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Published on Jan 5, 2024
Last updated on Apr 17, 2024

Visionary marketing, and its blindfolds

TL;DR: Visionary marketing is communicating the vision of an organization, to those that vision is imagined for. This is the most effective and sustainable form of marketing, because it is the only way to be an 'only', rather than being 'another' in the sea of competitive products.

In the past five years of working with startups, I have had the opportunity to learn various aspects of marketing. I started with running online ads, and soon realized it was nothing but a game of bidding for people’s attention on Google searches, or Facebook feeds, by predicting their intents using available data on keywords, or on demographics. I also got to do SEO work, which was the organic sister of paid ads on search engines. I also worked with email campaigns––sent monthly newsletters, announcements, onboarding drip campaigns––which was all about nurturing customer relationships. Even ran festive promos which was about acquiring some quick customers. The list is long.

Working on all these things does come with a sense of hustle and achievement, because of the ability to measure results in online marketing. But I struggled to make much sense of the long-term and, at times, even short-term effectiveness of such activities. At the end of the day, it is mostly about chasing people's attention on different mediums they spend their time on. Different days, different campaigns, different ‘tactics’––we’re hustling, and we’ve got the budget and freedom to do whatever we want on the web, so why not? Even if, on most occasions, these campaigns can be so different from each other that they don't seem to be coming from the same brand—missing a common parent. 

Moreover, if I could ask my audience if they would get sad if I stopped doing any of those ‘marketing’ activities, would they really say yes? And if it doesn’t matter to them, why does it matter to us? Aren’t we reduced to being annoying bugs on the walls of their room? How to be the beautiful carpet they choose to adorn their room with, and not the bugs they wish to get rid of? Maybe, decluttering the noise of the modern marketing methods will help; going back to the evergreen fundamentals will help. So I did.

It all starts with the realization that people make purchases when something matters to them enough to do something about it. All in all, the amount they are willing to spend on a thing is directly proportional to what that thing means to them. For eg. people dedicate millions to buying houses, even though renting could be cheaper, and more flexible. Same applies in the cases of weddings, buying cars, and foreign vacations, where splurging is the norm. Each case offers cheaper, and simpler alternatives but we choose to live the lives we want instead of ‘making sense’. Similarly, I choose iPhone and MacBook over their cheaper alternatives, because UX and privacy friendliness matters to me enough to spend some extra bucks on it; a typical brand loyalty behavior. Or, I order from a particular restaurant because of the guarantee of the exact taste, and even tip the waiters when I clearly have the option to not do so and save money. Or, I try to get the cheapest possible spoons for my kitchen because it's a utility, but the moment I see a spoon with a cute embossing or a classy golden color, I end up spending 10x on a set of two spoons. Why? Because we buy for emotions, and justify later with logic. It’s emotion over logic––life choices over common practicality. That's what a Harvard professor has found as well.

If that's the case, mostly generic marketing methods, that are only about racing for the maximum amounts of clicks and random leads––especially the ones without the substance provided by vision––becomes a race to the bottom. Clearly, adding substance and character to a product and marketing—something resonant with a specific set of people—can be bigger differentiators in meeting outstanding results. Having a purpose, vision, mission, and values to follow as a business are the much needed guiding compass—the missing base—in carrying out different marketing activities, and other business functions.

It boils down to this: make something meaningful for a set of people who care about it, let the character of the business do the talking, and let marketing be the torch-bearer of that mission and vision. While direct marketing initiatives like emails, adverts, social media, etc can (and must) still play a role, when they all become a function of the company’s vision and values, the marketing initiatives get a strong base to be on. This way, the marketing team understands what to do and what not to do, and focuses on the things that articulate the brand’s core messages in different, creative ways possible. As a result, the initiatives turn out to be more centered, specific, deep, meaningful, unique, memorable, and not unnecessarily complicated. As a marketer, these are the metrics I would really like to measure. While such efforts take a long time to show up in the form of results, they compound when they do. In the absence of a company's vision, marketing teams can be confused in terms of what the company aims to do, and stands for. Such confused teams send out confusing signals, and confuse the customers in return; and confused minds don't buy.

