For the last year, I've been weaving together a new philosophy of marketing, designed to radically reshape the emotional landscape of the internet. Like all marketing, it aims at finding and creating new customers, specifically for solo and creator-style businesses. But beneath the surface, non-coercive marketing is a trojan horse, designed to regenerate trust, connection, and empowerment in a world where all three are increasingly scarce.
This essay is a primer on the underlying principles and mechanics of non-coercive marketing. It's meant to be a high-level overview that contrasts traditional marketing with the non-coercive approach. I won't be getting into implementation details or examples here, but rest assured that's all coming soon. I've been integrating this into my business throughout 2022, and the early results are promising.
Much of this philosophy is built on the shoulders of giants. On the marketing side, I've been deeply influenced by Andrè Chaperon, Seth Godin, and Derek Sivers. On the emotional side, Joe Hudson's work has reshaped my inner world, and Charles Eisenstein has inspired me to think deeply about systemic problems, and to work towards a more beautiful future. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Michael Ashcroft, who first introduced me to non-coercion, and whose own business success started me down the path of unlearning everything I thought I knew about marketing. Without these folks, non-coercive marketing wouldn't exist.
However, other parts of the non-coercive marketing philosophy are new, experimental, and risky. I see it as a vast and wild frontier that we've only begun to explore. In other words, this approach is not for marketers seeking to maximize certainty, control, or comfort. Instead, it's for people who've never felt at home with traditional marketing, and who are tired of trying to force themselves to fit inside that mold. It's for people who are brave enough to venture out into the frontier, try things that might not work, and iterate towards a way of doing business that enriches our lives, our customers' lives, and that leaves the world better for future generations.
Make no mistake, that's what non-coercive marketing is aiming at. This isn't just a more ethical, feel-good way to sell shit. This isn't just slapping a friendlier coat of paint on traditional marketing. It's a radical rethink from first principles, meant to start the dominoes toppling towards a more beautiful future.
Giving the golden rule an upgrade
A few months back, I shared the origin story for non-coercive marketing. I stumbled into it by accident after working through some toxic emotional patterns in my relationship with food. Learning to trust myself in that context, and no longer using force against myself, created some surprising side effects. I began to notice the ways distrust and coercion lurk beneath the surface of the marketing world. It was there all along, but I was only able to see it once I started healing my relationship to self.
The key ingredient in non-coercive marketing is the golden rule. We should market to others the way we'd want to be marketed to ourselves. But, as I discovered in my own journey, when we're at war with ourselves, and when we treat ourselves in shitty, coercive ways, we often end up treating others that way without realizing it. Self coercion and distrust are the emotional water our society swims in, and our external world reflects that. Turns out, when your inner world is full of conflict, and when your actions are rooted in insecurity and distrust, the golden rule isn't worth a whole lot.
This is why I increasingly center my work around ideas like Deep Okayness. The more we turn our attention inward, and start unwinding the ways we're at war with ourselves, the more non-coercive marketing becomes natural and intuitive. It becomes second nature to treat others with the utmost dignity and respect, and to fully allow them to make their own decisions without manipulation or force. When you've made peace with yourself, the golden rule gets a whole lot more powerful.
Here's what I'm getting at. Without the inner work, the principles of non-coercive marketing might appeal to you intellectually, but they will be hard to implement, let alone maintain over the long term. The more turmoil resides within, the more it will find ways spill out into your external world. That's why I use the word "philosophy" to describe non-coercive marketing. It isn't just a set of strategies for building a business and finding customers. It's a seismic shift in how you relate to yourself and others, which will influence not just your business, but every facet of your existence. In other words, non-coercive marketing is a way of being. It's a philosophy for life.
The principles of non-coercive marketing
The non-coercive marketing philosophy is a living, evolving tapestry of ideas, which is why I've been so hesitant to share it. As I explore the frontier myself, I inevitably find new pieces of the puzzle, and new clues for how it all fits together. My understanding of non-coercive marketing is far clearer today than it was six months ago, and I'm sure it'll be clearer still six months from now.
But I've come to realize that keeping this all to myself, in hopes of perfecting it before release, is both a bit delusional, and a disservice to the cause. So I'm trying to get it out into the world, however imperfect and incomplete, so others can run with these ideas, and expand the edges of the map. The more people we have exploring the frontier, the faster our collective wisdom grows, and the faster the dominoes start toppling.
