How to Market without Becoming the Houseguest from Hell

Lynn Serafinn shares a holistic view of our relationship with our audience, where marketers are aware of their role as ‘host’ or ‘guest’ in their marketing. Adapted from the chapter “Grace #3: Invitation” in book The 7 Graces of Marketing.

In Chapter 3 of The 7 Graces of Marketing, I talk all about the lost art of ‘Invitation’ and how we marketers and business owners could learn a lot by looking at what we all know as part of ‘common sense’ when it comes to daily life, but we seem to forget when it comes to marketing.

In that chapter, I tell two stories: one about what makes a great ‘host’, and one about what makes a ‘houseguest from hell’. The story of the great host was about a man named Abdulla I knew back in the 1980s, who treated me like gold when I dropped by their house unannounced, unaware he and his extended family were right in the middle of a family party. The hospitality, respect and engagement they showed me was so special, I remember it to this day as an example of people who really know what it means to be a gracious host. The story of the ‘houseguest from hell’ (which I think is a pretty funny story when I read it back) is about a roaming ‘monk’ I call ‘Sam’ who we invited to stay at our home as his car had broke down, but instead of getting his car fixed, he ended up staying for months, eating us out of house and home and offering nothing in return. I was trying to be a gracious host, but my ‘guest’ lacked the knowledge of what it means to be a gracious guest.

We can learn a lot from these stories of Abdulla and Sam. When we are marketing our books or businesses (especially over the Internet!), it is important to think about whether we are playing the role of the ‘host’ or the ‘guest’. When we build this awareness, it can transform the way we communicate with our audience significantly.

Hospitality, Respect and Engagement

When someone lands our website, walks into our shop or comes into our ‘space’ in any way, it is the equivalent of them being our guests within our home. While we cannot physically offer our Internet visitors the water, food, a comfy chair and cosy conversation during their stay, we can, however, offer them the virtual equivalent. All these components of hospitality make guests within our homes feel comfortable, relaxed and satiated. When a guest feels like this, they are happy to stay in our company, and when they do leave to go home, they carry with them the memory of how you made them feel.

In much the same way, when someone comes to our website, our aim should be to show them our hospitality. We should make them feel comfortable, relaxed and fully satisfied. If someone has come to your website, they are hungry–for information, for a solution to a need, for advice, for assurance, for fun–for something. Just as the best hosts will feed their guests with delicious food, the best sale pages are those that feed your visitors’ hunger for information. If the site is for a piece of software, give your visitors lots of videos showing them exactly how it works. If it’s for an event or a course, give them a taster and a concrete breakdown of what they’ll gain. What we shouldn’t do is use lofty, overblown or ambiguous language telling our customers if they buy our product we’ll tell them secrets no one else knows, or they will gain something they cannot gain any other way. Imagine coming into someone’s home and being told such things by your host. You’d think you’d stepped right into the parlour of Mr Spider. Nonetheless, this is the kind of marketing messages we are subjected to every day, both on the Internet and on television. When we taunt customers with hype, distractions, ambiguity or delayed promises, we make them feel anxious, confused and eventually mistrustful. What is ironic, of course, is that all this lack of hospitality makes people less likely to buy from you at all, even if your product is the very thing that would answer their needs.

If people become mistrustful of us, it is more than likely because we are not showing them the respect they deserve. There are an awful lot of Internet marketers who make a formulaic show of their trustworthiness by integrating customer testimonials and money-back guarantees into their sales pages. But neither of these strategies is effective if a sales page shows little respect for the customer. Besides, most consumers nowadays are pretty savvy. They know testimonials could be faked and promises of money back guarantees could be just words. And if someone comes to a website and gets that impression, it’s more than likely because the marketing is not demonstrating respect for the customer’s intelligence, values, health, happiness and freedom of choice. If marketers focus solely on conversion in creating marketing pieces, this will be the result. Respect can only be present when marketers remember it is a privilege for people to give you their time and attention and to consider using your products or services. The actual exchange of currency is the not the result of a sales page. It is the result of a relationship between customer and merchant–between guest and host. Customers are the guests who knock on our door and we business owners, as their hosts, must create the quality of that relationship.

And finally, no relationship can be built without engagement. Old school marketing was always a one-way street with no engagement between marketer and consumer whatsoever. The consumer simply absorbed the programming and was expected to buy. But as the world has changed, and it continuing to change, lack of engagement or interaction will probably turn out to be the fastest track to business failure in the coming generation. Just as when we visited Abdulla’s home and his entire family engaged with us, to survive in the modern business world, marketers must be engaging. They must listen and respond to their customers demonstrating genuine (not feigned) interest in them. We must make them feel valued, and invite their input and their ideas. We must convey to them that they are a valuable part of our ‘circle’, our tribe, and that their voice is being heard in how we do business.

When all three of these components–hospitality, respect and engagement–are genuinely and authentically present in our marketing, we have a foundation for the Grace of Invitation to flourish.

When Marketers Become Takers

Now, on the flip side, the story of Sam has useful lessons for us when we are a GUEST in our marketers. Let’s first look at online marketing. When someone comes to our website and signs up to our mailing list, they are no longer our guests as in Abdulla’s story–we have now become their guests and are in their space. When a consumer supplies us with their email address, that person is, in effect, opening their door to us and saying, ‘Yes, you can come in and stay here,’ just as our family had opened our door to Sam. Unlike when they are coming into our space, we are now in their space.

