Don’t Market Yourself, Market Your Message

bg-homeDon’t market yourself, market your message. 

This is the theme I want to explore in what promises to an epic post. I’ve been wanting to write this post for at least half a year and have been slowly collecting ideas and inspirations for it. At this point, I need to put out what I’ve got and I would love to get your honest reflections on it.

Here’s the starting point: if you have a business, you are going to be known for something. It’s inevitable. The question is this: will you be known for the right things? Will your reputation bring you the kinds of clients you want?

This is something I’ve explored extensively in my blog posts about identifying your platform and articulating it in a page.

Up until now, I’ve seen that there are six things you can be known for – but over the past few months, I’ve felt drawn to add a seventh – your message. I’ve realized that your message to the world can actually be one of the most powerful things you can be known for.

Don’t market yourself, market your message.

That was a phrase I heard from my colleague Morgana Rae (who’s message is: ‘make money by putting love first’) that got me thinking about it. Something in it made sense to me. 

And then I was looking at my colleague Mark Silver’s website where it stated his core message so clearly: ‘every act of business can be an act of love.’ So clear. So evocative. So meaningful.

For the past year, I’ve been beginning to talk about the message of ‘slow marketing movement’ (in the same vein as the slow food movement) and noticing the resonance that has with people far beyond talking about marketing tactics and tools. 

I’ve noticed that when I share the message that ‘marketing is a vital part of doing good in the world’ it resonates with people. When people understand that marketing can actually feel wonderful, warm and be a force for building community and expression of our values that people light up. 

I’ve noticed that the businesses I’m most drawn to tend to have some sort of a message they’re promoting. 

So, I want to explore this theme here and welcome your feedback on it.

I am writing this not being totally clear on what my own core message is but knowing it’s an important conversation to have.


What it is?

So, what is a message?

This is, honestly, the part that still feels a bit fuzzy to me and where I could use your help. 

Here are my thoughts so far . . .

Your message is like the words on a coat of arms, a motto, a slogan or tagline. It takes your whole platform and distills it down to the essence. It’s the thing you can’t help but talk about and steer every conversation towards. 

It’s an idea that you are so passionate about and find yourself reading about, listening to TED Talks about it but . . . you feel like there’s still something missing that you want to see brought out into the world.

It’s the drum you beat. It’s your core thesis you want to prove. It’s an idea you know that, if it were embraced on a mass level, would change the world. If this message were really ‘gotten’ there’d be so much less suffering. It’s the way things oughta be.

It’s often the words you wish you’d really understood when you were younger and struggling. It’s the words you really want a particular group of people to hear.

Your message is likely the answer to this question: ‘What would your TED Talk be about?’ Every TED Talk is about an idea. Some might feature projects – but they all have a crystal clear message in them. Something simple, direct, easy to understand and uplifting.

A message is not a promise of a result. It’s not empathy for their struggles. It’s not a full blown point of view. And it’s not just a statement of values. There’s a point to it.  

Standing up at the front of a room and pitching people is just saying, ‘buy from me!’ But sharing a message is saying, ‘Whether or not you buy from me, I want you to know _______ because it will make your life and the world a better place’. And that’s attractive. It’s coming from a place of giving, not trying to get anything.

Don’t market yourself, market your message. 


Seven Criteria of a Good Message:

Again, this idea is new enough that I’m not even sure what the criteria is but here’s what makes sense to me right now.

  1. A New Idea: A compelling message usually isn’t a trite platitude (though it could be). Ideally it’s a new idea or an old idea said in a provocative new way. It’s an idea that’s been missing from a larger conversation. It’s something that no one else is saying it or saying in quite the same way you are.
  2. Short: It can be summed up briefly. Like ten words max. It’s a simple idea.
  3. Provocative: It’s a statement that makes sense but provokes further questions and deeper inquiry. 
  4. Repeatable: It’s something you could say it repeatedly throughout a keynote talk and it would make sense. It’s like the chorus to a song. Think, ‘I have a dream’. It’s the kind of idea you could base a keynote talk around entirely. Don’t market yourself. Market your message.
  5. Simple: Not a crazy, complicated idea. A simple idea with profound implications.
  6. Well Crafted: Crafting matters here. The exact right words. Bust out your thesaurus. Toss it by people. See which version seems to land the best with others and which feel best to you. 
  7. You: your message should somehow reflect or be an authentic expression of you. It fits you perfectly. It isn’t just said to sound good or used as a marketing tactic. It means something to you personally. It excites you. You love the idea of being known for this message and spending years (if not a lifetime) exploring it.


