Advertising is the last of your worries.

Disclaimer: If you’re reading this, understand that you are reading a work-in-progress. There may be typos. The ideas may change slightly as I reflect on them, but one thing is certain, there is some good information contained here, though the presentation may need improvement. If you’re happy with what you read, then please continue to do so and share with those who you think would benefit from it.

Marketing is about getting noticed. It’s about connecting people of similar beliefs and needs. It’s about amplifying an idea or a movement.

Most people associate advertising as synonymous with marketing. While advertising can be a part of marketing, it doesn’t encompass the whole realm.

Richard Sears was a genius marketer. He made his catalog shorter than his competitor Montgomery Ward. He knew that instinctually there is a method to tidying up. Since multiple catalogs may sit on a coffee table, someone may come along and stack the catalogs biggest to smallest. His being the smallest went on top, making it the first catalog picked up. Sears as a result went on to become the world’s biggest retailer at the time.

Digital advertising today is a lot like weapons dealing.

The interesting or disgusting, depending who you ask, thing about weapons manufacturing is once you sell a new weapon to one person/militia/government, the others feel they need it to defend themselves. It’s a racket. It leads to more and more money for the weapons manufacturer. The weapons purchased for safety, are the very thing that creates the danger to be protected from.

With Google ads, Facebook ads, Twitter, and other social media, people are putting up more and more advertising while getting less and less in return. Businesses are in an arms race, yet the consumer only has so much attention to give, so they skip that ad before the YouTube video. They ignore that post in their feed. They already tuned out due to overload.

This escalation for attention will eat all the profits of your business because it’s going to get worse. The number of tweets required to get significant coverage will increase because more people are hiring social media managers. If the total number of tweets doubles, you’ll have to double your tweets to maintain the same amount of attention. As the number of platforms grows, supporting more of them will be a requirement of preserving, let alone gaining, market share.

Think back to the days of window shopping, a time like the 1940s. The big beautiful windows of a Macy’s store. They were filled with goods that would entice a person to go into the store. The amount of windows was constrained by the physical real estate in the downtown area. Buildings and land are expensive to construct. If you worked hard to get your product into one of these windows, it would probably sell well. People were going to buy from one of the few windows there was.

Digital advertising is not constrained the same way as physical marketing. There is infinite room for more, and it’s getting cheaper by the day to create another “window.” That’s why Google happened, then Facebook, then YouTube, then Twitter, then Instagram, then SnapChat. The amount of digital “windows” will increase, and less people will be looking at each one.

The system at play and the constraints on the system make it unsustainable. Unless someone invents more hours in the day, then the constraint is attention. The price paid for that attention in terms of social media marketers and digital advertising has to go up. It’s best to figure out how to be the next Richard Sears.

Google is out for Google, not you.

Companies spent money on Google advertising to build email lists so they could continually send emails, brochures, sales information to customers for free after an initial advertising investment. It was smart, upfront costs for long-term return. That’s the kind of thinking that builds great businesses. Unfortunately, that approach moved Google’s stock price in the wrong direction. Google realized this was meant providing less ads at lower prices. To resolve this negative effect on their stock price, they created the “promotions” folder in their gmail application, which is the most popular email tool in the world. Do you look in your promotions folder much?

Me neither.

By sorting all those opt-in emails into a folder that doesn’t get looked at, Google brought back the demand for those companies to advertise again.

Want to reach your customers?

Advertise with Google again, they want their money. Facebook works in scammy ways like this too. These big tech companies must behave this way in order to be worth billions AND keep growing like the stock market demands.

This system is rigged against you. Google, Facebook, and other big tech are masquerading as heroes, but they are mostly villains, setup to extract nearly every dollar of profit from your business and even your industry unless you do something different. There were huge early successes that were real. That’s when the supply-demand curve was on their side. There was far more supply of digital advertising, than there was demand. However, ten years of consultants, digital advertising businesses, smartphones, blog posts, and videos, and that curve has become all demand.

When you eventually “figure out” digital advertising, someone will copy you, or bid against you. Eventually, all the profits will disappear, eaten by Google or other big tech companies.

As a small business owner, you’re on a mission to get better results, or else you wouldn’t have read this far. That’s good, it means you’re not a victim. You’re proactive, looking to increase sales, and get more brand awareness. At the same time, you’re fighting that feeling of uncertainty, that there is something else that can be done. You’re looking to outsmart those would be pocket-picking, big tech companies.

The myth of great marketing

In the past, good marketing was finding the right way to get in front of people since there was less channels. Toilet paper commercials weren’t anything that impressive, yet in 1978, Mr. Whipple, the Charmin spokesperson, was voted the 3rd most popular man in America. Only behind Richard Nixon and Billy Graham. That’s something that is only possible when you can own the marketing. A few channels on TV, a couple radio stations, and some billboards. Shutting out the competition was possible.

The myth of marketing is that the quality that goes into the marketing piece is what matters. Up to a point that’s true, but the reality is the audience you’re seeking all have something in common. Showing up where they are and making something they love is more important. Only after that, it’s about spreading the word with help from your customers.

