“The big epiphany that I had was that I do not want my tombstone to say, “She kept a clean house.” I want it to say, “Author.”
Transcript, edited for reading:
Nikki Groom: Welcome to Movement Makers, the podcast for business leaders and entrepreneurs like you who aren’t interested in doing business as usual, but who want to have an impact on the lives of those around you. You want your life to matter. You want your work to matter. You want your words to leave an indelible impression on those who hear them and you’re ready to show up, to speak up and to do whatever it takes to change the status quo.
My guest this week, Kelly Diels. A published writer and social critic with a BA honors in Political Science, she’s a rampant feminist who’s working to wake people up to the current state of online marketing and, in particular, what she calls the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand, that is inextricably linked with racial injustice. Kelly’s message is that, as businesses, we can and should do better – and market from a place of awareness, not privilege.
In this episode, we talk about why Kelly felt so disillusioned with the online marketing world that she left it temporarily. And we’ll talk about the particular brand of ’empowerment’ that so many business leaders are teaching, which is really all about how to go from ‘prey’ to ‘predator’ or from ‘oppressed’ to ‘privileged.’
Nikki:Hi Kelly, where are you calling in from today?
Kelly: I am calling in from Vancouver.
Nikki:You’ve been there for a while haven’t you? Didn’t you leave for a while and then return?
Kelly:Yeah. We bounce around a bit. My partner is in the kind of job where we work on a lot of projects all over the world. We sometimes have to follow the bouncing ball. The bouncing ball is cash. We were living in Trinidad for a little while. It’s entirely possible that we’ll move back there very soon, but for the most part we’re based in Canada.
Nikki: We first connected way back – I want to say 2009 time – through Danielle LaPorte, who not only mentioned you on her blog, which was called White Hot Truth at the time, but also said that she was an avid reader of literally everything you ever wrote. How did the two of you first get connected?
Kelly:I have to say that she has been such a significant mentor in my life. How we first connected is she also lives in Vancouver. I don’t know how I found her online, but it was in 2008 when she had just launched White Hot Truth. I found her and it just landed with a resounded thump in my heart. At the time I was working as a communications manager and grant writer at a company. It was a great job. I was a single mom. I had two little kids, but I was just treading water financially and really, honestly, emotionally. I wanted to do something. I knew I had a knack for writing and I wanted to use it in the world.
I found her work. I found that she had a workshop in Whistler and I took the day of work and I drove up to Whistler, which is the most spectacular drive. It was sunny and fantastic. I went and did this workshop in the living room of a woman’s house and it was just superb. It really gave me a foundation for doing business online and a real shot in the arm. When I left and I drove home again on this spectacular drive, I got home and I was just like I’m an artist. Within I think nine months I’d quit my job. I’d launched a business. I had a paid column on Pro Blogger. I was actually making significant strides and really, I guess, living how I wanted to live. She cheered me on. She championed me. She helped connect me with clients. She was just jet fuel.
Nikki: I love that. You have not only been a writer who has had a huge influence on me since I first discovered you and started reading your work, but I know we were talking the other day about how I took a course of yours way back when called Artful Heart-full Blogging towards the end of which it was you who suggested that I might want to look into becoming a copywriter for myself. I am so grateful to you for first putting me on that path.
Kelly:These two connections, my connection with Danielle and your connection with me, we light each other’s candles. We see something in each other and we support each other and we encourage each other and we champion each other and we need that. It’s essential.
Nikki: Yes I so agree with that. I so agree. I really want to talk about some of the stuff that you’ve been doing and talking about more recently. First of all, in terms of your journey here… because I know you were really visible for a while and you were blogging I feel like every day. You had all these courses and different offerings and you kind of dipped out of sight for a little while. I know that you got married and expanded your family and I think you went back into the corporate marketing world for a while. Can you tell us some more about what was going on behind the scenes for you there, just in terms of how much you feel comfortable sharing?
Kelly: Sure. I basically had a total crisis of conscience. I was very visible. I was doing a lot of work online. I was publishing I think quite prolifically and, I think, doing good work. But I was finding it increasingly harder and harder to reconcile the way that I had learned to market, the marketing I was teaching other people, the position I was striking in the world, the character I was playing, and my ideals and my experience in the world. I just honestly, I couldn’t do it anymore. I was just so sick of it. I felt like it was so false. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but what I internalized was I can’t make this work. I can’t get comfortable with this marketing frame even though I know how to do it, so therefore there’s something wrong with me. I’m not ready for success. I have some kind of muddy story. I have this mindset this is just, I’m not cut out for this. It’s me.
Nikki: You thought it was you?
Kelly:I really thought it was me. I dipped out. I went into the B2B corporate world where I was a marketing communications specialist and doing great work there. It was such a palette cleanser. All I had to do was educate customers and reduce potential risk and get our story out into the marketplace. I didn’t have to play cute. I didn’t have to take selfies. I didn’t have to be pretty. I didn’t have to publish stories about my children. I didn’t have to show you a picture of my living room. I didn’t have to play a character to make a dent and be visible.
It was such a relief to actually just stand in the substance of the company that I worked for in the substance of our work and market that. It just came into focus. I thought, “we are playing a character.” It’s not just that we’re playing characters, it’s that we are obliged to do it and it’s not just in the marketing sphere, it’s in our personal lives too. It’s in our social lives. It’s in our political lives. There is this cultural character that we are obliged to be. It’s an archetype really. That’s the female empowerment lifestyle brand. It’s part of the stuff that colonizes our imaginations. It’s really damaging. What it does is it chains us. It makes us think that if we aren’t rising,if we aren’t living the way we want to live, that it’s an internal defect rather than it’s an intersection between personal mindset and social conditions that actually frame our lives.
