Every working marketer should practice tarot.
On the last day of The Copywriter Club IRL, I was shuffling cards in front of marketing legends.
I always said as a discloser: “I’m not here to predict shit.”
But I would spread the cards in front of them with what I hoped looked like an authoritative air. It was a simple three card spread per person: Problem, Solution, Outcome.
I explained that tarot isn’t about predicting the future. At least, not 90% of them time. And not how I was using it to help them.
Tarot is just a tool. A tool for exploring centuries-old tropes about human behavior, desires, and sources of guidance. It’s also designed to help pull your head out of your ass.
Not that marketers are at all interested in that, right? *scoff*
What are tarot cards?
Essentially, they’re just cards. Literally.
But in the minds of most people (yaaaay pop culture), tarot cards are used for divination. You tell your own future from these cards. Either that or an old woman in a shawl tells it for you.
In reality, tarot is so prolific as a cultural item that it’s used for all kinds of things.
Modern tarot decks usually contain both the Major Arcana (the wacky cards like The World and The Hanged Man) and the Minor Arcana (5 of Swords, Knight of Cups, etc.). They can be illustrated in many different styles.
You can use it as a divination tool, yes. But if you’re like me, you’d rather know what’s going on in your own head rather than what my head will decide to do.
Everything in the Arcana is an archetype. Everything. They all speak to an aspect of human behavior, desire, and downfall.
Take for instance, one of my favorites: The Hanged Man.
Rather weird, isn’t he? And at first glance, a little distressing. Pretty sure at least one saint died hanging upside down like that.
So that’s the first meaning: Distress. Everything’s gone wrong for this many. He’s the definition of ersatz.
But what happens when you’re unexpectedly upside down? You see things differently.
That’s the equal and opposite need of the Hanged Man: The need to be shaken up so that breakthroughs can take place.
Let’s do another one: The Knight of Cups.
Nice-looking guy, isn’t he? He’s carrying a symbol of plenty. He’s a strong, proud figure.
But wait… why doesn’t he have a sword? What is he hiding? Is all as perfect as it seems.
Prosperity and suspicion. That’s tarot: Finding the possibilities within simple stories.
But what does this have to do with marketing?
Everything. So often, we reduce customers/readers/consumers as archetypes. We know what they want. We know what they say they want, at least. But it’s never just one thing.
We know this.
We know this in our heart of hearts.
But looking at written testimonials and reading rah-rah marketing things all day confuses us. It makes us feel brilliant, that we’ve solved everything.
Sometimes the very thing to remind us that people are complicated is drawing a few cards.
Let’s talk about one of my favorite brands for a second: The Wing. Yes, that Wing. The one that may have broken the law. We’ll deal with that in another post.
Who’s their audience? Women who are professional, intuitive and ambitious. They aim to be helpful but maybe a little more on the self-interested side. In short, they want women of the High Priestess archetype.
Very cool! They found an archetype that fits their customer base. Well done.
Hold on. The Essential Book of Tarot lists the downsides of the High Priestess as selfishness, deception, vanity, and instability. Is there a chance that the customer base for The Wing is privy to these follies? Best to think about it and maybe plan ahead.
Of course humans are nuanced and are more than just some cards. But we all have stories we look to for guidance. We may find ourselves living the tropes of those stories more than we think.
As marketers, it’s our duty to be mentally flexible about human behavior. Why do people do what they do? We can’t be trapped within a certain mindset.
This is where the second, much more contemplative use of tarot sneaks in: Spreads.
There are dozens of different types of spreads. Or, if you prefer, lines.
It all comes down to this principle: You’re telling a story, and the cards are the events or outcomes of that story. It’s up to you to interpret what that card may mean in that situation.
You decide the boundaries. You decide the spread. What happens next? That’s up to you to interpret.
Let’s try an example with this spread, which I found on Pinterest. There are dozens of spreads out there, so feel free to play around if you’re interested:
I know where the skeptic’s eyes are going: #7. Where are you the happiest?
Let’s give ourselves the “worst” possible outcome: Death. You pulled a Death card, oh no! Maybe you’re suicidal!
Or maybe not. Death represents change more than anything. Maybe you’re happiest when you’re relieving yourself of things that are no longer bad for you. Exercising control certainly isn’t evil.
Think about the drawing of Death in conjunction to the other cards, too. Say you drew Seven of Cups for #6. This card is often tied to imagination and grounding yourself.
So now the trick would be to consider the relationship between #6 and #7. If it’s true for you, and you feel happiest cutting through B.S. and finding truth, maybe considering imaginary things is a bad way of finding peace for yourself. Maybe you’re coping and not actually helping yourself.
Every card represents a principle, some part of the human spirit. Even if you feel like a chance drawing does not reflect you accurately, those feelings are still worth contemplating.
Imagine doing a spread when you’re stuck in your career, unsure of what to offer people next. Or to try to understand a client. Or their prime audience.
This isn’t fortune telling. It’s teasing our brains into being creative about human motivation.
It’s a way of forcing ourselves to come up with novel solutions.
It’s practicing adaptability in the face of randomness.
Tarot is a tool to help tell the story of people in a given moment, using their most simplified aspects and favorite stories.
It’s a tool worth having in your toolbox.
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