This has been a difficult post to write.
Difficult, because I’m not really sure what it’s about. I think it’s about showing your work. Or what causes people to engage with your work. Or how business is actually about emotions, not money. Or the fundamental shift in how ideas spread. Or maybe just a collection of some of my favorite people/things I follow…
Every sentence has led to five more thoughts, and I feel like I could talk about this topic for hours. The coach in me is signaling that this topic is probably a strong core value of mine. And a recent conversation with author Travis Jonker about his work helped me crystalize some thoughts.
I’ve had this strong belief for many years that including people in the process of creating is more powerful than advertising. Advertising is rooted in distrust. But ‘including in the process’ is rooted in relationship. Advertising is rooted in distrust because the product has been perfected in secret, and is now being pushed onto you. The process is rooted in relationship because it says, “Hey come check out this thing I’m building! It’s still in the works, but I’d love to get your input!”
I know advertising has adopted lots of new approaches recently and that sometimes you just need to get the word out broadly. But at it’s core, you wouldn’t need advertising if there was already trust. Something’s being sold to you, therefore you’re skeptical (we’re all wired to protect ourselves), therefore they have to win your trust. Don’t get me wrong, advertising is the right approach in many cases.
But here, I’m not talking about numbers. I’m talking about impact. (…which can also lead to numbers).
In contrast to advertising, bringing people into the process is, at its core, relational. And humans are relational. Since business is ultimately about helping people, then business is also relational. This is why including people in the process of creating/sharing/selling something is more powerful. There’s an emotional connection, and people get to be a part of it.
Advertising is seeking to win trust. But if you’re part of something, you already trust.
Ever since Alex Bloomberg launched his Startup podcast (a podcast about starting a podcast company), I’ve been fascinated by this idea. He let us behind the scenes to see his journey of starting a company – the highs, mediums, AND lows! It was highly produced, but not ‘edited’ at all. It was very well made and entertaining, yet Alex showed us his journey and the emotions that came with it.
I mean, this is in a sense, what social media is in the first place, right? Sharing what’s happening in our lives along the way. People have documented their lives and journeys for a very, very, very long time. But in a sense, it’s also new, because openness & transparency haven’t typically been an intentional business or marketing strategy.
For me, I’ve always had a hard time knowing what ‘category’ I’m in. I love art AND business. I love making things and enjoying things for the sake of making and enjoying them. I love strategizing about how to make something more useful AND reach more people AND make it more profitable.
Is that weird? I mean, business is human. Businesses exist for customers, not to make money. Money is a tool, not the end. How many famous people who have anything they could possibly want, still write songs about feeling empty or unfulfilled.
So business exists to do something for people, and money is a byproduct. Therefore, it’s about connection. Relationship. This is why showing your work is so powerful. It brings people into the journey. They feel part of it. There’s emotional connection. And by the way, once you have a big “launch”, then you have a base of people who are already aware of it and excited to buy.
The trend is increasing too, because big brands used to own the airwaves. You didn’t really have options of who to follow, who to listen to, who to buy from. There were a few bands and a few brands. Now, the internet and technology have created options. Which means brands can’t just rely on owning the airwaves anymore. They have to create emotional connection, because people are built for relationships and love. Not low prices and 15-second spots.
There are so many good examples of including people in the process:
- Crowdfunding campaigns
- Jon Foreman’s ‘Fading West’ and ’25 in 24’ films about the making of their albums
- Dan Makoski’s video storytelling about the making of innovative products within mega-brand companies
- Anthony Bourdain’s documentary-journalism that captures real conversations with various people across food and cultures
- Judi Fox, Nadine Langlois, & Margaret Ding sharing their journeys
- ‘Show Your Work’ by Austin Kleon
But like I mentioned at the top, the example that really helped me crystalize these thoughts, was Travis Jonker and his new children’s book, The Very Last Castle.
We were talking about the book recently, as well as our shared love of podcasts. I had been reading an advanced copy of The Very Last Castle to my daughter for a few weeks, and was commenting on how fun it’s been to watch her connect with the characters and the storyline. How she even named a similar-looking toy girl after the main character in the book.
Travis and I also discussed ‘Show Your Work’ by Austin Kleon – a book he recommended to me and I was currently reading. The two of us have always talked about our work-in-progress with each other, but I was sharing how putting it ‘out there’ can feel vulnerable. How it’s difficult because you feel a bit naked. But that I’ve been wanting to do it more, and I’ve been inspired by how he’s been doing it with his podcast, The Yarn.
Travis turned and quietly reached for a copy of something on the desk. He handed it to me, and I read through it to myself.
It was a mini-comic, telling the story of how his book came to be. It was so cool! I was able to understand the origins of the story, what inspired him, how the process was, and make an emotional connection with his work. I saw how he also wrestled with putting his stuff ‘out there’, and it helped me. I felt like I was now a part of the story. The making. The process.
He didn’t have to advertise it.
In fact, I ran upstairs and pre-ordered another copy! I now I’m also voluntarily telling you about it.
Work shown. Engagement captured. Idea spread.
Oh, and if you want to check out the book & mini-comic, you can pre-order here. I’m not sure about the details, but Travis will be signing books in his hometown bookstore McLean & Eakin on Oct 6th, and unless they’ve already run out, you get a copy of the mini-comic if you pre-order now! Cheers.