Nikki:I feel like you have, this year particularly, exploded back onto the scene. You’re so outspoken with your beliefs and you put them right up front and center. You’re blogging. You’re writing emails. You’re so active. You have this fantastic Facebook community called How to Sell to Women Without Selling Out [Editor’s Note: The group is now called “We Are The Culture Makers”], which I highly recommend to any women who are listening. I know that something which ties in with this idea of the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand is the fact that you’re also so passionate about standing up for racial injustice.
Talk to me some more about, first of all, the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. What is that? Let’s start digging into that a little bit more first of all.
Kelly: The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand and racial injustice are absolutely linked. I think, and this is the argument I’m making, that this cultural archetype that women are obliged to conform to in order to get resources, is in fact a version of patriarchy and a version of white supremacy. If we were to close our eyes right now and envision what a professional woman looks like, undoubtedly… Well, I mean I can’t say undoubtedly I can’t colonize your imagination, but likely we’re going to picture a thin beautifully dressed white woman with long hair and high heels and a big smile.
That image shows us what the formula for success is in our culture. That’s a very, very narrow success archetype. I’m going to argue it’s not just a success archetype, not just a business and professional archetype, it is what women are supposed to be in our culture in order to get attention, affection, respect, physical security, rights, and space. It is only if you conform to these patterns and this archetype that you are then able to access the resources. The further we are away from this archetype, the more degrees of separation we are away from this archetype, the fewer resources we will be able to access in our culture.
So, the first piece is Female, so I am saying there is this image of what a woman is supposed to be. There’s this good woman image and we women are the creators of that content. It’s been framed up for us by our social situation, by the system we live in, but we right now are the creators of it. It’s not men who are running our industries and our women’s spaces, and creating all this content in advising us how to be. It’s us, we are doing it, so there’s an archetype that we’re supposed to conform to and we are the ones who are fleshing it out and teaching it to other women. So that’s what I’m saying when I’m saying Female.
Then Lifestyle is… there’s this way of marketing to other women and even socially presenting ourselves, so even when you’re not marketing but socially presenting yourself to people, you’re constructing authority. So Lifestyle is the female way of constructing authority by displaying the objects of privilege like shoes, handbags, clothes, stone countertops, beautiful living rooms, gorgeous children. We display the female trophies in our culture so that other women can look to us, envious, and aspire to be us. Then give us resources to teach them how to do that.
Then Empowerment is, we are calling ourselves agents of empowerment, a lot of people are calling themselves empowerment leaders, but what they’re actually teaching women to do is be successful in the system as it is. So basically switch positions, instead of being prey, become predator and we’re calling that empowerment.
I don’t think individual success or even financial success is empowerment. I don’t think empowerment is an individual condition at all, I think it’s a social condition and so I don’t want – and I’m going to quote and riff on Gloria Steinman here – I don’t want to find one woman one job, I want to create the conditions where every woman can thrive and get the financial resources she needs to survive. That, to me, is empowerment, when the base conditions mean that women are free. What I see happening is we are turning empowerment inside out, we’re calling individual success empowerment and we’re calling complying with a standard femininity that’s impossible for most of us to achieve, empowerment. To me, that’s actually just exploitation of compliance, we’re literally turning it inside out and we’re naming our exploitation as our empowerment. It’s completed inverted and we’ve got to reverse this. If we call our exploitation empowerment, how will we ever get free?
Then the last piece is Brand. I think one of the clearest indicators that women are not in a condition of empowerment is the fact that we have to present ourselves as brands. Even women who don’t have businesses have to present themselves as personal brands – especially on social media. What does that mean? That means that we are objects for sale. We have to style ourselves in a particular way, we have to conform to that archetype of ideal femininity in order to get resources. So we have to style ourselves as objects for sale, we have to perform our brand, even when we aren’t a business or a public personality.
All of those things I think intersect to reveal our position in the world that we live in. What the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand as a whole does, is teach us how to do that, how to comply, how to obey, how to stay small, how to stay within the system, and maybe switch positions in the system. So it’s really about moving from being the oppressed to being the privileged, and the rest of us can be damned. It’s one person rising up and to me, again, that’s not empowerment. I want all of us to be free. Where this intersects with my advocacy for racial justice is, I think that archetype of mandatory femininity of the good woman, of the woman we’re supposed to be, the female lifestyle empowerment brand, is white.
I think if we were to close our eyes and imagine what a professional woman looks like, or what a good woman looks like, or what the ideal woman looks like, she will be white, she’ll likely be blonde, she’ll be thin, she’ll be able bodied, she’ll be straight, she’ll be young, she’ll be charming, she’ll be wearing high heels, and she’ll be well dressed and likely middle class or wealthy. That image that we are to conform to defines how many resources we get. So we’re trying mightily to fit into that image, but some of us from the get go cannot ever embody that archetype, which just shows how bankrupt and oppressive it truly is. If we hold that image up and we sell that image to people, and we teach people how to conform to it, we are literally perpetuating the conditions of our own oppression.
