As part of my recent trip to India for the International Advertising Association's What's Coming Next conference, I was invited to interview globally renowned yogi, Jaggi Vasudev, also known as Sadhguru.
Going in to the conversation, I wasn't sure what to expect; our host, Prasad Sangameshwaran of The Hindu Business Line newspaper, had suggested that Sadhguru might inspire me to 'rethink a few things', but I couldn't see any immediate link between our respective areas of interest and experience.
However, nothing could have prepared me for the profound shake-up that I experienced over the next half-hour.
A whole new world view
As marketers, we spend too much time on introspection – discussing our industry, our challenges, and our perspectives amongst ourselves – and we rarely stop to explore the wisdom and inspiration we might gain from external perspectives.
We need to change that. In just 30 minutes, my conversation with Sadhguru totally changed my perspectives on the most fundamental aspects of marketing.
It would be difficult to capture the full extent of what I learnt and discovered from our conversation in one blog post, but here is a summary of some of the wisdom he shared that I think we could all learn from.
You'll also find a complete transcript of our conversation later in this post.
Clarity has more value than confidence
Many of our marketing metrics focus on the amount of noise we make. We brief agencies to measure our 'share of voice', while GRPs and 'number of views' still feature highly in our activity reports.
However, marketing isn't a shouting match. People outside our industry don't respect the brands that make the most noise; they respect the brands that make the greatest difference.
Other things being equal, people prefer brands that stand for something meaningful; brands that don't try to be all things to all people, but offer a distinctive and compelling perspective on the world and what they can bring to it.
Ultimately, the reasons why your brand exists, what it stands for, and the value that it offers people are far more enduring sources of value than the ability to buy more media or shout more loudly than other brands.
The best benchmark is your own ambition
Similarly, many brands see market share as the overall indicator of their success.
Different brands may cut that metric in different ways depending on their perspective or needs – value share, volume share, share growth, etc. – but they're still measuring their success vis-à-vis the performance of others.
However, by spending all that time looking at what other people are doing, we're getting distracted.
Even if we're 'winning', it's difficult to run forward at full speed if our heads are turned to look behind us:
"In Yoga we say, if you have one eye on the goal, you have only one eye to find your way. Hence it’s inefficient. If you used both your eyes to find your way, according to your capability, you will go as far as you can go. That means you are not concerned [with] how far somebody [else] is going. You want to go as far as you can go. That’s what you are interested in. But right now, goal-orientedness means that you are only interested in going one step further than your neighbour. The only joy that you have in your life is somebody is doing worse than you. I think that’s a sick mind." (from here)
Marketing shouldn't be about winning or losing; it should be about making a meaningful difference, and being the best that we can be ourselves. As Sadhguru asserted during our conversation,
"No matter what you have done, there is always a chance that you can do more."
Once we stop comparing ourselves to others and chasing other people's dreams, it's a lot easier to understand what we really want – as brands, as marketers, and as individuals.
Ironically, that might mean we need to start by being a bit introspective and ego-centric again; spending time to understand why we're here, what we're trying to do, and what real success would look like.
But once we've gained the clarity we explored above, we can focus on delivering our brand's purpose as best we can – regardless of what anyone else is doing.
Selling products vs. satisfying needs
One of the biggest problems we face in marketing is that we focus too much on what we want to say, instead of trying to understand what other people think, feel, need, or want.
We spend most of our time trying to match the products and services that our organisations have already made with what the world needs – or might need, if only we could convince them that it mattered.
As a result, too much of today's marketing and advertising is about creating art that feeds our own egos.
We're focused on selling, not satisfying.
More often than not, however, this results in collective disappointment.
Our products and services don't live up to people's needs and expectations, and, consequently, we can't build enduring brand trust, because our marketing is full of empty or misleading promises.
Instead, we need to build brands – and products, services, offerings, etc. – that are truly fit for purpose:
"[Marketing] may end up convincing a generation. Older generations were convinced that smoking tobacco was a must – if you don't smoke, you're not man enough. But suddenly it is not so good. This is what [marketing does]... You [market] some nonsense that you have created, and try to convince people that they must drink this, eat this, or use this. [But] if I saw you as a human being, and I am concerned about you and your well-being, I would see what you need. [Then], if I made what you need, I wouldn't need to market it; [creating] it is all that would be needed. Right now though, you are doing things that people do not need, so you have to convince them that they need it."
We need to stop looking at marketing as a means to sell people more stuff, and start thinking of it as a way to achieve mutual success.
The full conversation
Here's the full transcript of our conversation. It's a little longer than our usual blog posts, but I fully encourage you to read it all, as it contains some amazing insights and observations that may well change your thinking forever – just as they changed mine.
Simon Kemp: One of the challenges we face as marketers and brands is that we spend a lot of time thinking about the way people perceive us from the outside world without looking inside. How can businesses look at their inward transformation?