Whether we do marketing to people, or for people is a fundamental question to introspect on. Mostly and sadly, this is what marketing has come to be understood by many: a numbers game of competing for maximum attention from maximum people possible. The issue with this approach is that it is short-sighted, short-lived, non-sustainable, easily ignored, easily forgotten, non-unique, costs a lot, doesn't usually matter to anyone apart from the team working on it, and doesn't always help the business’ mission. Yet, those are the key performance indicators for marketing teams.

I have lately felt the importance of vision-driven organizations and marketing––the basic compass in not only doing meaningful and impactful work, but a necessity in even understanding what to do. This is not only about the corporations writing their vision-mission statements in annual reports, but more about seeking change in a neighborhood, industry, society, or world, and facilitating that — through the business, the product, the marketing.

The purpose of purpose

The natural question people ask me is if this is ‘practical’. Whether businesses exist to maximize profits or to meet a purpose? Will they make more money by giving more of something to the world, or by saving more of something for themselves from the world? Will they make money because they have a mission, or will they make money by doing something and later marry it to a mission? All in all, what is the purpose of purpose-driven orgs within the org?

Answering these questions inherently requires a perspective shift, by recognising the eternal fundamentals and separating them from the clutter of the modern marketing methods. Here, I would like to stress that I am not necessarily against modern marketing methods, but more against the ways in which they are approached. Let's get back to the basics: All businesses are here to solve a certain problem or serve a certain purpose, whether they see it that way or not; and if they do, whether they get deep enough into it or not. 

The confusion and clutter takes place when business creators say, “This is what we know how to make, so we will sell this.” But the other way of looking at it is: “We know we are good at making something, and it positively impacts the lives of a certain set of people, so we serve that purpose.” The former statement is what a typical business mindset is, and the latter statement is about getting into the meaningful specifics of a business’ value, and delivering it as best as possible for the set of people who care about it. Both the statements offer different approaches, and both will bring in money to the business. But the ease with which, and the magnitudes in which the money will come through both the approaches is usually poles apart.

“But, vision is so abstract…”

…just keep hustling everyday, and we’ll label whatever works as our vision.” This is a common sentiment and a reasonable one, TBH––after all, these things don't come with a manual. But, this shortcut just doesn't work, unless one is fine with being in the rat race of generic products, competing for attention and clicks amongst the sea of similar products. This is because purpose and vision cannot be bullshited—it must be breathed by the product, pumped by the culture, and energized by the marketing. So discovering the authentic purpose, vision, mission, and values in an organization is actually easier than fabricating them. Let's see below.

Back to the fundamentals: vision is nothing but the change we advocate for some set of people, through the business. And, there are some things we can do to help find it.

How to find a business’ vision?

Let’s divide this into steps.

Step 1. A good starting point is to ask two questions:

  1. What can I do/make well?

  2. Who am I doing/making this for?

Step 2. Next, we get into the specifics of the ‘who’, through observing, empathizing, hypothesizing, and surveying when possible. This generally means updating your knowledge on the contextual issues of these people, and drawing some psychographics.

Step 3. Based on the findings, we identify the kinds of solutions the potential customers would appreciate. 

Step 4. We judge the possibility to carry out the different solutions identified in the third step. Based on the combination of solutions that are possible, we find our purpose, mission and vision.

Another important thing to mention here is that vision can evolve with time (just like every other thing on the planet), but having an underlying idea of what change the business is advocating for––what change it visualizes for the society––since the very beginning, is a game changer.

This applies as much to a roadside clothes tailor as it does to a unicorn startup. Let’s consider both, one by one.

How a roadside clothes tailor can be visionary

A roadside clothes tailor can seek its purpose and vision by following the steps explained above. Here’s a hypothetical example:

Step 1. ABC Tailors asks the two fundamental questions.

  1. What can I make? Possible answer: I specialize in altering and repairing women's clothes, replacing buttons and zips, quick fixes, adding embellishments, and other miscellaneous tasks. Serving people within a ~5 km radius.

