Courting vs. Seduction in Marketing

10596261_10154474180875195_1614989293_nYou can try to bully business out of clients. But very few people will ever do that.

However, many of us – often without knowing we’re doing it – try to manipulate and seduce our clients.

If you’re reading this, then my guess is that you hate option one (seduction). So, if bullying is out and seduction is out . . . what’s left? Manipulation?

I want to lift up another option: courting them.

Simon Sinek lays the groundwork for this notion in his brilliant book Start With Why:

Typical manipulations include: dropping the price; running a promotion; using fear, peer pressure or aspirational messages; and promising innovation to influence behaviour – be it a purchase, a vote or support. When companies or organizations do not have a clear sense of why their customers are their customers, they tend to rely on a disproportionate number of manipulations to get what they need. It’s because manipulations work.

If fear motivates us to move away from something horrible, aspirational messages tempt us toward something desirable. Marketers often talk about the importance of being aspirational, offering someone something they desire to achieve and the ability to get their more easily with a particular product or service.

  • Six steps to a happier life!
  • Work those abs to your dream dress size!
  • In six short weeks you can be rich!

All these messages manipulate.

They tempt us with the things we want to have or to be the person we wish we were.

I cannot dispute that manipulations work.

Every one of them can indeed help influence behaviour and every one of them can help a company become quite successful. But there are trade offs.

Not a single one of them breeds loyalty.

Over the course of time, they cost more and more. The gains are only short term. And they increase the level of stress for both the buyer and the seller. If you have exceptionally deep pockets or are looking to achieve only a short term gain with no consideration for the long term, then these strategies and tactics are perfect.

Beyond the business world, manipulations are the norm in politics today as well. Just as manipulations can drive a sale but not create loyalty, so too can they help a candidate get elected, but they don’t create a foundation for leadership. Leadership requires people to stick with you through thick and thin. Leadership is the ability to rally people not for a single event, but for years. [Manipulative] tactics win elections, but they do not seed loyalties among the voters.

In business, leadership means that customers will continue to support your company even when you slip up. If manipulation is the only strategy, what happens the next time a purchase decision is required. What happens after the election is won?

There is a big difference between repeat business and loyalty. Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you. Loyal customers don’t often bother to research to the competition or entertain other options. Loyalty is not easily won. Repeat business, however, is. All it takes is more manipulations.

Manipulations lead to transactions, not loyalty.

So, if manipulations don’t work to create loyalty, what does? If manipulating and seducing people ultimately doesn’t feel good, what does?


A True Story About Courting

Ron Walker, program coordinator at the Native Friendship Centre in Edmonton, Alberta, shared a story that speaks so beautifully to this notion of courting. I share this abridged version of Ron’s story here with his kind permission:

A long time ago, there was once a young man in love with a woman in his village who did not return his affections. Unable to deal with the pain of this rejection he left the village and went far, far away into the woods, where he was guided to a beautifully carved flute and told to go and listen to the sounds the animals there made and to learn how to play them on the flute. They were sounds that neither himself nor anyone in his village had heard before. Once he had done this, he was told to take those sound-songs back. And so he did. And, when he returned to his village, he climbed up a hill, pulled out his flute, and began to play. The people of the village sat up in notice of this beautiful and strange music they’d never heard before. And the woman who’d had no interest in him before, found her way up the hill and sat next to him signifying her desire to be with him.

It’s a good and true story.

In the story, the young man isn’t told that by learning this music, he’d win her back. It wasn’t a tool of seduction. It was a gift for his community and the learning and sharing of it had, I’m sure, made him more beautiful in the process. When he returned, his own heart had been healed. He wasn’t grasping at the woman anymore and so she felt safe to come towards him.

It’s a strange truth I’ve found in life and marketing: if you try to strong-arm a particular person into doing business with you, it rarely works but if you bring something good, unique and beautiful to a community and give it in service to that community, many of the people you would have been chasing actually come towards you of their own accord. I have experienced this many times.

And, of course, the Western Mind wants to turn that story into a formula: if I go out into nature, find something beautiful and bring it back to the community, or if I go on some walk or pilgrimage and find some clarity, then, when I come back, I’ll get “the girl” (aka the client) or whatever I had desired.

But I don’t think that’s what the story is saying.

I don’t think that story is making any promises at all.


A Tale of Two Bookstores

Marianne Williamson once spoke about working in a bookstore. She saw it as her job to love the people who came in. And she did. And they loved her for it and came back over and over because it just felt so good to be there. Once in a while people would come in and offer her business advice and the tactics she could be using to get customers to come back. The tactics never made sense to her and then one day she realized, “Oh! They think this is a bookstore!” But for her, it had always been her church and a chance to minister to people. She was courting people, not seducing them.