Sadhguru: There is a fundamental flaw in this process. Without enhancing yourself, you are trying to enhance your activity. It’s like taking a Vauxhall and trying to drive it on an F1 track. It’s bound to fall apart. Instead of dreaming of winning an F1 race if you build a machine which is capable of doing whatever it’s supposed to do, then whether it wins or not is subject to what others have done. Whether you win a race or not simply depends on how good or bad other people are. But when we do something are we functioning from the highest possibility within us, or from the lowest possibility, or somewhere in between, is a big question. And you do not know what your highest possibility is. For every other creature in this planet nature has drawn two lines. But for human beings there is only the bottom line, and no top line. So it does not matter what you become, you still do not know whether you hit the peak or not. Only those people interested in winning races with crippled people have hit the peak.
No matter what you have done there is always a chance that you can do more. Enhancing the machine and human mechanism is most important. Whether you win the race or not is not important. Then everything will be enhanced. The greatest disaster in the planet is that people who have no clarity, have confidence.
Kemp: Many of the brands in the world do not have clarity, but represent confidence ...
That’s why you see a lot of loud advertising because they have no clarity but a lot of confidence.
How do we help people gain clarity without focusing too much on the confidence? Even if we speak from your experience, where did you find that clarity yourself?
You are who you are only on the matter of what you perceived. What you have not perceived is not you, isn’t it? Whether you are consciously aware of this or not, how people experience you is based on whatever we have perceived. Instead of enhancing perception, we are again trying to enhance expression. You are in the space of social media. People are forever expressing on every topic no matter whether they know something or not. This is the age of expression without perception. It’s a disaster.
People are becoming who they are because of what they express and not because of what they have perceived. The nature of life is such that only what you have perceived is you. Right now, because you picked bits and pieces from around the world, you can express all kinds of things you don’t know enough about.
The big problem with our industry is that we are collecting lots of information and accumulating lots of gadgets without experiencing it. We have gigabytes of data that are probably not being put to good use ...
When you byte (bite) so much, you will bloat (laughs). And it’s not healthy.
How do translate the desire to learn from data to make the action of learning valuable? How do we move along that journey?
There is a fundamental flaw in that question. You belong to a generation that is goal-oriented. That means you are interested in the sweetness of the mango, but not interested in the tree. You live in a generation where mangoes come from the supermarket and not from a tree. But if you have a mango tree in your garden you have to think soil, manure, water, sunlight. There are no mangoes in your mind. Mangoes will happen. In other words, you are too interested in the consequence but not in the process that causes the consequence. This is goal-orientedness.
In Yoga we say, if you have one eye on the goal, you have only one eye to find your way. Hence it’s inefficient. If you used both your eyes to find your way, according to your capability, you will go as far as you can go. That means you are not concerned how far somebody is going. You want to go as far as you can go. That’s what you are interested in. But right now the goal-orientedness means that you are only interested in going one step further than your neighbour. The only joy that you have in your life is somebody is doing worse than you. I think that’s a sick mind.
How can we get our peers from marketing to move away from goal-orientedness?
From digital to divine (laughs).
Where do we find the divine? We need to let people find the alternative to what is flawed …
Tell me one thing. You can look at Mr Usain Bolt for the inspiration. That’s alright. But if you try to run like him, you will break your legs. That’s all that will happen.
Because somebody mastered that you can use him as inspiration but don’t try to do it. It’s like a Vauxhall trying to behave like a Ferrari.
Often marketers look at the competitive landscape …
That’s the biggest mistake. Maybe you can hit the ball better than Sachin Tendulkar. The possibility is there. So why do you want to limit yourself to Tendulkar’s standards? There was a time when nobody believed that an individual would reach 100 runs in a cricket match only within 30-40 overs. Then Sanath Jayasuriya hit a century within 20 overs. Now people are hitting within 10 overs. In this case, they are not thinking about what somebody did.
So if you become goal-oriented, your goals are often determined by other’s capabilities. You will never do what you could have done. Maybe you could never hit a ball. But you could do something else way better than anybody else. But you would never do that because you go on trying to hit the ball that you cannot hit.
You spoke about the concept of memory-less intelligence. How can a marketer access his ‘chittha’?
Marketers cannot access that. Human beings can. When I was at the World Economic Forum people kept referring to India as an emerging market. I say we are not a marketplace. Once you look at a country as a marketplace, you are going to put some nonsense that you have created and then try to convince them that they must drink this, eat this, or use this. If I saw you as a human being and I am concerned about you and your well-being I would see what you need. If I made what you need, I need not market it. Manufacturing is all that would be needed.
Right now you are doing things that people do not need and you have to convince them that they need it. You may end up convincing a generation. Older generations were convinced that smoking tobacco was a must – otherwise you are not man enough. But now suddenly it is not so good. This is what a marketing man will do.
In that world, what does marketing become?
Both you and I are manufacturing something that consumers want. But now I am trying to tell consumers that what I am manufacturing is what he really wants. Not what you are doing. Actually, that’s the truth (laughs).
The transcript of my conversation with Sadhguru – as edited by Prasad Sangameshwaran – first appeared the Hindu Business Line website. We're very grateful to them for letting us republish it here.