“Most of my clients are liars and cheats,” Allen (not his real name) said.
I sighed. It was going to be a difficult consultation.
I was helping Allen improve his marketing. He wanted to know the best wording for AdWords ads that would attract prospects to his website and away from his competition, who were also “liars and cheats.”
Through questioning, I guided Allen to understand his prospects; their fears, their stories, their rationalizations, their fondest desires, their guiding metaphors. But Allen blocked me every step of the way with his dismissive answers. His impenetrable fortress of judgment and opinion blocked all openings to empathy.
Allen returned again and again to wordsmithing based on his current level of awareness, rather than allowing his awareness to be curious about the authentic internal experience of those he would attract and convince.
He ended up with slightly better ads, perhaps. But his judgmental and divisive worldview, which might be titled “Allen vs. the Scumbags,” prevented any insights based on understanding, respect, and (if I may use the word) love.
And therein lies the great opportunity and invitation of marketing: dropping our identification with our own judgments and opening to an unconditional curiosity about the experience of the other.
Isn’t Marketing the Opposite of Spiritual Consciousness?
Most spiritual traditions teach us not to believe our own thoughts, but instead allow a greater reality free from the conditioning of our ever-chattering, judging, commenting mind. To let go of personal desires, ego concerns, and petty identifications. To simply allow reality to exist and move through it in the here and now, without grasping, without forcing, without needing something else to make us OK and whole.
As entrepreneurs, as people of business, we’re in the business of wanting things. We want to make products, sell products, make money, innovate, beat the competition, buy a nice house, put security money in the bank, be free of financial worry and pain. How could we get things done without that engine of personal desire?
As marketers, we’re in the business of making other people want things. By poking their insecurities: you need this if you want to be loved/popular/successful. By highlighting gaps between desire and reality: you thought things were OK, but they could be so much better. By capitalizing on fear: there’s a limited supply, you might miss out, hurry and don’t take so long to think. How could we move product without appealing to our prospects’ most self-centered natures?
I’ve spent a lot of time posturing, pretending to others and myself that I was more spiritual that I actually was. From this place, writing ads and sales copy is pure agony. I find myself totally divided; wanting the sales and the money (sometimes desperately when it was a really important client or when I was out of money and the mortgage was due), and not wanting to appeal to the energies of greed and fear within my prospects.
Can you see the problem? I was operating out of greed and fear myself. But I was looking down on people I didn’t know for being greedy and fearful, and seeking to “enlighten” them through my spiritually uplifted marketing.
What a fraud!
At that stage of my consciousness, the only spiritually honest thing to do would have been to honor the energies of desire within my prospects and myself and speak to them directly. You’re scared? I’m scared too. Let’s talk about being scared. You want more money than you have now? So do I. I know what that feels like. Here’s a product that can help you get it.
The Labels Are What Get In the Way
Addressing my prospects at their level of consciousness is a hell of a lot more respectful than trying to impose another level of consciousness, a “more spiritual” level, on them. Especially when it’s a level I only pretend to attain.
The height of spiritual development, as I’ve come to understand it, is to accept everything as it is, without having an agenda of change or improvement. It’s more “spiritual” to sell someone a product that solves their perceived problem than to try to tell them they’re wrong for perceiving the problem.
So maybe you noticed the language trick I pulled in the last section. I changed the phrase “energies of fear and greed” into “energies of desire.” The first phrase is full of judgment; the second is simply a description. If I judge my prospects for being greedy and fearful, I have no place to stand in solidarity with them. My marketing will not connect.
The Spiritual Opportunity of Marketing
I no longer believe that the spiritual opportunity in marketing is to make my prospects and customers into better people. Into spiritually more advanced beings. Into enlightened souls. What a relief to drop that messiah complex!
The opportunity, instead, is to speak with them as they as, without judging or labeling or diminishing. The opportunity, in other words, is my own spiritual development, and nobody else’s. To mind my own business, not yours.
So what is it about marketing that invites my own spiritual growth? The main opportunity is the ongoing discovery of how I project my own stuff onto the world, and then blame the world for having it.
The Ongoing Discovery of Projection
Projection, as I experience it, means that I’m seeing “out there” what’s really going on “in here.” Just as a movie projector takes an image on a strip of celluloid and projects that image onto an external screen, I take my own issues, fears, faults, and assumptions and project them onto the world in general and other people in particular.
