As much as these two realities seem so against each other, the points in common are many more than what people think. First of all, yoga is a philosophical-spiritual discipline with interesting ethical, pragmatic and everyday concepts. Especially the first two angas of yoga, Yama and Niyama, are precepts and restrictions applicable to various aspects of existence. Marketing, on the other hand, is not just the vulgar attempt to sell a product or a service, a push to get more customers, more sales, more capital. It is a bivalent satisfaction relationship between an organization and its customers. Both yoga and marketing are flexible tools that can be combined in a surprising way.
When one thinks of yoga, two main things come to mind: the young, super-flexible skinny woman who poses as a contortionist dressed in yoga pants and the top of the brand she has to promote while smiling staring at the sunset over the sea and her little dog trying to imitate her position. Or the Indian guru with a long beard, dreadlocks, in his underwear who meditates on a glacier in the Himalayas, covered in ash and with strange symbols painted on his body, while smoking marijuana. But yoga is much more than these two paroxysmal extremes, as I explain well in this article on origins, this on the Yoga Sutras (which we will take as a starting point for our work) and this on modern yoga.
When we think about marketing, instead, we have in mind the unlucky guy in a suit and tie, with his 90s haircut style, a briefcase, trying to sell door-to-door encyclopedias sporting smiles so false that he doesn’t even believe them. Or the good old Billy Mays comes to mind with his dark beard, while he tries to sell soap to clean your favourite T-shirt. Fortunately, marketing is much more, there are various types with different levels. It is the art of intriguing, of teasing, of captivating displaying a product or service, capturing its soul and telling it with images, words, videos, looks, smiles. Let’s see in detail the individual elements and this unexpected marriage between the two.
The principles of yoga
“Yoga (union) is the restraint of mental modifications”Patanjali
All yoga (or almost) is based on this writing of Patanjali, hardly datable (between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE, although some scholars make it to the fifth century CE). This is a short book that summarizes the widespread knowledge of the yoga of the time, mainly transmitted orally. Patanjali, or whoever, encloses all the yoga in 8 steps (or anga, literally “limbs”) that have order of practice and importance (to reach the next step one must be the master of the previous one), although these angas interpenetrate partially between them (one or more can occur simultaneously). These eight limbs of yoga are:
- Yamas – the 5 abstinences
- Niyamas – the 5 observances
- Asana – posture
- Pranayama – breath stretching
- Pratyahara – withdrawal of senses
- Dharana – concentration on one point
- Dhyana – meditation
- Samadhi – bliss or trance
Although at first glance it seems there is nothing to be associated with marketing, the first two angas contain moral and ethical precepts easily shared by other traditions and adaptable to many fields. Let’s see them in detail.
The abstinences, or restrictions, are 5. They are simple actions and attitudes not to perpetrate for a healthy coexistence with others, but also for the attainment of a personal state of higher consciousness defined by a non-attachment to material things.
- Ahimsa: non-violence
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: conduct consistent with Brahma
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness
To see them explained in detail, I refer to my already mentioned article on yoga.
The precepts or observances are also 5. They represent ethical precepts to follow in order to live a fuller and more fulfilling life with oneself and consequently with others.
- Shauca: purity
- Santosha: contentment, acceptance
- Tapas: austerity, perseverance
- Svadhyaya: the study of the Vedas and self-study
- Ishvara Pranidhana: contemplation of the Ishvara
To see them explained in detail, I refer to my already mentioned article on yoga. All seems very nice and interesting so far, but how do they apply to marketing? Before proceeding with the explanation, let’s see in detail what this famous marketing is.
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make but about the stories you tell.”Seth Godin
History and definition
According to the American Marketing Association marketing is defined as:
“The activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
Before going into the process of examining its meaning in general terms and seeing its evolution up to the present day, let’s talk about its origins. According to Amedeo Lepore, marketing was born as an ante-litteram technique in Japan in the seventeenth century. It seems that a merchant of the time, disassociating himself from the traditional methods of the other salesmen, which consisted of walking with his goods for the various markets trying to find customers, went into people’s homes, started talking, listening to their problems and thus earning their confidence. He finally collected the requests and managed to find what they were looking for. The term as such and its theoretical elaboration appears for the first time in the early twentieth century, in the USA, where it is developed and deepened adequately. Initially based on the concept of producing goods and trying to sell them, marketing slowly changes approach and perspective, focusing on the customer rather than the product.