The patent for the fax machine was around in 1843.

It used to take longer for something new to propagate than most people can imagine. The fax machine was a huge success, and it had one of the strongest network effects ever. Have you ever tried to send a fax to someone who didn’t have a fax machine?

It doesn’t work well.

Those who first bought asked those who they corresponded with often to buy one.

The last decade (2010-2019) will be marked by the 100X-1000X increase in the power of word of mouth thanks to smart phones and social media.

Today, products, services, and technology are evolving at a rapid pace, but the bottleneck isn’t the development, it’s adoption and adoption is the responsibility of marketing.

Having a good strategy on how to make your product catch on is critical. Baking that into the product works wonders. Due to the speed of information today, your product can propagate much faster than the fax machine. It’s better to spend all your time figuring out your early adopters and getting products into their hands and relying on network effects than any other approach.

It was a significant investment by Apple making the “1984” commercial compared to shooting a toilet paper commercial with Mr. Whipple, but that’s not what made it effective. The trick wasn’t the ad. It was the group chosen as early adopters and the product. This is the work of modern marketers.

A couple more problems

In addition to the marketing arms race already discussed, there are 2 more problems at play here:

  1. Products that don’t inspire word of mouth.
  2. People not knowing what to search for.

Average marketing spend of major automotive vs Tesla

To address the first problem above, consider Tesla Motors.

Tesla spends $0 on ads. Toyota spends an estimated $2 billion. GM is nearly twice that of Toyota, despite being worth roughly 1/4 of Toyota.

What’s going on? You’ve heard of Tesla and they are selling hundreds of thousands of cars. What are GM and Toyota getting for their billions?

There are a lot of factors between the 3 ad spends:

  1. Remarkability of product – couldn’t those billions help GM and Toyota here?
  2. Sales Volume.
  3. Market and vehicle type.
  4. Executive Leadership decisions.

The difference between Tesla and the others is purely #1. The difference between all the others is items #2-#4. If you want to spend less on ads, provide something your customers will share. That’s what Tesla does. They are using today’s more powerful “word of mouth.” More accurately, Tesla is doing social media marketing the way it should be done. For free. They aren’t pushing a boulder, they’re lighting a fire with their products, as well as a few controversial tweets from Elon Musk.

The last problem is one of descriptions.

I don’t know what to search for a watch I want.

That’s a problem with awareness. I saw this watch I loved once on a guy a few seats over and on the other side of a train I was on. It was a mixed analog and digital read out. It had a beautiful and intricate leather band. The head was made of a gorgeous bronze with an indescribable pattern on it. I couldn’t see the brand.

I’ve never been able to find it in a search.

Searching for “Luxury watch” for example. Isn’t that how we describe any watch these days? We all have the time on our phone after all, so no watch is a neccessity, it’s a luxury.

What other words can I use:

  • “Intricate leather”
  • “Bronze”
  • “Beautiful”

The list can go on for quite a bit. Except the problem is nothing describes a specific watch that well to a search engine. It may lead to Amazon, or other shopping site, but it doesn’t lead to a specific watch. Even when typing something like “brown leather band, with bronze and analog digital” I don’t get the watch I’m looking for or even something close.

This watch likely didn’t have a network effect built in. They didn’t think about how to spread it. If I ever came across it on social media, I would buy instantly.

At this point, I’m sure you’ve caught on, you need something remarkable. Something worth others’ time to spread.

For many businesses, here is what happened. They had their business plans. It laid out their margins, their engineering spend, their product costs, their marketing costs, operating expenses, etc. Then in the last decade, the world shifted. There are a new set of marketing platforms and tactics. These businesses looked at their marketing team and kept the same allocation expecting them to just switch tactics.

What they should have done is merge marketing and product teams together. Allowing more money for product development that is integrated with marketing goals directly. Remember those billions of dollars from GM and Toyota? Spending less on ads, and more on a product that people share on social media is a cheaper investment. Light a fire, rather than push a boulder. Since each product is different, I’m going to paint in broad strokes the components of making something remarkable.

The best part about this approach? Marketing doesn’t have great feedback loops. People click social media links, then forego the purchase. Why is that happening:

  • Is it an accidental click?
  • Was it not what the expected from the social media post?
  • Did the website turn them off?

How do you measure any of that? It’s unclear and a lot of guesswork. Digital advertising is filled with these kinds of guesswork. It’s not easy for a small business to handle this while also dealing with customers, developing products, and delivering on their promises.

Product reviews by comparison to marketing analytics are clear. Amazon reviews tell if products are overpriced, low durability, or inefficient. They also provide data in the form of stars. Product reviews are more concrete and give more to work from. If you’re in agreement, the next step is to make something remarkable.

What is remarkable?

To make this work, it’s important to understand what’s remarkable. By definition, remarkable is anything worth making a remark about. Today, that equates to something worth remarking about on social media.

Salty. Sweet. Bitter. Sour. Savory. (Spicy is a reaction, not a flavor.)

