Economic trends and the evolution of social media have led to a shift in the way yoga is being effectively marketed. The old model of packaging and selling a style of practice has largely been retired. Now, everyone agrees, the teacher is the brand. With this comes a string of inevitabilities that are at the heart of what plagues most professional yoga teachers today.
I don’t know when it happened but, at some point in the last few years, the amount of time I spend engaged in multiple forms of online content creation, distribution and promotion has begun to rival, if not overtake, the amount of time I spend teaching yoga. Wherever you look for advice on how to be a successful yoga teacher or center owner, there is always an internet marketing component. You simply must have a Facebook page, Twitter feed and, depending on what circles you traverse, an Instagram account.
I fought it for as long as I could. I remember arguing with my producer friend about why my website was not “J. Brown Yoga.” I said: “There is no J. Brown style of yoga. I did not invent anything and I’m not comfortable presenting what I do in a way that communicates otherwise.” He said: “Your website is not you. It’s just a way for people to find you. And your name is J. Brown. And you teach yoga. The google search to find you is ‘J. Brown Yoga.’ So, your website needs to be ‘J. Brown Yoga’…… period.” And he was right. There was no escaping the truth that in order to survive I would need to embrace the internet and its effects on brick-and-mortar business.
We are living in a time when the comfort that people once had with the corporate model has waned to almost nothing. No one wants to buy yoga from anything that feels like a corporation.
The prevailing knowledge has become that creating a logo-ed entity or product no longer works. The thing that people are buying is the teacher. The teacher is the brand. That’s why all the big companies out there selling yoga stuff are primarily doing so through the personalities of individuals rather than through the old standard image of success. A personal connection to someone creates an emotional response that makes the corporation feel like a spiritual friend more than a strategy to obtain and aggregate information so you can be more effectively manipulated into shelling out your hard-earned dollars.
Case in point is a recent Gaiam campaign with the moniker #Everybodybends. It consisted of a series of videos, each featuring an individual person. The promos are intimate, filmed in a hand-held way, and spotlight truly genuine and inspirational teachers. They share their real experiences about important and meaningful aspects of yoga and how it has affected them in their lives. At no point is there any reference to any particular product or buying anything at all. Just a quick shot of the logo at the very end. They just want their brand to be melded with the infectious authenticity of the teacher.
The aim of brands is to project an image that will speak to a targeted demographic or market. When the brand is a yoga teacher, the line between the person and the public persona becomes inevitably obscured.
If your career is based on an image that is only really a moment in your life, or an idea about a lifestyle that you are hoping to create for yourself and others, then what happens when you change, or life doesn’t live up to your hopes? What happens when the image that best sells and provides you the most resource starts to betray who you become or wish to be? Most of us are just doing our best to make a living at something that we don’t hate. The prospect of actually making it happen with something you love is sort of the dream. That is why so many people are attracted to yoga as a profession. But It’s hard when that dream seems to become increasingly dashed by the bleak and harsh realities of an internet gone sour with the broken hopes of too many, and an economic system that is making it harder and harder for independent operators to navigate and compete.
I am a brand. I don’t feel that I have much choice about it. Of course, I could just do something else, but I choose to be a yoga teacher. For when something is your passion, when you see life better and enjoy everything more just because you get to do that thing, you can’t just choose not to do it. So, if surviving as a yoga teacher means being a brand then that’s what I have to be. But it has to include my flaws. It can’t be a glossy picture of something that isn’t me just because it sells well. And if authenticity is the thing that people want, then the brand has to be a true expression of that. My brand is me. Being true to myself only makes my brand stronger.
p.s. If you are an independent yoga professional looking for new ways to connect and share in mutual benefit then check out The Online Yoga Co-op.