For years now, the market trend is no longer projected on the production and sale of goods or services but on the person himself. Successful companies immediately understood this, developing increasingly targeted and personalized sales techniques. We have moved from so-called transactional marketing (produce and sell) to a relationship marketing (perceive and respond). More in detail, the activity of the marketing-oriented company is to find and stimulate the needs of customers and to promote products or services suitable to satisfy them, adapting the production and sales strategies from time to time to varying desires and consumer preferences.
The difference with the previous approach is substantial: the aim is to create, transfer and communicate value to the customers and to manage the relationships with them so that loyalty and satisfaction of the latter are created which returns to the advantage of the company and the consumers. Marketing thus becomes a relational philosophy between company and customer, a relationship of continuous exchange, mutual knowledge and possible satisfaction. It is no coincidence that the evolution of marketing joins the advent of social media: thanks to them it has become possible to enter the private life of each individual and thus understand their interests and trends.
Social media in fact, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. sell user data to create ad hoc consumer advertisements. But they are not limited to this: with the figure of the notorious influencers and bloggers (of which I speak about in this article), marketing becomes a dialogue and a constant exchange of personal data between the promoter and the customer. Although everyone knows of it when they accept the conditions of subscription to social networks, few are really aware of it. So, between a post of kittens and one of politics, between the photo of the boobs of the girl on duty and that of the cake of the grandmother, between a sharing of a travel experience and that of a thought on the meaning of life, we find ourselves, without realizing it, to constantly exchange data with companies that will use them to target their sales based on our posts. A kind of The Truman Show in a global version!
The marketing itself, like all the tools and means of this universe, goes beyond ethics and morality. It depends on how it is used. It is one thing to sell the data to influence the voting, a scandal that led Zuckenberg to pay a very high fine of 5 billion dollars, another is to use it to create a genuine relationship with customers and satisfy their real needs, being able to pay the bills with your job. In an ethical marketing perspective, which more and more companies are embracing, the aforementioned precepts of Yamas and Niyamas are more than a legitimate guide to creating strong values and functional ideals to follow. But let’s get into the detail of the question.
Yamas and marketing
The Yamas are the 5 abstentions, or rather what is better not to do to reach the union, the integrity and to prepare for the highest summers of the conscience. Let’s see what happens to apply them to the field of marketing.
In general, do not harm anyone or anything, at all levels: physical, verbal, psychological, emotional, mental. Specifically, in marketing, do not harm competition in any way, do not be aggressive, maliciously competitive. Not only that, avoid being aggressive with customers, in the language used either verbal or written. It is not a competition for those who make more money where the goal justifies the means. You are trying to relate to someone, violence should always be avoided.
This comes by itself. Don’t blow smoke. Be honest, transparent, clear, direct but kind. You are not here to deceive the fool on duty to sell him a house in paradise or the Trevi Fountain. You are “selling” yourself, your brand represents you. Make sure your customers can trust you blindly.
This is also quite easy. Don’t steal the ideas of others, the customers of others, the projects of others, their means, their goods. Be genuine, be yourself: are you really so poor that you have nothing to say and be “forced” to use what is not yours? Be careful: taking inspiration, starting point, is not stealing. Copy shamelessly yes.
Brahmacharya: conduct consistent with Brahma.
This is difficult, but we can do it. The original meaning it has in Hinduism is that of chastity to which the young student of spirituality, who goes to the teacher to learn, must undergo all his years of study. Many interpret it with sexual continence: avoiding libertinism and unbridled sex without a profound meaning. From the marketing point of view, we could interpret it this way: it’s okay that you have to sell, but don’t become a whore. Keep your dignity as a person of sound principles and do not sell yourself to anyone for a dish of lentils. Value yourself, without becoming proud, and believe in yourself. It is not by selling you out that you will be able to make money or enter the market of your sector.