Those are the components of flavor in food. Combine them in the right ways, and something remarkable is created. However, everything has to be in the right balance.

It’s likely 4 out of the 5 components will be in every dish, with one standing out more than the others. To build a meal, like a fancy tasting menu, dominate characteristics would be alternated. The meal would start with something whose standout characteristic was sweet, and maybe slightly sour, as a palate cleanser. Then offer something savory. Then salty. Then bitter. And this symphony with one dish leading into the next would continue until the end of the exquisite meal. Making something remarkable isn’t about having just one of the components I’m about to share. It’s about combining several in the right way. One may be maximized, but a few others need to be present too.

Here are the components for a remarkable business, product or service:

  • Network Effects
  • Pricing
  • Story
  • Audience
  • Style
  • Generosity
  • Community
  • Location
  • Scarcity
  • Execution
  • Innovation/Uniqueness
  • Courage
  • Drama

Some of these are linked together. For example, a story can be a network effect if it’s good enough.

Audience

Steve Jobs was lauded for his creativity in working with great people to do great marketing.

The Apple “1984” commercial was great marketing not because of its complexity of shooting, amazing effects for the time, or directing by Ridley Scott, but because the people it appealed to, the sci-fi types, are the types most likely to invest early in technology. The remarkability of the Macintosh was undeniable, the commercial was made for the type of people looking for something like that. They bought and spread the word around after seeing how awesome the product was.

Steve Jobs knew “geeks” were his audience. He broadcasted at the Super Bowl because everyone watched that, and he made a commercial that looked like something they are into. The great marketing on Steve’s part was picking the right audience more than anything.

The audience he choose propagated the technology to the rest of society. That’s what we’re all looking for. Our early adopters, which is synonymous with our audience.

Look at the technology adoption cycle. Everything, not just technology, follows this cycle. Marketing is about picking the audience of innovators and influencing them to buy. They then influence everyone else if the product is exciting. A big idea is…

Everyone is looking for something interesting

  • Billy Mays was looking for an interesting product to pitch, he found OxiClean.
  • The lawyer is looking for a interesting case that he can brag about for decades.
  • The engineer is looking for interesting ideas to work on.
  • The venture capitalist is looking for interesting projects and businesses to put money into.

If you pay attention, perhaps you can deliver something interesting to an audience who’s looking for it. Everyone is looking for something interesting, but interesting is different for everyone.

Here is a thought for you:

Start with who this isn’t for. Write it down. Be as detailed as possible. Samsung is the smartphone leader and their market share is 20%. For every one person with a Samsung smartphone there are 4 without one. Who this isn’t for is at least 4 times more important than who it is for. It brings clarity.

Bumping everyone away who isn’t your audience, then less time is spent dealing with people who weren’t going to engage, enabling an increase generosity to those interested.

Here’s an opportunity, carefully consider what the offering doesn’t do, who it isn’t going to help. Write it out as clearly as possible.

Here are a few things to think about:

  • Is there economic restrictions? Selling a million dollar product, it isn’t for someone that has a half million dollars in revenue.
  • Is personality of the user a factor?
  • Does the aesthetic not fit in some places?
  • Do they need a certain educational background?
  • Do they need to be in a certain stage of life?

That’s not an exclusive list certainly, but it’s a starting point. Don’t waste people’s time. As a nice side effect, you’ll waste less of yours.

The Tesla Cybertruck Audience

The Tesla Cybertruck was unveiled on November 21, 2019. A week or two later it had 250,000 pre-orders making up nearly $10.5 billion dollars of trucks on pre-order.

Circling the internet, most of the comments are how hideous the Cybertruck is and other rants about how bad the design is. Of course, everyone is applying their own criteria to whether they like it or not. Look at the Cybertruck’s defining characteristics.

It’s extremely masculine. Formed by sharp lines, and sheet metal outside. It’s sci-fi looking. All of those things tend to be enjoyed by men more than women. 50% of the population os out right away.

The price is $40,000 and up. Based on the generally recommended financial advice of spending no more than 20% of income on transportation, that means the target audience is people making over $200,000 a year. Considering the top 1% percentile of income by age, that kind of pay doesn’t happen until 30+ years old. That data comes from here. The Cybertruck audience is likely 30-50 years old based on price range. 20 years olds can’t afford it. Over 50 is a guess based on practicality and taste. Eliminating everyone under 30 is 39% of the US population. 42% is above 50.

The Cybertruck looks like something out of a video game people that age played as kids. There are even internet memes going around about it.

Breaking this down and assuming the audience is all US based because Tesla is headquartered here, and the US is the richest country in the world and this vehicle isn’t cheap. I’ll base it on 400,000,000 people.

Not for most women. That’s 50% of the population gone. 200,000,000 people left interested.

People without much money. Likely only top 5% (I’m lumping age and income together here) can even touch this based on previous graph. 10,000,000 left.

It’s widely accepted as a general rule that 2.5% of the population makes up the early adopters. The ones who don’t need any convincing when they see something they like. Take that 2.5% and multiply it by 10,000,000 and you get 250,000. That would be the number of pre-orders to expect. That’s what Tesla received, equating to $10 billion in sales.

