The Tao of Online Marketing

Chinese symbol for Tao

You say people don’t act on your offer.

Yes, but they act as they are.

You say you shouldn’t have to appeal to human emotion.

Yes, but otherwise nothing gets done.

You say you want to change the world.

Yes, but you seek change through reality, not in spite of it.

The Tao that can be blogged is not the true Tao. So let’s just say it’s the way the world works… and that applies to online marketing as well.

As with my Zen and the Art of Remarkable Blogging post, this article is not going to teach you anything significant about Taoism (and still nothing on motorcycle maintenance). But it turns out that Taoist principles can actually help you become a better online marketer, especially in social media.

All you have to do is follow the path.

Wu Wei for the Win

Are you beating your head against the wall trying to tell people a story they don’t want to hear? Stop.

In Taoism, “wu wei” is roughly translated as effortless action. Wu wei means your marketing story is in harmony with the desires of your market. On the other hand, when you exert your will against your market, you disrupt that harmony and hit the wall.

The successful online marketer understands her audience first and foremost. She focuses less on what she’d like to say and concentrates on finding the story the audience wants to hear.

People don’t necessarily care about you and what you consider authentic. Better to get over your self and create a relationship that reflects what they consider authentic, while also providing the benefits they seek on a consistent basis.

Micro-entrepreneurs and small businesses are perfectly positioned to provide that consistent authentic relationship with online content marketing. It has nothing to do with becoming a social media star or an infomercial embarrassment, and is all about telling the right story and delivering on it.

If you’re tuned in to your audience, they’ll tell you everything you need to do and say to benefit them while succeeding yourself. Acting in harmony with the desires of your market is entrepreneurial effortless action, and it’s the way social media marketing works.

Four years ago, Seth Godin said all this much better than I have. Check out the provocatively-titled All Marketers are Liars for more.

The Three Jewels of the Tao

The Three Jewels are the basic virtues in Taoism. These three jewels also make the path to effective online marketing clear.

1. Compassion

Your capacity for sharing value before the sale will make or break you online. But in this sense, compassion goes beyond kindness and generosity.

It’s also about empathy and a sense of true identification. To get Godinesque once again, it’s about being a recognized and valued member of the tribe before you rise to lead it.

2. Moderation

In Taoism, excess must be avoided. In marketing, message repetition generally increases conversion. What’s the balance?

The independent value you provide with content between promotional messages strikes the balance. But then something amazing happens… you sell more because now people do care about you. They like you. They trust you. They tell their friends.

3. Humility

Many people are uncomfortable with shameless self-promotion. Others can’t turn it off with a gun to their heads. Does modesty really work in online marketing?

Well, remember this… what others say about you is more important than what you say about yourself. The goal is to get customers and prospects doing the horn-tooting for you. Do that, and let the other guy take the bullet.

The Selling Power of Harmony

Some people view selling stuff online as an exercise in “us against them.” The best salespeople, however, genuinely make people feel that we’re all in this together.

As I said in the early days of Copyblogger, no one likes to feel sold. But when the offer is right, everyone loves to buy.

Becoming harmonious with your market makes the salesperson disappear.

About the Author: Brian Clark is the founder of Copyblogger and co-founder of DIY Themes, creator of the innovative Thesis Theme for WordPress. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. So true and powerful, like usual — especially the “Wue Wei” part. I find the most popular articles I’ve written are the ones that said what everyone was wanting to say. The “fist pump” factor seems to be the easiest emotion for me to tap into.

  2. Just this morning I shared with an associate how a social media marketing strategy must rely on the long-term benefits of building relationships instead of the short-term gain on making a sale. You said it very well-and added a new age spin that appeals to many progressive thinkers. Thanks for telling this story in a new way!

  3. Damn fine post, my friend. I’ll not only Tweet it, I’ll promote it, because it’s what others say about you that really counts…or is it?

  4. Wonderful Brian.

    I can’t stand self promotion. Not necessarily when others do it, but it makes me uncomfortable nearly every time when my own promotion is pouring from my mouth. I don’t like asking for things or tooting my own horn.

