If you launch a productized marketing service, it is doomed to fail.
You need to understand the difference between simple, complicated, and complex.
Simple tasks can be standardized (SOP’d) with step by step instructions. Software is built for simple tasks, and most virtual assistants can only handle simple tasks.
Simple tasks can be categorized. They have best practices. Example: posting a blog post to twitter every time you publish. Simple. Best practice.
Make a list of keyword filters for gmail, and it will clean out your inbox. If you can SOP it then its done.
Complicated tasks are the realm of professional services. They don’t fit into easy boxes: they require some novel analysis of the situation.
Good practice here is more important here than best practice.
Most SaaS startups have a large professional services side, because the majority of their customers need more than the simple processes their software delivers.
The dream of every software company is to only offer the simple solution and have everyone buy it, but its not a realistic dream.
Work done by experts is typically complicated. Once you’ve worked in a space long enough, you have the expertise to solve the problems, but you can’t easily SOP it for others.
Complex is where it gets really messy. Complex tasks have minimal cause and effect. When a firefighter arrives at an inferno, they don’t know what caused it, but they have to act anyways.
Complex tasks are tasks where your attempts to solve the problem change the problem. Cause and effect can only be understood after, and it can’t always be replicated.
Its tempting to reduce the world to a series of simple tasks, and many of us have had fast success with simple approaches to life. Want to look better? Lift 5x5. Want to have more sex? Memorize these cold approaches. Want to win at poker? Count cards and focus on expected value.
The typical millennial entrepreneur now exits the 9–5 corporate world before ever tackling complex tasks, and this only enhances the fixation on the simple domain.
Simple solutions can be effective: Stronglifts has helped thousands of guys get off the couch. PUA scripts have soiled many beds. Online poker was lucrative.
And simple helps us get started. The PUA scripts work because the guy demonstrates he’s trying (and that can be enough for the girl). Stronglifts works because its better than nothing. Counting cards is effective because most of the world gambles for entertainment.
But if you want to be world class, these aren’t enough. The best weightlifters focus on their nutrition and rest. The guys who get the most women transcend scripts and have real empathy and interest. The best poker players play the opponent not the cards.
How does this relate to marketing?
Marketing is not simple or even complicated: its *complex*. Engaging buyers is a process of experimentation and feedback loops, not something that can be analyzed and standardized.
When you attempt to engage a buyer, or an influencer, there are various reasons it can fail:
- Right promise: is this the thing they want?
- Right person: is this the right person for this thing?
- Right timing: is this the right time? (1 minute difference can change everything)
- Right message: Is this the right expression of the above?
- Right sender: do you have the sufficient permission and trust to deliver the promise?
Worse: the act of introducing a disruptive but simple offer changes the marketplace.
Writing a blog that references influential people and then emailing them is a brilliant judo move. But while the process is simple, the problem is complex.
The first time you email to Peter Shankman your blog post that references his, he’s going to be enthusiastic.
The 100th time Shankman gets your damn form email he’s going to report you for spam.
The first time Neil Patel gets a request to share a quote about a topic, or record a 15 second video, he’s going to do it. He loves these quirky gimmicks.
The 20th time Neil Patel gets this request he’s going to ignore it.
You know this is true. You get dozens of SEO offers from India every month, because they figured out how to scrape the web for email addresses. Do you buy from them? Do you feel like they understand your problem space?
If you’re shaking your head when you get their emails, and then selling a product that sends form emails, you’re doing the same thing in kind, just moving a little bit faster.
Within a year those same Indian firms will be emailing Shankman a blog post that mentions him.
If you want to produce a scalable, sustainable productized service you need to approach it differently.
WPCurve is a scalable productized service, because updating Wordpress sites is complicated but not complex. Updating a client’s website doesn’t change how to update a client’s website.
DesignPickle is a scalable productized service, because the requests you want to make are simple/complicated, not complex. They offer a design resource, not a promise to make a specific cat gif with your logo on it.
These services sell to marketers, but they offer a promise of operational value, not marketing effectiveness.
You can build and scale a business in every domain, but you need to know your domain.
Simple: 100 true customers. If you want to build a business here, the simple domain needs to be stable. Updating Wordpress sites, creating images that could be handled on Fiverr, cooking Paleo meals, delivering monthly subscriptions to vitamins: these are simple needs in stable environments, and can scale operationally.
Complicated: 10 true clients. Clients want your expert opinion on the space. They have problems that are 20% original but very similar to what you’ve done before, and they’ll pay for your insights. Lawyers, CFPs, developers fit here.
Complex: 1 true patron. There’s a reason most companies don’t outsource their head of sales position: complex work requires a finger on the pulse of the business the ability to handle high context situations and react quickly. The upside of a complex hire is so high that their relative salary approaches zero.
Don’t build something fragile.
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