The Tao of Marketing

Many years ago, I listened to a cassette tape of a reading of The Tao Te Ching and it greatly influenced my life. 

My friend George Stewart had inspired me to read it during one of our wonderful idea exchanges at lunch back in the 1990's.  My wife Ra El bought me the audio cassettes to listen to as I walked with my Sony Walkman.  For years and years the calming voice of this wisdom helped me understand a way to be in the world.

The Tao is a collection by Lao Tze. It is a classic ancient Chinese text. Written around the sixth century, the book literally translates as “the way”.  It was the Stephen Mitchell translation that was more accessible to me and helped me understand the gold within the writing.

This wisdom has served me well over many years as a collection of proverbs or short thoughts on deeply important life lessons. Recently, I have been thinking how much these ideas influenced my approach to marketing. 

I want to share three ideas from the Tao that I think are particularly applicable to marketing in the twenty-first century. Marketing is a profession that many see with much disdain. Marketing is often seen as manipulative. The Tao has helped me to find my way.  What follows are three examples.

Stay Grounded. Keep to the simple. 

 “In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple.”

One of the most often repeated perspectives I share with colleagues about marketing is asking how we can make things simpler in our approach. I want to stay grounded based on a solid idea and not some lofty high-level message. We marketers often get lost trying to say too much and to complicate the path forward.  We get stuck thinking by using PowerPoint. The Tao teaches the importance of sticking to the simple and is filled with remarkable wisdom.

Water is fluid, soft and yielding. But water will wear away rock.

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.

Many marketers may be confused by this part of the Tao. To me it is a wonderful marketing lesson in recognizing that over time with a fluid approach, you can wear away objections to the product and service you are offering to your audience. Being fluid means that like water, you are able to find the crevices and paths that can lead you toward success. If you become rigid and inflexible, you will not learn how to adapt and it is easy to break.  Within the text of the Tao is a passage about “be like a willow that can be strong against the most powerful wind because it can bend”.

Simplicity,  patience and compassion. These are your three greatest treasures.
“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”

When a marketing professional sticks to the simple, is patient with their efforts and works from a place of compassion, it creates a path that leads toward success. I work hard to achieve success without ever letting go of these treasures. Like shining stars at night, these three beacons can help show you the way. 

Patience is a remarkably powerful tool for a marketer because it keeps you grounded with realistic expectations allowing you to counter the overly aggressive attitudes that can pervade business. It allows you to be slowly persistent in your efforts as you stay centered and focused on goals. And when you do this from a place of compassion, you can find great creative inspiration. You let go of ego and realize what is truly important. 

Here is a link on Amazon to this wonderful translation by Stephen Mitchell. I urge you to read or listen to this wisdom to help you find your way.

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