How Embarrassing Yourself Can Lead to Better Marketing & Sales
To succeed at marketing, and business in general, you have to be willing to embarrass yourself.
I’m not talking about wearing a mascot costume and handing out coupons on a busy street corner. I’m taking about owning up to all the things that make you human: the idiosyncrasies that don’t fit your ideal brand. The failures you wish you could sweep under the rug.
Make Me Worry You’re Not OK
A friend who’s writing a memoir recently shared an article on this topic. In “Make Me Worry You’re Not OK,” Susan Shapiro talks about assigning her writing students an essay on their most humiliating secret:
Over 20 years of teaching, I have made the humiliation essay my signature assignment. It encourages students to shed vanity and pretension and relive an embarrassing moment that makes them look silly, fearful, fragile or naked.
You can’t remain removed and dignified to ace it. I do promise my students, though, that through the art of writing, they can transform their worst experience into the most beautiful.
Perfection, Shapiro implies, does not lead to compelling stories. Nor does it help readers identify with you. Rather, it just raises people’s defenses.
Humiliation in Marketing
The same is true of marketing. While you can’t deny the power of social proof, you also need to convince customers that you’re human. And one of the quickest ways to do that is to admit fallibility.
I follow dozens of marketing bloggers, SEO gurus and social media experts. All have prestigious titles, enviable degrees and other impressive credentials. But the people I really admire – and those I trust most – are the ones who share success and failures.
Business coach Michelle Ward, does this brilliantly in her blog post, “Yup. 3 Sign-Ups. (aka How I Screwed Up Majorly, and What I’m Doing to Fix It.” In it, she describes a product launch that netted less-than-impressive numbers:
“I tried not to break down the 27 hours I prepped for the Clubhouse into the money I made, including the refunds. But I did. $138 divided by 27 hours is (gulp) $5.11/hour. … I mean, can you see The Travesty? The Embarrassment? The Head Scratching and Brow Furrowing?”
It’s not hard to feel her pain.
Molly Gordon (whom I interviewed for a 2009 podcast on “Authentic Promotion“) experienced one problem after another when she launched “Profit Alchemy.” After a typo turned “saga of errors” into “sage of errors,” Molly decided to embrace the term:
“As someone who has a highly developed need to know, errors are a keenly phrased invitation to let it go.
And being a sage of errors means showing up even when you’d really like to hide.”
I could empathize with both women, because I’ve found myself in similar situations. But I also respect their business advice even more after reading their posts, because I know they’ve worked through the kinks in their own marketing.
They continue to take risks, and learn from them.
My Own Adventures in Embarrassment
I’ve written in the past about my own direct mail mistakes, and snarky responses to sales letters I’ve written. I once spent months launching an online marketing class that only netted two students. I’ve had a 60+ page marketing book proposal sitting on my hard drive for the past four years, because I cannot get it to sell.
And you know what? It’s OK.
I’m a better marketer – and a better person – because of these experiences. They’re not ones I planned, or even ones I would have liked. But I couldn’t have arrived at where I am today without them.
You probably have a similar list of failures and flubs, tucked away in the back of your mind. The next time you’re struggling with a sales page or need a topic for your next email newsletter, don’t discount the embarrassments. You may dig them up and find diamonds in their stead.