Tolkien Sales on a Sea of Hope

{Middle Earth Lessons for Marketers}

Warning: if you have not READ J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings, stop reading this drivel right now, come join the living world, and read that freaking trilogy of a book. And, we may not be able to be friends until you do. And, no, the movies don’t count.

I’m certainly no certified LOTR / Tolkien expert. In fact, the first time I read them through in college, I was rather disappointed at the end. You know, where Frodo is just about to toss the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom? And he changes his freaking mind at the last minute and decides to keep “the precious” for his own? That is, until Gollum jumps him, bites Frodo’s finger off and subsequently falls with the ring into the smoldering river of lava fire stuff? Ya, that part.

Back then, I didn’t like it one bit. What kind of idiot succumbs to wanting to keep the ring? Really? What the heck? Shouldn’t he KNOW BETTER BY NOW???!!!! Sheesh!

I didn’t really get it then. I wanted my heroes to be closer to perfect, rather than flawed or realistic like Frodo turned out to be.

Sadly, I had to have a friend point out my unrealistic, and stupid, expectation of Frodo as a hero. That’s just a disclaimer that I’m not an expert or anything.

I just completely love everything Tolkien did with LOTR, his life’s work.

Like many things in life, WHEN you encounter something has a lot to do with what you get out of it. This last time through, though, I’ve noticed a whole different set of meta-themes as a writer and marketer.

So if you’re involved in marketing at all (shouldn’t that be everyone?…everyone’s selling something, right?), and a fan, or, at least familiar with LOTR, read on. You’ll probably have a few thoughts of your own to add.

Here we go.

Lesson 1: Pain and Suffering are Universal

And it’s not that it’s just a “common theme.” Pain and suffering seem to be the most core set of the human experience. There is just so much freaking pain in this world. In LOTR, everyone suffers. Some (Frodo) more than others.

We even see the great and mighty wizard Gandalf suffer so greatly in his battle with the Balrog that perhaps he suffers from some sort of PTSD? He can barely remember what happened, just the outline of a shadowy dream. Aragorn has an identity and confidence crisis. Elrond, the wisest of the Elves, suffers as his daughter Arwen chooses to forgo immortality in choosing a life with Aragorn, a mere mortal. Tolkien made sure that no race or character in Middle Earth was immune to suffering.

As a marketer, pain is pretty much step one, right? Find the point of pain. It’s there. Pain is always there. What element of suffering does your product alleviate? Speak to that pain. Touch that pain.

Addressing pain is the door that if it’s not entered, no other door, no matter how pretty, will be able to convince or convert.

{Sidenote: The characters who seem to suffer most (Frodo) and least (Meriadoc) are both Hobbits. Hobbits are the race in the book that are characterized as living most in harmony with the earth and family; enjoying the simplest pleasures like food, drink, story, and song; whose ambitions aren’t to rule or conquer anything, but still seem to strive to be excellent at whatever it is they do, even if it’s “just gardening”; they’re the most content with what they have; and, most importantly, have the strongest ties of fellowship and love.

These are the characteristics that seem to enable Frodo to endure his intense ordeal and also what keeps Hobbits as a race, embodied by Meriadoc, mostly immune to the suffering widely spread among the other races of Middle Earth.

Selling to content “Hobbits” may be a bit different, as the “pain” isn’t as much about a “lack” as it is the threat of losing the beauty they already have.}

Lesson 2: Shared Purpose & Community are The Answer

What was The Answer to all this pain in Middle Earth? And what was The Answer to the looming existential threat of Sauron’s evil power play? It wasn’t tricks, strategy, fancy tools, the power of wizards or Elves, or sheer might of force.

It was the audacity of shared purpose. It was the power of community (more on this later) that was the undoing of Sauron.

It’s easy for me to think it’s shiny toys, creativity, just the right tool, or the perfect shade of green on the logo that’s going to “make the difference.” Those all have their place, but not really a prominent place. The most prominent place must be building a community around a shared purpose. Selling gadgets is easy. Building Community is hard.

Online marketing resources are freaking everywhere, but so many seem focused on their unique patented process, their expertise, techniques, hacks, or their awesomeness. Full disclosure, I’ve gathered and swiped my fair share of free “information” and helps by way of videos, downloads, and trainings. But so few are centered around community and purpose.

But I’ve gotten the most out of resources and groups where building a community around a shared purpose was the focus, not just on building “audience.”

Nothing “wrong” with not building a community and just getting out there and selling stuff. A guy’s gotta eat and make life work. But to me, the connection within a community is deeper, stronger, more loyal. And, in the end, I believe more satisfying.

We can be adept at selling stuff that actually helps people AND adept at building a community around a shared purpose.

Example? I love what Colin Theriot has done with The Cult of Copy on Facebook. That community is a freaking tour de force, not only because of Colin’s expertise and personality, but because of the well-defined shared purpose of that community. Colin sells products, and people are clearly buying enough that he’s able to earn a happy living. How? by cultivating community first and curating products — in that order.

I have a few more “lessons” to cover, but this is already longer than planned (perhaps Tolkien as a subject matter is an influence? LOTR logs in at 480k+ words). I’ll follow up with the next couple “lessons” next time…stuff about the power of hope, the nature of evil, and a few other goodies.

Til then, Cheers!

#marketing #LordoftheRings

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