Creating Tension

Simon stretching a rubber band asking "how much tension is ethical?"

Tension. Something under strain, or pressure. Sounds uncomfortable, doesn’t it? Probably not something you want to create with an ethical marketing strategy.

And yet… I believe it is the most important thing to create in order to make your marketing effective (and still ethical).

I’m not talking about an anxiety kind of tension (such as worrying about the future) or a fear kind of tension (such as before a bungee jump) but rather the useful, full-of-possibility tension that comes from contemplating change – that feeling being between two places of states of mind and not knowing quite how to get from one to the other.

So, how can you use your marketing to create or tap into this kind of tension; and how do we do so in an ethical way?

Show, don’t tell

When the work you do is around supporting transformation, your clients must be open to and want to change. In a marketing sense, simply telling people what you think they need to do won’t work. Nor will statements of why your product or service is so good or so much better than the competition.

You’re selling a considered purchase – a complex decision, not an impulse buy – and neither of these two approaches are a good fit.

A lot of marketing is based on the buyer knowing what they’re looking for. That’s fine if you’re selling a water bottle, or carpet, or a nice jacket, but not so much when you’re selling change.

People looking for change in their lives know that they want to be somewhere (or someone?!) else but they don’t know how to get there. If you want to market successfully, you can’t just sell the destination, it’s talking about the journey that will convince someone to buy. You can’t do that with a paid ad on Instagram…

Create some friendly tension

By talking to your ideal clients about where they are now, the things they are thinking, feeling and doing now, you set the stage for tension – between where they are now and where they want to be, with different thoughts, feelings or actions.

When you explain how it’s possible to change from where they are now to their desired state or place, you create an exciting form of tension – between present and potential future – the tension of opportunity.

There is safety and familiarity where they are, but the future holds out promises – whether fulfilled goals, a happier life, a more effective approach to the world…

For the potential client ready for change, this tension can be irresistible.

Keep the tension ‘friendly’

With your knowledge and experience, it is likely that you understand where the client is now and where they want to be better than they do themselves; or at least are able to articulate it better. From this position, it’s easy to go too deep too quickly, overwhelming them.

The key to making your marketing engaging (and keeping the tension on this side of ‘friendly’) is to keep it simple and not try to jump in and solve all their problems in every post or interaction.

Break down the feelings, ideas, concepts, actions or however else your ideal client pictures themselves right now and then link it to one change that they could experience by working with you. You don’t have to cover the whole situation or provide the whole answer. You’re just linking concepts together, pointing a way forward, and that’s often enough for potential clients to get to know and understand you and the work you do.

If your marketing overwhelms them, you create too much tension and that begins to feel like being under pressure to act, and is often infused with fear (great for a bungee experience maybe, but not what people are looking for from a guide or coach!)

But … I can see what they’re looking for so clearly, why can’t I just tell them that?

It’s tempting to jump in and be the rescuer, to save the day with all the answers.

Most people, though, are not looking for a saviour. They’re looking for someone to show them that change is possible and support them in making that change.

The right degree of tension is a motivator, and an enabler of change. But take it easy – they need to feel excited about the change but also comfortable enough to make it.

Its a balance that takes a while to get right. But the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Embrace the tension

This blog is an example of tension in action. I’ve shown how you might have experienced marketing or marketing advice in the past, and I have shown you that there is another way to approach it. Some people will have stopped reading a long time ago by now, but not all of you. For those of you still reading, I hope you feel a slight tingle of tension, generated by the possibility of marketing differently.

Simply thinking about your marketing in a different way will release some of that tension and I’d like to offer a way to release it a bit more, creating some new ideas and a bit more friendly tension along the way with my book Reframing Marketing. In it, I explore this concept, along with many others, and guide you through how to create your very own effective and ethical marketing plan.

You can find out more about the book and order your copy at