The Buddha Knew The Importance Of Doing Marketing Before Selling

Actually he got it wrong first time … unsurprisingly not something emphasised by tradition lol.  But he learned fast.  After his enlightenment the first person he met asked who he was. The Buddha replied along the lines that he was the fully enlightened one – at which point the guy said “may it be so friend” and wandered off.  Thereby missing out on the start of one of the longest bull markets in history – 2,500 years and the stock is still rising 🙂

Standing BuddhaActually did you know that the Buddha forbad images made depicting him?  One of life’s ironies as there are probably more statues in the world today of a man who forbad his followers from making statues of him than of anyone else (or maybe even everyone else put together?!). Doh!

Anyway back to the Buddha and marketing. So his first “pitch” – tell the facts – had failed. What was his next and how come it’s still appropriate today?No doubt he reflected on the marketing problem … namely you can tell people some important truth – but they will just see it as your truth – that you have some axe to grind.

So next time round he went for a structure which is as relevant now as it was then.  “The four noble truths”:

  1. there’s a problem (about life)…
  2. there’s a cause of this problem…
  3. there’s a potential end to this problem…
  4. and what I have here is the solution…

So the problem the Buddha put his finger on was “dukkha” – an utterly untranslatable term.  The common gloss “suffering” or even worse “life is suffering” is a nonsense.  This shows that cross-linguistic marketing needs care 🙂  Perhaps the closest we may get is “ultimately unsatisfactory” – we can have a great holiday but it will end, a great life but it will end, great friends but some will turn on us and they all will die – we can really suss out life … we can never stably get all those ducks lined up in a row.

Anyway back to his native language issue.  The Buddha used another device which is essential in marketing – paint the pain.  It is no good – especially in the overloaded 21stC just saying “there is a problem” – we all know there are problems and we try to ignore as many as possible lol (do you exercise enough and eat enough greens and relax enough? :-)).

So he didn’t just say “there is dukkha” – that would have enabled his audience to have skated past really buying-in to the need for a solution.

Rather he “painted the pain”. Dukkha is, he said (or rather wiki paraphrases as :-)):

  • The obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birth, growing old, illness and dying.
  • The anxiety or stress of trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing.
  • A basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance. On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards.

He went on at greater length.  And so must you – not to depress your audience – rather to get them focused on something that needs fixing.  To get them to feel the pain.

The etymological roots of dukkha are something like an axle that isn’t quite in the centre of the wheel.  In an agricultural society that would be a real felt sense of pain.  And again a marketing point – you want your analogies, your words to have an emotive impact … not just a factual one.

I think Dan Pink would love this story. His book “To Sell Is Human” contends that we are all selling all the time – always in the persuasion game.

That may be (somewhat) so.  But we often (especially with spouses/partners?) often forget to market first, sell second where:

Marketing = “arouse interest/recognition that action is required”

Selling = “convert interest/recognition into a deal”.

If you try to “sell” before people have any interest in what you have to offer, or any recognition that they have a problem – or opportunity – which they need to address then they will experience you as trying to get your way.  If they have bought into the interest/recognition they might be up for seeing your solution as something to help them (and not just you).

So next time you are marketing remember the Buddha’s mistake – don’t just tell them the key fact.  Start with the problem. Paint the pain. Then look at the cause of the problem and the fact that it can be sorted. And then – and only then – move onto “selling” – ie that curiously enough you have something to solve that pain 🙂


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