So for now, here's my best attempt at articulating the whole philosophy in one paragraph.
That's obviously a bit of a word salad (lol sorry), so I'm going to break this out into nine underlying principles and directives, then explore each one in depth. Here are the principles.
- Optimize for aligned, empowered customers
- Surrender control, and embrace emergence
- Cede authority
- Treat people as ends, not means
- Enough is enough
- Play long games
- Tell the truth, even when it's scary
- Create invitations, not ultimatums
- Trust fully and unconditionally
For each of these, I will share a few insights into the dark underbelly of traditional marketing, and then contrast it with how non-coercive marketing operates. Let's rumble.
Optimize for aligned, empowered customers
Traditional marketing's job is to create a steady stream of new customers. But it rarely, if ever, differentiates between types of customers, or the emotional states under which someone makes a purchase decision. Because traditional marketing doesn't make this distinction, it often focuses on quantity over quality. It seeks to create as many customers as possible, regardless of who they are or how you do it.
Non-coercive marketing is about creating customers who are both aligned and empowered. An aligned customer is someone who is delighted to have done business with you. It's likely they could have purchased something similar elsewhere, but because of their interactions with your marketing, they feel a sense of connection, resonance, or even belonging, and actively choose to transact with you instead of anyone else. An empowered customer is someone whose choice to transact comes not from insecurity, but from self-trust. In other words, it's a "fuck yes" decision for them, made from a place of wholeness.
When you optimize for both alignment and empowerment, you end up with the highest calibre of customers. People who take your work seriously, who tell their friends, who keep buying for years to come. In other words, non-coercive marketing is aimed at creating true, lifelong fans. If you're invested in the 1,000 True Fans model, as I am, non-coercive marketing is designed to create far stronger, deeper bonds than anything possible through traditional marketing.
Surrender control, and embrace emergence
Traditional marketing is about creating as much certainty as possible. It's about trying to make transactions happen in a reliable, systematic way, on your timeline. As a result, traditional marketing is replete with formulas and step-by-step systems. It's built on the idea that you can funnel humans through a specific set of steps to achieve your desired outcome. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this can and does work if your goal is to create customers, instead of aligned and empowered ones.
Non-coercive marketing is rooted in an uncomfortable truth. Emotional connection, resonance, and trust—the ingredients for aligned, empowered customers—don’t follow a reliable formula. Each person who enters your world is a unique individual, with their own distinct emotional landscape, and at a different moment in their journey. A handful of people may be ready to make an empowered transaction with you in any given moment, but the vast majority will not be there yet, and there's no single path that will move them, as a group, to that place of empowerment. It will always be an individual journey.
Non-coercive marketing is about creating the conditions under which emotional connection and trust can happen in their own time, and their own way, with each individual. It's about creating a delightful world with many possible paths, and giving people the freedom to navigate it in the way that best suits them. In this model, when and how transactions occur is mostly out of our control. Instead, they are an emergent byproduct of a system that is far more complex and uncontrollable than we can imagine.
Traditional marketing is rooted in authoritarian tendencies. It's about setting the agenda from on high, and exercising as much control over people as possible. The company/marketer starts from the assumption that they are the ultimate authority in what’s best for "the market," then use all sorts of emotional tools to keep people on the “right” path. That’s what a funnel is. It's a series of steps designed to capture your attention, then keep you moving towards a decision that's been made for you. It's about persuading you to want whatever the company has decided you should want. Traditional marketing, in other words, tries to strip people of their agency, and their ability to make meaningful, well-considered decisions for themselves.
Non-coercive marketing starts from the position that trying to control people is unethical. Full stop. It also recognizes the vast complexity and diversity of humans, and the futility of believing you can ever have the right answers for anyone else. Lastly, it recognizes that operating from a belief that you're smarter, wiser, and more well-considered than others is self-defeating, because it reliably leads to disconnection and resentment.
Non-coercive marketing strives to empower people to be the utmost authority in their own lives, instead of constantly searching for an external authority to validate them. It's about trusting people to make the best decision for themselves, even if they choose a competitor, or they don't buy anything at all. In traditional marketing, any outcome besides a transaction with you is a failure. In non-coercive marketing, any empowered decision, or non-decision, is a success.
