The Tao of Marketing: Book Review
The Market is Chaos—The Tao of Marketing by Steve Burns
It doesn’t feel too abrupt to marry Western marketing strategies to China’s Taoist philosophies. In Steve Burns’ new book The Market is Chaos: The Tao of Marketing, Taoist masters Lao Tzu, Zhuang Tzu, and other philosophers such as Sun Tzu become personal consultants to a frustrated businessman Hong-meng, who goes up to the Kunlun Mountain searching for the answers to his business problems.
However, at the top of Kunlun, all he can see is nothingness which equals chaos in Taoist philosophy. In addition, the first answer he gets from Lao Tzu is even more devastating: “I can’t help you find the answers. First we have to find the questions.” Lao Tzu keeps on to explain that, “Everybody wants to start at the end… It seems to me that people always have the answers before they even know what the questions are… But you can’t do that. You must start from the beginning, where the questions are.” Imagine you turn to someone for help and he thinks you don’t even know what your problems are.
In this way, Burns places you the reader in a metaphor in which the mountain of nothingness and chaos equals the market that you are dealing with. This book aims to challenge you in a soft way rather than being directive or confrontational. It wants you to slow down when what’s in front of you is becoming too chaotic and confusing. It inspires you to look inward at what you could do to make it better. Just like what people normally think about the meditative Asian philosophies, this book, with a storytelling narrative, provokes creative thinking and generates your personal initiative. It doesn’t matter if you know Taoism or not, this book is about applying Chinese wisdom to the realistic world of marketing.
It may not seem so practical at first because what the philosophers say is oftentimes abstract and not right to the point. For example, what does the answer “It is the form without form. The image without image. It is fleeting and elusive” has to do with solving the frustrating man’s problem of no one in the market buys his product? However, the chapter will then explain these concepts carefully through conversations between Hong-meng and the wise men. Burns actually tries hard to make connections between the intangible philosophies to the realistic world of marketing by dividing the book into several chapters with each one focusing on an individual aspect of marketing.
From recognizing the problem to identifying the market; studying the product to serving the customer; dealing with the competition to applying strategy, and finally acknowledging the value of a business, everything can be explored with a Taoist mind. During Hong-meng’s adventure in this imaginative space which is also a metaphor of a chaotic market, a lot of Chinese philosophers’ ideas converge, challenge and inspire the protagonist’s perception of his business and marketing plan. Finally, he only gets an open-ended answer that “The beginning of the one is the end of the other, the end of one is the beginning of the other,” but it is clear that Hong-meng’s mind has been broadened and now he can re-enter the market with more confidence. And as the reader, you will surely get some inspiration out of the abundant feed of ancient wisdom as well and apply to your business problems.