Hubspot #inbound15 was my first.

Now in its fifth year, Boston’s Inbound conference has become one of the marketing industry’s largest events of the year. The high-impact, every-seat-taken sessions, food-truck lunching as well as the marketing and sales best-practice-sharing was certainly refreshing. It’s nice to meet other inbound marketing companies that share my love of putting the customer first in all things and helping their brands be the best. We walked away with technical tidbits of new innovations that will prove useful to better enhance brands, but what I’d like to share with you is far more valuable and much more lasting: how being vulnerable is actually strong.

Despite our fears and the risk of being turned down or heartbroken, being vulnerable, open, and honest will often connect and ignite relationships – personal and professional – much stronger than before.

New York Times Bestselling Author and Storyteller Brene Brown who grew up in Austin shared a powerful experience with us from Boston’s #inbound15 Keynote stage. She spoke about the insecurities and shame we feel as individuals and how it pervades the way we see ourselves, what stories we feed our brains, and how we interact with others.
She recounted her own experience of swimming on Lake Austin with her husband recently, and decided to open up and share how great of a bonding experience swimming was, how close she felt to him in that moment, and how greatly and immensely her heart was full of him right then. Fifteen or so feet away from her treading in the water, he said “Yeah, the water’s great. Let’s keep going.”

Stunned by her professional swimmer husband’s insensitive response to her uncommon verbal expression of her full heart, Brene tried to make sense of his remark while continuing to swim.

Maybe, he’s not attracted to my old, saggy body. Maybe, he’s wishing I was that young, hot thing he once knew.
This time much closer to him out on the waters, she gains the courage to again state the closeness she feels with him as they swim together for the first time in more than 30 years at her favorite childhood place: Lake Austin. Again, he brushes her off and encourages her to keep swimming.

Now fuming, Brene’s brain is spinning and trying to make sense of her husband’s rudeness. Her own fear of aging, a slowing metabolism, and how it affects how she visualizes herself looking (to her husband) in a swimsuit takes off. These are the lies, the confabulations, the stories the brain makes up to make sense and explain why her husband is acting this way.

After opening up her heart and being vulnerable and both times being shot down with her husband rejecting her sentiment, Brene does what most people would naturally do: she blows him off and makes him pay.

“What’s for dinner,” he asks later that evening. “I don’t know, honey. Perhaps you should ask the food fairies,” she retorts back.

Jolted, he tries to make sense of her heartless, rude comment. His fears of weakness and failure wash in. He responds, “I don’t mind taking care of the kids, Brene.”

He repeats that to her several times – “I don’t mind taking care of the kids, Brene.”

She asks him what he’s talking about and how it relates to cooking dinner (or in her mind…with what happened earlier in the morning on the lake when he totally dismissed her intimate comments).

He opens up and gets vulnerable by sharing a dream he had the night before about swimming with the kids on Lake Austin. A fast-approaching boat was driving at fast speeds toward them as they treaded water. Without any time to spare he pushed all five children down, down into the waters to save them as the boat passed above them. About 30 seconds later, he looked over at the youngest, 2 years old, and knew if he didn’t go up immediately for air, his child would be gone.

Brene was shocked. She had no idea her husband was dealing with such an emotional thing.
“I’m so glad to know that, Babe,” Brene said.

“Why’s that,” he asked her.
“I thought you were blowing me off this morning out on the water,” she said.
He said, “This morning? I was having a panic attack. Even though I’m in water often, I totally broke down and couldn’t seem to remember how to swim as I was thinking about my dream last night and drowning our kids,” he confessed.

Sheer honesty in their vulnerabilities connected Brene and her husband and helped them clear the air.

Everyone fears something. For Brene it was not being beautiful to her husband. For Brene’s husband – it was his fear of not be able to save his children despite being a good, professional swimmer. Like most women, Brene struggles with appearance and body image. Her husband, like most men, fear failure and are overly worried about performance.

Our fears often darken the way we see the world and interact with others. But they don’t have to.

Brene’s TED Talk ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ is the fifth most viewed TED Talk of all time.

We must learn how to take every thought captive and capture the confabulations or stories our brains try to tell us to make sense of tough situations.

Marketing tip takeaways:
• Be bold and share emotion like Brene did; it connects us with our spouse, friends, and is a great way to do marketing
• Get vulnerable – sometimes it will push others away, but often it will spark relationships and make them more intimate and meaningful
• When you allow your fears (of appearance or performance) to dictate your action toward others, you’re in for trouble. Take those lies your brain creates to make sense of junk and replace them with what is true, what is noble, right, pure, and lovely. Meditate on praiseworthy things.
• Understand that people’s reactions to you have little to do with you. Remember Brene’s husband who blew her off? He was panicking on the water thinking about how (in his dream) he drowned his kids. His response to her had nothing to do with her comments. It’s important to know your audience and consider what’s going on in their life as you communicate with them.
• Embrace constructive criticism (or, customer feedback) – it clears the air, puts both parties on the same page, and deepens the relationship.

Meaningful connection can only happen when we open up and share ourselves. Business is no different. To connect with the audiences our brand thrives on, we must get real even if it means awkward moments. Being vulnerable is when magical trust and loyalty begin, and that’s just smart marketing.

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