  2. Who are the people within a 5 km radius? Possible answer: It's a neighborhood largely characterized by families, where both parents are employed, and there are children attending school.

Step 2. ABC Tailors gets into the specifics through methods like observation, surveying, social listening, interviewing, and some hypotheses, within the said 5 km radius. Let’s say that the following are some of their relevant findings:

  • The residents are very busy, and have to make a trip to the tailor shops for consultation, clothes handover, and clothes inspection after the job is done. They wish there was a less frictional way of doing this.

  • In the neighborhood, numerous young girls actively participate in cultural activities at the performing arts center. They perform in dance shows, fancy dress shows, fashion shows, etc. Moms often find themselves rushing to the tailor with their daughters, as the center provides costumes in standard sizes, sometimes at the last minute, requiring adjustments for a proper fit.

  • There are many kurti-loving women who appreciate new and trendy designs.

  • There’s no tailor around that delivers in less than eight hours, unless it’s a quick fix job.

  • There are no tailors available on Mondays.

Step 3. ABC Tailors comes up with possible solutions to consider. Listed below are some ideas, in the same order of findings as listed above.

  • ABC Tailors can offer digitized tailoring services for saving multiple trips on the end of the consumer. It’s as simple as getting started with a WhatsApp account, where the staff engages on video calls with the consumer, understands her needs, offers her consultation, gives the delivery and cost estimates, and arranges for a home pickup of the clothes.

  • ABC Tailors specializes in providing rapid costume fixes for monthly cultural events involving young girls. To streamline the process, ABC Tailors plans to create and maintain a database containing the sizes of these girls. This approach ensures that when an urgent alteration request arises, the tailors can swiftly and efficiently match the customer's name with the existing records. This proactive measure enhances the speed and accuracy of costume alterations for timely event preparations.

  • ABC Tailors proactively keeps tabs on the kurti trends, and keeps a catalog of nice neck designs for kurtis.

  • ABC Tailors delivers within one hour, guaranteed.

  • ABC Tailors stays open on Mondays. 

Step 4. ABC Tailors aligns identified needs with their strongest strengths, interests, and values. Then, the company reveals its purpose, vision, and mission.

Let’s say that ABC Tailors can do all the five solutions mentioned above altogether. Then this is what their purpose, vision, and mission looks like: “We enable people who care about style and perfection, meet convenience.”

Or, they could get very specific wrt the second solution: “We empower moms to get the perfect fit for herself and her little one”

Or, they could pick the first and third solution together: "Convenience meets craftsmanship: Your style, your way"

Powerful tip: The staff of ABC Tailors should consistently talk to the people visiting their shop, and understand their motivations, struggles and tastes better. Those kinds of market insights are hard to beat, or copy.

By being specific, addressing real problems of a market, and attempting to bring a positive change, a (any) business can be visionary. The trick is to not get too entangled with making the math work out in the short term, but stay true to the vision, help the respective customers reach their goals, and let it all take shape in the longer run. This guides the business’ marketing choices. With time, ABC Tailors can build a name for itself and even evolve into a big boutique, have several branches, online stores, and a tailors' training center. The beautiful part is that if nothing works out, ABC can pivot and start selling shoes––it wouldn’t matter, because they will still stay true to their vision of making style and perfection meet with convenience. And, when creating vision-driven organizations, revenues automatically become a smooth by-product of the journey. That is truly a gold egg.

Plus: When it comes to generic businesses, having a ‘set formula’ to open shops and businesses is both a boon and a bane. It makes the process of getting into business easier and achievable, but also relies on the interpretation and mindfulness of the one using such formulae. That’s why, when taking inspiration from fellow successful businesses, it is better to not look just at what they’re doing, it’s more important to look underneath their what-to-dos and understand why and how they do what they do –– and then apply such learnings to one's own situation. That’s where the real wisdom lies, not in blind copying. And while doing so, it’s also equally important to define success for oneself, but that’s for another article. 😉

How a Unicorn startup can be visionary

Airbnb stands at the extreme end of the visionary leadership spectrum. The leaders not only recognized the audience that could appreciate their home-sharing concepts, but also identified their issues with such a new concept: trust and complacency. Trust, because convincing people to stay in strangers’ houses was not easy. Complacency, because hotels had been the norm for short term stays. But this gave them enough information to personally onboard the initial set of users. They went to events where people were likely to be looking for accomodation, like conferences. They personally spoke to such attendees and educated them on their concept, the safety measures in place, and why it would be enriching to live with local families. 

