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Category: Mama Nature’s Marketing Tips (Page 1 of 4)

How Marketing Is Like Riding a Horse and How To Avoid Getting Thrown


Me (in the front) and my sister (hanging on in back) on Cricket. I’m a happy girl. Sis – not so much.


I don’t have a conscious memory of my first time on a pony, but I do have a photo. In the yellowed picture, I am three-and-a-half years old, wearing a red bandana on my head, and sitting astride a shaggy, black steed named Cricket. The look on my face says it all – this is love. My younger sister is perched behind me wearing a bright yellow sweatshirt and a much less enthusiastic expression.


Me and “Little Joe.” He was my pony for a whole summer. What a lucky girl. (And, check my cool bell bottoms, Dorothy Hamill haircut, and flashy red socks!)

As I grew older, my fascination with horses grew deeper. By the time I was twelve, I was taking riding lessons. I even got to have a pony live at my house for the summer. “Little Joe,” as he was called, was anything but. Fat and full of attitude, his favorite pastimes included pinning me against the side of the barn, doing a military crawl under the paddock fence (in order to get to the “greener grass” on the other side), and orchestrating midnight escapes that resulted in my whole, pajama-clad family running up and down the drive with carrots and buckets of grain.

When I was in my early thirties, I took up riding again. As an adult, I developed a whole new appreciation for the equestrian arts. My younger self had been caught up in the romance and adventure of riding a horse – but my older self became fascinated with the nuances of communication and cooperation that are the true foundation of good riding.

Last weekend, after a twelve-year hiatus, I mounted up again. I was a little nervous about hopping onboard Traveler for my first lesson in a long time, but the rangy thoroughbred turned out to be very accommodating. More importantly, once I’d settled into the saddle, everything came right back (… to my mind, at least, my body is still lagging slightly behind).

Horsemanship is called an “art” for a reason. Though it requires a great deal of athleticism – strength, balance, agility, and flexibility – it’s more about developing a “feel” and building a relationship with your horse. The most advanced riders make the act appear effortless, but there is actually a subtle and unceasing dialog that takes place between horse and rider.

It is the same with the best marketing.

Find the right connection
For instance, a “soft” hand – one that is elastic and provides for a firm but gentle connection to the bit in the horse’s mouth – helps a rider establish an open and cooperative line of communication. Meanwhile, a horse whose rider constantly yanks and tugs on the reins on will develop a “hard” mouth and become increasingly unresponsive to the rider’s requests.

When building a marketing relationship with your audience, you need to create a “soft” connection and avoid a hard sell. You need to be “elastic” in your engagement – find a give and take that sets you up for a cooperative relationship.

Send the right signals
A rider also has to be very clear about what she wants. You use your “aids” – hand, seat, weight, and voice – to communicate with a horse. If you send conflicting messages, the horse will become confused and even frustrated. For instance, if you’re using your leg to urge the horse forward, but are simultaneously pulling back on the reins, the horse literally won’t know whether he’s coming or going. The result: you’ll get nowhere, fast.

Similarly, when marketing, you need to be clear about your messages. You need to know where you are going (goals, calls to action, etc.) and deliver clear and consistent communications that make it easy for your customers to know what to do next. You also have to be hyper aware of the context and subtext of your content and language. Your messages need to be relevant (a racehorse would be very confused by a rider who asked it to jump a fence) and delivered in the right tone and voice. Small adjustments can make a big difference.

Use “active listening”
Riding is, though it may not look it, a very active pursuit. The rider is never on auto-pilot and neither is the horse. They are always communicating. They are always listening to one another. They “listen” to each other’s voices, movements, and even emotions. A good horse and rider team can “read” each other without even trying. They are always observing each other and responding to each other. There is nothing static about their relationship – the balance is always shifting, back and forth.

Your marketing relationships should reflect the same kind of reciprocity. You are not running the show all by yourself. In fact, it’s not about you at all. Listening carefully and respectfully to your customers and prospects is one the best ways to ensure that your marketing is relevant and successful.


