Relationship Marketing Series #3: Come Out of the Closet

fancy-chihuahuaA young blogger recently came out of the closet. Her long-term relationship had just fallen apart, she was heartbroken, and she just didn’t want to keep up any more pretenses.

The interesting part wasn’t coming out about her sexual orientation. Anyone who still cares about that is someone you can definitively do without. (Not counting your parents, that part is still pretty hard.) The interesting part was her coming out about her hatred of long-form squeeze pages, autoresponder sequences and FaceBook.

She was a dutiful student of a high-profile Internet marketing program that fed all of these things to their students. She repeated them like a good girl on her blog, and carefully let her readers know about her progress. She researched her niches and keywords and worked on her backlinks.

Finally, when she was too heartbroken to give a damn, she confessed that all this stuff seemed spammy, pointless and gross.

Aha, now that is interesting.

You’ll never be remarkable dancing to someone else’s song

Our heartbroken young blogger was pretty good at the paint-by-numbers routine. She stood out on the forums, she got herself noticed, she built a little following. She was doing perfectly OK.

But that little jolt of authenticity woke her readers up and made them really pay attention. A lot of them admitted they hate that stuff too. Telling the truth opened up a space for real connection, for real passion. Her little band of followers noticed, and told her so. She’d found something real, and the value in that was palpable.

I don’t know if she’ll take advantage of that opportunity to create a new niche for herself. Maybe she’ll market to the legion of folks who don’t much like hideous squeeze pages and spam tactics. Maybe (hopefully) she’ll use that energy to come up with something really unpredictable. If she’s going to find real success, that’s the right place to look.

Some of the step-by-step Internet marketing programs look a lot like factory work to me. Take part A, connect it to part B like you were shown how to do, repeat until someone gives you new instructions.

Nobody buys it anyway

It’s interesting how hard it is to pull off being something you’re not. No one actually believes that your business is bigger than it is (and anyway, we all know Small is the New Big). No one is willing to read through the pile of verbiage you’re using to describe your leveraged dynamic synergies.

Most of all, no one gives a rat’s ass about the huge investment of energy you spend trying to be like everyone else.

Most of us (maybe not Pema Chodron or the Dalai Lama, but the rest of us) spend most of our time and energy carefully cultivating our masks. And those masks are almost universally a) laughably transparent, and/or b) boring.

It seems simple, and it is, but it’s also hard. Being remarkable means being different. “Different” is not actually all that far from “weird.”

The great thing about the Internet is you can now find all the people in the entire world who are weird in the same way you are. (That’s the only definition you really need for the Long Tail.) It’s your own cheap, portable New York City. Everything is here–and you get to make a connection with the other weirdos who value your precious, unique brand of freakiness.

One of the great cornerstones of marketing (note to self, must add this to the marketing tool kit for my newsletter) is differentiation. You’ll also see it called the unique value proposition or unique selling proposition. You need to find out, and communicate, what makes you unlike all of your customers’ other options. What makes you uniquely valuable. What makes you interesting. What makes you remarkable.

What makes you weird.

It turns out your mom was right. Just be yourself, and someone will love you exactly as you are.

When I was a young adult, it never, ever occurred to me that I might be passionate about business–or, even worse, marketing. I grew up in a solidly lefty household and majored in the hardest liberal arts subject I could find and lived in Berkeley. We just didn’t think about these things. Coming out of the closet for me meant actually acknowledging my interest in (gasp) how corporations work and (gasp) how to convince people to buy things.

Since I finally figured out my own orientation (with a little denial and shame along the way), things have started to come together for me. I’m finding work I think is deeply cool. I’m making connections with smart people I admire. And I can pay the mortgage by doing interesting stuff, which is always very nice.

Just don’t tell my dad. He’s cool about a lot of things, but he’d never understand this one.

The Relationship Marketing Series


  1. Joe says:


    This is a Fantastic Post. I meet so many people every day that think I’m the weirdest thing since the television. Why? Overwhelmingly it’s because of what my favorite thing to do is.. come up with different ways to make money.

