By definition, I am a creative marketer and strategist.

I hold workshops, speak at conferences, and consult a number of companies, startups, and executives on both their personal brand's and business's creative marketing strategy.

But I am not a creative marketer.

In fact, in every single one of my talks, whenever I speak on a podcast, anytime I'm introduced to a new prospective client, I say very clearly, "I am an artist first, and a marketer as a result. I'm going to share with you what I had to learn first-hand for myself."

Truth be told, I would take offense to anyone who introduced me first as a marketer. That would be like calling a chef a bus boy with a fancy hat.

I got my start in the world of marketing for one reason and one reason only: I graduated from college with a degree in creative writing and wanted to know how to build a career as a writer. My teachers were little help, telling me to print my short stories off in the library, place them in a large yellow envelope, and then ship them to a publishing house--only to then wait for three to six months for a reply, by mail.

...Yes, by physical mail. As in that thing I have never paid attention to ever in my Millennial existence.

I graduated college being told that my bright future would be nothing more than a solemn sunrise pouring in through the window of whatever coffee shop was paying me slightly above minimum wage.

My last semester of college, I applied for a free internship as a copywriter at a local creative marketing agency, where I eventually worked for four years studying the art of marketing. I saw the whole thing as a worthwhile investment. Sure, the work appealed to the strategy side of my brain (the same part that helped me become one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America as a teenager). But the whole experience was a purposeful move on the chessboard for me to learn what I needed to learn in order to get my writing in front of potential readers.

At the end of last year, right after leaving my 9-5, I was included on a Forbes list as 1 of 25 marketing influencers to watch in 2017.

Why?

I self-published my first book and reached #2 in two separate categories on Amazon in the first 24 hours; I was named a Top Writer on Quora for the 3rd year in a row; I've written over 50 viral articles online (anywhere from 100k to 1M+ views each), and I am a ghostwriter for a number of high profile serial entrepreneurs, influencers, and executives.

In short: I took a craft just about every single person in my life told me was dying, and through "creative marketing" I made writing my career.

Dear Creative Marketers, you have no idea what a "creative marketing strategy" even looks like.

Do you know how many people call themselves marketing influencers?

A lot.

Too many to count, actually.

Because apparently the prerequisite for being a "creative marketer" is the human capacity for tweeting a poorly lit photo of a cup of coffee with the hashtag #entrepreneurlife. Or maybe it's downloading a free graphic design app and putting a cliché quote on a yellow background, framing it with a rectangle to make it more "creative." Or maybe it's just as simple as listing off a bunch of meaningless titles in your bio--a bio that, to anyone who knows what they're doing, screams incompetency.

You aren't creative.

You're noise.

What does "creative marketing" actually mean?

Ask ten different people what "creativity" means and you'll get ten different answers. It's one of the most ethereal words in the dictionary.

Combine that with the fickleness of the word "marketing" and you might as well be trying to define Jello. It's squishy but light; you can chew it but not really; it's slimy but not like Pepto-Bismol; etc.

Creative marketing has absolutely nothing to do with platforms, content types, color schemes, mediums, or truthfully any of the things the entire industry spends all its breath debating. Creative marketing isn't video. Creative marketing isn't a blog. Creative marketing isn't that ridiculous phrase, "Let's make something go viral."

You can't even make a worthwhile Instagram post.

How are you going to make something to viral?

If you want to be creative, define creativity like this:

Let's get to the point.

Creativity is something that makes you stop.

Creativity is something that makes you pause, think, and take notice--despite eight million other blinks and flashes and buzzes and notifications popping up around you.

Creativity is something that resonates. Something that, for a brief moment, makes you feel understood.

Which means, at its root, creativity is honesty.

Do you know how many people say that? "We tell human stories." Yeah, you and every other firm out there. "We speak to the heart of your customer." Sure you do, with that stock image and that Facebook ad copy written by a communications intern. "We design around the emotions of your target user." Yup, that goes right out the window as soon as the client starts bickering about too many hours being spent on research.

Everybody wants to be creative. Yet, nobody wants to truly be honest.

This is what honesty looks like:

This has me fired up, so let me show you what honesty looks like.

Honesty is the fact that, while I might be one of Quora's most popular writers today, the first time I wrote an answer on Quora, I was afraid. I remember sitting down in front of my laptop, the cursor blinking, and thinking to myself, "Who am I to answer someone else's question? What do I really know?" I felt hesitant to reveal my voice to the world.

Honesty is the fact that publishing my first book was one of the scariest things I've ever done. I wasn't sure what people would think of it--and as a result, me.

Honesty is the fact that, for a long time, I felt like I didn't deserve any success whatsoever, regardless of how badly I wanted it. I don't know if it was guilt, or just the fear that comes with climbing higher and higher up the mountain. But with every new plateau on my quest to become a writer, I felt more and more uncertain of the fall. What if? What if? What if?

This is what creative marketing means to me, and what it should also mean to you:

I am an artist first.

Being creative, and sharing your own unique voice with the world, is scary. If you're not scared in the process, you're not doing it right. If your "creative marketing" strategy makes complete and total logical sense, it sucks. It's weak. It's not coming from the heart--it's coming from your head, along with all the other noise you've soaked up during the day.

Standing out means doing what no one else can do, and what no one else has done before.

How do you do that?

You be yourself. Unapologetically. Truthfully. Raw flaws and all.

So then what does "marketing" mean?

Marketing, and really creative marketing is the ability to take that honesty that makes you unique, and combine it with the awareness of what your target audience is looking for. What questions do they have? What are they struggling with? What are they searching for?

Creative marketing, then, is the ability to not only provide that answer, but do so in an emotional way. 

But being honest is scary. It's like singing. Anyone can open their mouths. Anyone can recite the words on the page, follow the notes and cough out a melody. There are even those who practice and get pretty good at those notes. They make them sound great.

Great isn't music though.

Great "passes." Great is "good enough."

If you really want to stand out, if you really want to be heard, if you want to build an audience and truly have influence and have people look to you for insight and answers, then you have to sing. Really sing.

It has to come from the heart. People have to believe you.

"Creative marketing" isn't a bunch of tactics, like "Let's be on social media" or "Let's make videos."

Creative marketing is just a business-y way of saying, "Be yourself."

Published on: May 30, 2017
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