How do I know when I’m projecting? When I’m judging. When I dismiss people as wrong or stupid. When I label others in ways that diminish them. Through enquiry into my own experience, I’ve discovered that every single judgment about somebody else is actually a self-judgment.
When I think of my prospects as greedy and fearful, that’s a sure sign that I’ve got currents of greed and fear within myself. When I criticize TV talking heads for being hateful, I know I’ve got some hate inside me. When I complain about the person who only sees the negative in every situation, guess what? That’s all I can see in them.
Even positive judgments are projections. I can only experience you as kind or graceful or loving or brilliant if I can find those qualities in myself. It’s kind of a cosmic law: whatever I see outside is what I’ve got inside. The spiritual teacher Byron Katie has made a career of gently helping us see the delicious ironies that ensue when we project and judge without awareness.
Without projection, without judgment, I simply take each moment, each encounter, each experience as it comes. I can enter into it fully, see what’s there with fresh eyes and vivid awareness, and be fully present to others without needing to change them in any way.
Marketing to Identify and Resolve My Own Projections
So how do I use marketing to identify and let go of projection? By noticing all projections and following them to their logical conclusion, where they point back at me. At that point, believe me, I’m highly motivated to release them.
When I study my prospects, I notice all the words and concepts that arrive with value judgments. Stubborn. Lazy. Entitled. Stupid.Unrealistic. Desperate. Naïve. I then take each one and find it in myself. I always can. Every single time.
Now, if you came up to me and called me any of those things, I’d probably get hurt and insulted and defensive. “I am not. Let me prove it to you.” So no matter how hard the world tries to get my attention to focus on my character flaws, I’m equally persistent in my resistance. My mind is so good at this, I can probably make you feel like my own shortcomings are actually your fault. My interpersonal crimes rarely leave fingerprints.
So I appreciate the opportunity to dive into the deepest fears and longings of my prospects. I head straight for the dark stuff, the shadow desires, the unconscious feelings that are so much more powerful in motivating behavior than the feelings we’re OK enough with to admit to consciousness.
And in so doing, I end up wading through my own muck. As I own it, reclaim it, bring it home, and experience it fully without resistance or numbness, I heal it. How do I know when it’s healed? When I can’t find it outside of myself anymore.
Making Me a Better Marketer
Cleansing my field of projection is not only a tool for spiritual growth, it’s also the single most effective marketing “technique” I know. If you’ve ever been in the presence of someone who has cleaned their perception of projection, you know how wonderful it feels to be truly seen and heard. And how rare an experience it is for most people. When you can speak to your prospects from a place of non-judgment and unconditional regard and respect, they are naturally drawn to you.
Now, I don’t want to end this piece with a lie. So please don’t believe that I’m particularly good at this spiritual practice of noticing and owning my projections. Because I’m not. I know this because there still arise within me a million judgments a day. And some of them are so convincing, I still believe them and act on them and generally make a mess of things.
But at least I’m no longer confused about how to be a “spiritual” marketer. The story goes, when the young nobleman William Penn first saw the light of Quakerism, he asked the religion’s founder, George Fox, whether he had to stop wearing a sword since Quakerism preaches pacifism. Fox’s reply: “Wear it as long as you can.”
That is to say, when Penn truly aligned himself with pacifism, he would no longer be able to wear a sword. The decision would be internally based, rather than dictated by an outside authority.
Similarly, I appeal to greed and fear in my marketing copy to the extent that those appeals work on me. As I develop and grow, my marketing develops and grows. I no longer try to write “Holier Than Myself” copy that falls flat and helps no one.
So when I discovered that I was judging Allen for his pig-headedness and self-righteous separation from his prospects and competitors, I knew what my own next assignment was.
Howie Jacobson, PhD, is the author of Google AdWords For Dummies. He has been an online marketing strategist since 1999, helping clients use the internet to discover, understand, attract and serve their ideal customers. He writes for Fast Company and Harvard Business, and his hippie credentials include teaching at a Quaker School, delivering singing telegrams as a summer job, and playing Ultimate Frisbee every chance he gets. He currently lives with his family in South Africa, where he’s learning to drive a stick shift and be more patient. Follow him at @askhowie, like him at http://facebook.com/askhowie, or sign up for his newsletter at http://askhowie.com.