In order to be able to do marketing and selling consciously (with awareness of how our actions impact others’ emotions, as well as our own psyche), let’s look at the foundational metaphors we use in marketing.
Notice the language of the typical marketing metaphors:
Marketing as War
You are waging a campaign to crush the competition… undercut them with lower prices if possible… and dominate market share.
Many corporations use this metaphor. In fact, the idea of a marketing “war room” is quite common in companies.
Marketing as Hunting
You are baiting your target audience so you can capture their email address.
As they buy a low price item, it is a tripwire that triggers your marketing funnel to sell them more, and hopefully, you’ll make a killing!
This is the common metaphor used by digital marketers or internet marketers.
Marketing as Religion
Structure your content to indoctrinate your new followers into your worldview, and eventually convert them into buyers.
You’ll have control over them when you become a guru to them.
This is essentially cult-building, trying to mind-control one’s audience through hypnotic and persuasion techniques.
Marketing as Science
Each piece of your content is an experiment to test the market for their reactions so you can keep adjusting for more predictable results. Don’t get emotional about the ups or the downs. Stay objective.
I like this metaphor better than the others, but using it exclusively means ignoring the heart. This will tend to erode a true relationship with your audience.
I also dislike the idea of a marketing funnel as it focuses on treating your audience as numbers to be manipulated rather than bring a more heart-centered connection to them.
Marketing as Dating
Just like it would be inappropriate to ask someone to marry you the first time you meet them, you don’t ask your potential client to buy your biggest service package when they’re just getting to know you. Ease them in, as you would in dating, through content and low-priced offers first.
What I like about this metaphor is that it’s about human relationships. However, there’s a lot of inauthenticity or lack of ethics in dating. Allow me to offer what I feel is a better metaphor…
So many marketers are unconscious of the metaphors they’re using. They don’t realize that they are spreading values in the world that they would consciously disagree with, if they only took time to reflect on what they’re doing.
If there’s dissonance between the marketer’s higher values and their actions, the audience can sense it, making it difficult to build long-term trust.
The more that the marketer becomes conscious of this inner discord, the more he’ll sabotage his own efforts, eventually causing a crisis in his business.
This is what happened to me. From 2009–2013, I was doing marketing that didn’t align with my higher values. As I became more conscious of it, I began (unknowingly) to sabotage my own marketing efforts.
Eventually, I had to stop my business altogether. In 2014, I started over with a new way of being in business, a new metaphor for working with marketing that aligned with my higher values.
No longer was I doing war, hunting, or religion. I came to see marketing as education, service, and a cause — to help others (at scale) regardless of whether they bought from me.
I began to use a new metaphor:
Marketing as Friendship
I see myself building a friendship with my audience as a whole.
I start that friendship by connecting on common things, for example, our interest in business based on higher values.
As a friend might do, I will keep in touch with you respectfully and only send you content that I believe you’ll find helpful or interesting.
To know what is interesting for you, I stay observant in our interactions about your needs and wants. I learn about you more deeply so that I can better help you.
Even if I think you are misguided, I won’t judge you. I will try to share my way of thinking, of course, to see if it also resonates with you, but I’ll do it with as much respect and care as I can.
Importantly, I also listen to your opinions and allow the possibility for you to change my perspective, to modify my point of view.
Growing up, my mother told me “Everyone will say nice things to you. Your real friends are willing to tell you the hard truths, in hopes that it may help you.” Similarly, I sometimes ask you to be honest with me on how I can improve. I thoughtfully consider the suggestions I get from you.
Not everyone will resonate with me as a friend, and similarly, I don’t expect everyone to resonate with my marketing.
A compatible friend would accept me as I am. Similarly, I feel liberated in my marketing to be myself, knowing that the audiences that are meant for me will resonate with my style.
People meet new friends through introductions. This is the best way that marketing happens as well: spreading goodness through word-of-mouth.
Friendship is based on trust. So in my marketing I will always work to maintain your trust, never trying to “get” you to do something that feels “off”.
Just like you would start to distance yourself from a friend who was always trying to sell stuff to you, I always try to serve with free content more than I sell.
In my occasional selling, it’s more like I’m inviting a friend to a party, an experience together. It’s something we do to bond more, and to further our growth.
Also, sometimes friends drift apart for a while. Similarly, I’m ok if you stop reading my stuff and go hang out with other marketers you resonate with. When you do come back to our friendship, you’ll be the richer for it. The bottom line is that I don’t try to keep you as a friend, because good friends are neither pushy nor needy. This old saying is true, even in marketing: “If you love them, let them go.”
I hold loosely to having to get and keep your attention. I simply serve as a loyal friend, continually learning more about you (my audience) and bonding with you through our interactions.
These are ideas that I’m not yet perfect at implementing, yet I practice and aspire to be.
Thank you for your support and friendship.
Marketing as Ministry
In the past few years, I’ve begun to try on another metaphor that resonates deeply with me: marketing as ministry, not just as a way to build visibility or get clients.
Marketing to Discover Our Calling
I’ve also been talking more lately about how marketing is a way for businesses to find their “calling”.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.” – Frederick Buechner
This is what we are doing through authentic marketing. We explore what our deep gladness is, but when we can, we do it on social media – public journaling – first among friends we trust, then with a larger and growing audience.
As we explore our life’s experiences, learning, passions, and skills, we also notice what is meeting the world’s hunger the most.
That blessed intersection of “our deep gladness” and “the world’s deep hunger” is our niche.
It’s not a one-time activity to discover it, because we continue to evolve, just as the world continues to change. It is an ongoing journey of continued experimentation, courageous public journaling, and observation of what we do is making the most positive impact.
George Kao is a Marketing Coach for small business owners, especially solopreneurs such as Coaches and Mentors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.
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