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Three Things Gandhi Can Teach You About Marketing

12/11/2014 01:06 EST | Updated 02/10/2015 05:59 EST
Gawrav Sinha via Getty Images

Gandhi's passive resistance freed India from British rule in 1947. How Gandhi was able to diplomatically overturn 100+ years of oppression without a war is remarkable. Look a little deeper into Gandhi's story and you'll see three ways that 'Bapu' was a marketing genius.

1. He had a plan -

Gandhi wasn't an idiot. The modern world sees an unpretentious and malnourished old dude that altered history by walking a lot. Far from it (although we can still debate what his Fitbitstep count read). Gandhi was a seasoned lawyer in South Africa before beginning his fight for Indian independence. His time in South Africa was spent perfecting his notion of peaceful resistance and laying the foundation for how to impart real change without a traditional war. Tactics like the Salt March, a silent protest of Indians not paying a salt tax to British rulers, didn't bother the British too much. Until it served as a key turning point for Gandhi's revolution.

Doing any kind of marketing requires a plan and real expertise. Don't look for help from a self-proclaimed marketing expert. Also watch out for those creative marketing agencies that are full of graphic designers, color-coordinated furniture and fancy signs at the entrance. People label themselves as marketing 'experts' when they can't label themselves as anything else.

Unfortunately, there is no law preventing unqualified people from practicing marketing. There also aren't many startup costs associated with opening a marketing company. Every task in marketing can be subcontracted (and usually is by new agencies). When hiring marketing help look for people that have actually grown businesses for their customers. If lots of a marketer's customers are doing well, and are where you want to be, then they may be worth a look. Graphic designers, photographers, web developers, programmers and copywriters all possess technical skill, but alone aren't marketers. Marketing isn't art. It's science.

2. He stuck to it Gandhi stayed the course despite massive resistance. He was jailed and beaten on several occasions. As were his followers. Gandhi used many non-violent tactics and was rewarded after years of persistence. The ridicule, bloodshed and countless setbacks didn't deter him.

Even the best marketing plans take time to show results. Value a marketing partner that takes calculated risks with your money, but doesn't abuse it. A good marketer believes in a loss-leader fee-based model. They just need an opportunity to prove their worth to you. You know what you want your marketing to do (generate leads and business opportunities). Find a partner you believe is just as obsessed with getting you opportunities as you are. Then, empower him or her to try new tactics (without altering the budget) on your behalf.

Want more Dallas-area foodies to try your restaurant? Invite Dallas bloggers to your restaurant at a discount or setup a website inviting Dallas food lovers in for a deal. If your marketing people can't do that on retainer (e.g. without increasing their fee to you) then you've got the wrong partner because they are subcontracting the work to third-parties.

3. He won ugly - Gandhi didn't gain independence with a suit and a smile. He did it shirtless and with a walking stick. Gandhi spent his days outside in villages, walking, fasting and spreading his message one person at a time in addition to working the traditional channels in different layers of government.

Most small business marketers love being pretty. They want you to pay them to make your logos, brochures, websites and flyers. You want to pay them to generate business. Regardless of how it looks. I'll let you in on a secret. Looks in marketing don't matter. As long as information is easy to follow and free of typos you can easily get your point across. Berkshire Hathaway has almost three times the sales of Google and twice the assets of Apple. This is their website.

Simply put; marketing is about telling the right people how they'll be able to better themselves or solve a problem using your product or service. There are millions of ways to do that depending on what you're marketing, but usually the most direct way works best (showing up in person). It may get ugly and you may get thrown out, but you may not either. And you'll never know until you try. There is a reason why Shark Tank is a face-to-face show and not a conference call or email thread between the entrepreneurs and the sharks (even though both would be a lot cheaper).

Gandhi is never going to be a guest star on Mad Men, but that doesn't mean you can't learn about marketing from a guy that convinced the world to stand up for social injustices.

And to buy what he was selling.