Nikki: I think it’s so interesting, especially that you say that this isn’t something that men created, this is something that we women created ourselves and the crazy thing is, it’s literally tearing us apart. Because like you say, very few of us can ever really truly measure up to this archetype, this idea of what a successful woman business owner should look like. Yeah, it’s kind of crazy how that’s come about.
Kelly: Kind of devastating.
Nikki: Yeah. It really is because it’s like, well how do we get out of this? How do we escape the clutches of this idea of who we should be and how we should be showing up? Do you have some ideas on that? What’s the alternative here? What do you want to see more of and how can we be different, more inclusive, talk to me some more about that.
Kelly: I think the first thing we have to do is forgive ourselves. Because we were born into this system and we are trying to navigate a flawed system. So, I think we have to forgive ourselves, we cannot be pure to our ideals because we’re navigating a flawed world. But as we’re navigating, we can change it. I think what we need to do is stop being so isolated, stop being so individualistic. I’m not saying, “Don’t go get yours,” go get yours, but be in community and be conscious of the impact you’re having on other women, especially other women who don’t look or live like you, so be conscious of that. In order to do that, we’ve got to raise our consciousness, we’ve got to see it, we’ve got to see the whole system, we’ve got to see our own… The way we are complicit with it. I see it in myself, I know that I’ve absolutely done all of these things that I’ve mentioned. We have to see it. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it, and then you can start getting creative and take a piece of it and think, “Okay, how can I do this differently?”
We need to be personally reflective and to look at ourselves and see what patriarchal bargains we have struck in order to survive or even thrive and be willing to do things differently. Be willing to be creative, be willing to innovate, and we have to start rejecting the expectations that are framing up how we have to behave. We have to start getting super clear about what we want and then be 100% committed to that. So for me, I’ll tell a personal example, I love my children, obviously. I love being in a relationship with them, but what I have realized, and this is partially because of a parenting thinker Miki DiVivo and another thinker, Kate Anthony, because of their work I’ve started to realize that I have been performing motherhood.
I have been performing motherhood in order to appease other people’s expectations about what a good mother looks like. Performing to those expectations has actually harmed my relationship with my children because it means that I’m hustling them, and rushing them, and being hard on them, and pushing them, and over scheduling them, in order meet some sort of standard of perfect middle class motherhood and get my trophy. But I don’t want that, I don’t want that for my children. I want to be in a relationship with my children, I want to see them for who they are, not as representations of me out in the world. So that’s one way we reject it, we look at the expectations that are being hoisted upon us and then we internalize, we truly internalize these things and we try to perform them and do good. Inquire into them and ask what do I want?
For me, I want to be in beautiful relationship with my children and I want to write. So, anything that doesn’t fall under those two umbrellas, is just not a priority. It’s really not a priority to have an impeccable wardrobe, it’s really not a priority to make sure that I am presenting this beautiful image at all times. It’s not a priority to keep my house according to other people’s standards. These things are just not priorities and they actually eat up huge chunks of my time when I do have to perform them. When I have to perform them, I can’t write because I don’t have time. So I have to just get incredibly pure about what I want so that I can do that.
One of the things I want is justice and so I am radically committed to it. I want to end all forms of oppression everywhere and so I show up every day unrelentingly working on that. I organize behind the scenes. Like you said, I’ve created this group where we can start thinking about how to peel back this lifestyle marketing and get to the substance of our work and lead with that. So I think we as marketers and entrepreneurs need to be very clear about what our vision is and what our good work is and lead with that, rather than the lifestyle, and the trophies, and the privilege.
Nikki: Yes, I love that. I really love that. Not so long ago, you wrote a blog post about the fact that time is a feminist issue. Would you tells us some more about where this idea came from in the first place and what it is and why it’s so important for us to understand how this impacts us as women?
Kelly: Yes, I would love to. This is central to the work that I do and central to a personal epiphany that I had that changed everything for me. Just over a year ago, I had a baby, my last baby, baby number five. I, at the same time, had a house guest and it was summer vacation, and everybody was home, my husband was out of town, and so it was just a total wild rumpus. I was trying desperately, in the midst of all of that, to write. I was reading all these productivity books as fast as I could, while breastfeeding, reading these productivity books, trying to get a handle on how I could be more productive. How I could write this book, what tips and tricks and hacks I didn’t know about that would help me get where I wanted to go.
All the books were saying things like, get up at 4:30 am, and all this kind of stuff and I was looking at this, I’m like, I haven’t even got to bed by 4:30am, I just finished my last feeding with the baby and I’ve got roughly an hour and a half before he wakes up again. Like, this is not a practical… This is not practical advice, this is advice predicated on the idea that someone else is doing the caregiving, that someone else is taking care of the home, that you have the luxury to get up and there’s another adult in the house taking care of the children and you could go leave, and go to the gym, and start your day at 4am. It’s predicated on a whole bunch of assumptions that aren’t consistent with my life. So I was feeling like a radical failure, like this is just never going to happen. I just don’t have it. I read this one book about tracking your time and I downloaded this app and started tracking my time every day because I was sure I had more time than I thought. At the end of this one week of time tracking on my phone, I realized I had between 43 and 48 minutes per day of leisure time.
Kelly: Time that was unaccounted for everything else. I was like, this is amazing, I have 43 to 48 minutes a day, I can write one page a day, and after a year, that’s a book, this can be done, so I was ecstatic. Then what I realized trying to relentlessly write one page a day was, this 43 to 48 minutes is broken up into like seven minute chunks, and you can’t even write a sentence, you can’t even get into flow in seven minutes.