If Tesla had released just an electric version of a truck. One that looked a lot like a RAM or an F-150, would they have got the same amount of pre-orders? No. If a customer doesn’t love it, or it’s similar to something else on the market, they will have a tough time deciding, waiting to see them on the lot. This is the benefit to having a specific audience.

Thinking about that, and growth. One might ask, “How do I grow if I limit myself?”

Product lines rather than individual audience size.

One thing that bottlenecks people is that they look at a specific audience and think it’s too small. This is where product lines come in. Cars don’t come in one color or package. They have many options. This allows automakers to serve many different tastes. It’s time to get comfortable with the fact that different people need different products.

One example of this is the Volkswagen ID Buzz. The ID Buzz has an entirely different feel than the Cybertruck. One is serious, the other is fun. Both are electric. Both have style. Both appeal to early adopters. This is what the future will look like, significantly differentiated products that are all remarkable to different groups. This car is made by Volkswagen , but Tesla could have made the ID Buzz too. They could create lines of cars that are significantly differentiated. For a long time, businesses have been serving the masses, now the system in place favors those who do something different and serve specific groups.

Innovation – Something I haven’t seen before.

No one who surpasses Rembrandt matters.

The camera made sure of it. The camera was remarkable when it came out. At the time, average people didn’t know what their great grandfathers looked like, though the rich had painted images of their entire lineage. The camera changed all of that.

The painters of the time when the photograph was invented hated it. To matter again, the artists needed to bring something new. They started being creative more than figuring out how to make more realistic paintings. Think of Picasso and his works. Extending someone else’s work when the world has already surpassed it doesn’t make an impact.

Rembrandt may have been the most realistic painter of his time, but people don’t value realistic painters the same way any more. The art changed as a result of someone making a new innovation. That someone needs to be you. And it needs to be continuous.

That leads to a question, “How do you know you’re pushing boundaries?”

When things become probabilistic instead of deterministic, you’re probably there. 

That means that when every outcome isn’t exactly reproducible. Watch Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedian and even for a rehearsed performance, he’s not always happy the way it happens. And that’s a guy that’s at the level of legend!

Knocking it out of the park every time means it’s time to grow into something more challenging.

The 1st iPhone could have failed. The 10th iPhone, not likely. Apple’s gotten good at it. Now, they mostly seem to muck around with new ways to display emojis. They are losing status amongst those early adopters. The ones who beat the drum and built the brand for them. That doesn’t mean they’ll be gone tomorrow, but in another decade it’s possible.

Innovation must continue

Innovation is the bravery to lead with your vision rather than relying on historical or social proof.

Milling with water power produced surplus flour. That gave the mill owner more to trade for other things, however, eventually other mills sought the same benefits, and with society only needing so much flour milled, eventually there was a surplus, and it drove price and value down. The early benefit went to the innovator, the late benefit went to society having cheap access to flour and milling services. 

When an industry/product/service/feature becomes a commodity like milling did, it’s time to find another innovation. This can be judged today by your change in profits, or even by social media engagement.

Generosity

Generosity means many different things. It can mean:

  • Social entrepreneurship. Where part of every sale goes to a good cause. Like Warby Parker, or Tom’s Shoes. These tie in with story as well, so I’ll discuss them down in that section.
  • Generosity can be having standards so high that your audience knows you would throw your work out and start over, losing money in the process rather than giving them something subpar. This is Apple under Steve Jobs or Gordon Ramsay restaurants.
  • Generosity can be a great return or warranty policy. Something that says, “The risk is on me to do good work, I’ll always take care of you.” REI has an amazing return policy. They have seen 67% growth from 2010-2018.
  • Generosity can mean giving away a lot of your work. Companies who market by sharing information is an example. Story Brand is a great example of this.

Gordon Ramsay Burger

Will never sell more burgers than McDonald’s. But what percentage of customers from each do you think tweet pictures of their burgers? One took the effort to make a custom bun. To give a generous portion of beef. To use high quality ingredients. Assembled with care. The other slapped together frozen patties, American cheese, pickles, onions, ketchup and mustard as fast as possible. McDonald’s is huge, but that’s because their business model was built in a different era. If they started today with the same attack, they would fail, or at least fail to grow

To gain attention, being the Gordon Ramsay Burger is the only way. This is what generous, high standards will do for you.

Gordon Ramsay Burger | Gordon Ramsay Restaurants
Quarter Pounder With Cheese – McDonald’s | BurgerJunkies.com

Pricing

The price effects everything. People agonize over the price. There’s only one thing to be concerned with here: “Do customers get more value than the price?”

