By Tristan Katz
So many of us struggle with feeling like marketing is a narcissistic, icky, self-involved thing that we have to do in order to grow our work and reach new clients and students. It can feel like something we have to force, or like something that’s the complete opposite of the practice of yoga—as if it’s contrived, disingenuous, or manipulative; as if its inherent connection to capitalism means it’s fundamentally poisoned by an oppressive system.
The truth is that marketing is really all about teaching, and about relationship-building—marketing is about making a connection, both with ourselves and with others. When we teach something through our marketing, we are actually serving our audience and sharing a taste of what it might be like to work with, practice with, or study with us. When we teach something through our marketing, we’re more capable of fostering connection, of reaching new audiences, and of building meaningful relationships on the digital plane. This is the exact opposite of what capitalism centers.
If marketing is about relationship-building and connection, if it’s about leaning into the vulnerable act of taking up space and talking about ourselves and our work, then our identities are an inherent part of this practice.
We’re at a unique moment in our culture and history. In the midst of the renewed Black Lives Matter uprising in the summer of 2020, many of us watched as companies and businesses scurried to release statements standing for Black lives. Many of us joined the thralls of social media posts relating to the movement—through black squares, hashtags, and calls to action, one thing became very clear: if you were staying silent on the subject, you were perpetuating the harm and toxicity of anti-racist systems and policies.
This moment, amidst the global pandemic and worldwide reckoning of racism, marks a turning point in our collective consciousness.
We can no longer separate our values from the work we do in the world; we can no longer separate our values from our marketing. In spite of the dominant cultural narrative to keep our personal lives separate from our professional lives, we’re now engaging in a conversation and exploration about what it means when we adhere to this separation, and what kind of harm we might be causing—both to ourselves, and to others.
We are also being asked to recognize, acknowledge, and embody the deeper understanding that each of us holds intersecting identities, some of which make us more proximal to power—based on the systems and structures of our dominant culture, and some of which take us farther away from power.
If you’ve ever studied with Michelle Cassandra Johnson, or read her widely acclaimed book Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World, then you’re likely already familiar with the phrase “social location.” Michelle defines social location as an intersectional tool used to more clearly see and name our proximity to power based on the identities we embody—our social locations are defined by race, gender, gender expression, social class, age, ability level, sexual orientation, geographic location and context. Our social locations impact how we move through the world; our social locations impact our lived experience and how we show up in relationship.
When we take the time to commit to the practice of understanding and acknowledging our social location, we are—in practice, de-centering our privileges (whiteness, cis-het-ness, able-bodied-ness, etc.).
And we can bring this into our marketing.
For example, when we share about ourselves and locate ourselves in a social media post, we are inviting others to be in dialogue about the role of privilege. This is inherently a vulnerable act. Vulnerability is one of the ways we can build connection on social media. Connection is what makes for effective and non-transactional, non-icky marketing. Non-transactional marketing is one of the ways we can engage in anti-oppression practices while seeking to grow our work.
When we lean in to exploring the tools of social justice, we don't erase the possibility of harm—owning mistakes and learning from them is part of the practice, but we broaden our capacity to show up as allies, accomplices, and co-conspirators.
As yoga teaches us, we are all interconnected. Our wellbeing and liberation is bound. I believe that yoga is an invitation to commit to social justice, and I believe we can bring both the practices of justice and yoga into our marketing. The teachings of the yamas and niyamas, in particular, prepare us to engage in consciously and intentionally cultivating thoughtful, authentic marketing strategies.
Through svadhyaya or self study, we learn to reflect on what lights us up, on the ‘why’ behind what we offer in our work, and we can also learn to reflect on how we might be carrying internalizations, unconscious bias, and assumptions about ourselves and others.
Through tapas or dedication, we learn to stay committed, to show up with consistency, and to engage in daily, moment-to-moment awareness—this can be applied to both what kinds of content you create and how you share it, and also to whatever arises for you as you engage in the complicated steps of taking up space, of bringing critical thinking into your marketing, and of engaging in relationship across lines of difference while growing your work.
Through aparigraha or non-attachment, we are invited to continue showing up—to continue taking up space, while also releasing any expectation for the outcomes.
These teachings can prepare us to create marketing that will foster growth; these teachings also prepare us for engaging in the deeper work of what it means to live in alignment with ourselves and others, and what it means to commit to dismantling oppression.
To me, justice-focused marketing is an invitation. It’s an invitation to be thoughtful about the space we take up and the spaces we hold; it’s an invitation to commit to reflecting on our identities and proximity to power, and to commit more deeply to the practices of yoga and justice.
The truth is we can do more than just grow our work through our marketing. We can engage in dismantling systems of oppression while seeking to grow our work; we can use our marketing platforms as places where we practice our activism. We can contribute to social change. We can make shifts in our work and in the world. Yoga prepares us for this process. We just have to show up for the practice.
Tristan Katz (they/them) is a writer, educator, and digital strategist based on the ancestral land of the Cowlitz and Clackamas peoples, now known as Portland, OR. Tristan offers business and marketing individual and group mentorship programs, web and graphic design services, and workshops and trainings centered around queer identity and transgender awareness with an anti-oppression and intersectional lens. Through their podcast, articles, digital resources, and workshops, Tristan supports those who seek to grow their work while staying aligned with the practices of yoga, equity, diversity, and inclusivity.
Interested in learning more?
Join Tristan Katz for their upcoming course,
Conscious Marketing: Justice-Focused Digital Strategies for Yoga Teachers.
This online program will explore marketing through the lens of yoga and social justice. The training will support your personal growth and transformation as you discover systems and strategies to make your marketing work for you, rather than against you.
July 27-September 28, 2021.
Tiered pricing, payment plans, and partial scholarships are available.