Marketing vulnerability

Marketing and vulnerability

A few years ago, I read a book that completely changed how I view relationships and business. 

It’s called Daring Greatly, and it’s written by Brené Brown, a former therapist turned public speaker. As well as writing books, Brown has given many speeches that can be easily viewed online as an introduction to her philosophy. With over 30 million views, Brown’s TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the five most viewed talks on the Internet.

Vulnerability is courage in action

So what is vulnerability? Most people associate the word with weakness, but this is the very opposite of the truth. To quote Brown, “vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”

It’s putting yourself out there. The butterflies in your stomach when asking a girl to prom. The shame in telling a friend about being bullied at work. The guilt that comes from honestly saying you can’t support your mum when your plate is already full.

Brown goes on: “In our culture, we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.”

This is her key insight. It’s not possible to selectively numb the emotions that make up the human experience. Everyone wants as little pain and shame as possible, but in order to really feel joy and love, we have to be prepared to feel it all. We can’t pick and choose; we have make ourselves open to the full range of the human experience.

Here are just a handful of the benefits I’ve experienced by making vulnerability a core value in my life:

  • More meaningful work
  • Left bad relationships behind
  • Better-paying clients
  • More able to deal with and talk about emotions
  • Deeper friendships

Powerful stuff. But what does any of this have to do with marketing?

One of the amazing things about life is that the rules of relationships are universal. If you lie, cheat and abuse people, you will eventually be found out and abandoned by everyone with an ounce of self-respect. If you behave with integrity and courage, if you are prepared to have difficult conversations as often as is necessary, you will eventually create more happiness and trust in your relationships.

These rules are as true in business as they are in other relationships.

Marketing requires the courage to fail

Many businesses fail because their owners are unwilling to be vulnerable and fail. Creating a successful, scalable business model always requires a measure of putting oneself out there. Trying new marketing strategies, having difficult conversations with customers about contracts, buying a service from someone you don’t know well… all of these things are ultimately acts of vulnerability.

In marketing specifically, it is an inevitability that some messages are going to be received better and others worse than others. Some channels are going to shine; others will be a waste of time and money. The only way to know what will work for your business is by having the courage to put yourself out there and fail your way to success.

I’ve done this myself in my own business too. Among other things, I’ve tried LinkedIn, mail merge and Facebook groups… none of these worked for me as a sustainable marketing channel. Learning this was painful, but necessary.

Vulnerability is so fundamental to good marketing that it’s even made it into the Bible of small business: The Lean Startup. In his now famous book, entrepreneur Steve Blank talks about the value of “getting out of the building.”

If you take nothing else from his book, let it be this:

Business owners need to resist the human urge to perfect their product before taking it to market — ultimately an urge to protect oneself from painful negative feedback. Instead, they need to get out of the office and talk to real customers. It is only through these real conversations that they will acquire the knowledge they need to match their product to the genuine need of their customers.

Dealing with the pain of rejection

Vulnerability is always painful in the first instance, but over the last few years I’ve developed a series of strategies that have helped me deal with the discomfort:

  1. Know that it’s not personal. In business, leads will reject your product all the time — many more than will buy it, in fact. This is not a reflection on you; it just means that they’re not interested in your offering. Learning this has helped me deal with some of the shame that often accompanies rejection.
  2. Develop a regimen of self-care. This is something I didn’t do in my first few businesses, but is now fundamental to how I live and work. Look after your body and brain through healthy food and exercise. Get adequate rest and sleep. Rid yourself of any addictions you may have (alcohol, drugs, etc). You’ll recover from stress and rejection 10x faster.
  3. Cultivate social support. If the people closest to you are not supportive of your vulnerability, you will feel alone and give up easily. Look for friends who validate your emotional experience, positive and negative, and don’t judge you for failing. Better still, find a mastermind group of like-minded entrepreneurs who are on the same growth path as you. I couldn’t find the right one for me, so I started two of my own — one of the best things I’ve ever done for my sanity.

Entrepreneurs truly are the warriors of the modern age. Entrepreneurship requires a phenomenal amount of vulnerability and resilience. But by going down this path, you’ll become a better human being: a leader who adds value to the world.

Nothing could be more rewarding than that.