Every year, business coaches and marketing experts make millions of dollars claiming a causational guarantee: “Follow my methodology and your business will double.” “Buy my product and you’ll get xyz results.” Essentially, “do this, get this.”

This is a highly effective pitch for new entrepreneurs, because every new business owner is scared shitless and looking for a guarantee. Unfortunately, as any entrepreneur can tell you, there’s no such thing.

This kind of thinking—“do this, get this”—is causal. We argue that the success of a business isn’t causal, but correlative.

Causation Versus Correlation

Let’s look at causation versus correlation in terms of marketing.

Marketing based in causation can feel very inauthentic and transactional. We’re trying to reduce an interaction with someone down to an equation of “I’m going to do this to get you to do this.” Maybe it’s, “I’m going to post this copy to get you to register for my course,” or “I’m going to post on Instagram 5 times a day to get you to buy my product.”

This line of thinking implies you can control every outcome by taking a specific action. It would make business a lot easier if that’s how things actually worked, but it’s not. It doesn’t work because it leaves out the fact that we’re communicating with humans.

Instead, effective marketing is relational and correlative.

Every interaction we have with another human affects their impression of who we are and how we show up in the world. This relationship takes time to build and we need to constantly provide reassurance that we are who we say we are.

To approach marketing in a correlative way, we need to admit that we can’t know exactly how our actions produce a new client. Conversion occurs based on an innumerable number of immeasurable factors that we can’t possibly fully understand.

The Phenomena of Conversion

Think about the last time you bought something online, maybe a subscription service or a physical product. What made you buy? Was it the copy they used? The photo? The customer service? Because you were in a good mood? Or maybe you were in a bad mood and indulging in some retail therapy? Did you see ads for this company before buying? Did you do any research? Was this something you set out to buy or was it an impulse purchase?

So many factors go into making a purchase that we can’t ever know exactly what action led to a specific result. This is what we call “the phenomena of conversion.” We use the term “phenomena” because conversion is something beyond the ability of a human being to understand. (Even some of the most powerful AIs in the world still can’t predict it with 100% accuracy—anyone who’s bought Facebook ads has seen that firsthand.)

We have to acknowledge that we can’t understand exactly how our actions produce a new client. We can see that taking these actions creates a correlate increase in interest in our business, but if we were to go back and look, we couldn’t pinpoint with any kind of accuracy which specific action brought that client to us.

But just because we don’t know everything doesn’t mean we don’t know anything.

Business for Human Beings

Giving up causal thinking and focusing on correlation allows us to stop trying to understand something that’s unknowable. It opens up a world of other possibilities because we move from trying to define something to a place of inquiry.

In that inquiry, first thing first: We need to get that we’re not human doings, we’re human beings. By that I mean: marketing is much more effective when we focus on demonstrating who we are—who we’re being—rather than what we’re doing.

What if your marketing showed people who you’re being in your business and how you show up in the world? What if it demonstrated your values rather than attempting to manipulate someone into doing something you can’t make them do or not do anyway?

We fold all of these ideas together in a methodology we call Responsible Marketing. We encourage entrepreneurs to come to market with a robust and diverse way of demonstrating who they’re being in their business. It means getting curious and being in a constant inquiry about how you relate to your business and how your audience relates to you.

The reality of it is this: markets are always shifting and changing in ways that we can’t measure, and there’s no guarantee that what works for us now is going to work 2 weeks or 3 weeks or 4 weeks from now. In order to stay relevant, we have to constantly be looking at our relationship with potential clients with curiosity and adjusting in kind.

I know this feels revolutionary. Let me tell you, it’s the tip of the iceberg. We dig into all of these ideas (and more) in our 6-week marketing course, Get Heard. This is one of three courses that make up our Entrepreneurial Activism Certification, a program that teaches you to run an empowering business grounded in your values and executed with alignment, empathy, and leadership. Learn all about it here.

Each month we host free workshops about these topics and others related to running a business from a place of equity, empathy, and consent. Get in the conversation and see what’s coming up here.

Written in partnership with Ali Weeks of Moxie Writing Co