    When I first started out, I did care about what I considered authentic and felt as though if I worked hard enough, I would slowly gather the audience that fit. Well, it didn’t really work that way. Now with several sites, I’ve found that each audience is indeed unique with their own set of expectations. Catering to those expectations is what gets readers not only returning, but responding as well.

    Wu Wei.

  5. Ha, I love when Brian goes all countercultural on us.

    This is really good. Rest assured I’ll steal it in six months and forget to credit you.

  6. Nice article, but the market swings so quickly and so decisively, the lead time to deliver anything these days becomes so contracted… deliver the best you can when required. Waiting for the perfect moment or market conditions may never arise.

    Vince

  7. Brian-

    Well done! For many of us, we have to get out there and ‘do it’ learning along the way… hoping our mistakes aren’t too costly. You provide some useful, actionable suggestions here, thanks!

  8. The part on humility is an important reminder for both the born salesman and his/her more modest colleague.

  9. Dear Brian

    Last night, i kid you not, i was reading from the Lao Tzu (aka Tao Te Ching). I was compelled to pull it out and read a couple paragraphs for a friend. Today, i choose this one for you:

    XXXII
    “The way is for ever nameless.
    Though the uncarved block is small
    No one in the world dare claim its allegiance.
    Should lords and princes be able to hold fast to it
    The myriad creatures will submit of their own accord,
    Heaven and earth will unite and sweet dew will fall,
    And the people will be equitable, though no one so decrees.
    Only when it is cut are there names.
    As soon as there are names
    One ought to know that it is time to stop.
    Knowing when to stop one can be free from danger.
    The way is to the world as the River and the Sea are to rivulets and streams.”

    I think your post is remarkable in that it touches on some of the fundamental principles of existence in order to convey a few simple truths about effective marketing, and the power of being in tune with your audience or market. It seems the key message here, as also conveyed in the passage above, is that the synchronicity with your goals and the needs of your market is something that cannot be feigned or even 100% defined. Rather, it is something you innately understand due to your involvement, passion and commitment to your path.

    Although certain principles of marketing remain consistent and effective, i believe that is due to the fundamental laws of human nature they evoke and convey. The more we can understand those forces in ourselves, and the more we can stay true to that in ourselves, the more effective we will be as human beings in alignment with our “purpose” and the resonance of that in the world by way of service, product, offering, blog, etc..

  10. Thanks everyone for the kind words.

    Satya, incredible comment. Thanks for taking time.

  11. Brian, I think this is one of your best articles yet – succinct yet it really covers it. Everybody thinks online marketing (or marketing in general) just involves setting up a bunch of crap online and watching the money roll in, but besides effort you need to be sincere and genuine! I don’t know why so many people miss that part of it. Again, great article – reminds me why I follow this site!

  12. I have been receiving your daily postings for several weeks, and am impressed with your consistent insight and information.

    My wife and I work hard to develop long term relationships with clients as well as stronger market position. In just a few weeks, I have found myself using your tools and suggestions.

    Thank you – Tom

  13. Ah, so — such sound advice.

    You seem aware that many of us readers are at odds with creating genuine content that not only reflects our inner genius but also commands market attention. I guess that’s why we keep listening to you.

  14. I agree totally with your post when it comes to conventional marketing. My exception comes when you are attempting to communicate a truth. Cognitive dissonance takes over and “blanks” out your messages. It takes extreme creativity to capture attention and then you have to combat decades of preconditioning. Try and ask anyone, “Who discovered America?”. They sure as hell won’t appreciate any facts that indicate it was discovered and settled in 983 A.D.

  15. Had to laugh when I read the part, “Do that, and let the other guy take the bullet for you”. Tao? Not so much. Funny? Yes, but would have been funnier if it happened to be under the compassion heading!

    Great post. Particularly agree with, “Becoming harmonious with your market makes the salesperson disappear”.

  16. Very well said, Brian. Actually even more effectively put than by Seth, who is an all time favorite of mine.

  17. sigh
    A timely reminder that it’s not about me. No wonder my clients have frustrated me so much lately! More compassion and humility required.

    Thanks Brian. Just the kick up the bum I needed today.

