Marketing and activism are not the same thing.
They can be; however, they often aren’t.
At their core, they require completely separate motivations:
Marketing is about giving individual people what they want.
Activism is about giving groups of people what they need.
Marketing is about finding the right wording to get people to buy something that fits into the cultural zeitgeist.
Activism is about finding the right wording to get people to stop buying the bullshit that is the cultural zeitgeist.
Marketing is about creating a problem for an individual to solve with your product or service.
Activism is finding a cultural problem and doing the service of helping to solve it for others.
Marketing is about influencing individuals to change.
Activism is about influencing groups of people to change.
Marketing is about you.
Activism is about them.
The end game of marketing is making money or getting influence or power.
The end game of activism is making other people money or giving them influence or power.
With some exceptions.
There is a small sub-section of the online marketing world that is slowly getting “woke,” and, in doing so, they’re losing their followings. They’re becoming activists when they meant to be marketers. They’re trying to influence cultural change by raising the voices of other people instead of raising their own #authentic voice.
This small, ragtag group of marketing activists are lost. Because as soon as they stop agreeing to compromise their values to sell an affiliate product that makes their stomach turn or use a hashtag that makes their skin crawl, as soon as they stop associating themselves with keywords and “buy now” triggers (fear, uncertainty, doubt, scarcity) they stop making money.
But they can’t go back to pure marketing because marketing has been co-opted by people who don’t have the same commitment to values — co-opted by people who have taken the language of body positivity and intersectional feminism and made it salable (Stop feeling crazy around food! All bodies are beautiful! Self-care!) to grow their lists and make a quick buck.
And activism — pure activism — doesn’t pay the bills. It does karmically, spiritually, socially. It pays by creating a society that is more fair and more free. But if you can’t pay your own bills, it’s hard to donate time and money to others.
Therein lies the whole paradox: To be an activist, you eschew immediate financial reward, but you need the money in order to be present. To be a marketer, you eschew immediate action toward change, but you need activism in order to be true to your values.
So what is a marketer-turned-activist to do?
The answer is to BE DIFFERENT.
It’s easy to follow the old models of B-School-style marketing: white privilege on display in pastel and gold script, bikinis in headstands on the beach, and minimalist photographs of smoothies and planners.
Bootstrapping and #bossbabe-ing.
It’s easy to follow old models because they’re already done for you.
But the done-for-you is done. And, more important, it doesn’t work if you want to stick to your values.
The thing is, there are too few models of marketers using activism and activists using marketing successfully. Because our main model of online business success is the one that was endorsed by Oprah, it’s hard to convince anyone else that there’s another way that could be successful, even if it hasn’t been fully proven yet.
But the only way to prove it is to try it.
There’s a good chance that it won’t be profitable at first, because so few others are making the effort to be different. Your future clients only have one model for how to buy online — it takes time to shift the paradigm and the behaviors.
But the behaviors don’t shift if someone doesn’t start the shifting. If you constantly sell yourself short in order to sell, you are helping to keep the status quo in place.
If you don’t like scammy list building tactics, don’t use them. Don’t agree to help others use them. If you don’t like taking before-and-after photos and using sketchy hashtags to get found by the algorithm, stop it. If you don’t want to be a brand before being a person, make the decision to be a person first. Culture isn’t going to magically shift so you can start sticking to your guns. You stick to your guns and then others see that they can too — and then the culture shifts.
Be different. Be better. Be an activist and don’t give up on the dream of making a profit as well. But don’t expect that you can make a profit without agreeing to be the shift online coaching culture needs first.
It starts with you and me. It starts with different and better.