When all the pieces come together, riding is like learning to speak a new language. I never cease to be amazed at the complexity and depth of the “conversation” that I can have with a horse simply by shifting my weight, changing my leg position, or altering my grip on the reins. With enough practice, the transitions become more fluid and the communication becomes more efficient and effective. It also becomes more beautiful to experience and to watch. Ultimately, neither horse nor rider is “in charge.” We are partners, collaborating and cooperating. We support each other – the horse supports me with its strength and back, I support the horse with my guidance, leg, and hand. We complement each other, each relying on the other’s strengths to attain our shared goal.

THAT is what good marketing is like. It’s like decoding a foreign language and suddenly being able to understand the natives. It’s about creating a balanced partnership built on cooperation, trust, and – yes – even affection. The end result is a mutually beneficial relationship that comes naturally and has the strength to withstand time, competition, and the occasional bump in the road. Investing the time in good marketing means that you and your customer will have each other’s backs and be in this thing together.

Marketing on the edges – where interesting stuff happens

I have recently been enjoying the decadent luxury of frequent walks on the beach. Last week, while my daughter was with her dad, I took several days off to spend with my beau and we had ourselves a couple lovely rambles along the shore. This week, I’m easing back into my work groove but continuing to start my day with long, coastal strolls after I drop my daughter off at summer camp. (Her camp’s proximity to the beach gives me the perfect excuse.)

The wide-open spaces of sand, surf, and sky provide marvelous inspiration for random thoughts. I give my mind leave to wander, but it often comes back to the topic of marketing. (What can I say? I’m a geek like that.) One of the ideas that I’ve been playing with is the idea of marketing on the edges.

On the beach, all the interesting things happen on the edges. Treasure lies where the surf meets the sand. The push and pull of the tide brings the worlds of land and sea together and then draws them apart again. The rush of water reveals and conceals in turn, all the while tossing artifacts from the depths to lie in the sun, strangers in a strange land. Across the low tide flats the dance between sea and sand forms intricate patterns, giving form to the forces at work.

What does this have to do with marketing?

Too often, we get caught up with being “in the thick” of things. We surge like lemmings for the center, gathering around the same places, ideas, products, messages, and mentors. But, in the middle, things are dull. The landscape is flat and featureless. It’s crowded, and ideas echo from voice to voice as we consume and create the same thing over and over again.

Out on the edges things get interesting. People try new ideas, combine disparate concepts, and look at life through a different lens. You can see farther and into new places. Experiments fail and succeed. Alliances are forged. Partnerships are brokered. On the edges is where the great mash-ups happen. Peanut butter gets into chocolate and the world is changed forever.

But where are the edges and how do you get there?

The edge is different for each person and each business. Getting there is as easy as stepping outside your usual routine, taking a different route, talking to new people. Read blogs from a different industry. Go hear a speaker on a topic that has nothing to do with your profession. Take in a movie or art show or concert and think about it in the context of what you do – are there parallels you can draw? Don’t assume that the best practices are best for you. (They rarely are.) Don’t assume that you can replicate someone else’s success by copying their approach. (You usually can’t.) Don’t assume that you aren’t creative enough to do things differently. (You definitely are.)

In short, look at life with new eyes.

Marketing does not have to be boring. It does not have to be drudgery. It does not have to follow the rules.

Where are your edges? What can you do there today? 




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From the Suddenly Marketing archives:

Want better marketing? Go on vacation.

Have you heard the good news? A recent study shows that working in a crowded coffee shop fires up your creativity. Even better, my own personal research shows that going on vacation helps you fire up your marketing.


My clients are hard-working people. They are, like me, often on the clock at odd hours. It’s not something I’m proud of (or, even like to admit), but I’ve been known to take conference calls at 10PM and frequently use Saturday as the sixth day of the workweek. I am, however, making an effort to reclaim some of my R&R time. Based on recent experiences, I’ve decided it’s the smart thing to do. Getting out of town amps up my clarity and creativity. I’m betting it can do the same for you, so here – in an effort to both inspire you and also give you an easy way to justify taking a break – are my top six reasons why going vacation improves your marketing:


You can get some rest.