When you cede authority, and you trust people, it creates emotional ripples in the world around you. You begin to be seen as the most trustworthy option in said market. Even people who choose not to transact with you will feel warmly towards you, and generate word of mouth. And for the people who do choose to transact with you, they will do so from a truly empowered place. The transaction will be more meaningful to them, and lead to deeper, longer-term relationships.
Treat people as ends, not means
In traditional marketing, people are viewed as means to an end. They exist primarily as the fuel for transactions. This is most apparent in traditional marketing's obsession with data and optimization. When you're dealing with data, it's easy to depersonalize the marketing process, and treat people in ways that violate the golden rule. But it's easy to justify, because you have goals to reach and conversion rates to juice. After all, you're not dealing with people, but abstractions and numbers that are infinitely malleable.
In non-coercive marketing, we treat everyone who enters our world as an end unto themselves, even if they don't, and never will, transact with us. In other words, it's about recognizing that everyone is a unique individual with inherent uniqueness, agency, and worth, and then acting accordingly.
P.S. Here's some further reading on this rule.
Enough is enough
The ideology of modern businesses is that if you're not constantly growing, you're failing. If you’re not 10X-ing your revenue, your followers, your impact, you’re irrelevant and unworthy of being part of the conversation. In modern business, there is no such thing as enough. Infinite growth, at any cost, is sacred. (Mind you, this also happens to be the ideology of cancer.)
Traditional marketing is the foot soldier in the war for infinite growth. Its primary tool is weaponized insecurity, and convincing people they aren't enough as they are. It's an industrialized machine, churning out stories about how our emotional needs will finally be met once we have the perfect phone, car, house, vacation, business, productivity system, and on and on. But as any ardent consumer knows, believing these stories, and chasing enoughness through consumption, is the road to emptiness and despair.
Put simply, we live in a world where businesses are built on a foundation of "never enough." They fuel this never-ending hunger by convincing consumers they are "never enough." This is the emotional death spiral at the heart of modern capitalism.
Non-coercive marketing starts from the assumption that you, as the business owner and/or marketer, are already enough. It acknowledges that while growing businesses can be fun, challenging, and meaningful, it's not a requirement for wholeness or self-esteem. Oftentimes the most courageous, life-affirming choice you can make is to break free from mimetic expectations around growth, and choose to define enough for yourself, and actually enjoy it once you get there. That's the ultimate gangster move.
Non-coercive marketing also starts from the assumption that everyone you interact with, from business parters to potential customers, is enough. Sure, we all carry layers of pain, insecurity, and emotional baggage. It comes with being human. But beneath it all lays a center of inherent goodness and wholeness. As non-coercive marketers, we don't agitate insecurities or spin up new ones to make the sale. We strive to see the inherent enoughness of everyone, and speak directly to that part. That's at the core of how we enable empowered decisions—by speaking to people as if they are already enough, and giving them the time and space to start trusting that it's true.
Play long games
Traditional marketing is obsessed with short-term results and revenue. It's about hitting specific targets this month, or this quarter. It's about defining the numbers that matter, and getting those numbers up as quickly as possible. And because of the built-in expectations around infinite growth, traditional marketing is often characterized by lurching from one short-term campaign to another. Forever.
This is another area where traditional marketing's focus on data creates unintended negative consequences. Data is blind to the emotional states of individual people in your world. Even if your marketing efforts are working beneath the surface, and people are moving towards deeper trust and empowerment, it won't be reflected in an analytics dashboard. This often leads to reactive tactical changes that prioritize short-term revenue and growth at the expense of long-term relationships.
Non-coercive marketing recognizes that the vast majority of people who enter your world are not currently ready to transact with you from a trusting, empowered place. As such, it optimizes for long-term relationships and friendships. It's about building a world that people want to inhabit, and travel deeper into, over the long term. It's about being a constant and generous presence in your space, and in the lives of the people around you. And it's about making sure that when someone reaches the place of an empowered decision, whether 10 minutes from now or 10 months from now, they know exactly how to transact with you.
Tell the truth, even when it's scary
Traditional marketing is about saying what's necessary to make the sale. Often, this leads to omitting inconvenient facts, or bending the truth. Some common examples are over-promising and hype, wearing inauthentic masks, artificially inflating one's expertise and experience, creating false illusions of scarcity, etc. There are all sorts of reasons traditional marketing leaves people with buyer's remorse. But selling people a false bill of goods, even in subtle ways, is one of the worst culprits.