What a message will do and won’t do:

A message won’t sell your product on its own.

No one will read a nice slogan or tagline and say, ‘yep. I want to spend $1000 with that company. What a great message.’

But a message does give your business a center of gravity.

A message becomes a core idea that you can keep spiraling around and weaving everything back to so that, over time, they come to appreciate the depth and complexity behind the idea more and more. 

A message is something you can become known for. 

A message is something that will help attract the right people (who are also passionate about that message).

A message will help you find hubs (who also work to promote that message).

But a message alone won’t sell anything. You can’t just print it on your business cards and your website.

For a message to be alive you need to find constantly new ways to express and explore it.

Expression without a message is just noise.

A message without expression is just an idea.

But not just expressed by talking about it – expressed in the design of your website, in the names you give to products and services, in how you dress, your logo, your pricing. Ideally, though likely impossibly, everything you do should be expressing your message.

I’d welcome any thoughts , wisdom and reflections you have on this at this point in the comment box below. 

About Tad

  • Kim Tanasichuk

    Hmm, you definitely seem on a thread here you’re passionate about Tad
    :-) I think what comes to mind, is that marketing youself, the person
    and marketing your message must go hand in hand and cannot be separated.
    I think the message has to come organically, and reflects who you are
    as a person.

    Your article makes me ponder my own business.
    Because my business is all word of mouth, it seems like most hire me
    because someone they know likes me and had a good experience with me.
    Who I am, sells it. So I thought. But lately, I’ve been getting out of
    country inquiries, and also a whole bunch who just find me through
    google. I don’t think they know me or of me at all, but somehow they
    like what they see. When I asked a potential client from Florida, why
    she didn’t find someone local, she said, “I looked local. I don’t like
    what they are doing. I like what you’re doing.” So then clearly, it
    has to be my “message”, as you say, and the feeling/intuition about me.
    Haha, and I chose my niche not really intending it as a niche, but more
    as a statement to say I like wholistic/eco things and just wanted to
    take the risk to claim that.

    I think the part that stands out
    the most in your article, is the very last part — the “message” has to
    be in every single thing that makes up your business. It’s like a walk
    the talk thing and it’s like you have owned your message and put your
    “scent” on everything you do. For me, I don’t use markety terms, but I
    really link it to heart-calling and life purpose — that’s the message.
    I want to support someone following their passion, and someone who is
    passionate, becomes an artist with their business: they meditate upon
    how to finely craft what they do, so it looks and feels really good, and
    they shape their passion into a lifestyle of their own creation. Like
    their business is a life meditation, and it feels good to be around
    folks who are masters/gurus of who they are.

    Like you, who
    meditates upon the topic of marketing, in many different ways, and it
    evolves over time, as you evolve and discover another nook or cranny or
    see it under a different light :-)

    I also like your criteria list
    – spot on. If I were to add anything, is somehow the message reflects
    you. It a message that fits you perfectly. It isn’t phony or said to
    sound good. Maybe you must market “you” first, then the message comes
    out of that. I think if it’s the other way around, that you shape
    yourself around your message — that would come across as “you” not
    knowing your own identity, and perhaps some would hesitate to hire a
    business in a “teenage” phase.

    Is there anything specific you wanted feedback on?

  • Janina

    Hi Tad, what a rich, thought provoking message. It helped illuminate some of the deeper and more nebulous aspects of my marketing/business awareness. Reading this post felt a lot like spelunking to me – exploring a dark, strange, beautiful landscape deep underground. The following are my impressions after contemplating what you shared.

    I think I speak some form of my message with every client I talk to. My message influences every object I produce, and how I relate to people at work. A lynchpin, an essential assumption, a nucleation site forming crystals out of a random solution.