Sleeping in. Hammock-y naps. Oceanside siestas. These are some of my favorite vacation perks. Last year, my beau and I spent a few lovely days in old Quebec City. It was February and very cold. We had a gorgeous room at the Frontenac, overlooking the icebound river. After bone chilling walks through the cobbled streets, we spent a couple of afternoons curled up on the kingsize bed, gazing out the window at the gray scene beyond until we drifted effortlessly to sleep. We had nothing to do, nowhere to be, no one waiting on us for anything. It was the simplest of pleasures and the most decadent. Perhaps even more than a full night’s sleep, a mid-afternoon nap does something to restore the soul. We rarely treat ourselves to such a gift when we are at home, but on vacation, there are all kinds of opportunities for guilt-free snoozing. A rested mind and body leads to clarity of thought, higher levels of creativity, and better humor – all beneficial to your marketing.


A change will do you good. (So says Sheryl Crow.)

It’s so easy to get stuck in our day-to-day ruts, I mean routines. Whether your daily grind includes the same commute or the same pattern of chasing the kids into their clothes so you can get them off to school or camp or wherever, familiarity can be a fruitful breeding ground for ennui, lethargy, and complacency. Experiencing someplace new can jolt you out of the same old-same old. Even if you’re only one town away from home, that can be enough to change your perspective and spark new ideas … ideas that might be about how to kick some ass with your marketing.


You can unplug.

I know it’s hard. You can carry your whole digital world around on your handy-dandy smartphone/iPad/laptop. Don’t. I beg of you – don’t. A vacation is the perfect time to disengage from email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and whatever other electronic tethers you might have. My beau and I just got back from a few days in Acadia National Park with my daughter. Though I admit to checking my email a few times, I did (in my opinion, my beau might think differently) an admirable job of staying unplugged. The best part of extracting ourselves from all the buzz and banter of our digital world is how quiet it gets. It gets so quiet that – hark! – you can almost hear yourself think. Yes … I think … wait – it’s coming in loud and clear now – the answer to that question that’s been hounding me for weeks. The solution has been simmering on the back burner of my brain, and now that it’s quiet, the answer just came up and whispered itself in my ear. Being able to tune into your own thoughts is a very good thing for your marketing.


You’ll practice talking to other human beings.

I know – you talk to human beings all day – on the phone, on Twitter, via your blog. All of that is nice, but a) if you’re following the previous bit of advice you won’t be plugged into all that chatter and b) the art of the face-to-face conversation is one I’d hate to see us lose. As a solopreneur who works from her home office, I find that most of my interactions take place over the phone or online. Going on vacation gives me the chance to engage with people IRL. (That’s “in real life” for those of you who have not yet succumbed to the textaholics world of acronyms.) Whether the conversations are small talk with strangers or long, heart-to-hearts with your traveling companions, each opportunity to communicate on this level is a good thing for your marketing. It reminds us how to connect with people (marketing), how to listen to them (marketing), and how to tell our stories (marketing).


You’ll probably get OUTSIDE. 

Though I love my cozy office and the bustling coffee shop downtown, there is something about immersing myself in the great outdoors that rejuvenates me like nothing else. More than rest or pampering or cultural indulgences, getting outside brings me back to center. I’m not talking about a simple walk around the block. I’m talking about really getting into the thick of the natural world – a three-hour walk along the beach, a six hour hike up (and down!) a mountain, a day-long meander through the forest or along a river. Mother Nature has all kinds of ways to heal and strengthen both body and mind. From good, old fresh air to the adrenaline rush of a challenging rock climb or sailing expedition to the insightful reflections brought on by the quiet and vastness of the world beyond our urban territory. Some of the biggest treasures I take away from my time in the great outdoors are the metaphors that I discover – metaphors for life, love, and – you guessed it – marketing.


You’ll remember what turns you on.

Last, but certainly not least, vacations help us reconnect with the things that really turn us on. When we’re on holiday, we make choices based on what we want to do, not what we need to do or think we should do. You suddenly remember all the things that you love to do and why you love to do them. You start to get excited and enthusiastic again – and that is one of your secret marketing weapons.


So, those are my favorite ways to justify more vacation time. What are yours? 

If you’re curious about some of the marketing metaphors inspired by my past vacations and day-to-day immersion in Mother Nature’s playground, you may want to check out my series, Mama Nature’s Marketing Tips. Go ahead – take a walk on the wild side. You never know what might inspire you.

Image Credit: Ahmed Amir

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