Non-coercive marketing is about radical honesty. It's about being courageous enough to say what's true, even if it's unpopular, unflattering, or dredges up insecurities. It's about leaning into full authenticity and openness, because that's how you stand out, find the others, and build deep relationships in a world where most marketing is inauthentic performance art.
That means telling the truth about who you are, where you come from, where you are in your journey, and what matters to you. If you’re not an expert, say so. If your beliefs differ from others in your space, say so. It means telling the truth about the products and services you’ve created, how they work, and why you made them. And it means being honest about who your work is for and not for, and what kinds of results people have achieved and might realistically achieve. And if you're uncertain, or you can't make a specific promise, it means telling the truth about that, too.
The goal of non-coercive marketing is to give everyone who enters your world all of the information they might need to make an empowered decision. No hiding. No inflating. No bullshitting. Just truth.
Create invitations, not ultimatums
Traditional marketing and sales are about making the sale now. If you've looked into the mechanics of creating “offers” and "sales messages” you know it's about pulling people’s emotional levers, and stacking the deck so much that it short-circuits their decision making faculties, and makes it hard not to say yes in the moment. Being on the receiving end of a well-calibrated offer feels like an ultimatum, where if you don't say yes, saying no will create ripples of pain through your life. Traditional marketers do this because it's all viewed as a zero sum game. If they don't get you across the finish line as quickly as possible, some other marketer might extract those precious resources in your wallet first. Can't have that, now can we?
Non-coercive marketing, by contrast, doesn't create emotional pressure, but actively seeks to relieve it. If what you're selling has some kind of time-bound component—live events, cohorts, etc—some pressure is inevitable. But otherwise, non-coercive marketing never puts you in a place where you have to make an emotional snap decision. Instead of offers and ultimatums, non-coercive marketing runs on invitations. An invitation is friendly, open-ended, and positive sum. It doesn’t try to persuade you to take an action that may not be right for you. It merely shows you a new door you can walk through, on your own time, if you genuinely want to. It’s saying “Here’s a thing I made, and here’s the truth about what it is. If you vibe with me, you can come join this party at any time. If you don’t, that’s cool too. I still respect you!”
Trust fully and unconditionally
Non-coercive marketing, above all else, is rooted in trust. That's the bottom line of this whole philosophy. In nearly every way, traditional marketing operates from a place of distrust, while non-coercive marketing always defaults to trust, even when it's scary.
Trust is an inherently vulnerable act, because it's about assuming the best from other people, and acting accordingly, even though we can never have enough information about anyone or their motives to feel fully safe. If there wasn't real potential for getting hurt, trust wouldn't be required. It's a leap of faith that allows this entire non-coercive system to work its emotional magic. When we put our full, unconditional trust in someone, that's what creates the feeling of empowerment. And that's what creates the conditions under which people become more trusting and trustworthy themselves. That's how we bridge the trust gap. By being brave enough to go first.
So trust yourself fully. Trust that you are enough, and that you will always be enough, no matter what happens with your business. Trust that the truths you tell about yourself, your products, and your business will reach into the world, and resonate with the right people enough that they want to become customers. Trust that if you show up and play the game from a place of joy and connection, the game will reward you with ever more joy and connection.
Trust others fully. Trust them to encounter your truth and be able to evaluate it for themselves. Trust them to make empowered decisions for themselves without an ounce of emotional coercion or manipulation. And trust that ditching the need to control and manage everything can indeed get you more of what you want in both your business, and your life.
That's non-coercive marketing in a nutshell. And I sincerely believe that, once it seeps into fabric of the internet. it will begin to change everything.
A quick note for those inspired to make the leap
Traditional marketing, as I've laid it out here, is a bit of a cartoon villain. Non-coercive marketing, by contrast, is a platonic ideal. But in truth, none of this is quite as binary or black and white as I’ve made it out to be. It’s more of a spectrum. Every marketing decision you make can be more trusting or less trusting. It can be more coercive or less. And therein lies the key to beginning to shift towards non-coercive marketing, if you feel called to explore this path with me.
It’s taken me the better part of two years to start unwinding my attachment to control, and start trusting myself and others. And I still have work to do there. So painting this as some overnight transformation would be a lie. But what I do know is that tiny changes, and tiny leaps of faith, add up over time. Every time you decide to trust a little bit more than you did yesterday contributes to a more beautiful future.