The meaning in yoga is to avoid attaching to any kind of material good that creates the illusion of possession, or that we are the masters of objects, animals, plants and even people. Naked we are born and naked we will return to the womb of Mother Earth. At the marketing level, we can say that sticking to one’s beliefs, clients, money, our ideas is extremely detrimental. In a world that goes at the speed of light, where ideas and fashions are born and die in a day, crystallizing on modes makes us rigid, unable to listen to the customer’s need, to flow together with the current. That does not mean being a transformer and changing according to the wind (see the previous point: having a dignity!), but knowing how to move with wisdom by exploiting the currents that cross this mare magnum which is the economic market.
Niyamas and marketing
The precepts or observances are 5 intimate and personal rules for the achievement of a state of serenity and realization. Here’s how to adapt them to marketing.
Although the original refers mainly to the cleaning of the body, external and internal, it also mentions mental and spiritual cleansing. We can, therefore, interpret it symbolically in reference to marketing. Few ideas but good, concrete, effective. Clean your mind from all unrealizable projects, from unreal dreams, from excess input: you don’t need to know EVERYTHING in a confusing way, but focused on those few essential things that make the difference.
Santosha: contentment, acceptance.
Opposite of frustration. Although it is a good thing a bit of healthy ambition and ardour in view of the job realization, the obsession to have always more and always better is not healthy. It creates stress, does not make you sleep at night and always makes us feel “wrong”, incomplete, longing for something different from our situation without even knowing what. Being satisfied with what one has and is, recognizing that one is in the various stages of growth and evolution does not mean to stop growing, but to appreciate every moment for what it is and gives us.
Tapas: austerity, perseverance.
In yogic discipline, asceticism is a fundamental element: one “renounces” to something in view of a more satisfying result. Every day we “sacrifice” something of ourselves, of our belongings, investing it to make it bear fruit so that it returns to us multiplied. Use part of the proceeds to grow, study new market methods, learn something about a sector similar to ours, and so on. To devote ourselves with fervor to our passion.
Svadhyaya: the study of Vedas and self-study.
In yoga, it is a matter of studying and putting into practice the lives of the great yogis who preceded us, the sacred scriptures and everything that can be an inspiration to personal growth. The same for marketing: devoting part of our time to studying, improving, being inspired by the great personalities who could realise themselves. It is full of figures who have created a way to do winning marketing and knowing their stories can be a source of great inspiration. But not only, study to expand our knowledge, get out of our backyard and maybe go into some psychology or sociology to better understand our customers.
Ishvara Pranidhana: contemplation of the Ishvara.
Although in all the Yoga Sutras we do not find any mention of God, in this observance the faith or the abandonment towards this superior entity appears (the term Ishvara indicates a generic superior personified entity). The concept is not to develop faith towards a specific God but rather to learn to trust these higher energies that surround us and that move things. Beyond the religious connotation, which does not concern us since we talk about marketing, we can interpret it this way: being impossible to control and foresee everything, it makes no sense to get stress to achieve results that are often influenced by things, situations, unexpected events totally unrelated to us. So, commit yourself, make your own calculations too, but always leave the door open to the unexpected, also in a positive sense. Have confidence in life, that things will go well anyway, especially if we act in accordance with our ideals.
As you can see it has not been difficult to bring these two apparently so distant realities closer together. Like all oriental disciplines, yoga also has a philosophy that includes ethical, behavioural, approach values to life and reality. Just as Zen (read here to learn more) has become famous in the West for its easy application to every aspect of daily life, yoga is having the same fortune for its richness and flexibility. In the market environment, as we have said, marketing is only a tool whose ethics depends exclusively on how it is used. So why not apply these timeless yogic precepts to modern market reality? Maybe we will finally have a fair economy and help everyone.