What do Seth Godin, Noah Kagan, Steve Jobs, Malcolm Gladwell, David Ogilvy, Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins & Walt Disney have that we don’t? How do/did they continue to confound critics and create successful products and campaigns over and over again?
While other meticulously planned and extremely well funded campaigns that are destined to succeed are left out in the dust. Gasping their last sip of air.
They all have access to a formula. A set of defining principles.
And if followed, the likelihood of success for any marketing communication goes up significantly. I figured this out through 10 years of research, and more than $150,000 on different projects and campaigns.
Today I’m going to lay it out for you and even give you a 1-page checklist so you can produce marketing like the best, without having to spend a cent.
“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is a powerful post that I’ve spent months putting together. It is for anyone who wants a tested formula for their marketing communication. Someone who wants to reach the right customers and get them to take action.
As opposed to what happens all the time…
…The crossing of your fingers and blindly hoping for the best.
Let me prepare you, this post is LONG, if it was a book it would be roughly 18 pages long — but if you stick with it, you won’t ever spend time having to read another marketing book again — I guarantee your results will change forever.
I need to tell you why you should believe me first, right?
Without going into any credentials, or long sales spiels — I have nothing to gain from this. I am not asking you to buy my book or some $10,000 course which most do through their blogging.
(because I don’t have either)
I am giving you all that I’ve learnt which took me a lot of time, money, pounding of the pavement, and a great deal of frustration to arrive at — without you having to do the same.
And I will let the principles I break down in this post walk the talk.
Feel free to ignore the rest of this post if you’d like and skip straight to the checklist below, apply these principles on your marketing venture, and I’ll guarantee your results will improve 10-fold. That’s it.
Don’t believe me, believe the results.
Here you go: Download: The 1-Page Marketing — Checklist
* Note: Once you complete the form — you’ll be immediately emailed the marketing checkilst.
So let’s move right into how I came to uncovering these principles.
…It has taken me 10 years of trial and error,
Over 200+ books, 1000s of articles/blogs/podcasts, and picking the brains of some of the best marketers and advertisers I could reach.
As soon as I came across a new marketing, copywriting, or sales strategy. I tested it. I put it into action in the real world where it matters. Not in fantasy theoretical land where all the charlatans exist.
This involved (the stats):
- Spending $150,000+ on different campaigns and ventures over the years
- Sending 100,000+ emails (1,000 per month), and 10,000+ sales calls
- Testing 100s of different direct response and online marketing campaigns with “experts”
- Door knocking across suburbs with different scripts
- Trying strategies to reach the hardest to reach people in the world
So on and so forth…in summary, I tried EVERYTHING.
And in the process I’ve been able to field-test the BS from the gems.
There are a set of principles that underlie successful marketing.
Methods are many, but principles are few and ever-present. They haven’t changed for hundreds of years and won’t change for hundreds of years still.
And the closer I stick to these principles — the more likely my marketing is to succeed. These defining principles are those that successful people in history have leaned on to replicate success after success.
What proof do I have this is the case? I’ve been able to (the achievements),
- Sell over $10M worth of business
- Win a $750,000 contract while working out of my bedroom
- Get a product featured on primetime national news by two networks simultaneously
- Recruit the hottest star in the country at the time to appear in our project at NO COST working with us for 2 days straight
- Grow a business with 3 guys, a station wagon and a projector to the largest AV provider in the state with 100% year on year growth
And so on…All in less than 4 years.
And to overcome the final bit of scepticism:
I’ve done this with others, not just me. I posted an ad to help others out (for free) to see if I could refine this even further. And out of the 40-odd businesses I got to work with, all improved their sales.
None of this is to boast — it is to tell you there is a formula which the greatest have followed, and EVERY successful communication follows.
Now it’s time to stop poking in the dark and do something with this.
Your Marketing Handbook: The Guiding Principles
Note: Over these years new fads and technologies have come along, and they will continue to do so. What I’m presenting to you is free of being linked to any medium whatsoever. The medium you use is up to you.
The defining guidelines of marketing below will be as relevant today as 400 years from now.
There are three components that must align.
Get your communication as closely aligned to the principles outlined in each component. Download the checklist and when crafting your marketing, have it next to you so you can tick off that you’re abiding by as many as you can.
And if you want to learn more, there is suggested reading for each principle.
- LOOK — how your message should be presented
- DIRECTION — how and where your message should be directed
- CONTENT — how to optimise the message
How your message should be presented.
- Tell It As A Story
Instead of facts, information, benefits, bullet-points, power-points, or whatever else you decide to present. Tell a story instead.
A story is more memorable — you don’t forget a great story.
