About 45 seconds into the half squat, with 70% of my weight on my extended right foot and 30% on my left foot, the burning in my legs threatens to topple me into a heap of twitching spasms. Whatever form I have left in my torso and arms evaporates as I jerk my arms back and forth. My neck feels like it’s encased in ringlets of iron, and my jaw is clenched so tightly I have to breathe through my ears.
My instructor, Frank, a short and rotund Chinese gentleman in his mid-70s (or is he 250?), approaches me with an amused twinkle playing at the corners of his mouth. I know what’s coming; I try desperately to let the energy flow through my body like water through unkinked hose. It’s too late, though.
Frank pushes my shoulder ever so gently. I feel the entire top-heavy mass of my being tip and crumple as Frank admonishes me with a shake of his head, "Relax! Relax!"
Welcome to another Saturday morning of Tai Chi.
The Principle of Unnecessary Effort
What Frank is trying to teach me is something my body doesn’t believe is possible: that I can remain upright without effort. Theoretically, I get it: if my central column is aligned, my head, shoulder girdle, spine, pelvis, and leg bones all rest on my feet, which rest on the earth. A vertically aligned block tower doesn’t sit there grunting and groaning to remain upright. A tree can stand for thousands of years if allowed to grow straight and true, in direct opposition to and guided by gravity.
Why is standing straight without effort so important? Because only once that’s in place can I move naturally and efficiently, bending and swaying and reaching and manipulating and pushing and pulling with maximum efficiency.
Needle in Cotton
"Needle in cotton" is Tai Chi lingo for a body whose core is aligned with gravity (the needle) so no tension is needed in the peripherals like the arms and legs (the cotton). Our core muscles are the largest in our bodies, and the body segments and muscles get smaller and smaller as we move away from the core into the arms/legs and fingers/toes.
Movement from an aligned core into relaxed peripherals is incredibly powerful, while requiring almost no effort. If you don’t believe me, go to Youtube and watch the Systema punching and sparring demonstrations. Your first reaction, if you’re like me and just about everyone else, will be, "This stuff is faked." (I know from experience that it’s not.) That’s the power of letting our core line of energy interact with the world without tension or blockage.
OK, that’s a lot of esoteric martial arts info and certainly more details about my body than you care to know. What’s the Fast Company punch line here, the business application?
I’m glad you asked.
The AdWords Dojo
Most of our clients contact us needing help with Google AdWords. Until they met AdWords, their marketing was sort of chugging along, maybe not setting the world on fire, but doing OK. Then they set up their first AdWords account and experience competition like they’ve never seen it before. For the first time, their margins are razor-thin at best (and bleeding red at worst). High quality traffic is hard to find.
As my friend and competitor Timothy Seward of ROI Revolution recently put it in an article in Website magazine, "Because Google pits you directly against your competitors in a war for clicks, AdWords is a rough scorecard of the strength of your business and marketing model. If you can't consistently afford the firstpage spots for your core keywords — and your competitors can — you are losing key battles."
In other words, until you meet AdWords, you may think your business is an efficient, well-oiled machine. But if your business model can’t withstand that kind of direct competition by comparison, you’ll discover that fact within a few days.
Getting More Competitive
Most businesses simply give up on AdWords once they’ve spent their money and gotten their tails thrashed. "It’s too expensive," they complain. "I’ll stick to SEO."
For some businesses, that’s a wise move. If you don’t intend for your business to achieve greatness, you have no reason to enter the AdWords dojo.
But if you want to stay and play, knowing that developing your chops here means marketing victories everywhere else, then you need to get more competitive. There are two approaches to this goal: outside-in and inside-out. Outside-in seems easier, is definitely quicker, and is extremely hit-or-miss. Inside-out feels much harder, can’t be rushed, and works just about every time.
Another word for this is "Frankenstein marketing." Whatever you see working somewhere else, you bolt onto your business. This can take the form of copying competitors’ keywords, ads, and landing pages. Of adding webinars to your conversion funnel since you heard that webinars convert really well. Of making video sales letters since you read an article on how searchers prefer video to text. Of finding a stock photo of a sexy woman wearing a headset as your "customer service" icon. And so on and so on.
Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these strategies. We use most of them ourselves (except for the sexy headset customer service lady; we believe that our actual team is sexier than any stock photo). But since they’re coming from the outside in, they represent a great deal of effort expended on the peripherals of your business. That’s like trying to stay upright in Tai Chi by using your arms, or powering up a hill by reaching forward and pulling with your legs.
Inside-out improvement, also known as Chi Marketing, doesn’t begin with a laundry list of possible tactics to improve traffic and conversion. It doesn’t focus on results at all, at least not at first. Rather, Chi Marketing looks at your core form first, so that all the peripheral marketing tactics flow naturally from that core. When you’ve gathered your energy, intention, and market identity into a structurally sound needle, then the size, shape, and movement of the cotton just takes care of itself.
Your Marketing Needle
Your marketing needle must develop consistency on the following levels:
- Your uniqueness
- Your passion
- Your skills and experience
- Your affinities
I’ll go into each of these levels in depth in future articles, so we’ll just introduce the concepts here:
Your Uniqueness: Forgetting about "positioning" or "unique selling proposition" for just a bit. What makes you unique as a person? Your quirks, your combination of strengths and weaknesses, your experiences, your outlook. That’s the core of your core. Think of your business as a way to leverage that uniqueness, to scale and refine and broadcast what’s most wonderful about you.
(I assume I’m talking here to an entrepreneur, or CEO, or visionary member of the team, or at the very least someone who cares about the business enough to see it as an extension of you in the world.)
Your Passion: What change do you want to make in the world? How do you love spending time? What activities feel like your "sweet spot?" When you live your passion, nothing feels like work. And therefore you’ll willing and able to work more and better, with less "efforting" and strain than if you’re just "making and selling stuff."
Your Skills and Experience: What can you do that’s of great value to others? What experiences have you had that illustrate those skills and demonstrate the positive results?
Your Affinities: Who do you love to hang out with? My friend Alex Baisley of The Big Dream Program asks the question this way: "If you were locked in a bar or restaurant with some group of people for six hours and you couldn’t get out, who would they have to be for you to enjoy every minute of it and be a little sad when you had to go?" Those are the people you want as clients, colleagues, and vendors. Don’t worry about niching yourself too narrowly at this point. If you really want to be of service to touring folk musicians with kids, start there.
Your Marketing Cotton
Once you’ve spent time defining and getting excited about your needle, the vexing questions of strategy and tactics start to take care of themselves. The answer to whether you should do a prospecting webinar becomes clear, based on what you can offer than no one else can, what you love talking about, the specific examples you can relate, and who you want to be talking to.
When we do Chi Marketing with our clients, they quickly find that their tactics have often gotten in the way of their core strengths, rather than amplifying them. Simply focusing on the core and letting the tactics just flow brings a sense of renewed vitality and mission, and connects with the right prospects more effectively than the world’s best-written landing page.
Get to know your core, and the best marketing advice you’ll ever hear is, "Relax, relax."