Nikki: No. No way.
Kelly: I would have a couple of sentences or a paragraph and it would be utter crap, and I was completely disheartened, like this is never going to work. Then I read this article interviewing Bridget Schulte who has written a book called Overwhelmed. The article was called Time is a Feminist Issue and it was about how time was a feminist issue and she’d written a book about productivity. I was like, okay, I have to read this because it just struck me. What she was saying is, the productivity narrative is indeed predicated on the idea that the actor has people taking care of him. That the actor is male and that leisure time actually in our society is a privilege accorded to men because they have wives taking care of them, but women have never historically – and she went into this in her book – women have never had leisure time because we have always been taking care of other people. So our time has never been our own, it has always been spoken for and it has always been used in service of others.
Nikki: That question, really looking at What do I want? That’s really fundamental to all of this. I’ve written for a number of coaches and what they’re doing with women is getting down to the answer to that question. Because so often, I think we’re pulled in so many other directions, trying to make sure that everyone else is good and taken care of, that we forget about our own needs and we forget about our own desires, and our dreams, and everything else. So, yeah, that question really is the crux of everything.
Kelly: Right. I think what happens is, like you said, we get pulled in all directions and we start fitting our lives around, in the margins, of everyone else’s life. Dr. Clara has a beautiful quote about this, about how we often will clean the entire house before we sit down to write, but art cannot be created in stolen moments, you have to set aside time for it. So the cleaning has to happen in the margins around everything else, the art and our work has to take first priority. This is sort of essential to so many coaches I know, too – the first condition is, what do you want? Then I think the second condition is to be unconditionally committed to it. I’m cribbing from Dr. Jennifer, who works on leadership and relationship and purpose. The concept of unconditional commitment tells you that once you’ve decided what you want, then it’s a “no matter what” kind of thing.
So something that I repeat to myself often about my writing is “This is happening, no matter what.” It’s something I repeat about my advocacy for justice. I say, “This is happening, no matter what.” And what that means is, I will not be thrown off course when people reject me, when people troll me, when people push back, I will not be pushed off course or pushed off balance. “This is happening, no matter what.” This is not a popularity contest. And it’s the same with my writing. “This is happening, no matter what.” No matter if teachers think that I am not involved because I’m not volunteering in class. No matter if my family thinks I’m a terrible person because I don’t organize Thanksgiving dinners; I order them in. No matter what, this is happening.
So we have to decide what we want, and then don’t try it out. Commit. Commit, commit, commit. “This is happening, no matter what.”
Nikki: Yeah, I love that. I think you had shared that quote that you had mentioned earlier about feeling like we need to clean the house before we get on with the real work. It was so liberating for me when I read that because I feel like I have felt like that in the past and every day, I can’t write until the house is clean, and how ridiculous is that? I can write when the house isn’t clean.
Kelly: This relates back to my epiphany when I realized that time was a feminist issue. I realized that my time has been materially constructed for me by being born a woman. Then I rejected it wildly and decided to get every resource I could and fence off my time and put my work at the center and the cleaning at the margins, and the social expectations, and the play dates, and all of that’s at the margins. If I have time for that, I do that, but it’s not a priority. What was really important for me to realize was that I had to make a stand about that and I had to put myself at the center of my own life and that’s what I want all of us to do, is put yourself at the center of your own life. The big epiphany that I had that summer, just over a year ago now, was that I do not want on my tombstone for it to say, “She kept a clean house.” I want it to say, “Author.”
Kelly: That’s a morbid exercise, but think about that, what do you want on your tombstone? I want mother, writer. I do not want, “She kept a clean house.”
Nikki: Yeah, that’s awesome, I love that. Some of the stuff that we’ve been talking about specifically relates to business, to marketing – I love that in your bio you say that your approach is really based on the marketing strategies of movements and revolutionaries. When I read that, I was like, “YES.” So tell me some more about what you mean by that. How we can really embody that in our work, in our businesses, and in how we show up?
Kelly: Sure. I think lifestyle marketing, which I think is kind of the norm in our women’s spaces, it’s how we interact with each other, I think it’s playing small. I think we have to present an image of charming, and pretty, and family woman, and nice clothes. If we have to present that in order to get people’s attention, we are playing small because we are downplaying our actual accomplishments and playing up our charm and likeability. I think that’s really underestimating the work that we do.
What I say, on a very practical level, is lead with your beliefs. Lead with your vision, lead with the work you do, lead with your substance, peel back all that layer of charm and that construct, and that character, and what is left underneath it, that’s the important stuff. That intersects I think with Simon Sinek’s work around leading with your beliefs. He refers to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and about how he had such a huge vision that invited people from all ethnicities and all walks of lives and all socioeconomic backgrounds and internationally, into his movement. So, that’s what I want us to do is lead with your beliefs, lead with the substance of your vision. Make those declarations, why not market with those? Every single day I show up and I make a declaration and it’s a “This is happening, no matter what” kind of declaration. And I show up on social media with that every day. It’s tripled my list in 10 months because people are paying attention-
Kelly: And then they go sign up for my newsletter. Then I show up every week with a really substantial newsletter, like really substantial, not-
Nikki: Yeah, there’s so much in there. By the way, I love what you do because you won’t necessarily write a blog post every single week, but what you will do is kind of lead with, “What I wrote this week was absolutely nothing, but you can read this post that I wrote two years ago,” or something like that. I love how you do that, it’s so refreshing because I feel like another piece of this is that we feel like we have to do certain things in order to be successful. Including, we have to blog every day, or every week, and sometimes that’s just not possible. Obviously, it would be great if we could, but… I love that you do that and then I love that your newsletters are so meaty and you just let loose.