A story allows you to get past the resistance and gets people hooked — science proves that storytelling activates our entire brain, evolution has wired us in such a way.
A story gets shared — since forever, narratives are how humans have passed on information and knowledge.
We have a client who is a BIG resource player.
This client has an extremely scary boss / owner/ founder (she is aggressive, powerful, and will rip you apart if you screw up). She is worth a lot of $$$.
We, being their technology provider, got an urgent call that they needed someone on site because she had planned a last minute presentation to some big-shot overseas investors. Flights were booked in a rush, we juggled our team around and everything seemed to be good to go.
But an hour before, flying conditions deteriorated. Our flight was cancelled. Panic broke out. Lots of stress amongst all their staff.
Taking the initiative, one of our Directors packed the necessary tools in his car and packed his bag, left home after dinner, and drove 12 hours overnight non-stop over 1,000kms to be there first thing in the morning.
Ready before the presentation started. To the shock of our client who’ve never seen someone do that.
Once people hear this story — they never question our service.
Suggested reading: Dan and Chip Heath — Made To Stick
- Positioning —Find a Bigger Purpose
People are excited by, and get behind, big visions and lofty goals. More money is thrown to back moonshoots than some 10% improvement on an existing product. So find and proclaim a bigger purpose.
A big purpose motivates people.
A bigger purpose wakes people up from the noise and demands attention.
A bigger purpose instills the perception that you are someone special to be able to tackle it, and hence are more likely to be supported by others.
I ran a direct marketing campaign some time ago, where we were trying to get businesses to install solar panels. I did this by getting the postal addresses and decision makers of virtually all small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in nearby areas and sent them personal sales letters.
There were three versions of this letter that I sent. The content of each was 99% the same, the only difference being the headline and sub-headline.
- First was all about money they could save and profits for their business — financial motivation,
- The second was about making the business look “more green” — PR spin,
- The third presented a higher purpose of reversing the trend against global warming, doing it together as a state, and saving money
The third sales letter had nearly 4 times as many responses.
Several years on and we are still getting leads from this letter.
Suggested reading: Al Ries & Jack Trout — Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind
- Provide an Experience, Not Utility
Yes your expertise, product knowledge, great service, and competitive pricing is wonderful and your product does this thing that no one else does. However, it is the experience and how the user feels that outweighs any utility or logical reasoning you could conjure up.
The experience and feeling is all that marketing is about.
The experience and feeling is what people remember and come back for again and again. Those who can’t evoke feelings, struggle with their sales.
The experience and feeling is what people share with others — not the utilitarian benefit.
There was a gap in the market.
We came across an opportunity to manufacture our own product to fill this gap. Quite a profitable one we thought.
So we hustled and bustled to source a manufacturer and spent months developing a solution that was the absolute best it could be — quality, reliability, functionality, and cost-effectiveness.
But, even though it cost less, and was an obviously better solution,
It didn’t sell.
How can a solution which is better and cheaper, not sell? What gives?
We then redesigned the look of the product to be very minimalistic, added a bright logo to the front, used higher grade finish, and personally dropped off the first sample to each new customer along with a hand-written note and a small bag of goodies. The product functionality wise was 100% the same.
We sold 1,500 units in the first year at double the price we originally set for the product. And we continue to get new clients through word of mouth, without much additional marketing required.
Suggested reading: Seth Godin — Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable
- BONUS — Add Value First, Sell Second
We seem to live under the false assumption that marketing must always involve selling. In fact, if we change our viewpoint to always look to provide some value, some knowledge, or something useful, first — the sale could happen even quicker.
Teaching others makes you come across as an authority.
Distributing knowledge and content provides assurance that you actually care and are in it for the long haul. It is scalable and can be easily replicated.
Providing value brings the buyer’s guard down as they really have nothing to lose in the transaction — this indirectly gets you in the door.
There were a number of clients in our AV business that we struggled with trying to get that first meeting or any meaningful interaction.
No number of sales calls, emails, direct marketing, and other conventional strategies did the trick. However, these were clients that would change the game for us.
So we didn’t give up (rule #1 of marketing — never give up).
Instead, we set up a weekly newsletter that would present useful relevant and instantly actionable information. And we started sending it out for free. It took a lot of work to make it useful. Hours of writing each week.
A few months later, we had these clients CALLING US to set up a meeting. That’s right, they were calling us!
And once given an opportunity to present our work, we were firmly in the door, and are today the preferred vendor for all new projects.
Suggested reading: Copyblogger.com
How and where your message should be directed.