    My message goes deep, it’s foundational. It’s a reference point to use as a comparison — a way to check — am I staying true to my message?

    I just realized this: People don’t have to understand my message in its entirety, all at once. That would be impossible. But that doesn’t mean keep it a secret. It’s compelling if they can experience at least one layer of it from the get go. It’s quite a neat trick to find a way to express a taste of the message in one pithy line. Done well, that one line/first layer will resonate throughout the entirety of the work.

    That’s why Mark Silver’s statement has a special feeling to it. (‘Every act of business can be an act of love’) I’ll bet you can ride that statement through all the levels of the Heart of Business experience, no matter what the program, that sentiment is still there, ringing true.

  • RebeccaTracey

    Yessss. This. This is SO important. And I have so much to say about it! I see it so often – people starting businesses but having no idea what their purpose is, other than that they want to work for themselves and travel the world. Which clearly is not a good enough reason to start a business. Being connected to your message is so key for building a business that’s a right fit for you.

    I also see a lot of people who started with great intentions, but have totally lost touch with why they’re doing it in the first place. So business starts to feel hard and unmotivating. So I’d add that not only is it a good way to connect with your audience, but it’s the only way for you to build a business that will feel sustainable in the longrun for you. Something you won’t get bored of next month. Your message gives you something to connect back to when things are feeling hard or stuck or not quite right.

    Being super clear on your message also gives you the flexibility to change what you do in your business fairly seamlessly. I think of it as being like a flower, where the center of the flower is your purpose/message/WHY, and each petal is a different way that you would bring that message to the world. So the petals might be different services you offer (coaching, workshops, retreats etc), OR they might be different business ideas. If your message is about empowering women to step into their power, you might do that through adventure retreats.. or thought dance classes.. or through coaching.. or through copywriting… when your message is clear and consistent, it gives you the ability to offer different things in your business, and the power to change your business up as you go without totally confusing people. Building your business around your message is so important!

    Can’t wait to read the rest!

  • yes! i think that’s so true. a message is a distilled map. it’s a few words that say so many things. and because it’s so rich you can delve so deep into it. and it infuses everything. yes. it’s the distilling that’s the trick.

  • thank you kim. good reflections. i very much resonate with the idea that our message needs to be an authentic expression of us. yes.

  • Kathie Lombana

    Hey Tad, I agree that you market the message and I would go further than you and say that your MESSAGE is what’s in your heart. What you cannot stop yourself from spreading – to anyone that will listen. Open up your heart and you will find your message. xo Love all this.

  • Kim Tanasichuk

    tee hee! A message is the essential oil or the moonshine of us and our business! (Get it? because it’s distilled?) ;-P

  • CoachMaureen

    Love this delightful complex conversation Tad as I have had
    this deep dilemma considering the presenting of my work and process to the word
    yes love this distilling my message.

    I have asked this question to myself a thousand times “what
    is my message” and worked at the distillations and revisions over my time in
    business as I have become more clear. For me the refining process has been an
    ebb and flow type of thing and evolved in stages at times using different
    components to convey the message i.e. my own life experiences, successes, challenges
    and changes and then another phase was extractions of some of the components of
    my work. Throughout these conveyances however there has always seemed to be
    something missing, the language wasn’t right somehow and yet again people by word
    of mouth have gotten what I do in some measure.

    I love the ideas you are presenting as I can feel a relief
    of the internal energy of perplexity subsiding and concrete steps to purifying
    and clarifying my message through some of your stimulating suggestions.

    First what I am moving into with your tools and language is
    the deconstruction of marketing ideas that simply do not suit my current way of
    being, my values and spiritual beliefs or expression in the world and of my
    work. Adding to this since I have loved
    Marks heart centered perspective I have been committed to congruency of
    presenting my message. What you are inviting me to do to clarify is deconstruct
    and segregate my old marketing ideas and intertwine the various elements of what
    makes my message into message in congruency so that the sense that people get
    as they explore my message is amplified congruently. Not sure if this will make sense but people
    come to me and say I don’t know why but I knew I would work with you I just
    knew it. So much of what brings people to us since I have had that experience
    so many times that it is in the area of sensing and knowing that true marketing
    is done and I believe the information age has evolved our consciousness to the
    point that many are trusting their intuition and taking action on their knowing
    and experiencing this more powerful than ever before so to them congruency is
    key and the more congruent the message in alignment with heart centered value
    the more the attraction.