Here are some pricing strategies:

  • Free – Usually a form of marketing, things spread because there is no cost. Any value is more than this cost, though things that are free might also be perceived as having no value, as a result they get little or no engagement. Use this if the offering will be perceived as valuable and spread.
  • Cheap – Lower cost than average. It helps things spread, but due to having some cost, it’s a better litmus test on if people value your work.
  • Market price – The going rate. Charging in this range, people likely won’t take the time to see how the offering is different than the rest of the market. You generally are providing something of similar value to everyone. A good product and a fair price.
  • 10X – Or some other significant multiple. When something cost 10X the market price, people will start to pay attention. They will wonder what the difference between your product is and the “normal” version is. Why would one be so much more than the other? It’s then up to you to convince them, and you should back it up on value. The story is the means of communicating that value to the customer. Imagine a custom coffee cup that cost $20, then another one that cost $180. Purposely not choosing $200 as a price so that someone doesn’t misread and think it is also $20. Someone will definitely inspect the $180 one. The question is, will they see the value in it?

Story

Story is the what you tell others about your work and more importantly what others say about your work. Is it clear what you do? Is it remarkable how it came about? Is the mission you’re on amazing? There are all types of ways to go into this. It’s important.

How important? So important that Story Brand has built a multi-million dollar business on the way towards $20,000,000/yr in 2020 by focusing on helping businesses tell their story.

Their clients own companies or working in marketing and can’t clearly articulate what they do. Story Brand clients pay $3,000 dollars per person for a Story Brand workshop for someone to help work it out for them. Not building their website. Not crafting images for them. Working on their story.

And the companies that implement their story properly see huge returns. That’s how important it is for them.

Story Brand

is ran by Donald Miller. He is an author turned business consultant teaching companies how to tell their stories. The company has a blog and podcast that is filled with information about telling a story in business. I would expand this section more, but there is no point. That information available in the Story Brand podcast, their blog, and Donald Miller’s book, “Building a Story Brand.” contains plenty of knowledge on the subject. No reason to reinvent the wheel.

Community

Something helpful. Something curated. Something organized. Something that brings people together in a way that makes them more powerful than without it.

That’s what community is. It’s a place to help others. A place to share knowledge. A place to learn. A place to grow. A place to feel like you belong.

The most important part of a community is shared goals, and some common understanding of the world, though not necessarily a unified approach. That’s where debate in the community happens. Common goals, and debates about how to achieve them. However, someone needs to facilitate. To set the location, the dates, the times, the topics. To tell everyone how to prepare. To hold people accountable, and to actively work to improve the community.

Churches are an old form of community. They brought people together who had the shared goals of living their lives by certain standards, and had a common understanding of history based on the readings of the priests. Back then, this form of community came from everyone being local.

Today, community can be online. It’s much more about the goals and understanding than it is the location. We can take part in communities that are scattered around the globe. Hosting a community is a great way to keep your audience in touch. There is room for a community in any subject too complex to write a definitive guide.

Network Effects

Who will spread the work?

Your work should have the network baked into it. How will it spread?

We’re as networked and connected as ever. Failing to figure out a way that your work will spread, is a sure chance of failure.

A Few Types of Network Effects

  • Shared Data. When someone designs a product in a 3D CAD tool, the person manufacturing it can use that model to create their tooling. It makes having the same CAD software as your customers beneficial.
  • Communication Devices and Tools. They work better when your friends are on them. Basecamps comes to mind.
  • Locations. Coffee Shops. Restaurants. Eventually you bring other people to the ones you like. The hip local coffee shop is an example of this. My favorite is Blackberry Market in Glen Ellyn, IL. Try a cinnamon roll.
  • Being Unique. People like to share things that are hard to believe. Something new. Something their friends haven’t seen, that’s what they will post on social media.
  • Discounts for groups. Bring more people, save more money.
  • Credits for referrals. Tell your friends about us, get free stuff.
  • A good story. Everyone loves to share a good story. More than likely though, without a good story, no one will share what you do. We already talked about that, to be clear. It usually needs to be your customer’s story of buying. Not your story of the business.

Safari’s password recommendation is a network effect.

It recommends an automatically generated, long, alpha-numeric password that is too long for most people to remember. However, if you sync it with another device it remembers across the platform. There is more reason for you to have other Apple devices because it’s driven by a network effect. 

Maybe this should be called a “vertical network effect” because it makes you want more of the same companies products. Where a “horizontal network effect” would be getting friends, family, and other acquaintances.

Why SOLIDWORKS is popular.

I’m sharing a story of a major success, followed up by lesser successes by the same company. Hopefully, this story illustrates the need for network effects.

SOLIDWORKS was released in 1995. It is a 3D CAD tool, making it easier to visualize product designs. The software had huge implications down the supply chain, making engineers lives easier when designing the tools (molds, dies, etc,) to produce the physical goods people consume. SOLIDWORKS’ audience, mechanical engineers (not civil, not structural, not electrical) rejoiced. SOLIDWORKS would go on to sell over 5,000,000 licenses worldwide, becoming the world’s most adopted 3D CAD program. 

The success of SOLIDWORKS was due to affordability, a widely available platform in the form of Windows instead of Unix, and its network effect. If an automotive company like Ford used it to design cars, their suppliers benefitted from adoption by being able to open the Ford models. No translation required. It made everyone’s lives easier. Since everyone loves easy, SOLIDWORKS grew rapidly in capability and the network effect lead to continually rising adoption rates.

