It's pretty easy to figure out what you're competing for—attention, a new gig, a promotion, a sale...
But what is your edge? In a hypercompetitive world, whatever you're competing on is going to become your focus.
If you're competing on price, you'll spend most of your time counting pennies.
If you're competing on noise, you'll spend most of your time yelling, posting, updating, publishing and announcing.
If you're competing on trust, you'll spend most of your time keeping the promises that make you trustworthy.
If you're competing on smarts, you'll spend most of your time getting smarter.
If you're competing on who you know, you'll spend most of the time networking.
If you're competing by having true fans, you'll spend most of your time earning the trust and attention of those that care about your work.
If you're competing on credentials, you'll spend most of your time getting more accredited and certified.
If you're competing on perfect, you'll need to spend your time on picking nits.
If you're competing by hustling, you'll spend most of your time looking for shortcuts and cutting corners.
If you're competing on getting picked, you'll spend most of your day auditioning.
If you're competing on being innovative, you'll spend your time being curious and shipping things that might not work.
And if you're competing on always-on responsiveness, you'll spend your time glued to your work, responding just a second faster than the other guy.
In any competitive market, be prepared to invest your heart and soul and focus on the thing you compete on. Might as well choose something you can live with, a practice that allows you to thrive.
placebo. But I'll take it anyway, because placebos work."
A friend used to wear a fur coat in the winter, telling me that it was the only thing that kept her warm. Of course, if the goal was warmth, she'd probably be better off wearing it inside out.
We buy luxury goods, take placebos and engage in all sorts of actions that aren't going to hold up under the rational analysis of a double-blind study. But they work because we want them to. And often, we want them to because of marketing.
We end up conflating the things we believe with the powerful marketing that got us to believe those things. We feel like questioning the role of marketing is somehow questioning who we are and what we hold dear.
Mostly, marketing is what we call it when someone else is influenced by a marketer. When we're influenced, though, it's not marketing, it's a smart choice.
Do you use that toothpaste because they ran ads that resonated with you, or because you think it actually makes your teeth whiter?
It doesn't have to be this way... The thing is, placebos work even if you're smart enough to know that they're placebos.
Are there primary voters who say, "I know that he craves attention, hustling and manipulating to sell emotional promises, not realistic action, but I'm going to vote for him anyway, because it makes me feel powerful to do so..."?
As soon as that self-awareness kicks in, it's possible to be more discerning about what you believe and why.
Or are there mindful people who say, "there's no clear right answer in this conflict, but my people, my folks, we have always supported this side, so I'm going to keep doing that, because breaking with them is too painful..."?
As soon as you ask that question, it's a lot easier to have a civil, productive conversation, because instead of wearing yourself out arguing tropes, you can talk about the actual issue, which is belonging to a tribe. We can talk about how we work through the cultural change to get to a new place, not have an argument about history.
Marketing works. It's powerful. We're able to acknowledge that and see it for what it is without giving up what we choose to believe.
We can create better decisions and more amity by being clear with ourselves and others about how marketing is changing what we believe (and vice versa).
It's a lot harder to be manipulated if you accept that there's a manipulator, and it's a lot easier to see a path forward if you acknowledge that you weren't looking for one before.
What would have been discussed instead?
What would have been designed instead?
The urgency of the day feels like an appropriate reason to step away from the important thing we might have been doing instead.
Weeks or months later, we don't even remember what that urgent thing was. All we have to show for it is the thing we didn't build.
What is it for? When someone hires your product or service, what are they hiring it to do?
Who (or what) are you trying to change by doing this work? From what to what?
How will you know if it's working?
What does it remind me of? Are there parallels, similar projects, things like this that have come before?
What's the difficult part?
How much of your time and focus are you spending on the difficult part?
What part that isn't under your control has to happen for this to work? (Do you need to be lucky?)
How much (time and money) is it going to take to find out if you've got a shot at this working out?
What assets do you already own that you'll be able to leverage?
What assets do you need to acquire?
After the project launches, what new assets will you now own?
From which people will you need help? Do they have a track record of helping people like you?
Is it worth it?
Successful project organizers are delighted to engage in a conversation about all of these questions. If you're hiding from them, it's time to find out why.
And they want you to use that asset to create value that will pay them back many times over.
Most small businesses ignore both of these desires. There's so much stress from being on the edge, it feels like money will relieve that stress. And in the short run, it will. But if it doesn't build an asset, soon you'll be back to the edge, with the added problem of having an unrepaid investor as well.
Assets (buildings, machines, powerful brands, new technologies) are less essential than ever before. For many organizations, a laptop is worth more than a building or a punch press. That's great if you're getting started, because the connection economy has made the cost of entry lower than ever before.
It also means, though, that the easy-entry business you're in might not respond well to the investor's money. If there isn't an asset you can buy and build and defend and monetize, you're much better off not chasing one.