I know that you’re writing a book about the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. Do you feel, just a little pivot here, do you feel like really unloading in your emails in that way and writing so much really good, deep content is really useful for you in terms of starting to frame your book and put that together?
Kelly: Yes. It’s both a creative endeavor and it’s marketing, too. So this is what I’m saying by market with substance. The two can go together and then you don’t have to produce content just for the sake of producing content, you don’t have to feed the meat grinder, you can actually just stand in what you believe, and write, and create stuff of substance. What I say on my subscribe page is that what I’m writing each week is the pre-work, it’s like the laboratory for my book. So if you’re interested in this topic, you can get behind the scenes as I’m working through these ideas. I’m working through them every Sunday and so it does help generate content book for my book. It helps keep me in the soup constantly; keeps me percolating and thinking about it constantly. And people who are interested in it can help shape it. They can send me emails, they can let me know what resonates, they can provide problems, they can problematize it for me, they can critique. They can follow the progress. And the people who follow me on that journey, they’re helping shape it and they’re also going to be the people who are going to want to buy that book.
It’s an intersection between marketing strategy, which is I’m staying connected to the people who are going to be interested in my work, and the collective thing, I’m individually creating, I’m working, and I’m in community with people who are contributing their ideas and helping me flesh it out. You can kind of blend all of these things, all of your objectives, into one thing, you don’t have to put them in silos and you don’t have to create content just for the sake of SEO or what have you, you can serve the content marketing machine, but do it substantially and really faithful to your vision.
Nikki: Yeah. This is one thing that I have always refused to do, I cannot just write a blog post for the sake of writing a blog post. I can’t just write five tips to write a better about page, that really superficial content that is just put out there for the sake of it, for keeping yourself top of mind. Which I know is something that we’re supposed to do as marketers, as business owners, but I just can’t do it. I have to write about something that really calls to me, that really speaks to me, that speaks to my soul, that speaks to the kind of message I want to deliver and yeah, my bigger vision. So, I love that you do that because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a post from you that does feel sort of fickle or written ‘just because’, you know what I mean?
Kelly: Not anymore, but I think certainly that’s what I did in the past because I had this goal of how often I wanted to publish and I was feeding the machine, and it’s one of the things that burned me out. Now, and this is what I tell my clients as well is, only put stuff out there that is consistent with your vision, that’s substantial, that you’re proud of. Don’t write stuff just to write stuff because then you’re just making noise, there’s no point to that and it will burn you out. It’s exhausting to have that sort of volume criteria on yourself. I can tell you that sometimes I only publish once a month, but I’m always proud of what I publish. This Time is a Feminist Issue, I wrote an essay responding to Bridget Schulte’s book, I interviewed her, and I started writing about my own life and the lens that I was seeing Time as a Feminist Issue through. This essay took me six months to write, it’s 4,000 words, it was just a beast. I published it last week of December 2015. It was my big “I’m coming back” kind of piece. I expected not to have any attention because I had been offline for roughly two years, I didn’t expect anyone to see it. The first week it went live, it got 16,000 views and was shared more than 5,000 times to Facebook.
Nikki: Wow. That’s amazing.
Kelly: I did not expect that at all and I’ve never had that kind of impact with one piece before. What I attribute it to is it’s substantial, it’s telling the truth. Women could see themselves in it. It was giving people a new perspective on the same old problem. It meant something. So I feel like that’s a credit to the idea that if we just lead with substance, it will do the work for us, it will have legs, 5,000 people might read it. But if we write flippant, three tips to time hack this, it’s just one more drop in the bucket and we’re burning ourselves out to be drops in the bucket. Just write the stuff that matters, just create the videos that matter, do the work that matters, and let that be your marketing. Let your substance be your marketing. I’m not saying if you build it, they will come, I’m just saying, you can be visible with substance instead of lifestyle trophies. I show up on social media every single day and I do at least one thing and that one thing will matter. People are coming to sit by the fire.
Nikki: I love that you give us that behind-the-scenes glimpse because I know exactly the post that you had referenced there, it’s this beast of a post, but yeah, it’s like, oh my goodness, thank you someone finally said it. It’s like on some level we’ve all kind of known that this is going on or felt kind of uncomfortable with the status quo and you finally put words to that. I love that you said that particular piece took you six months to write because one of my questions, I was going to say to you, you’re someone who has that enviable ability to make everything you write look completely effortless. I was going to say, how do you do it? But it sounds like sometimes it isn’t effortless and sometimes it really does take you really digging deep and getting into that head space, even if it takes you months to get out, you’re going to get it out.
Kelly: Yeah, I’m actually so surprised to hear that, that it looks effortless-
Nikki: Yes, it does.
Kelly: I work. I work, I work, I work, I struggle, I work way too much and it’s actually something I’m consciously working on scaling back a little bit because I work until the point of burnout, but here’s what I think about that piece taking six months. I’m so glad that I wrote it, I’m so glad that I stuck with it, I’m so glad I let it take the time that it needed to take. Had I been on a must-publish-once-a-week schedule, that piece would never have gotten written because I would have taken the time and frittered it away on meaningless once a week posts. Instead, I wrote one incredible piece that has done enormous, enormous work for my business, brought me an enormous amount of traffic, and an enormous amount of new community members.