And just as there is a moral code for hosts, there is also one for guests. However, I see few online marketers acting as if they truly understand this. While most of us would never dream of treating a host the way Sam did, when it comes to marketing, we feel justified in coming into people’s homes, either through their Inbox or the media, and bleeding them dry with relentless advertising. When marketers operate on the assumption that it takes repeated exposure for subscribers or viewers to become customers, they find it necessary to saturate the consumers’ consciousness with their message, without giving them much of anything in return. This is not really very different from Sam taking advantage of our hospitality without offering any compensation for all he consumed at our expense.

Marketers simply must start realising that coming into people’s homes is a privilege, and we cannot ever allow ourselves to become the proverbial houseguests from hell.

The Importance of the Grace of Invitation

The art of ‘Invitation’ is a true ‘Grace’ because it expresses our ‘graciousness’. Graciousness is a quality we admire in individuals, but how often do we think of it as a criterion for our professional practice? Admittedly, this shift from Invasion to Invitation is going to be one of the most challenging for marketers to make. We need to communicate with our customers, but because there is simply so much ‘noise’ out there, we have adopted the belief that if we are the loudest and most aggressive, people will hear us above the din. But this is simply not true. Invasion simply creates more Invasion. The more we inundate our customers with noise, the louder others will become. And the faster and less caring we are in our communications, the faster and less caring our customers will be when they click ‘delete’ on our email or flick the channel with their remote control.

We are all people, first and foremost. We want to connect. We need each other. We want to be able to knock on each other’s door and feel welcome. We want to be invited in for a nice cup of tea. We want to have the kind of relationships where we can knock on someone’s door unannounced and be welcome. We also want the kind of relationships where friends do not exploit each other’s good nature, and we treat each other with respect and gratitude.

If these are common values amongst us in our social life, surely we cannot forsake them in marketing. How incredibly could the world change if we simply reintroduced the divine responsibility between host and guest, and applied this in all our business dealings?

If Invasion creates more Invasion, surely Invitation creates more Invitation. Begin today by being aware of whether you are the host or the guest, and very soon you will start to see your marketing has become a completely different form of communication.

In my book The 7 Graces of Marketing, I discuss how the Grace of Invitation is the natural antidote to the “Deadly Sin” of Invasion I also discuss 6 other “Deadly Sins” and “Graces,” as well as “The 7 Key Relationships” that shape our lives, including how we create and respond to marketing. I invite you to check it out.

You can download 3 free chapters from the book The 7 Graces of Marketing by CLICKING HERE.

I hope you enjoyed this article. I graciously INVITE you to share your thoughts and feedback below. 🙂

Lynn Serafinn
Oct 2011

Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:
The 7 Graces of Marketing BOOK COVER

The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing.

Brit Writers Awards Finalist
eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues

PLEASE VOTE for the 7 Graces of Marketing for the People’s Book Prize (voting ends 31st August 2013). Sample chapters of the book are available from their site.

Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically, by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media.

eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales

Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at

Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of Marketing

LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.

Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.

(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)

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6 Responses to How to Market without Becoming the Houseguest from Hell

  1. Lynne says:

    I liked your blog post and would like to buy your new book when it comes out in December. But I have a Sony ereader and don’t like reading long books on the computer or smart phone, will you be offering alternative electronic formats of your book other than for the Kindle?

    • Lynn Serafinn says:

      Absolutely, Lynne! I’m currently getting it set up so it will be available in just about every electronic format. Watch for news as we get closer to the launch as to where you can get the eBook besides Amazon. And thank you so much for your question.

  2. Beth Frye says:

    I agree whole heartedly with you Lynn about the host and guest functions. As I go onto these websites more and more to learn about and research my topics of interest, I find that more often than not, there is no engagement whatsoever….EXCEPT if I give THEM something first. Believe me, I’m more than happy to give, but gosh, who are you, why should I, and WIIFM?? I’m disappointed that you need to pay in some way for EVERY scrap of truly useful information much of which could be just as graciously given. That is such a big turn off for me! One thing I truly appreciate about your sites that I have perused, is that you are always sharing information with NOTHING expected from me in return unless I choose to give you something. I have and will continue to talk about you and follow you simply because of that. I’m so excited you’ve got your 7 graces book coming out so more people will begin to see exactly what you are talking about. I’ve also signed up for your *FREE* (thank you very much!) telesummit promoting the book and am incredibly excited that I’ll be able to understand, as a recent MBA marketing grad, how to better engage in this “new” world of marketing. THANK YOU LYNN! Beth

    • Lynn Serafinn says:

      Now you see, that makes it all worthwhile for me, Beth. I DO get something back from my readers: a smile, trust, and–most of all–FRIENDSHIP. I am so pleased to find another person who understands the “Grace of Invitation.” I want to connect with people like you, and I know we can change the world together.

      How great you’ll be coming to the free telesummit. I am super-duper excited, and I am so honoured all these amazing people on the panel have donated their valuable time (yes, donated) as a gift to support the book launch. It’s both humbling and mind-blowing. I do think the world of business and marketing is shifting big time, and this next decade will start to give rise to a very different business ethic indeed.

      So pleased to meet you, Beth! Talk again soon.

      Warm wishes,

      • Beth Frye says:

        Ahhhh…what a breath of fresh air and what a great host you are, Lynn…I LOVE you!

        I look forward to a friendship as well!

        Here’s to an inspiring day~

  3. Lynn, thanks for circling back to this one. There’s so much graciousness in the idea of invitation creating more invitation. This feeling in my heart is exactly what I want to communicate to my tribe in every word on my website.

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