Some marketers generate ten times (or a hundred times) as much value as a typical marketing person. How come?
- The 10x marketer understands that the job isn't to do marketing the way the person before you did it, or the way your boss asked you to do it. Strategic marketing comes from questioning the tactics, understanding who you are seeking to change and being willing to re-imagine the story your organization tells. Don't play the game, change the game.
- The 10x marketer doesn't fold in the face of internal opposition.
This means that an organization that isn't getting 10x marketing needs to begin by blaming itself (for not asking the right question and for not supporting someone who answers the other question). 10x marketers are made, not born, and half the battle is creating a platform where one can work.
Beyond that, the 10x marketer embraces two apparently contradictory paths:
- Persistence in the face of apathy. Important marketing ideas are nearly always met with skepticism or hostility, from co-workers, from critics and from the market. Showing up, again and again, with confidence and generosity, is the best response.
- The willingness to quit what isn't working. Sometimes the marketer faces a dip that must be survived, but the 10x marketer is also engaged enough to know the difference between that dip and a dead end that has no hope.
Satya makes and sells hats. Beautiful, bespoke, handmade hats.
But we're a hundred years past the time someone can say, "I make hats," and be done with it.
Some of the questions the marketer needs to ask, questions that amplify the, "who's it for?" mindset:
Are these hats for people who are already shopping for hats?
Are they a gift item for someone who is looking to please someone who is looking for something new? Proven? Cheaper than it looks? Rare?
Are they a shopping experience, a bespoke process that is exciting and filled with possibility, just for the person who values both the process and the hat?
Or, are these hats for women who appreciate beauty in any form, and who have already bought all the scarves they can handle? Or perhaps for people who want to buy what the people they admire are buying?
The marketer can change her story, but she can't easily change the worldview of the person she seeks to sell to. It's almost impossible to turn someone who doesn't care about hats (in particular) into someone who cares a lot about hats.
This person the product is for: What do they believe? Who do they trust? What do they seek? What are they afraid of?
Satya is well on her way to decoding this puzzle.
Second example: Paul makes and sells amplifiers. To an outsider, these amps are ridiculously overbuilt, oversized and overpriced. To some hobbyists, though, they are magical, brilliantly engineered and priced at 90% less than what similar products cost. (!)
The questions, then, are about the story the potential customer tells himself:
Do I seek something corporate, mass produced, powerful, handmade, unique, rare, new, proven, high-value, high-priced, top-of-the-line, mass produced, invisible... Do I want to be able to tell myself a story about these every time I turn them on? Or tell a story to my friends? Ultimately, that story is about me, about my role in society and my vision of myself.
This goes way beyond specs and prices and the measurable. It's about role models and feelings and emotions first, with the words added later, and the machinery (or the felt) added last.
In Paul's case, he and his team have been direct and consistent in celebrating the nature of the design and the designer. They haven't said to the world, "here it is, it's for everyone," instead, they've said, "this is our story, this is who built it and who it's for, it might be for you if you're the person that resonates with this sort of story."
Most inventors and marketers start with what they have (the stuff) and try to work backward to the 'who is it for' question. It makes a lot more sense to go the other direction. Identify a set of fears, dreams and attitudes and then figure out what sort of story fits that lock in a way that delights the consumer. Then go build that.
Not just hats and amps. This thinking is also where Lululemon, Nike and AeroPress came from. Maybe your next project, too.
The story is told of a focus group for a new $100 electronic gadget. The response in the focus group was fabulous, people all talked about the features of the new device with excitement.
At the end of the session, the moderator said, "thanks for coming. As our gift to you, you can have your choice of the device or $25."
Everyone took the cash.
Surveys that ask your customers about their preferences, their net promoter intent, their media habits--they're essentially useless compared to watching what people actually do when they have a chance. The media wastes their time and ours handicapping politics based on polls, on changes in polls, on expectations based on polls—it's sad. Polls are always wrong.
The best part of show & tell has never been the telling part.
Fear: Of being ashamed, feeling stupid, being rejected, being left out, getting hurt, being embarrased, left alone, dying.
Dreams: Of being seen, being needed, becoming independent, relieving anxiety, becoming powerful, making someone proud, fitting in, seen as special, mattering, taken care of, loved.
Marketers put many layers atop these basic needs (horsepower, processor speed, features, pricing, testimonials, guarantees, and more) but it all comes down to dreams and fears.
The most important part of a cup of coffee is the beans. The grinder, the machine, the barista pale in comparison to the quality of what you start with.
And the most important parts of an organization are the people you begin with. Not the systems or the policies or even the real estate. Great people make everything easier.
And yet we spend money on 4 wheel drive instead of snow tires.
And yet we upgrade our coffee maker instead of buying from a local roaster (or roasting our own).