- Go Where You Will Be First
Being in a place where you have no competition is better than being where you think there is a huge market. Make your consumer perceive there is no competition. Be first in that space that you create for your product, and entrench yourself so deep in your customer’s mind, it’ll be hard to get you out.
“If you can’t be first in a category, set up a category you can be first in” — Al Ries, Jack Trout
Being first means no competition.
Being first means you typically enjoy the largest share even when others arrive.
Being first means easier to capture attention, easier to bring the guard down of the buyer, and harder to get you out when the war begins.
Caveat — being first in a space where no one cares and there is no demand is useless, read “testing” below.
A product we manufactured was a powered speaker. It was competing against the millions of other powered speakers already in the market.
Why would anyone buy it? Why did we even create it?
Well, when we gave it its own category as the “First powered speaker designed specifically for the classroom”, anyone looking for a classroom speaker knew what fit the bill better than anything else.
Similarly, a company that I was consulting and later became a partner with, had released a watch that had a patented timer function. Essentially you set a time and it counted down.
Every digital watch on the planet, along with phones, have this feature. So what?
Well, because it was designed by having only this feature (aside from telling the time), the category we put it in was the “first productivity watch”. Essentially you set the undisrupted amount of time you want and START.
Now anyone that wanted to be productive was reeled in to want to know more.
Suggested reading: Al Ries and Jack Trout — The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
- Focus On The Small, Not Big
A product for everyone is a product for no one. There is a tendency to open our wings and think we can fly to all parts of the world. No. A product must be directed at a very small niche of the market. A niche that your product solves a massive problem for. Then this niche needs to do the flying on your behalf.
A targeted niche is already looking for a solution when yours comes along.
A targeted niche will be so happy their problem is solved, they will tell every human being they cross paths with.
Getting a targeted niche to love you (also referred to as the early adopters) is the only way to ignite a fire quick enough to reach the mass market.
I kept banging my head against the wall trying to introduce a teaching technology that I was confident could change education.
I was in charge of all the sales when we set this business up, and this technology (the interactive projector) was a completely new way of teaching that would eliminate Smart Boards (which were firmly entrenched as the industry standard for classrooms worldwide).
As the usual story goes, we had an uphill battle, we knew the solution was better yada yada, but no one was listening. Because when you’re speaking to everyone, no one person can hear you.
*Cue the dramatic music*
So I streamlined our approach to reach ONLY those teachers who had NO technology in their classroom, and weren’t able to afford a solution. They were motivated (much more so than those that already had a Smart Board). So they were highly responsive to our solution. They became evangelists. They ignited the fire and the news spread through to the masses.
Today this technology is the most commonly used across the country, and Smart has stopped manufacturing their boards.
Suggested reading: Clayton Christensen — The Innovator’s Dilemma
- Test Early And Always Be Testing
We love the idea of creating inside our box, getting so immersed and on a tangent that we pay zero attention to how people will respond outside of that box. The moment it is put out there for everyone to see, the shock of a lifetime faces us.
The motto is to test early and never stop testing.
Testing saves you heartache — you can manoeuvre before you’re too deep in.
Testing saves you time. And there is nothing that is more precious than time — my post on why you have absolutely no time in your life.
Testing is the hard stuff that we avoid, but by avoiding it, we get ourselves into the harder stuff when it is too late.
I spent over 2 years designing a “Coffee Cup That Will Make Coffee Taste Better”.
I will be sharing all my research and designs in a future post (sign up here so you get it first), in hope someone can do something with it. The opportunity and market is amazing.
Anyway, this venture included:
- hiring someone to do the research (months & months),
- applying for patents,
- having a product designer on board,
- 3D prints being done that are siting in front of me as a I type this.
- And so much more.
Reminds me of a Seth Godin quote:
“Are you biased to “ship” in your business — to get your work out into the world? Or are you inhibited by the fear of creating and shipping something new that might not work out? Many people spend their entire day “getting their ducks in a row.” However, all of those ducks won’t matter if you’re not actually ready to put them out in the world — you’ll just be collecting ducks.”
So all this while not “getting outside the building” — once I did, I realised no one wanted it — not the way I had created it. What a waste of time, energy, money and effort. But by getting outside the building and getting feedback over a couple of weeks, I now know exactly what is required.
Which could have saved me 2 years.
Testing continues throughout. Testing continues today. It’ll continue tomorrow. It’ll continue the day after.
The only time it stops is when you’re ignoring the hard stuff to do the easy.
- BONUS — Find A “Sneezer”
Even if you have the best content in the entire universe — at the point you press “send” it isn’t suddenly going to spread to the masses. This happens in fairyland. Without the help of an influencer (also known as a sneezer) ideally someone in your market that has access to a large enough audience that you’re trying to reach — the broadcast may not go very far.
