Liminal Marketing

Simon pointing at their watch asking "are you too focused on now?"

If you feel your marketing just isn’t working, that you’re not getting the clients you want, it may be because you’re over-focused on the ‘now’.

Traditionally, marketing aims to make a sale, close a deal, or convince the buyer they need something – now. But Seth Godin’s new book, The Song of Significance, introduces the concept of ‘liminal’, describing something that is, “between or belonging to two different places, states”. (Source: Cambridge Dictionary)

This idea has really captured my imagination – especially in how it fits with marketing that is effective yet also ethical.

In my own book, I explore the idea of talking to prospective clients about where they are now and where they want to be, and how the work you do together can get them there. The key is the space between those two places.

The word liminal comes from the Latin for threshold. The ideal client is someone who is ready to move from one place to the next. They’re on the threshold, looking for support with taking that step forward into the future. What better word than liminal to refer to marketing that instead of targeting the ‘now’, focuses on people in that in-between state who are ready to do the work.

It’s easy to get distracted by the ‘now’

Running a business is not easy. A business needs clients and customers; especially when you have bills to pay. In the early days, it may not feel practical to be too fussy about the work and clients that you take on. Understandable. But that approach leads to a focus on the now, on getting people to say ‘yes’!

It’s understandable but it’s not a long-term, viable marketing strategy. All you end up with is a lot of unsuitable clients who you may not be able to serve fully, and who will undoubtedly be unhappy if you can’t.

This kind of sales-focused approach is often geared to telling potential clients what they need to do. The problem with this kind of thinking is that they don’t know what you know, they don’t want what you want, and they don’t care about what you care about.

Think liminally

In The Song of Significance, Seth Godin defines the limen as, “the stone on the threshold of a doorway.” I believe that stone is where you need to position yourself and your work in relation to potential clients. Show up for people who are ready to step across the threshold but need support or guidance to do so.

That state of standing on the threshold includes a degree of uncertainty. Marketing that says, “You need this!” is too pushy. After all, why should they trust you to understand their situation?

But… when you talk about where they are now and the things they are thinking, feeling and doing, they can see themselves in what you say and feel understood. A guide that understands them is a guide that can be trusted. Especially when you talk about how working with you can create the change they want in those feelings, thoughts or actions.

In other words, liminal marketing is effective because you’re talking to people about them, not you.

A change of perspective

To get started with liminal marketing consider this question:

Where is the focus of your marketing?

Let me add some context:

If the focus of your marketing is to make the sale because you need to pay your bills, will they feel like they’re buying for you, or for them?

If you focus is on them and their journey, will they feel like they are buying for you, or for them?

The difference is subtle but important.

But… I need to make some sales now.

I understand that pressure, and liminal marketing is not a fast solution. It will get you better clients who will get more out of the work, and will recommend you to other great clients. But it isn’t a fast fix.

If you need to make some sales while you’re marketing liminally, can you sell something different? Is there something you can offer that doesn’t need people to understand as deeply the work involved in order to say yes? Maybe something that could offer more short-term ‘relief’ or move them towards the threshold in some way? This could be a short video guide or course, a long article or guide that deep dives into a concept, or even a book.

If not, is there another way you can support your business while you bring people to the place where they can (and want to) say yes to doing the work?

A blended business model (offering more then one thing) is what a lot of people do, but not many people talk about. It’s a smart strategy to do one thing to pay the bills while you build your longer-term business. Life doesn’t always have to be either/or.

Marketing a future state

Liminal marketing is about engaging with people and getting them thinking. It is focused on talking about the space between where they are now and where they want to be. By doing so, you set yourself up as a guide who can bridge that in-between space and get them to their destination.

Liminal marketing brings you the kind of client who sees the value in the work you do and feels ready to do it with you. These are the clients who will get the most out of working with you and will recommend you to other great clients who are on their own thresholds.

If this post has got you thinking, then you might like to dive deeper into your ideal client’s journey from where they are now to where they want to be with my book Reframing Marketing. It’s a practical guide to creating your own effective and ethical marketing plan that will enable you to attract more clients who are ready to work with you.

You can find out more and order your copy at