    What’s weird is that a lot of people think that means I’m single minded or shallow when in fact, it makes me happy…

    I don’t tell people who majored in German Polka History that they are shallow or misguided…

    However, it is leading me more and more to like minded people that I enjoy being around.

    masks are silly.


  2. Sonia Simone says:

    Always good to see you, Joe! And thank you for not making fun of my German Polka History major.

  3. I’m taking it that by “mask,” you don’t necessarily mean brand. I mean, some (bad, mostly) brands are masks, but you can be you and a brand, yes?

    Of course, if you’re into German polka, you could also just be a *band*. (Hahaha! I’m hiLARious!!!)

  4. Sonia

    Thanks for the post, I love your sense of humor as you draw out your story.

    I’m going to send a few of my clients to read this. My approach has been more heavy handed in getting them to see how great it can be to be themselves in business.

    I think I need to remember “from birth to death it’s just this” and I’m sure I will be more helpful in moving my clients forward.

    Thanks again


  5. Sonia Simone says:

    @Craig, I love that, thank you.

    @communicatrix is hurting my mind with the German polka puns. Ow! Ow! No, it is a good point though–stories & brands are creative and good. God knows I don’t advocate a tiresome kind of Berkeley sincerity that makes no room for storytelling or playing around. There’s a difference, I think, between trying to bullshit your audience and trying to tell them a good story. Smart brands do the latter, dumb brands do the former.

  6. Sonia,

    Your definition of the long tail is my favorite so far.

    Me? I geek out about historical photos, photo organizing, preserving family history and internet marketing. There is NO WAY I would have met as many fellow travelers as I have without access to the “portable New York City.”

    I was one of the folks who cheered when that blogger (1) came out and (2) called shenanigans on some of the ickier internet marketing tactics.

    P.S. I live in Wisconsin, so I’m not even gonna touch the German polka thing except to offer to buy you a beer at The Essen House or Der Rathskeller if you’re ever in Madison. Plus I’m smart enough not to get in a pun war with communicatrix. Fershizzle.

  7. daoine says:

    I said when I first started seeing those horrendous single-page sales pitches that they would never sell anything through them. (Someone had the guts to ask me to critique their “brand new concept in web marketing” and I tore shreds off him in utter disgust.) I said no one would fall for that kind of blatant manipulation. Okay, so I was wrong about that. People did buy, big time. But I’m convinced customers bought *despite* the manipulation and the seedy webpage, not *because* of it.

  8. Sonia Simone says:

    I know, Daoine, I’m really of two minds about those. On the one hand, I don’t want to dismiss something that works (especially if I’m working on behalf of someone else).

    On the other hand, ewwwww.

    My suspicion is that it’s the long form that works–answering all of the objections, walking the person step-by-step through the sales process to get completely comfortable and answer all of their questions. My suspicion is that the yellow highlighting and red flashing arrows aren’t needed, that you can do the same thing with intelligent headers.

    I may be delusional. On the other hand, Seth had a good post today about what you get when you dumb down your marketing–dumb customers. And who wants to be in a relationship with dumb people?

  9. Yeah, I’ve had to explain myself too as to why, after such a promising start to a career in the arts, I threw it all away to work with companies to help them communicate.

    The funny thing is it doesn’t feel weird to me. I don’t think I have needed to deal with the closet as such but anything vaguely abnormal, after all is said and done, is still considered kooky by even the most open-minded (and regardless of financial success). Oh well, good post anyway.

  10. Genuine says:

    Amazing and interesting post. Not to be spammy or selfish, I felt like the post that you commented on my blog (about my friend) helped me to break out of myself, my own conceptions…it helped me to step outside of what was expected. Maybe it wasn’t a clean or predictable thing to do, but it was honest and open, and I think it reached people.

    I’d rather have someone honestly disagree with me, than agree with me for the sake of agreeing.

  11. Sonia Simone says:

    Hi G, thank you for dropping by!

    Opening up and revealing ourselves is so scary, but it’s so rewarding as well. I find that the more I do it, the more courage I find. But I don’t think it will ever be easy for me.

  12. Janice says:

    While I enjoyed the post overall, my favourite part was your likening the internet to “a portable New York City.”


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