I do want to say, it’s not effortless, I’m not even proud to tell you how hard I work, but I work very, very hard. Please, it’s not effortless and I never want to contribute to that image that it’s effortless, it’s definitely not, but it’s also very much worth it. I’m so proud right now of the work that I’m doing and I don’t know that I could say that before I was proud of the work that I was doing. I might have been enjoying it, I might have been growing my writing skills, I might have been learning things, and all of that’s been integral, but I can’t say that I’m super proud of the work I was doing before. Now, I know what I want and I’m doing it.
Nikki: And you can stand beside it.
Kelly: Yes. And my children are proud of me, that means a lot to me. I have girls who are 12 and 10, I have a stepson who is 20, I have a little guy who is almost five, and a 16 month old. So the five year old and 16 month old, they aren’t necessarily proud of me unless I hand out chocolate milk, but my 10 and 12 year old daughters are enormously proud of me. They brag about me to their friends, they see me working, they see me making an impact, and they’re proud of me. That means a lot to me. That’s not like an external expectation, that’s like the people who I’m doing this work for see it and love it, and they’re proud of me.
Nikki: I want to talk some more about the specific marketing practices that you’re trying to disrupt. I know we had talked about there being this sort of specific image and this way we’re supposed to show up. I saw your post the other day about how you’re not down with the whole “give someone something of value for free in exchange for their business,” talk to me some more about some of the stuff that really riles you, that doesn’t sit well with you, and how you want to disrupt that, and how you think we can be doing things differently.
Kelly: Sure. One of the things that riles me up are the rags-to-riches Cinderella stories that we tell in our about pages.
Kelly: The reason they rile me up is because I think, again, they’re playing small and underestimating what we’re actually capable of. If someone tells me on their about page a rags-to-riches story or a Cinderella story wherein they were broken, fat, and stupid and ugly before, and now they learned one magical thing and now they’re thin, rich, et cetera, et cetera, I’m immediately skeptical. Because what I know they’re doing is rocking a formula where you manufacture credibility with your rags-to-riches story.
What I’m looking for is actual evidence of credibility. I’m looking for trainings, I’m looking for 10,000 hours, I’m looking for outcomes, I’m looking for results, I’m looking for a methodology, I’m looking for your approach. Most of us have all of those things. We have a deep history, a knowledge, a training, an immersion. 10,000 hours in the field, even if it’s totally self directed, that still counts. If we’re trying to pour that into a Cinderella story, we’re going to lose those items, we’re going to prune those out of the story.
I want us to, yes, absolutely speak our experience, often people think that means I think we shouldn’t tell our stories, I think we should tell our stories, but we should make them bigger than the Cinderella story and we should absolutely also list our credibility. We should list the people who have been our teachers, whether they know they’re our teachers or not. We should talk about what lineage we work in. We should talk about our credibility, we should talk about why we do this work, we should lead with the vision. So all of that should be present on the about page, we should play big and stand in our true authority and our true authorship, rather than play to this rags-to-riches story which, of course, just reinforces social norms about attractiveness, and wealth, et cetera, et cetera.
One of the other specific things I rail against is the imagery. A lot of our empowerment images are of thin, white women dancing on the beach in midriff bearing tops or flowy skirts with their arms up in the air looking like wings, and I’m just wondering, why is our image of empowerment always a thin, young white woman, completely liberated from the bounds of normal activity? I think we need to question our imagery and if we’re going to use stock photos, start using stock photos that look like real people and Refinery29 recently did something like that where they looked at themselves and they realized that only 2% of their images – and they’re a site dedicated to women and feminism and pop culture, and all of those things – only 2% of their images were plus-size women, but 67% of the population is plus-size women. So how can you speak to empowerment if you’re not actually speaking to the reality or showing the reality of most women? So we really need to look at our imagery.
Some of the concepts, like the “social triggers” frame of marketing, what social triggers actually are social conditions. When we’re talking about social triggers, what we’re doing is leveraging a social condition of oppression in order to profit. If you create scarcity in the minds of people, we automatically try and grab the thing that’s going to be taken away from us. Well scarcity is the reality for a lot of us, poverty and lack is our social condition and our human programming is to try to remedy that so that we don’t starve. So if you manufacture that in people, what you’re actually doing is leveraging their very real condition in the world to create a profit for yourself. I don’t like faux scarcity, fake scarcity. Manufacturing scarcity that doesn’t exist is, to me, like really intersecting with oppression and we’ve got to not do that.
Now, communicating the very real limits of your time is legitimate. If you have only five hours a week that you can devote to a particular task, it is legitimate to say, “I have only five hours available,” that’s legitimate. But to create this PDF product that’s an online thing, that’s infinitely replicable, and then only sell it for five days and say you’re only selling 600 copies, you’ve created fake scarcity, you are trying to leverage people’s human programming and their material scarcity to create profit. I’m not okay with that, that’s dishonest, we have to stop doing that.
Reciprocity is another social condition that launch marketers and social trigger marketers ask us to use. What reciprocity is, is our intrinsic sort of fairness and justice lever where someone gives us something, we feel obliged on a very, deep subconscious, primal level to reciprocate and offer something in return. So what marketers do is create this sort of content marketing funnel where you give away a whole bunch of things, these one hour long video trainings in a launch, and a whole bunch of free stuff, so that when it’s time to buy, the person unconsciously feels really pulled and obliged to reciprocate by buying. So, I’m totally okay with the infrastructure of an online launch, but I think we have to strip out the social triggers, the leveraging of oppression.
