3 ways Martin Luther King, Jr. was a masterful marketer

Martin Luther King, Jr. was the kind of leader we might get once in a century, the kind that knows how to use the tools of communication and marketing to fulfill a noble purpose. 

We all know that King was an educated preacher, an incredible writer, a moving speaker, a husband, a father, and a friend. What's worth considering more is that he was also a masterful marketer and his success was attributable to his ability to do what all successful marketers must . . .

Civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Make a vision possible

King had more than a dream. He had a goal - a well articulated one. And he had a plan for reaching it - a well crafted one. Having smart strategies is what allowed him to use tactics that were so powerful. Each action built upon the previous one and led to the next.

People trusted King to lead them because they knew that he knew where he was going. The fact that there are so few large, successful social movements today should emphasize that this is easier said than done.

King speaking at an anti-Vietnam war rally in 1967. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

King speaking at an anti-Vietnam war rally in 1967. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Share powerful messages

I think it is very telling that what King is most known for are his words. Like all marketers, he used them to motivate people to action. But he was exceptional because he also used them to change consciousness, a skill usually reserved for more introverted novelists.

Of course this is why they are his legacy: words are powerful in part because they live longer than men. King knew he was telling a story, a story that needed to last because he was working for change that was going to take generations to occur.

White House meeting with Civil Rights Leaders in 1963. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

White House meeting with Civil Rights Leaders in 1963. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Build impactful relationships

These first two abilities really boil down to this third. Where King stood apart once again is that he was able to bring people together, to speak truth to power, and to reach across the aisle all while maintaining the kind of integrity that made him a magnet for supporters of all kinds.

He not only built partnerships with those who thought as he did, he actively sought to reach those who didn't, and he did so by treating them all with the respect and dignity that he asked for in return.

It's worth mentioning that he was also willing to pay the price of being a strong magnet. He was not afraid of repelling those who opposed him, of attracting dissenters, who in their own way also fueled his cause. Amidst the noise of the status quo, he continued to be a clear, bright signal.

A timeless teacher

We are living in challenging times, in part because there appears to be plenty of the same noise, few strong leaders, dismantled systems we can no longer work within, lots of isolation and little collective action, and a pervasive cynicism that leaves us as individuals often feeling stuck or hopeless.

This is also a time when we are each being called to find the inner well of hope that we need as individuals to lead ourselves. This will ultimately help us build alliances based on common visions rather than on limited identities so that new systems can arise that are more holistic and adaptive.

While enduring this chaotic transition, I continue to be unbelievably grateful for people like King, who not only enabled us to accomplish some huge, important goals but who showed us by example how to do so.