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The Tao of Authentic Marketing for Creatives: A Roundabout Guide

A “media expert” said a few things yesterday that got me questioning. “Our attentions spans are shrinking,” she said, “So we need to speak in sound bites so we can speak directly to what people need. If you can speak in sound bites, then you will stand out above everyone else.”

The implication was this:
Speak in sound bites –> Gets the right people’s attention –> Makes you more money.

There is a collective trend toward efficiency, sassiness, and quips. But as a creative, a solo-enterpriser, someone who aspires to innovate within her field, do you want to perpetuate this trend?  Is that quippy attitude really you? These are questions I raise to my clients.

And are our attention spans shrinking? If so, must we speak in sound bites to get our “right people’s” attention in order to reach our market?  These are questions I’m living in today.

The Internet changes our brains. It changes the ways we remember, the ways we feel, the ways we think. We cannot deny that claim. Whether this change is for better or worse, the verdict remains out, although the verdict leans toward the worse. Nicholas Carr summarized much of the latest research up to 2010 in his May 24, 2010 piece “The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brain”:

Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.

Still, others such as Maria Popova at Curiosity Counts often defend the Internet’s exquisite capacity for creative serendipity. I agree.

I think of William James’s distinction between attention styles. One group aims toward the bull’s eye, he says. Their minds shut out all distractions. The other group, though, might experience the target’s peripheries as full of “meteoric showers of images” that shoot ideas in various directions simultaneously. They must repeatedly pull back their hyper-associative mind to the target.

James didn’t think the one-pointers were any more intelligent than the scatter-shooters. “[T]he strength of his desire and passion,” he claimed, was more important than the faculties of focus. See Winifred Gallagher’s book Rapt: Attention and Focused Life, The Penguin Press 2009 for more on James and this subject.

But when Richard Restak reviewed most of the research to date in 2005 in his book The New Brain: How the Modern Age is Rewiring Your Mind, he said that the research indicated a truth that should stand out to anyone who aspires to excel within his or her field:

Surgeons, athletes, chess players, scientists, artists, and writers who stood out above others in their field had the capacity to focus for an extended period of time on one idea, task, or project.

Still, there is richness in wandering. I admit I’d like to be a meandering one-pointer.

So, if you want to “stand out above others,” and if you want to build a platform from an authentic place – by definition, from a place of your best voice’s authority – do you follow the media expert’s advice and speak in sound bites, or do you focus for an extended period of time on what matters most to your best self, to your creative field, and to the people you serve, and communicate from that space and in a language and design that befits that space?

There is an arrow that shoots straight across the horizon from left to right. It gets to the point. It stays on the surface.

There are waves that extend downward, vertically, from the arrow’s path. They are rich with loops, links, emotions, images, stories, play, and sentences that – like acrobat-comedian performers – roll on unpredictably until they wind up at some diner in East Texas. They are inefficient, deep, meaningful, nuanced, and memorable.

Call this The Arrow of Marketing and the Waves of Meaning-Making.

We need both.

The Tao te Ching was written for Chinese leaders and warriors. Call it an early “how-to” book for leading authentically.

The Tao of Authentic Marketing might go something like this:

He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.

That’s #24. I stumbled upon it before dinner yesterday evening. It seemed more palatable than the media expert’s advice.

Here are some counter-ideas that read like sound bites:

Speak in sound morsels, not sound bites.

Be weird if your soul’s weird. This isn’t high school.

Keep language alive and honor artful ambiguity. It slows people down. (And we need slowness.) (And we also need more parenthetical comments.)

Question conventional wisdom about marketing. Especially when it’s delivered in shouts or with sassy tones or with bad sex analogies.

Drop in the Hut:
What guides your marketing strategy? What “conventional wisdom” of marketing do you question?

See you in the woods,

Yoga As Muse Retreat for Writers, Bahamas, Jan. 2012
Tracking Wonder Retreat for Creatives, Taos, NM, Mar. 2012



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  1. There is so much in this post I don’t know where to start (I want to explore all of the hyperlinks – did explore many). It is an interesting subject and one that needs to be talked about.

    The Internet seems to me a huge paradox – the source of so much wonder and also the biggest time drain, keeping us from other types of wonder. As far as what it does to our brains, I think we will adapt and evolve. I think we will learn how to use it as a tool and not let it run our lives. Of course, I could be wrong on this.

    As a visual person, pictures and video, even hypertext, I think helps me to learn more than straight text. The meandering I often do mostly leads me to exciting discoveries I might not otherwise have found. Isn’t creativity about making connections?

    Yet, we still need to walk away sometimes, to experience slowness and contemplation, to know which connections are meaningful and which are not.

    Recently, I was listening to an interview with Jean Shinoda Bolen about her book, Like a Tree. She talks about tree people, which got me thinking about creating a project for tree people, which led me to buy her book, and to google tree people. The research has begun. It’s these types of things that make me marvel at what the Internet has to offer, especially for creatives.

    1. Kim:
      I’m visually oriented, too, and so am constantly sketching ideas (hence, the Smartpen demonstration of The Arrow of Marketing & the Waves of Meaning-Making – I think there’s more to this…).

      This morning, after a few hours of writing and taking care of Internet work and then taking my toddler to school, I came back home and paused outdoors. Leaned against a black walnut tree in the pattering rain and looked over the pond out back. For the first time in a long time I just listened to space. And I felt so alive. So, yes, the literal walking and meandering I find crucial for shaping art and this life.

      Thanks for sending me the branch about Bolen’s work. Google “Scott Russell Sanders” and “Orion Magazine” and “tree mind” and you’ll probably find a stunning essay.

      Thanks for dropping in the hut.

  2. WE NEED BOTH. That, more than anything, keeps reverberating in my mind. We NEED both. WE need both. We need BOTH.
    thank you for opening this discussion … and that is another of the wonders of the internet, that you and I and Kim and untold others can have this discussion together whilst in Indianapolis and Tunisia and wherever Jeffrey is this week . . .

    1. Paula: Thanks for the reiterations. And, yes, that’s what The Hut is all about – these wondrous world wide conversations. (You remind me that Tracking Wonder Handbook 2 is all about the WWW and serendipity.) Thanks for dropping in the Hut from Tunisia.

      from New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley

  3. This is a very thought-provoking post. There is so much information out there about marketing that comes in sound-bites—there are always “Three Keys” of “Five Tips.” Many of these often feel fake to me, but then they are also attention grabbers because everyone’s looking for a shortcut. I think what works in marketing is different for every person–it’s as individual as what you’re marketing. I find that when I read too many marketing tips, I just lose my own thread of uniqueness. I really love that Tao te Ching piece. It’s absolutely fascinating to me how so many times these words written so long ago really cut right to the heart of it.

  4. Nicole, I agree that the “3s” and “5s” can sound phoney, and yet I also know that I’ve written them. It’s tricky to simplify ideas without being simplistic. I think what you’re doing at your site reflects your authentic approach. Keep to your “own thread of uniqueness” – that sounds like a good entry for the Tao te Nicole. Thanks for dropping in the Hut.

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