Because to me, reciprocity, it’s meant to be iterative, it’s meant to be open-ended, it’s meant to be an enduring relationship, but what is happening in these sales funnels is, this reciprocity is designed for a short term, it’s initiated by a particular person, and it culminates with the end of reciprocity. You hand over your cash and now you’re done. So it’s actually sort of like a perversion of the way reciprocity works. What I want for us to do is look at that and refrain from grooming people in that way. Yes, you can give away free content, but maybe don’t do it as a trip wire. Maybe don’t do it in that kind of way. Maybe you could run sales funnels where people come out and they learn something and it’s useful, even if they don’t buy, and they can still stay in a relationship and stay in community with you, even if they don’t buy.
Nikki: Just a side note, I hate the word trip wire, I just think it sounds awful and destructive and-
Kelly: It sound like that because it is.
Nikki: Yeah. Yeah, really.
Kelly: If we have that kind of language in marketing that tells us what’s really going on, we are setting traps for people.
Nikki: Yeah, exactly.
Kelly: It doesn’t have to be that way. We can have the mechanics of an online marketing sequence, without layering on top these social triggers. We can do that, they work just fine on their own, but they work a lot better if you layer the manipulation on top. So then that sort of brings you into a dilemma. What do you need to be a sustainable business? Are you okay with justifying something just because it works?
Kelly: We have to look at the impact, the greater impact on people. I’m not saying we have to do their work for them, we have to guard their morals or things like that, but when we use social triggers, what we’re actually doing, explicitly, is trying to switch people into unconscious decision-making mode. Most of us are coaches and advocates, and people with big visions, who are trying to switch people into conscious mode so that they can make really discerning decisions and careful and deliberate decisions, and yet how do we get them there? By triggering them into unconscious decision-making processes. It’s just fundamentally not aligned with the work that we do.
Nikki: I think it’s really important too, we had talked about this a little bit earlier in the conversation, is that one of the first steps is forgiving ourselves, right? Then also becoming aware of… I feel that you can’t do things in a different way unless you’re first aware of what these marketing techniques and practices are, but when you do open up your awareness and you do become more conscious about the impact that you’re having on other people… I talk a lot about leading with empathy, and I think that that is such a great tool in order to really put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine what it might be like to absorb information in a certain way as they would. Yeah, I think that that’s definitely one of the first steps, being aware of the techniques and the practices that are already out there, that are being used, and looking at, well how am I using them, and why am I using them, and what impact are they having?
You had mentioned the rags-to-riches story, and obviously, as you know, I have my 100 Stories Worth Telling project, and I definitely don’t want to play into that rags-to-riches phenomenon, but I feel like oftentimes the stories do kind of follow that format. I think, for me, the stories are really about giving people hope and showing them the possibilities that are available to them and telling these stories about women who have overcome often tremendous adversity, and somehow turned that to advantage and got where they are today. I think, absolutely, there’s a danger there because the stories are pretty short and succinct, and it’s like, I was here and now look at me, now I’m here. I think there are pieces to each of those stories that maybe aren’t being told. I try and really tell the good and the bad, but there’s stuff that falls between the cracks because… I always talk about this as well with other people is that, there’s no such thing as an overnight success story.
People don’t get from A to B overnight. Sometimes it takes years and years and years of work on themselves, of really deeply looking at their own journey and trying to turn it around. So yeah, there’s a danger to those rags-to-riches stories, but I do think that story can also be a wonderful and powerful tool to really connect with people from a place of vulnerability, and that is when we don’t just tell the highlights reel and we do dig into some of the stuff that happened to us, in order to connect more fully with others. I do believe that, but I think it does come back down to, okay, being aware of the techniques that people are using that are often emotionally manipulative and looking at how we’re using them and making sure that we do navigate that line really well. Yeah. I’d love to hear some more about what you think of that.
Kelly: I think you and I, we talked about this before-
Kelly: I think you and I are in agreement here that women’s stories are profoundly important.
Kelly: Historically, our stories are profoundly important. That’s actually how we build collectivity and sisterhood is by realizing that the individual things that happen to us, often have happened over and over and over again to other women. That this isn’t our own cross to bear, this isn’t our own shame or what have you, this is like a collective experience and that helps us organize amongst each other, and it helps us jettison the shame. This happened to me, but this happened to a lot of women, it’s not a unique, personal defect. It helps us own our own resilience and our own power. Look at all these things that happened and here, still I rise. I can be a beacon for other women who are still there or this thing is just now happening to them, and they’ll be able to see that there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. I think that is profoundly important. I don’t want to lose sight of that.
What I’m saying is, when we pour that into a before and after, and a marketing story, that we use in our about pages and in our launches, without the bigger context of the training, the work, the debts, the immersion, the credibility, now we have a bit of a problem because now again, we’re conforming to a narrative that’s not ours. I want our narratives to come front and center rather than being poured into a particular formula. I really do not want anyone to misinterpret and think that I’m saying that women’s stories aren’t important, I think they are profoundly important and I think projects like yours shine that light in the world. I’m 100% in. What I want for us to do in our about pages is tell our stories and document our lineage and our credibility. I want us to stand tall and big. Tell it all.
