As an editor, I get a lot of free books tossed my way from publishers who want me either to review or recommend. A lot of them are good; some of them are very good. But I can’t say that I’ve found many of them truly engaging.
Why is that? As a magazine editor told me years ago: Magazines belong to editors; only books belong to writers. In other words, the editor ultimately shapes a magazine’s tone and perspective and voice; writers generally have to conform (unless they are very well-known scribes or otherwise famous).
Books, however, offer a singular opportunity for a writer, unshackled from editorial guidelines, to let him- or herself go. (Of course, this was before blogs and other social tools enabled any one of us to bypass any publisher’s gateway and publish our own stuff, but I digress…)
But anyway, it nonetheless always feels like wasted opportunity to me – near-tragic in proportion – when writers with a book contract don’t fully embrace that freedom. When instead of producing something truly unique, a book ends up sounding like it might have been written by anyone else.
Does that sound dramatic? It’s not. “Your voice is what differentiates you from everyone else in the field,” says Scott Stratten, author of the brand-new UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging, released by Wiley last month.
The thing I enjoyed the most about Scott’s book was the way that it clearly could not possibly have been written by anyone other than him: Its tone and perspective is clear, and the text itself is highlighted by tons of footnote-asides, many of them laugh-out-loud funny. (A footnote about Twitter going dark reads: “If and when this happens, I will be the guy curled up in the fetal position in the corner, sobbing very slowly. Please give generously.”)
The book jacket features inspiring testimonials: “[INSERT NAME HERE] has written a game changer for [INSERT INDUSTRY HERE]. Drop everything and read this book!” – Famous author who hasn’t read this book
When Scott was talking about differentiating, above, he was referring to writing his book. But he also could have been speaking more broadly about business. Here, Scott and I talk about the importance and application of a unique voice and point of view – in writing and in business – and he shares about how UnMarketing can help your business more than… well, marketing.
Q: So I really enjoyed your book, because it's unusually amusing and fun for a business book.
A: People connect with people and emotion, and I noticed that so few business books had any passion in them at all. My entire platform is based on passion, and I really wanted that to come out in the book.
Q: But at the same time, it has gravitas. It’s “fun,” but not “fluff.”
A: Thank you. I have strong feelings when it comes to business and marketing. That people do business with those they know, like and trust. When I speak about it, it gets me fired up, both for the people who understand it and against people who try to shoot it down.
When you take a stand about something, it polarizes people – and that's a good thing in business. It separates you from the pack. If you try to write a book that caters to everyone, you're really attracting nobody.
Q: And if you try to run a business that caters to everyone, you’ll cater to nobody, too. For you, that differentiator is your voice, right?
A: Your voice is what differentiates you from everyone else in the field. There aren’t a lot of "new" things in the world; what’s new is just your take on things. For me, I wanted the book to read just like I was sitting down and talking to you. There is nothing worse than reading something from someone and then meeting them in person… and it's a totally different vibe.
Q: That's something every business struggle with, too, especially as they begin to embrace the publishing imperative: creating content like blogs or video or wading into social media. How can they tap into their voice or point of view? The thing that makes them unique?
A: It's a big hurdle for larger companies. I can have a voice for UnMarketing, because I am UnMarketing. I have people who work for me, but I'm the lead singer of the band. But I still prefer – especially in social media and blogging – to have an individual be the front of the profile. People connect with people, not logos.
You need to have a plan on what the "voice" would be and have something in place if that person leaves one day. But the strength of connection is with individuals.
Q: Smaller companies definitely have an advantage there.
A: Yep, especially in social media – sm aller companies have a huge advantage. If each tweet has to go through a board of directors, I don't think Twitter is a good fit.
Q: Shifting gears for a minute: What is “UnMarketing,” as you define it?
A: UnMarketing is positioning yourself in front of your target market, so when they have the need to buy your product or service, they choose you. UnMarketing is about Pull & Stay instead of Push & Pray.
Push & Pray is the old style of marketing: Push your marketing out to the masses and Pray someone buys. Pull & Stay is Pulling your marketplace close to you, and Staying in front of them
Q: So connecting versus selling?
Q: Easy enough for a smaller company, but how do bigger companies "UnMarket"?
A: Bigger companies can do it even more easily. There is so much you can do with your existing customer base or lists… if they'd just stop for a second and (instead of blasting pitches all day), just listen to the market and talk with them.
Take the company blog, for example: You have such a great chance, on your own platform (versus Facebook, and so on) to create conversation around topics in the comments. But most prohibit any kind of momentum by either not allowing comments at all, or moderating them so slowly that it kills it.
The old school method of trying to control the message no longer works. [Businesses] never had control, just the perception of control. But now everything is immediate and everyone is relevant. Let people talk on your blog, let people share your posts. Embrace the community
Q: Or businesses develop bad, lifeless content and then wonder why they don't have comments.
A: Zing! I can comment on that: People share emotion. That's what makes a post or video go viral. If all you do is blog about your product or service without commenting, it's not a blog... it's an ad.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the book?
A: The sarcastic footnotes were by far my favorite part of writing the book (and the fake testimonials on the back). Sarcasm is so much a part of how I talk. I got inspired to write them because I'm a huge fan of Bill Simmons, the ESPN writer and I read his 700+ page The Book of Basketball, almost solely for the footnotes.
I don't really like basketball. Which is a testament to a great voice in a writer.
Q: Do you know David Foster Wallace's work?
A: No. But if it makes me sound smarter, yes.
Q: Anyway, he’s a master at footnotes, and brings the concept to a whole other level. To wrap up, can you share a story that encapsulates best how UnMarketing works?
A: The best case study I can use is me. I'm a walking success story due to UnMarketing. The book is because of it. The UnBookTour is a massive example of relationships. I'm on a 30 city, North American book tour, all planned by people in each indivdual city. Publisher didn't pay anything, I didn't pay anything (which is unheard of in the industry).
In each city, someone I had built a relationship with stood up and said, "I'm making this happen for you,” and found a sponsor, pre-ordered 100 books minimum, flew me down and put me up.
Q: How do you advise marketers or consultants to convince their bosses or clients to UnMarket? What's the best approach? (Other than buying them a copy of your book.)
Buy a copy of my... oh, wait.
I can sit here and say "relationships rule!" but if you think you can walk into your boss’s office and say, "I'd like to spend 30 hours a week on Twitter," forget it. You have to talk the language they understand. Especially in social media, it's not just "marketing." It's customer service, PR, Human Resources. The whole company and your brand is potentially being talked about.
It doesn't matter if you believe in it: It's not a religion. People are already talking, you just have to decide if you want to be a part of the conversation.
Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and the co-author of the upcoming Content Rules (Wiley, 2010). Follow her on Twitter @marketingprofs.