  18. A fantastic spin on what is a topic getting so much airplay right now.

    Social media + marketing = MEkerting

    This is inspiring me write a whole post – the Tao of Mekerting! It fits perfectly with the reminder to companies that it is about wu wei, the harmony of being, of stopping to try to push the mine-mine-mine of traditional marketing to the you-us-we of MEkerting.

  19. Great post. I think it’s given everyone an insight into their writing and it’s posts like these that make you reevaluate what and how you write. Thanks.

  20. Brilliant. I never thought of using Taoism in Online Marketing. Everything seems to be in line with what true marketing is about. We should never forget that Marketing is Outside-in approach, and hence Wu Wei is very applicable in this sense. Tell a story that they want to hear and not the story you want to tell them.
    That’s Marketing!

  21. Great post, don’t forget persistence.It is to know and listen to your readers that make you succeed, not on how many traffic per day you have which is still in doubt.

  22. Brian-san, domo arigato.

    Thank you for your thoughtful input.

    There is no difference between Tao’s world and that of marketing!

    Tao should work anywhere.

    We Wei (“mu i” in Japanese) works by Hsuan Pi (“gen pi” in Japanese / Roughly translated “Dark Depth Female” in English).

    Thanks a lot.

    Naoto

  23. Thanks Brian – much respect. Cheers!

  24. I will admit I am not familiar with Tao-ism, but I did enjoy what you wrote. I like the idea of telling your audience (future customers) what they want to hear vs. what you want to say. I think this is a skill that can be honed if you take YOU out of the picture and be open to the what the other person is saying and the other subtle cues and innuendos. I too like the idea of modesty and moderation. I think both qualities can make a person likable and more trustworthy. When I met my husband he was humble as humble pie … and I bought what he was selling. ;)

    Peace.

  25. The Tao that can be blogged is not the true Tao.

    Brian you kill me. I can never tell when you’re trying to be funny, but that line made me laugh out loud at work. I’ve read the Tao Te Ching a bunch of times and that first line is seared into my memory. To see you relate it to blogging in such a blunt way that probably flew over a lot of people’s heads is gold.

    Keep up the good work.

  26. Xander, I was waiting for someone to comment on that one. Yes, a little toungue-in-cheek Taoist humor there. :)

  27. Great blog post! I love the concept of it! We featured it on our Top 10 Blog Posts of the Week because we loved it that much!

  28. Patrick Moody :

    “Some people view selling stuff online as an exercise in “us against them.” The best salespeople, however, genuinely make people feel that we’re all in this together.”

    another post on this site says “attack the enemy”

    there’s lots of great stuff on here, but the contradicting viewpoints make my head spin…

  29. Patrick, the harmony I speak of is between you and those most likely to be your customers… not the entire world. If you try to please everyone, you please no one.

    So, “all in this together” means you and your market, not others. Truly harmonious marketing must be exclusionary of outsiders by definition.

    So, don’t view your prospects as the enemy you’re trying to beat. Share the same enemy with your prospects.

    Also, keep in mind that the “enemy” isn’t always a specific person or company. It can be cellulite, or procrastination, or bureaucracy.

    “Attack the enemy” simply means you have empathy with your market. You feel their pain and oppose the same things.

    See… not so contradicting after all. :)

  30. Great article Brian.

    I guess it comes down to to laws of repulsion with magnetism. If we try too hard we actually repel the prospect but if we are casual and let them come to us they become highly attracted to whatever we have to offer.

    Pat Bloomfield
    PatB Wedding Photography Suffolk

  31. On the contrary, I love being sold to. It is the seller’s belief in their product that makes me buy it. Yes, it has to fit my needs, but I don’t want people trying to find out what my needs are. I want them to sell me the benefits of their product. If they can do that successfully, I’ll see if it fits my needs. Stop trying to get all my data, and focus on making your product the best it can be.

  32. “Some people view selling stuff online as an exercise in “us against them.” The best salespeople, however, genuinely make people feel that we’re all in this together.

    This is so true. Well Done!

  33. Thanks everyone for the kind words.

    Satya, incredible comment. Thanks for taking time.

  34. I’m a little late in the game of reading this article, but I found it very spot on even in the present. It’s too bad even though you wrote this almost a year ago, there are still bloggers who still haven’t quite followed the message. Thanks for writing this.