Nikki: Yes, I love it. I think it does come back down to two questions. So the question that you had mentioned earlier, What do I want? So, what do you want for your life, for your business, for your clients, for your prospects, what do you want? Particularly with regards to those marketing tools, techniques, strategies – whatever you want to call them – why are you using them? Just to become really conscious of that, so that the way that you’re showing up is in alignment with your values and is in alignment with the kind of person that you want to be. And the kind of person that you want to have written on your tombstone, as you were saying earlier.
Kelly: Right. One of the ways I think you can do that is evaluate your marketing techniques through the lens of justice.
Nikki: I like that, yeah.
Kelly: People get really upset, for example, when you add them to a Facebook group without their permission.
Nikki: Yes, so annoying. Stop doing it.
Kelly: It’s so annoying, but there’s also a piece where it means your consent and your agency is being disregarded.
Kelly: That has a particular implication for women whose consent is often disregarded in the world. So we have to look at the things that we’re doing and look at their bigger social justice impact. It irritates people to add them to lists and some women feel like you are overriding their consent and we have had enough of that in the world, so that’s why that technique has a little bit more resonance and we really ought not to do that. Another thing would be the fake scarcity. Coach Monica Day says, “Women and scarcity is patriarchy.”
So if we manufacture scarcity in our sales funnels in order to make sales, what we’re actually doing is leveraging the conditions of patriarchy and oppression in women’s lives for us, as individuals, to construct a profit. We just have to start looking at what’s the impact, how does this intersect with the things that are already limiting our lives. Look at the marketing techniques through that lens. When people are prescribing social trigger and manipulation, connect that back to social conditions. You can connect reciprocity and the abuse of reciprocity back to rape culture and grooming. Connect those dots. When you see that there’s a connection, drop that technique and invent something new. We are capable of inventing new things.
Nikki: Absolutely we are, yes. I love this whole conversation, I feel like I could speak to you all day long about this because it’s so rich and I’m not surprised that you’re able to write so much about it because it just feels like it’s never-ending, in a way. I cannot wait to read your book when you finally publish that.
One question that I really want to ask you that I always like to ask clients when I work with them is – when you think about those women who are maybe where you were a year or two ago and feeling disillusioned with the way that things are, the way that they’re supposed to market themselves, and it doesn’t feel right to them, what do you really want them to know?
Kelly: To create art, and run a business, and work with people, and lead with empathy, if they have those qualities, then they are creative enough to invent marketing techniques that work for them. We can do that by learning from each other and sharing with each other things that have worked. We can also invert things. If scarcity is a no-go, how do you make sales without it? So for me, I make sales without it by leading with substance, so that people know what actually works, and by having such a big community, that even if I’m not manufacturing scarcity, there’s enough volume in the community for my business to be sustainable.
So then when I realized, okay, if I have a bigger community, I don’t have to use scarcity to make the same amount of sales, then I have to use techniques to get a bigger community, I have to get more visible, I have to be more present, I have to stand stronger in my vision, I have to try and get published lots of different places that start suggesting other avenues for me to pursue. Basically, for every technique you want to drop, flip it. What’s the other thing that you could do to create the same impact without doing that particular thing? So get creative and playful.
I think our creativity is our greatest resource and I’m totally stealing that from Amy Walsh. Amy Walsh in The Tactical Bureau of Imagination says our creativity is the thing that’s going to save us, it’s the thing that’s going to change the world, it’s the thing that’s going to create an impact, it’s the thing that helps us invent our way forward. We haven’t created the conditions of justice, we have to invent them. We haven’t yet created a successful business, we have to invent them. So feel free to be creative and do it your own way, and get in community with other people, because the collective mind has so much brainpower and so many resources. We as a community have all of these pieces, no one person has it all, but as a community, we do have it.
Nikki: Awesome. I love it. I absolutely love hearing you talk about this. In terms of next steps and where people can find you, tell us a little bit about that.
Kelly: Okay, so where you can find me is on my website, KellyDiels.com. The place I publish most regularly is my Sunday newsletter and you can get that at KellyDiels.com/subscribe and I promise you they are blazing epistles of righteousness and that’s not an underestimation. I have a very large Facebook group called How To Sell to Women Without Selling Them Out and you can join that and that’s a community of almost 900 people who are putting their minds to this, how do we market without leveraging the conditions of oppression? How do we thrive and rise without standing on the necks of others? How do we do that? We’re putting our minds to it in that space, you’re absolutely welcome to join. I guess, just pay attention, hopefully I will be selling this book soon to a publisher and hopefully it’ll be in stores in a year or two.
Nikki: I’m so excited. So excited for that. Kelly, thank you so much. I know that your time is precious and so I do so appreciate you being here.
Kelly: Thank you so much for inviting me, Nikki.
Nikki: Thank you so much.
That’s it from the Movement Makers Podcast this week. If you enjoyed this episode then please leave a review on iTunes and subscribe over so I can let you know about future episodes. In the meantime, I want to know how you’re making a difference at work or in your business. Be sure to tweet @nikkigroom and let me know.
- The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. An introduction.
- Danielle LaPorte
- Pro Blogger
- Miki DiVivo
- Kate Anthony
- Brigid Schulte: Why time is a feminist issue
- Refinery29: 67% Project
- Coach Monica Day
- Amy Walsh: The Tactical Bureau of Imagination