, I’m sorry, marketing is inevitable as part of your job or jobs. It’s not going away any time soon barring societal collapse, and in that case we have lots of other problems. But knowing it’s inevitable I’d like to talk about why it became so inevitable in our daily lives and professions and even hobbies.
If we understand why we can’t avoid marketing, we can work it into our job search or our consulting business or whatever geeky ambition we have or hope for. We may not always like it, but we can see the outline of why this is almost inflicted on us and make it work.
Or at least tolerate it.
Reason One: It’s Always Been Important
Like it or not, marketing has always been part of jobs, careers, industry, and damn near every other human activity. You have to get yourself out there, let people know who you are, get them interested, and get their attention. If you’re running a giant company, trying to get a date, or were trying to convince people to go hunt deer with you, that’s all marketing.
It’s just we never called it “marketing.” Really marketing is just a name for a subset of human interactions that are entirely natural; social connection, convincing, and exposure. We may have organized it and stamped a name on it, but it’s normal and pretty much part of being a human.
This is another way marketing is like networking – namely people put a title on something totally normal, wrote a bunch of guru think on it, and made something human less fun and more pressure. It kills the fun.
So with this being said what do you do?
- First try not to think of marketing as “marketing.” Find another way to look at it no matter what you have to actually make people aware of. Maybe your job search is better viewed as evangelizing. Trying to get people to use your art business is filling a need. A little reconceptualizing can help – though fair warning, you can’t entirely avoid the word “marketing” so you’re gonna have to live with it.
- Secondly, find what works for you personally when you have to (sigh) market. Do you do best face to face? Write convincing PR drops? What is something you like to do, and market with that. I myself love human contact and a little theater so I’ve got my whole “Geek Job Guru” brand, my books, and my bit of silliness and seriousness.
- Third, find what marketing works to get the results you need – and reconcile it with your inclinations. If the best way to market your consulting service is freebies but you’re good at PR drops, turn the freebies into PR stunts. If you’re an introvert who finds face-to-face works best for the need to get a job then try something like doing example work as part of the interview.
Reason Two: A Bigger Toolbox
When you sit down to find a job, get freelance gigs, or promote your business you start realizing there’s a lot of tools. Twitter, software, books, PR services, and a few thousand other things at your disposal. Where did these all come from, people wonder, probably followed by “I bet people in marketing and advertising laugh at ‘Mad Men’ for way things looked disturbingly simple.”
This is actually the reason being good at marketing is important – because there’s a lot more ways to do it.
Finding a job is somewhat different than it was five years ago and radically different than twenty. Starting your own business isn’t what it what was, and promoting it raises questions no entrepreneur had to worry about twenty years ago – like how to use Twitter. Freelancing plunges you into a network of sites and opportunities to find work that can be dizzying.
Because there are more tools – and more tools all the time – you actually have to get good at marketing. The lessons learned a decade ago don’t always count. The lessons learned now will be different in a few years. What we use now will change. So, you need to keep up on it because, hate to say it, you don’t have much of a choice.
With this being the case I recommend:
- Dive into using the tools. Have fun with it. That’s not being snarky, that’s admitting the fact we’ve got to learn all this stuff so we might as well get into it and make it an adventure. Play with it.
- Find what tools work for you and keep up with them. I have one friend whose major ways of marketing his work is Twitter, works for him, fine. I’ve interviewed people for whom Personal Branding around a simple website and prominent writing works. They run with what works for them.
- Repurpose this knowledge. If you have to learn these new tools (and in many cases reluctantly) do more with it to get the most out of your effort and if nothing else dull the pain and disgust you feel. Put the knowledge on your resume, share it with friends, anything.
- You might find you enjoy this. Fair warning – that’s OK.
Reason Three: It’s Expected
I hate to say it but as we’re awash in marketing, self-marketing, Personal Branding, and so on, people expect marketing. it seems a little weird if someone isn’t marketing something, including themselves if they’re on a job search. It’s expected – and I’ve had many a conversation about careers or self-publishing that quickly pivoted to marketing.
It’s a social norm, especially in some of the spheres we geeks move in.
There’s a threefold reason for this. First, we’re in a media-saturated culture, so we’re used to it. Secondly, as noted Marketing is really part of human life, so it’s kind of expected, even if we’ve labeled it oddly. Third, “our people” have invented a lot of this stuff so it’s even more expected that we use it.
Now you may hate this – I know people that do – but the inevitability is simply what it is. If this sticks in your craw, you’re still going to have to live with it.
In fact, since we have to live with it, I recommend . . .
- Learn where marketing is expected. If your professional requires a lot of self-promotion, so be it – but maybe your side work as an audio engineer is blessedly free of personal marketing. Do it where appropriate so if you’re tired of it you get a break (again, it’s OK to enjoy it).
- Keep “rethinking” as noted earlier. Marketing is part of human socialization, so learning to see it differently lets you be better at it and keeps you from going insane.
Reason Four: The Marketplace is Noisy
The Marketplace is noisy and getting noisier. You have to be good at marketing yourself to stand out.
It’s all come together. Technology, culture, society, human nature to make sure that these days we live in a marketing-sturated environment. Again that builds on human norms, but humans didn’t evolve with Twitter or Buzzfeed headlines, so it gets a bit annoying.
And because the market place is noisy – you have to make your effort to stand out.
Making that effort alone may be all you need (and if you’re busy all you’re up for) but it has to be done. I hate to say it, but you will be overwhelmed or washed away in the tide of just so much else happening. A stand alone in the form of some good LinkedIn profiles or paying someone to do some cheap marketing is likely enough to at least keep your head above metaphorical waters.
Though learning to make that stand may take a bit of effort.
I don’t see this changing anytime soon, sad to say. But again there may be opportunity here if you’re good at marketing and promotions to find a new job and help others . . .
But until someone like that comes to save this, I recommend
- Accepting you have to give marketing a shot. That’s the way it is. I can’t give any comforting words on that.
- Turn dealing with the market into a challenge. It may inspire you if you make a game of it or get fired up about it (works for me).
- Put in the appropriate effort to your goals – do not overdo it. Trying to stand out and be heard can turn into an obsession and drive you crazy without a way to say “stop.”
- Take time to develop appropriate marketing skills – like anything else they are distinct, improve able, and valuable.
I understand being in a marketing-saturated world is tough. It is our situation, and in reality it’s just the human situation ramped up to eleven. It’s best to deal with it on our terms as professionals and geeks in a technical environment than to be overwhelmed or try and ignore it – because you can’t ignore it.
At least not without leaving all of modern society behind, and I enjoy my video games, thank you.
Now if you’re worried about taking it too far, well, that’ll be addressed in the next Geek As Citizen . . .
– Steven Savage