    For me it’s been an intuitive evolving refining process. Such
    as how did you come across my radar? I have no idea where in the midst of
    revising my website and pondering precision around how I articulate a pure meaningful
    extensional expression of my work I attracted you on my horizon to assist in
    exactly that.

    For my practice my focus is not bigger or better until I can
    do exactly that purify my message to mirror congruently the base elements of
    what others can receive through participation in my precious work.

    Until I know that the distillation process has brought forth
    a more pure message I know I will struggle with the dance of distillation and
    it is my pursuance of pure expression that I will feel my aligned integrity
    since integrity for me is a very personal thing the energy of which urges me to
    feel incomplete until it’s aligned. Without this also my message does not
    convey the heartfelt spiritual nature of my work I will fail in resonating with
    my ideal client who is wanting to the benefits of what I offer.

    Thanks so much for the conversation.

  • Rosa Zubizarreta

    Awesome! Just what I’ve been needing to read. Can’t wait to read your other blog posts on this subject!

  • Rionach Aiken

    Hi Tad, love this conversation. For what it’s worth, your core message seems to me to be something like ‘marketing can be a force for good in the world’. The message is the ‘why’ we do what we do, the spark that gets us going and keeps us going through tough times, and when we share that passion with others it’s magnetic. Like in that ‘be awesome’ video you shared by Kid President.

    For me, I need to reflect deeply on what my message is because getting clarity on that will influence my whole direction (as I’m not yet an entrepreneur) but it will be something like ‘poetry has the power to change your life’. Thanks for stimulating this musing – it is important.

  • Briana_Barrett

    I like this post a lot.

    I agree with others & would like to see you articulate more clearly, Tad, that the ‘message’ doesn’t define our clothes, attitude, etc. AFTER we’ve come up with it – it was already there all along, and as we notice it, it strengthens our sense of identity, and helps us be more faithful (high-fidelity) to ourselves at all levels.

    I’ve actually (re-)discovered a lot of my most lovable characteristics by looking at my clothes, vocabulary, and behaviors in the absence of my inner self-image, and said: “How would a loving stranger see me?” “What do people tend to notice about me?” Embracing the obvious about myself has gotten me a lot further than designing my self-image ever did. After all, marketing is about being approachable to specific people, no?

    I like your point that the message is a shared passion, of which our business is only a part. I’ve often said: “We’re marketing a movement!”

    That perspective enables us to make a bold stand for a message AND be modest. It enables us to contextualize that – no matter how many clients we have – we are not accomplishing the change we wish to see in the world by ourselves. Our modality need not be a general fix, or try to ‘heal’ or reach ‘everyone.’ When we market a message, we join others on the same, greater mission, of which our offerings are a relatively tiny, important, complimentary part. One could imagine having a great time at conferences on the MESSAGE topic, and meeting people with same heart, who offer complimentary services. Even people who are not in business at all. Like clients.

    Tell me, Tad. I realize a slogan is often less profound than a message, but a message is a type of slogan, no? If not, when is it not a good idea to use (part of) your message as your slogan?

  • thanks for the reflection on the core message :-)

  • good question! yes! a slogan can be a message. i’m really not sure where to use them. sometimes a slogan names the ‘who’ and their problem. sometimes it’s a message. i’m not always sure which should be which. like do you put your message on the banner of your site like Mark Silver or in the headline of the homepage? I’m not sure there’s a cut and dry answer but really open to ideas!

  • thanks rosa! i hope you liked!

  • “What you cannot stop yourself from spreading – to anyone that will listen” – yes! nailed it!

  • you’re the best.

  • Briana_Barrett

    I meant more like “when is a message not a slogan?”

    “when does a message become a slogan?”
    but I guess you’re saying:
    “who needs a slogan when you have a message?”

    Are you?

    I’m very particular in my understanding of your concept of message as NOT being a slogan in the following regard:
    – We trademark our slogan.

    (We want to be the only ones referred to by it.)