After 15-20 years, SOLIDWORKS started seeing a ceiling. The upper bound was becoming visible, adoption rates tapered. SOLIDWORKS turned to acquisitions, buying related products to integrate. They bought products for: 

  • data management and revision control. 
  • simulating product prototypes without having to build them. 
  • analyzing injection molds. 
  • technical documentation. 

Only the data management tool, SOLIDWORKS PDM, was even close to the CAD tools success. It is the Github of SOLIDWORKS, successful because it had an identical audience to the CAD tool. Not every mechanical engineer could benefit from the other tools, and while PDM is popular, adoption hasn’t been as fast as SOLIDWORKS because PDM doesn’t have a network effect, vendors don’t share their vaults for company IT security purposes. 

The other 3 products all served different audiences and have no network effects, in terms of dollars, they are blips in comparison to the CAD product and the second place that goes to SOLIDWORKS PDM, the data management tool. They may not be financial failures, but they didn’t revolutionize the company. Network effects and audience continuity are important.

At GSC, a SOLIDWORKS reseller, where I’ve worked the last 7 years, we’re tasked with marketing all of these tools, and it’s a challenge. Our marketing is slashed up, segmented by product, then audience, and also use case. It’s reached a state where it’s near impossible to create any specific content with the goal of adding to the bottom line of the business. The marketing has to be done in-person via face-to-face interaction, with a custom message crafted for each sale. Pretty traditional outside sales stuff, though we can also do some events. This is what I consider a marketing failure. It’s not GSC’s fault. They were originally a SOLIDWORKS reseller. Now, they’ve been forced into these other products that don’t have as much selling power.

The less popular softwares SOLIDWORKS produces also suffer from not having product-marketing integration. Working at a reseller, I can go to 10 companies who all say, “The product seems okay, but we really need a certain feature to buy it.” Passing that information on, and it goes into the product development void, never knowing when that will be implemented, if ever. The lack of product-marketing integration creates lost sales, and lackluster products. I would say this is part of generosity.

This story is meant to reinforce the concept of network effects, generosity, and audience. Without nailing those components, your product is sunk before it begins. Or even worse, after it’s began.

Style

At some point engineering overpowered style in cars because someone doesn’t have to make hard choices, just optimize for performance.

I’m making this statement based off of older cars. In the ’60s cars all seemed to have much larger stylistic differences than that of today. When I read, or hear about the history of old vehicles, there are a lot of stories of bringing in this designer, or that one. I don’t hear that in the modern age.

It’s because style requires tough choices. If choosing something mathematical to be the goal, then the hard choices are made for us. Not many people like making hard decisions. Especially the ones that could lead to the success or failure of the product.

However, as the world moves forward, the standard spaces are being filled, by highly automated, highly repeatable processes.

Part of the fight of standing out is being remarkable, and a component of remarkability is style. If you can’t make a choice. Something to say, “This is me. This is how I do it,.” There won’t be much for you left.

Amazon Product Algorithm

I could see a point in the future where AI gathers complaints about a product from Amazon reviews, redesigns the products and then sends it to manufacture and listens to what the new reviews say for the next iteration. If you don’t think this is possible, text analysis already exists for AI. Parametric CAD tools with generative design already exist. Simulation tools exist to test product performance with a digital model.

This is essentially an optimization problem with an entirely automated supply chain. Industry 4.0 is all about connected factories. Throw in self-driving trucks, and there you have it, the whole system integrated into one tight bundle. 

Amazon may not own every step in that chain. They may utilize factories that simply tie into the Amazon system that they contract out, but still, it will feel and probably be a monopoly on the most common items. 

How will there be room for anyone else? Amazon controls the reviews. They control the sale. They control distribution as they are currently building their own supply chain.

Do something different. A computer wants to optimize. It wants to focus on 5 star ratings. Or it wants to maximize sales. Or maximize margins.

Build your product on an entirely different axis. Imagine this automated feedback integrated design and delivery system in automotive. Iterative feedback on an F-150 isn’t likely to get you the Tesla Cybertruck. The Cybertruck is a shift. This is the way we’re going to do it. Want one?

There are other factors at play too. How does that automated system market it? When serving a big audience, there isn’t much to stand out. Sure, you can use a big budget to buy a lot of interruption for people, but that’s all you’re buying. An interruption. There is plenty of room for companies who aren’t interruptions, but instead something you look forward to stumbling across. Be one of those. 

SWAG Golf is one of them.

Scarcity

The Flippist

Creating something that doesn’t scale or chooses not to is the surest way to avoid strong competition and the need for tons of paid social media advertising.

Take a look at The Flippist. How many competitors do you think he has? First, they have to be artistic. Then they have to have the dedication and desire to make flip books which is time-consuming and tedious work. Then they have to have the marketing prowess to get attention to their offerings. The venn diagram of all of that is pretty small. He owns his niche.