Secondly, they needed their platform users to be able to visualize their stay. So the Bnb team started uploading captivating photos of the stays––ones that gave feelings of warmth and excitement. Eventually, user-generated content took the wheel. Today, Bnb has set new standards in the hospitality industry. 

Could they have really pulled this off with the help of scattered ads and emails all over the world wide web? Rather, a key factor of their success was a thoughtful understanding of the problems that the product and marketing had to solve, and did so in a truly visionary way.

Real-life inspirations from visionary leaders

We’ve had the privilege of living in a time where business visionaries repeatedly make history, right from the top to the bottom. Here are some examples:

Steve Jobs, Apple

We all know how Steve Jobs has redefined user-centricity, design, and always chased perfection. Everybody saw his ‘methods’, trying to analyze them for a formula to success. But, he was also fired from Apple for ten long years for “not being a great leader”. His replacements as the CEOs did succeed in boosting Apple’s revenues but couldn’t sustain at all, because they lacked Jobs’ long term vision. In the words of Forbes:

Forbes article snippet about Steve Jobs

It was Jobs’ ability to look underneath defined startup methods, identify the cause of Apple, and truly be visionary, that forced the board to bring him back as the CEO of Apple after a decade of separation.

This is a good opportunity to reiterate words from the beginning of this article. A visionary business mindset consists of this: “We know we are good at making something, and it positively impacts the lives of a certain set of people, so we serve that purpose.”

Ashok Vaidya, Mumbai “vada pavs”

The vada pav snack from Mumbai is our legacy. It is ranked as the 13th best sandwich in the world today. But it started with the vision of its creator: Ashok Vaidya. The story is simple. Ashok ran a food stall in Mumbai’s Dadar area and introspected on the same visionary questions we defined in this article. He made a simple observation – people were always in a hurry and needed a quick snack. His ‘what’ became quick snacks, and ‘who’ became the always-in-a-hurry folks of Mumbai. He was already selling ‘vadas’ in his food stall; he noticed another food stall nearby selling ‘pavs’ with omelet. He used his creativity and vision to blend the two things: vada and pav, and created an iconic dish. The rest is history. Sometimes, we are only one ingredient away from being iconic.


MarchTee, a clothing brand based in Pune, India, started as a small shop in 2016. None of the founding members had any experience with the textile or fashion industry. What they really wanted to do was take quality to the highest levels possible, and push it a bit further. They started with making high quality solid tees, and eventually other clothing. This quest helped them build a cult-following of the brand.

What made this possible? Their vision. MarchTee embraced simplicity in everything they did, putting a strong emphasis on maintaining excellent quality. Despite their growth being gradual, it was steadfast. Whether you look at their website, packaging, checkout process, marketing, or customer support, each element truly reflects the values that define them as a brand.


Linear, a project management tool, stands out for its clear vision. When you visit their website, you immediately see their focus on a smooth and unique user experience, complemented by thoughtful design. Every startup I have been with has taken inspiration from Linear’s landing pages, designs, and product UI. They are known for their design prowess, and continue to be an inspiration to countless apps and websites.

Linear’s unique vision sets them apart. This shows up not just in how they build their product but the also way they run their company.

Bath & Body Works

This is a brand that has managed to sell utilities like body wash for premium prices. Generally, we can find a regular body wash in the market for less than 100 rupees. Whereas, a travel size Bath & Body Works body wash sells for 1000 rupees. The figure is double for regular sized body washes.

They have managed to trigger feel-good feelings in consumers with their packaging and fragrances. This makes consumers envision an indulgent bathing experience and tempts them to buy.