    – We SHARE our message. (We DON’t want to be the only ones

    referred to by it. Creative commons style: we hope others will

    co-promote and further it because it’s our shared heritage, now.)

    I’m interpreting… am I also projecting?

  • ooooh. good point. i see what you’re saying. i think i differentiate a bit between the overall WHY and purpose which is absolutely shared and in the commons whereas our particular message is likely a bit unique to us in the phrasing and framing of it – like there’s a message we’re born to give that is uniquely ours that contributes to a cause far bigger than our own. and, it’s nice when we can distill that message down into a simple, easy to understand sentence that some people might use as a slogan for their business. so in mark silver’s case – the bigger why for me is about LOVE and his message is that ‘every act of business can be an act of love’. and i think that message is big enough and inspiring enough that others will resonate with it and see it as a message they want to support and spread.

  • Rosa Zubizarreta

    This makes sense to me Tad… I guess the way I’m seeing it, is that this conscious heart-centered business stuff, is all about GIVING (and receiving too, of course!) so just like we GIVE useful information in our newsletters, and blog posts, and free products… this is like the smallest atom of that… GIVING our message clearly as a one-liner, so that even the smallest thing we say about “what we do” is ALREADY a gift for others.

    To me that co-exists easily with it being a “slogan” if we want it to be that… some unique phrase that is my particular identifier… yet in additon to being a “slogan”, at the same time, is already inherently a gift for those who hear it or come across it.

    Just like if we are writing a blog post, that is a free gift we are giving, but it would be a bit weird if someone just copied our blog post and sent it out as their own.

    And, given the abundance and diversity of the Universe, I am sure that there is a unique message that each of us has come here to offer!

  • Hey Tad, I totally agree with you. In fact, I did a “Tribe analysis” the other day and I found out that everyone person I was drawn to had a very clear message. It wasn’t fuzzy and they owned it! They weren’t shy to repeat it over and over again. It’s a bit like what Simon Sinek talks about in his book Start With Why. The message that you describe is in short, your Why. It’s what you stand for, it’s what you want the world to know why you care about what it is you want to talk about. The analogy of the TED talk is a great one, because no one goes and gives a TED talks and pitches. Well apart from a few seeding there and then (Tony Robbins famous talk starts with him seeding some of his services). Most people give a TED talk because they really care about something. I sometimes refer to it as Finding Your Inner Geek!

  • hey mark – i love the finding your inner geek theme. i think that’s its own message that it’s important to find that. and i think the message is a refined mix of our WHY and our POINT OF VIEW and the possibility we’re offering people they might not have considered. it’s the thing we’d love to spend the next decade talking about. it’s that convo we can’t avoid.

  • Alexis Staley

    “Expression without a message is just noise.
    A message without expression is just an idea.”

    ^That’s just genius. This is my first time to this website, and it’s just oodles of delicious (I never say oodles, so…I hope that makes it clear how much I am digging this site). Thanks for the clarity and inspiration!

  • you’re so kind. thank you for saying that :-) i hope you find more things that are meaningful for you here :-)

  • Jane Raitt

    I am so very moved by this piece and like others have struggled with my message for years. My question, though, is how does “message” differ from “brand.” When I have my clients uncover their brand, that is how they differentiate themselves from others or what unique attribute or value are they bringing to the table, I encourage them to go through the same process that you are advocating in finding one’s unique message. Is brand in your view different than message as well as the process to dig deep within one’s gut or soul to discover one’s uniqueness? I guess I need some clarification.

    Thanks for all you do and for your authentic self. Coach Jane

  • hey there. i am not sure! i think these words mean different things to different people. that’s part of the trouble. but it sounds like the process you take people through is really powerful and strong. i think all these things are connected.

  • Fran

    First time on this site and I feel like I have been given the ultimate gift. I am a brand new business and have been dragging myself to marketing it because it felt dead and wrong and like I was being sucked back into the old world I am trying to leave behind. I now feel excited and pleased and have so many tabs open my computer is groaning :) I have called in sick becuase I cant stop reading and making notes and remembering why I am going into my new work. This blog and your niche resources especially are perfect for me. Thank you from a full heart <3

  • so happy to hear :-)