Success for the flippist comes from:

  • Remarkability that spreads on social networks. Each work he does can be posted and on it’s own, it’s both what he delivers and marketing.
  • It’s scarce since it’s not easy to find someone that does that work at that level of quality. Also, it’s not just about the act of being able to draw them, but also ideate them.
  • Network effects due to the fact that flip books are meant to be shown to others. 

All of those three combine to make The Flippist as busy as he wants to be as stated on his website.

Location

Location can be a network effect. A place where people commonly run into each other. Usually, when people run into each other randomly in public and say hello, they talk about what they are out doing.

Warby Parker, the eyeglasses company, used a bus for determining this. They drove it around to different locations using social media to let people know. They used the best performing locations to figure out where to be.

Steve Jobs included a central atrium in the building at Pixar. This allowed people to run into each other. Talk about ideas, and help ideas spread around the company. He understood the power of a location and the effect it had on helping people spread.

Depending on the type of work you do, location can be powerful, or weak. A social media marketers office for example, may not need to be in the right spot. A beautiful, new coffee shop could be make or break based on location. Imagine a couple leaving, runs into their friends as the walk out. The usual chatter starts, and as they sip their amazing coffee, they ask their friends, “Have you been to this place yet?”

The friends reply, “No.”

“It’s amazing, you should try it.”

Boom. You just nailed two new clients.

Even better if the cups themselves looked so stylish that it had drawn in the friends who didn’t have coffee in their hands to inquire about it.

Execution

Why are Harmon Brother’s commercials remarkable?

The Harmon Brother’s make commercials that move products off the shelf, or out of the warehouse. More than anything though, the commercials themselves are remarkable.

Reflecting on what makes them remarkable isn’t an easy task, but here’s a few thoughts:

  • Their length is non-standard, much longer than a typical ad, so it seems more valuable. They aren’t trying to do the ten second ads, the ones you skip, because they can’t provide value in that time, so they have to do something to hold your attention for the time they need. Squatty Potty and Purple mattress commercials are roughly 3 and 4 minutes respectively. They clearly explain the product and process. After watching the commercials, you understand what problem you have, how the product will solve it, and what to expect. Compared to many ads that are made to only provide brand awareness, these are more likely highly produced theatrical sales pitches. Story
  • They have a unique style. The animations. The writing. The set designs. The sound effects. It’s a mix of modern and old-times that is unique enough to be recognizable. Style
  • They mix humor and education. The humor serves to make it entertaining (and less gross in the case of the Squatty Potty), the education teaches you how to evaluate your need of the product being showcased, and against other similar products. Both provide a reason to watch to the end. Generosity

The Harmon Brother’s stand out is by being a sales team in a marketing industry. Most marketers are looking for “awareness” something that is a bit ethereal, while the Harmon Brother’s seem to be looking for sales. 

Of course, their production quality doesn’t hurt either. Plenty of video makers could make a commercial. Not many could pull it off at their level. Execution.

Since the Harmon Brothers are consultants they don’t directly control audience, pricing, community, or scarcity. Shared data and locations doesn’t apply, but they do seem to pick non-traditional products that enhance their style. The Squatty Potty and Poo-pourri are items other agencies might have turned down due to the association with those types of products. The Harmon Brothers style fits them immensely.

Courage

The Halftime Show

The Super Bowl in 2019 wasn’t a memorable one. Neither was the halftime show put on by Maroon 5.  The halftime show is the best example of bad marketing I can think of. I haven’t talked to many people about Super Bowl halftime shows in recent years, nor had a conversation that stemmed from one that led me to check out new music.

First, understand that the NFL doesn’t pay the artists to perform anymore, so with that being said, the halftime shows are a marketing attempt with an expected ROI.

The most recent halftime shows all have a number of guest collaborators, and never seem to finish a song, only playing part of each.

The thought process is likely, “I have the attention of 100,000,000 people, let’s try to show them as much as possible, getting as much interest as possible. We’ll have a little something for everybody.”

On the surface it’s good strategy, except, there isn’t enough of any of the elements to make me interested if I’m not already, or a bigger fan who buys more if I am. The better strategy would be to take 3 or less great songs, and create a newer, more generous version of them that exudes the spirit of the band. Expand the story or feeling of the song to a level that isn’t possible in other venues. Now, that may involve collaborators that bring a new dynamic, technology that wasn’t previously included at shows, venue specific elements, and other generous ideas.

Instead, the artists seem to flip through portions of 5-6 songs in 12 minutes with tons of people coming on and off stage, with nothing sticking in mind of anyone watching.

Social marketing today is about remarkability, someone texting another person to say, “Can you believe this?!” Or a conversation started the next day at work. Or every show on YouTube commenting about the performance because it was amazing and noteworthy, not because they were paid to. No one cares about 30 seconds of a radio hit from 10 years ago.

Don’t remind people they liked you once upon a time. Make them like you.