Bonus point on the bonus: Use the reach you get from a sneezer to become a sneezer yourself and develop a platform for repeat business.
A sneezer is essential in getting heard by enough people.
A sneezer can flick the switch between lonely existence to widespread uptake.
A sneezer equally benefits from the sharing of a great idea or product as the creator of the product does — it adds to his/her credibility.
Theses posts, including this one you’re reading now, I wrote many months ago. I have a weekly newsletter that goes out to my own group of sneezees. I closely test this mailing list for all kinds of data.
I knew the posts I had written had been tested to perform well — so my great idea was to upload them on this blogging platform, and by doing so they would suddenly catch on to the masses.
*Cricket noises ensued*
It was obvious what I was missing, so I reached out to various publications, one after another and made my pitch. And the publications that read my posts responded positively and were eager to help publish them (thanks to Joel Mwakasege and Srinath Reddy in particular). With a publication (sneezer) spreading my message, even though I knew my message was good, suddenly I had reach and loads of opportunities.
How to optimise your message.
This is the area where people spend most of their time when working on their marketing, yet if section I and II are down pat — this is surprisingly easy. You don’t need to spend days message-tweaking.
The are 8 key rules to follow, treat them as a checklist:
✔ Is your headline catching people’s attention?
Spend as much time on your headline as your story, if you don’t capture interest from your headline, you don’t really have a message.
Suggested reading: Copyblogger — 9 Proven Headline Formulas
✔ Have you put your key message right up front?
We meander around too long. As soon as your headline catches someone’s attention they are in that chasm deciding whether to continue reading or fall off.
SMASH THEM right at that point with.
- the key message,
- the key benefit,
- the key offering,
- the thing they really want and will get if they continue reading.
Don’t wait until you build up to it, by the time you’ve done building up, everyone is already gone.
✔ Could you make your content shorter?
Is there something you can cut out that wouldn’t change the message? Well, cut it out. Do the hard thing.
Suggested reading: Lifehacker — The Power of Brevity
✔ Could you make it simpler?
Marketing isn’t about winning the Shakespearean award for the best writer of the century. It is about simplicity, brevity, and 100% comprehension. If there is anything that could be interpreted in another way — change it. If there is anything that could be put in simpler English— do it.
If you can’t say it in one line, maybe it isn’t worth saying?
✔ Can you make it easier to read? Visually.
Big chunky paragraphs, and a strew of words from top to bottom is going to look like an obstacle without a drinks break for the reader.
- paragraphs short,
- one liners if possible,
- with 1.5 line spacing if possible,
- with bullet points,
- with images,
- bold titles,
- quotes, etc.
Breaking up the load of information will make it easier to digest for the reader. There is a reason you are reading up to this point on probably the longest post ever written on this platform.
✔ Have you shown credibility? (or social proof)
Find ways to display credibility.
If you’ve worked with Richard Branson, why haven’t you mentioned it?
If you’ve done work with a similar company than whom you’re trying to pitch, why haven’t you mentioned it?
If you’ve done neither, express how you are aiming for the stars, in a few years you’ll be the best in whatever you do and X Y Z are who you’re also reaching out to. People love the bigger vision remember? And mentioning those names they are familiar with — it is indirect credibility.
Suggested reading: Robert Cialdini — The Psychology of Influence
✔ Is what you’re offering scarce?
The more scarce your offering, the more motivated someone is to buy it — scarce things are perceived to be more valuable. Without lying, make it scarcer than it is now.
✔ BONUS — Visuals > Words
Pictures do speak a thousand words, wherever an image can be used instead of words, replace it.
Steve Jobs presentations usually had one or two words a slide and his message was probably more powerful than all the presentations we’ve ever sat through.
Suggested Reading: Forbes — Steve Jobs 11 Presentation Skills
You now have the principles, you now have the formula. Go do some magic with it.
Download: The 1-Page Marketing — Checklist here and get going.
* Note: All I ask in return for the checklist is your email address.
If you found any value at all from this, I humbly request you to recommend and share this post — it has taken a lot of effort to put it together.
Edit: Personal response from Seth Godin via email when this post was shared with him 14th March 2016.
My story in 5 lines —
Studied to become an Engineer (did a 5.5 year double degree), but instead quit to start a record label, write a movie script, and tour the world as an MC and performer. With little savings left, co-founded now the largest AV provider to education in WA — growing it 100% year on year. Working on our next venture with aspirations to help people connect face to face in a way social media can’t.
If this story had any positive impact on you — please click “Recommend” so others can also see it.
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