There’s new age bookstore I’ve been to where every time I walk in, I feel anything but a sense of serenity. I feel on edge and I am immediately assaulted with offers to join their email list and FB group. I’m being sold from the second I walk in. If I’m going to buy something, the owner is so loving and full of smiles, but the second it becomes clear I’m just browsing? The love shuts off entirely and she goes cold and I feel like my presence there is an imposition on her time and space. I’ve talked with dozens of others who feel the same way about this place. I genuinely have no idea how she’s still in business.


Seduction vs. Courtship

Elder Stephen Jenkinson distinguishes between seduction and courting thus: “Seduction sounds like the quiet padding of the thief’s feet on the path as they run away into the night having stolen from you something very precious you won’t even know is missing until you reach for it next.”

Seduction is polish and charm.

Courting is the deep insistence of being of some use to the thing or person you love whether or not it benefits you at all.

It is a combination of being observant, deep listening, and earnest craftsmanship to bring the one you love something that they need without ever once having had to ask.

And maybe this is the heart of courting – generosity. That courting begins and ends with giving whereas seduction begins and ends with taking (and any giving which is done is used itself as misdirection to distract you from the taking).

Seduction is the buying of votes and the false “I love you.” It’s the playing on people’s hopes to get something we want from them without them knowing we took it. Seduction is a beautiful, carefully stitched bag emptied of all respect and regard for the other so that it can hold the very thing the one you love might have given you freely, had you courted them well. The things seduction throws aside are the very things that might have inspired the giving. The cost of walking the path of seduction, which we all (if we are honest) know intimately, is that we are constantly scared of being caught. Seduction requires stealth where stealth shouldn’t be.

The worst of salesmanship is seduction, not courting. It’s ninja tactics, secret linguistic tricks, and “closing techniques.” Seduction is about sitting across from someone and trying to get people to see things your way (e.g. to see how valuable what you’re offering is, to see what a great person you are, etc.), while courting begins with sitting down next to them and trying to see what they see.

The worst of dating advice is seduction, pick up tricks, and sneaking.

The worst of parenting advice is seduction, bribery and bullying. It’s us standing toe to toe with our child trying to get them to see things our way instead of sitting beside them and trying to see what they see.

Seduction is, in short, trying to get away with something.

Courting is trying to give to something. Trying, often futilely and often failing, to give something worthy and beautiful to those we love. But even in the most disastrous attempts to give where we fail extravagantly, there’s something in the extravagance itself that feeds something good in us. Courting is about leaving space so that the one you are courting has room to move towards you of their own volition, leaving room for them to come closer to you. It also allows for the courted one to move away – it is an invitation, and allows space for choice in the recipient.

And so if you experience someone seducing you and you let them know that it doesn’t feel good, you are meeting their seduction with courting. You’re giving them your truth and courting better behaviour from them in the future.

If you’re treated poorly in a dating scenario, you make someone more human by letting them know your feelings and not letting them behave so poorly in your presence.

And we don’t share our feelings about people’s behaviour in order that they will love us for being so wise and helpful. If we’re doing it to get their approval then we’ve already begun to slide down the hill of seduction without noticing it.

We can share the impact their actions had on us and then let go gracefully of the need for them to do anything in particular with that information. I think the not being attached to a result is central to courtesy.


The Soft Handshake

b6dc12b8a87ce0db3c0397f1ad0b0201I recall receiving a handshake from a Blackfoot activist in Alberta. It was the limpest handshake I’ve ever received and it felt incredibly gross. Like I was shaking hands with a dead fish. Didn’t he know about the importance of making a good first impression on someone?

And then, many years later, I heard Stephen Jenkinson talking about this. He explained that it was a very old style of handshake that meant to express the utmost consideration and respect. It was saying, “I’m not going to try and make any big impression on you. I’m not going to assume we’re going to get along. Let’s just take our time and get to know each other and see how it goes.” No assumptions. No burdens placed.

I think it’s a good thing to take into our interactions with clients. Not carrying in this urgent need to impress them right away. Not having the focus be on how they see us and our reputation. That approach is guided by the mirror of narcissism and self concern and it’s hard to move forward skillfully while looking into a mirror. Instead we are guided by our love of and concern for them.


Courting is not collapsing.

None of this means you collapse and give away the store.

It doesn’t mean you work for free.

It doesn’t mean that you aren’t strategic and thoughtful in how you plan your marketing.

It doesn’t mean you don’t put a lot of time into thinking out your sales funnels and business model.

It doesn’t mean you don’t track and measure your numbers and results and change your strategy accordingly.

It doesn’t mean that your tone has to be gentle and you can’t be outrageous or have fun. It doesn’t mean you throw out your edginess and sass. None of that.