Here’s the check list again:

  • Audience – Too broad, everyone watches the Super Bowl
  • Location – Different for everyone, some at stadium, some at home, all different views.
  • Generosity – I’m not sure how.
  • Shared Data – Nope, it’s not software.
  • Community – Nope.
  • Collaboration – Only with other artists on stage.
  • The price – Ill-defined for everyone.
  • The Story – Same every year, mega-popular headliner to lead the Super Bowl half-time show.
  • Scarcity – Yea. Right.

I think the only categories that can be changed here are generosity, story, and community. Here’s an idea to flip it on it’s head:

  • Story – Virtually unknown act is given multi-million dollar budget to create an incredible half-time show.
  • Community – Each person that can name a line of the main song, can join an online community for the artist.
  • Generosity – For each person that joins the community, one dollar will be donated to a credible, charity and cause.
  • You’ve now created something worth talking about, “Will the unknown pull it off?”
  • You’ve given those who like the act something to do, “Join the community of people with similar taste.”
  • You’ve made people feel good about doing it. Them joining creates a positive impact for a good cause.

That’s much better than what’s happening today and likely to get a lot more sharing than the current approach.

The Wendy’s board game

Wendy’s made a board game called Feast of Legends. I never would have known about it until a big gamer coworker of mine mentioned it to me in a tangentially related conversation we were having. Audience = gamers.

This is an incredible piece of marketing for three reasons:

Network effects. Generosity. Pricing = Free. It’s generous. Community isn’t created, but it’s tied in with an existing gaming community that is strong. Story, a burger chain releasing a board game as marketing. Execution = amazing. It’s generous.

  1. Feast of Legends is remarkable. It’s got nice art. On first glance, it’s got a well-developed set of rules. It’s based around food. It’s unique. 
  2. Network effects. A game involves multiple players, people have to be invited over to play. 
  3. It’s generous. Wendy’s even has a free version you can print out in PDF form. It’s not trying to extract money from you, it’s built on good will.
  4. Being based around food, it probably makes you hungry. Which is how they sell food. I imagine strictly out of thanks, groups of people would form parties by inviting people to play and catering in some Wendy’s.

Overall, it’s an incredibly smart piece of marketing, done for much cheaper than traditional digital advertising. It’s remarkable, has network effects, is built on generosity, and makes you want their product. What is a better recipe for marketing success?

Call to Action

Fading into social media obscurity

It’s a sign that it’s time to innovate again.

The cycle looks something like this:

  1. You do something remarkable.
  2. People notice and share online.
  3. More people discover you, try you out, and also share.
  4. You become the new normal.
  5. Few or no one shares you any more on social media.

It’s not a failure, it’s just a sign that it’s time to innovate again.

Evaluating your work

Would I share this on social media?

A good way to judge your work. If a stranger had done your work and you wouldn’t share it online, would anyone else?

Mel Brooks would say, “It has to make you laugh, otherwise the audience won’t laugh.”

This is how work spreads now, it’s best to ask, is this worth sharing? If you don’t think so, the audience won’t either. Ads won’t change that.

Interesting has less downside

Most of us are hiding. If I count the number of interesting ideas I’ve heard in my life, the number would be really large, not sure the exact number but I would guess around 2-3 zeros in length. The number of people that I know actually working on those interesting ideas they talked about, likely in the order of magnitude of ~10.

I’ve spent a significant portion of my life thinking about what drives people in their thoughts, fears and responses. Obviously, fear of failure is something that is easy to see, and a good go to when looking for excuses, of course most of this is imaginary. The downsides are much less than we ever expect.

Look at Elon Musk. What if Tesla failed today? Bankrupt, out of business. The papers would probably write headlines weeping for the stockholders, but Elon would likely just jump over to his gig at SpaceX. Even if that didn’t exist, it’s likely people would chock it up to the world not being ready, and I’m sure Elon would come back with new ideas and investors ready to pile money into it. His reputation is strong, and the running of Tesla, failure or not, is a learning experience that can’t be found in many places, so the chance that the next venture Elon would work on goes up.

On an alternative thought, even if Elon lost everything and no one was willing to invest in a new company of his, a book written about his experience, building running, and lessons learned in the failure would likely sell enough copies for a reasonably, rather than extravagantly, living the remainder of his life. That’s the value of interesting.

When you do interesting work, there really isn’t as much downside as it appears on the surface. If that didn’t do it, consider one last thought…

It’s safer to fall from 10 miles than the 10th floor…

because you’ll live longer on average.

The true literal equivalent is that provided they keep a healthy attitude and don’t fall into despair if it fails, people who try for big things have incredible stories to fall back on.

The incredible story of failure can become marketing, and a network effect for you next idea.  

Plenty of marketers are going to say I’m crazy. The items recommended here aren’t scalable. They aren’t possible for everyone. To believe there is a fundamental limit to creativity and generosity is for those who are neither creative nor generous.

I’m also sure that someone who says these things and bills themselves as doing creative work for your business isn’t as creative as they claim.

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Appendix Information.

https://www.emarketer.com/content/global-digital-ad-spending-2019

A great starting resource on this, “This is Marketing” by Seth Godin. I cannot suggest it enough. My work builds on Seth’s and gets deeper into the product side. What are the components of making something remarkable.