Barbie, Mattel

We have all experienced the Barbie craze in 2023. However, it was Mattel’s marketing genius and visionary long-term thinking that led them to create an entire movie in an attempt to not only revive sales, but create a cult! By understanding what people care about today, like modern feminism, they made Barbie more than just a toy; she has now become a symbol of empowerment and belonging. 

This isn't just a quick sales boost; it's a long-term plan to make Barbie a lasting and important part of our culture. Mattel's vision in making the Barbie movie is like planting a seed for something that will stick around and be meaningful for a long time.

Other mentions

I could go on and on with the examples. I guess this happens when you shift your mindset to an extent that relatable examples start appearing everywhere. I chose the most known ones for the paragraphs above, but I would also love to quickly list down some more here.

  • Clicks Tech, a newly launched physical keyboard attachment for iPhones (this is some crazy sh*t)

  • Smellitizers in Disneyland, an olfactory marketing method (vibes, vibes all the way)

  • GitLab, a comprehensive dev ops platform (have got only respect for them)

  • Zappos, a shoe and clothing retailer (unapologetically themselves; do read their vision statement)

  • PostHog, an open-sourced product analytics platform (classic example of a vision-driven website)

  • Vishalla, a Gujarati restaurant (seriously, go here already)

  • Magician, AI-powered Figma plugin (very clear vision, reflected in website and product)

  • Basecamp, a project management and internal communication tool (don't shy away from pursuing what they feel is right)

  • IKEA (with their visionary concepts on different home corners)

  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe (duh!)

  • The Zara website

  • Uber

  • Zomato

…you get the drift.

Why does this work?

This works because this is the only way to be an ‘only’, rather than being ‘another’. This gives rise to a distinctive brand identity––a unique character. This gives something to the customers to resonate with and make a connection, which is also something that no competition can replicate. Seth Godin's purple cow theory attests for this too.

This is the only way to charge a price that the brand deserves—that the customers are pleased to pay—rather than having to constantly lower the price in response to the marketing ‘tactics’ of the internet. In other words, brand is the difference in price that customers are willing to pay over other products.

Marketing that matters

So, if we accept the premise that vision should be at the core of a business, then the primary role of its marketing function is to articulate that vision to the folks who resonate with it. The ideal aspiration is to cultivate the org’s vision so strongly that it can build a devoted community––a cult––on the back of its marketing.

This is possible when marketing activities feed back to the story of the company, and its culture, contributing to a nucleus so strong that it binds the customers together for very long periods. Vision guides marketing strategies in various ways.

Visionary marketing

Vision based marketing not only guides how a brand communicates (through its narratives, language, tone, design elements, etc), but also serves as a daily compass and purpose for marketing teams. Here are some ways vision based marketing works:

Consistent brand representation

A strong vision manifests as the brand identity. Everything from color palette, design elements, tone of language, and overall aesthetics align with the brand's vision to create a cohesive and recognizable identity.

Marketing efforts and campaigns––on social media, YouTube, website, emails, banners––all get a common anchor. They are able to consistently reinforce this vision and the company’s message across all channels. For example, if a brand focuses on inclusivity by offering plus-size clothing, marketing campaigns could feature real customers as ambassadors to authentically represent the brand's commitment to diversity. In the absence of this vision, they could’ve ended up employing a random Bollywood star as their ambassador.

Similarly, rejecting choices that deviate from the brand’s vision also becomes easier. This practice ensures that every brand association, like ambassadors and collaborations, resonates with the core values and identity of the brand. For eg. The recent signing of Deepika Padukone as Hyundai’s ambassador seemed a bit random to me, lacking a meaningful association. On the contrary, having Virat Kohli as Puma’s ambassador makes a lot of sense.

This identity, in turn, sets expectations for customers. They get something relatable and noteworthy. When that happens, word-of-mouth marketing sets into motion and showcases its ability to generate massive and long-term, compounding results.


The vision guides both the messaging, and its tone for the brand, i.e. what the brand stands for, what it’s here for, its values, its character. Marketing content, whether on the website or social media, is able to communicate a clear message. Such resonating content majorly helps in building a stronger, lasting connection with the audience.