No no no.

It means you might do all of those things but that you take care of yourself well while you do them.

It means you build a thoughtful and well considered business plan. It means you get really clear on your niche. It means you write the best sales letters anyone had every seen. It means that you get really good at having conversations with interested people that help you both decide if there’s a fit there or not.

It actually means that you need to raise your game as an entrepreneur substantially.

If you want to court your clients graciously, then consider creating free things for them that could be useful to them before they spend money with you to let them know that you have their needs in mind first and foremost.

If you want to court hubs and influencers, consider the same approach. Be useful to them in a way that is meaningful to them before you ask anything of them.

Find a way for them to get to know you from a distance and to approach you as it feels safe for them, so that you can both see if you resonate with one other.


You business is a house. Your customers can’t relax in a collapsing house. 

It’s like this. You build the house of your business solidly like a house instead of having it always sit at the edge of collapse. If you build your house (or business) strong, then people walk in and just enjoy the beauty in it. They notice how good it feels to be there. I remember once being in Fairfield, Iowa where I did one of my first workshops ever. I went to house that was build according to Vedic design principles even older than Feng Shui. It was a thing of beauty. Timbre framed. Rammed earth floors. Big windows. It felt so good to just be in the thing. We were just there as a part of a tour but no one want to leave it when it was time to go.

Here’s what no one felt while in that Vedic home – pressure to hold that house up.

Could you imagine the tour if the framing was weak. “So as you can see here in the kitchen . . . shit, sorry! Could you hold this beam? It’s about to collapse. Thanks. So, this kitchen was built with . . . shit! Could you two hold up that wall? Must not have nailed that in right and FUCK! Everyone else hold up the roof!”

That’s how it feels to be in a poorly constructed business. Like you’ve been giving the job of saving the business provider, and left holding it all up. So, the first responsibility in courting is to build your business well so it’s not relying on your clients to hold it up.

And also, how can you ever leave your home to invite anyone to it if it’s going to collapse when you leave it? If you’re always patching it together in a constant crisis, how can you give out invitations to the wonderful parties you want to throw? How can you be present to your guests, have empathy and put yourself in their shoes when you’re in crisis?

It seems to me  that we move to seduction out of the desperation of a house with a leaky roof falling apart. The key is not to get better at seducing. The key is to find ourselves some simple and stable place to live so we can have the time and space we need to practice our courting of who and what matters to us.

Perhaps, the central and unspoken fear that drives seduction is the belief that the other person has something without which you cannot survive and that you simply couldn’t get on your own. This fear creates desperation – it makes these situations into life or death matters.

We come to believe, in a confused sort of way, that we need to get a sale from this particular person or that we need sex from that person, love and acceptance from this person, and attention from that person. If we believe this, then we will seduce at best – or simply steal at worst. If we believe this, then we will be unable to let go gracefully if that is what’s required.

I think a first step to even being able to consider courting anyone or anything is to see more widely, to see that our needs can be met in many ways rather than making one person responsible for them.

Sometimes what this all means (and no one wants to hear this) is that you need to live somewhere else while you build this dream home. Or that you need to build a tiny home and add extensions as you can afford to. Sometimes you need to have a job to earn your income while you build your dream business. Or sometimes you need to start really small and grow your business as you are able.


What Are You Feeding? 

Courting acknowledges that there are things that matter beyond us and our businesses bottom line.

It acknowledges that the way we engage with others not only has consequences for us (do we get the sale or not) but also for the other (do they feel honoured or violated).

But there is something else that is profoundly missing in most of the marketing material I see. The understanding that our actions impact anything bigger than ourselves.

Certainly, it has consequences for the marketplace at large. If everyone used seduction and manipulation, the marketplace would feel even worse than it does – trust would be at an all time low. But, perhaps there’s something even bigger, something that is fed by the beauty we make and that is starved when we don’t. The way we proceed with each other is not free of consequence.

Looked at from another angle, I think that courting has big consequences for the kind of person we become. And the kind of person we become has big consequences for the world. When we move through the world trying to seduce people I think we increasingly become the embodiment of the absence of the  very thing we were seducing, using our hands and words to grasp at and trap what was never ours in the first place. When we move through the world trying to court people I think we increasingly become the embodiment of the thing we have been courting from the practice of using our hands and our words to craft gifts for what we love. Somehow the practice of crafting gifts transforms us into a gift as well.


“. . . the rental rate for this gift of being allowed to flourish and reside in this continuum with the rest of the world is that we do everything possible to be indigenously beautiful, promising that we make ourselves spiritually full and delicious so as to feed the next ones to appear in the ongoing river on the occasion of our passing.”

– Martin Prechtel, The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic


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