And mostly, we run classified ads to find the cheapest common denominator employee and spend all our time building systems to protect our customers from people who don't care...
If you think you need a bigger market, you're actually saying that the market you already have doesn't need you/depend on you/talk about you enough.
You might not need a bigger niche. You might only need to produce more value for those you already serve.
Encouraging someone to shift slightly, to pick this instead of that, is a totally different endeavor than working to turn a no into a yes, to change an entire pattern of behavior.
When looking to grow, start with people who already believe that they have a problem you can help them solve.
You don't have to wait for perfect or large or revered or amazing. You can start.
1. The cost of selling. How much will it cost you to sell this to an agency, a nation, a customer? How much will it cost them to sell it to the next user?
2. The cost of maintenance. How much will it cost you to stick this project out until it pays for itself? How much will it cost your users to maintain this idea over its useful life?
Hint: It took a decade to sell most people on the personal computer. And the cost of a PC out of the box is less than 1/6th of what it costs to keep it running and in use over its life...
The Strategy: What are the emotions you can amplify, the connections you can make that will cause someone to do something they've hesitated to do in the past (change)? The strategy isn't the point, it's the lever that helps you cause the change you seek.
The Tactics: What are the actions you take that cause the strategy to work? What are the events and interactions that, when taken together, comprise your strategy?
An example: Our goal is to change good donors to our cause into really generous donors. Our strategy is to establish a standard for big gifts, to make it something that our good donors aspire to because it feels normal for someone like them. And today's tactic is hosting an industry dinner that will pair some of our best donors with those that might be open to moving up.
If you merely ask someone to help you with a tactic in isolation, it's likely you won't get the support you need. But if you can find out if you share a goal with someone, then can explain how your strategy can make it likely that you'll achieve that goal, working together on a tactic that supports that strategy is an obvious thing to do.
And it certainly opens the door to a useful conversation about whether your goal is useful, your strategy is appropriate and your tactic is coherent and likely to cause the change you seek.
A tactic might feel fun, or the next thing to do, or a lot like what your competition is doing. But a tactic by itself is nothing much worth doing. If it supports a strategy, a longer-term plan that builds on itself and generates leverage, that's far more powerful. But a strategy without a goal is wasted.
The other list is the flipside. It contains the obstacles you've got to deal with regularly, the defects in your family situation, the criticisms your work has received lately. It is a list of people who have better luck than you and moments you've been shafted and misunderstood.
The thing is, at every juncture, during every crisis, in every moment of doubt, you have a choice. You will pull out one (virtual) list or the other. You'll read and reread it, and rely on it to decide how to proceed.
Up to you.
If you're not willing to do anything about it, best not to waste the energy wishing about it.
It is possible but unlikely that someone will write a great novel on a tablet.
You can't create the spreadsheet that changes an industry on a smart phone.
And professional programmers don't sit down to do their programming with a swipe.
Many people are quietly giving away one of the most powerful tools ever created—the ability to craft and spread revolutionary ideas. Coding, writing, persuading, calculating—they still matter. Yes, of course the media that's being created on the spot, the live, the intuitive, this matters. But that doesn't mean we don't desperately need people like you to dig in and type.
The trendy thing to do is say that whatever technology and the masses want must be a good thing. But sometimes, what technology wants isn't what's going to change our lives for the better.
The public square is more public than ever, but minds are rarely changed in 140 character bursts and by selfies.
In real life, it's not unusual for one in four people who walk into your store to buy from you. Not unusual for every friend you call on the phone to have an actual conversation with you. Not surprising that most people you ask on a date say yes, or at least politely decline.
In direct mail, you're doing well if only 99 people out of a hundred say no. Not 25%, but 1% success.
Online, though, the numbers are far worse. It's not unusual for a thousand people to visit your website before someone buys something. It's not news if you ask 5,000 Twitter followers to do something and they all refuse to take action.
Too much noise, too many choices, and most of all, too many people asking for everything, all the time.
People won't click all the things they can click, ever. They won't get three or four or nine clicks into your site no matter how responsive, webkitted and user tested your site is.
Sure, you can probably make it better.
Someone who's really good at it can probably make it measurably better.
But don't beat yourself up that it's not converting. By real-life definitions, nothing online converts.
The secret is maximizing the things that can't work in real life. The viral effects, the upside of remarkable products and services, the horizontal movement of ideas, from person to person, not from you to the market.
Answer these two questions first, please. If it's worth doing, it's worth knowing before you do it.
A hammer is for getting nails into wood, and it's pretty easy to tell if it does the job well. That's one reason why we have so many good hammers available to us--real clarity about what it's for, and whether it works or not.
Too often, we wait until we see what something does before we decide what we built it for.
When we tell people we're doing the best we can, we're actually saying, "I'm doing the best I'm comfortable doing."
As you've probably discovered, great work makes us uncomfortable.