Creative marketing initiatives

The vision can inspire creative and radical marketing initiatives, beyond traditional advertising. A startup could create a comic series for its social media, maybe even publish a song or its own OTT series. NASA is doing it already. Such unconventional approaches can be designed to tell the brand story in a unique and memorable way.

For eg. Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign challenged traditional beauty standards by featuring women of various shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. This visionary marketing strategy resonated with consumers and sparked conversations about self-acceptance and body positivity.

Another example is Nike's "Just Do It" campaign. It goes beyond product promotion, inspiring a mindset of determination and overcoming challenges. By featuring real stories of athletes, it delivers a powerful message about perseverance and the pursuit of one's goals, creating a lasting impact on consumers.

Subject matter expertise

When a business is leading the way to help its community (customers and other stakeholders) reach closer to what that business visualizes for them, it effectively paves a path for them to walk on. This is why undertaking relevant educational initiatives makes a lot of sense for marketing. The best example of that is Zerodha. They have been on a constant mission to make Indians more financially independent for over a decade, and realized that Varsity would be the best way to propel that mission forward. They believe in it so much that they have a dedicated educational wing within the organization that manages Varsity and its related initiatives.

Other marketing materials, such as newsletter, can then showcase the brand's expertise in its industry. Deep insights, educational content, and thought leadership can position the brand as an authority, building trust and credibility with the audience.

Owned distribution channels

Building unique distribution channels, like podcasts and community groups, allows the brand to control its narrative, share insights, directly engage with the audience, and build a tribe.

For eg. The Barbershop podcast, created by the founder of Bombay Shaving Company, releases episodes on diverse topics like entrepreneurship, sales, marketing, funding, etc. I don't think a single episode is about shaving, but the podcast passively builds recall value for Bombay Shaving Company by captivating its audience. This also aligns with the startup's vision of “delighting, delivering, and empowering,” maintaining coherence with its core values.

Unlearning forgettable marketing

The second important thing is to unlearn direct marketing methods as we know it, or to relearn the right ways to do it. The issue is that it’s easy to just do direct marketing on the internet, because that’s what we are surrounded by, and believe that this is what businesses are supposed to do. So we gamble for some clicks, garner some likes, maybe even get viral for two days if we're lucky. We can measure it, and get a sense of getting results. But when such numbers become equivalent to success, we start feeding our efforts into the numbers game rather than the actual mission. That is when it becomes a race to the bottom. We must chase user happiness, and only experience the gratification from such numbers. Numbers should only be a by-product of the mission and vision, and not the mission itself.

Almost every thoughtless direct marketing exercise is about playing the game of gamble, and fighting for attention – on people’s social feeds, in their inboxes, even on their search engine results. This has also led the world to label marketing as spam, trick, and coercion. But those labels should only be left for spammers, tricksters, and coercers. We, as marketers, must share a brand's message and purpose with the right people. We should be about building connections and being honest. It’s not about getting 500 random leads from an advert, but about doing something good enough to shift the needle.

Empathy has to be at the heart of marketing. Doing something meaningful for the audience should be the norm. Conquering the depths is more important than conquering the lengths. It makes more sense to be something meaningful for some people, rather than being anyone to a lot of people.

The consumer today is anyway more aware, more educated, has way more choices, and less time. We cannot get someone interested for the sake of it. Building lasting relationships makes much more sense. The true test of brand loyalty is not how much retention you can build with the help of loyalty and referral programs, but how much retention you can build without those programs. 🙂

Before you go...

I strongly support organizations with a clear vision and the habit of asking the right questions about market issues. But it's important to see this as an ongoing mindset, and not a fixed plan for a specific time. These questions should stay active—we need to keep asking them whenever we need to. Meanwhile, it’s okay to not know everything, and more importantly, accept the importance of vision and seek it as some point of the business’ journey, if not necessarily have it from the get go.

I like to think of any business, or team, like a body, where purpose and people are the foundation, and vision is like the strength that holds it all together. Vision is to businesses, what meat is to skeleton. Vision is what makes a worldwide open-source software movement possible, a movie like Avatar possible, and makes a street vendor invent iconic vada pavs.

We have the choice.