Last week, Verge community members gathered at the Indianapolis Convention Center to see New York Times Best Selling Author, John Green, present at the 2014 Connections Conference. As the nation’s premiere conference for digital marketers, Connections played host to some of the best and brightest minds in the nation, but none resonated with the crowd quite like John Green. His Keynote, much like his TEDx talk below, featured a delightful mix of humor and geekiness, but that pales in comparison to his biggest strength… Communication skills.

What struck me about his keynote is that, despite claiming he doesn’t get marketing, John Green has marketed himself more effectively than 90% of the marketers in the room last week. John understands content creation at a level I can only dream of, and this is evident in everything he does. It doesn’t matter if it’s a crash course on YouTube that gets over a million hits or a novel that sells over a million copies, John Green’s stuff sells.

If your startup could sell half as well as John Green’s content, you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Instead, you’d be jet-setting to the Caymans and asking your assistant to summarize it for you.

[Side note – Is it conceited of me to think that if you were a billionaire, you would still want to know what I have to say, but you’d make your executive assistant read it for you? Yes? Okay, good to know.]

So what can your startup be working on to learn to market yourself like John? Here are three lessons I learned that can be applied to your startup.

1. Understand Yourself

John talked about how, growing up, people told him to “be himself,” and that always seemed like a peculiar request. “Am I not being myself right now?” he would ask. It wasn’t until much later that he got his arms around what they meant. He started to understand that this ever-changing and ever-evolving person is him, no version less authentic than the last. He dropped this nugget of wisdom, which was extremely applicable to the entrepreneurs in the house.

“As you learn, grow, and change, ask yourself what your new self looks like. Become yourself over and over. ”

I don’t care if you’re starting a software company or a soft serve company, you’re probably going to pivot at one point or another. Don’t be afraid of that, lean into it. Continue to “become yourself” at every turn. Many entrepreneurs embrace that from a practical perspective – “Okay, let’s do this because we can make more money” – but few embrace the messaging behind it – “This is who we are now.” Only by knowing and understanding yourself can you truly know and understand how to communicate your message effectively.

2. Understand Your Target Market

“We have to understand others complexly. We can’t view people as merely 18-34 year old  males with  a choice to make when buying deodorant”

This gem was aimed at marketers, but it’s equally true for entrepreneurs. You need to understand your target market at a deep level. If you’re working on building effective marketing for your startup, it’s not enough to know your customer’s pain points… you need to know them, inside and out. You need to know what media they consume, what their worldview is, and where they

John’s example of this is his online video presence. He manages multiple YouTube channels, all of which are designed to be educational. Awhile back, he made a video on giraffe sex that saw twice the traffic of his other videos. Following the data, you would think he would make more videos about giraffe sex. Clearly, that’s what his target demographic wants!

He went the other route. He knew that his audience loved his educational material, so he continued making videos like this:

Today, his online presence continues to grow rapidly, and only a small minority of that audience is giraffe-ophiles

3. Understand Your Community

As someone who is heavily invested in this startup community, this hit close to home.

“What’s good for your community is always good for your business and what’s bad for your community is always bad for your business.”

I think we can all attest to the fact that giving back to our community is one of the most valuable thing your business can do. Time and time again, entrepreneurs have spoken on the Verge stage about the benefit they see from giving back to their community, but I want to hear from you.

Drop a comment and tell me about a time when giving to your community helped your business.

Don’t forget to read more about Connections 2014 here!