Marketing Thoughts

Marketing Thoughts

I’ve been banging my head against the challenge of writing my own promotional materials all week. I finally held an imaginary marketing meeting in my head.

Yes, I would like to be more successful at making money, but I don’t want to be a jerk about it. I thought I’d made peace with myself about the necessity of marketing, but after several weeks of dragging my feet on it I recognized a pattern: certain internal factions were passively rebelling against the whole idea. It reminds me a bit of a business organization that’s trying to change its operation from the top on down: while the changes look good on paper and are eagerly adopted in principle, the tough part is changing behavior at the production team level. Let me draw up a quick org chart:

THE EXECUTIVE SUITE

  • Executive Seah, Master Navigator
  • Analyst Seah, Perceiver of Systems
  • Ambitious Seah, Seeker of Opportunities
  • Comptroller Seah, Keeper of Resources
  • Producer Seah, Planner of Projects

THE PRODUCTION TEAM

  • Imagination Seah, Creator of Ideas
  • Foreman Seah, Overseer of Project Work
  • Philosopher Seah, Keeper of Personal Values
  • Consumer Seah, Seeker of Instant Gratification
  • Designer Seah, Architect of Tangible Solutions
  • Workman Seah, Provider of Physical Labor

In this case, the Executive Suite has a general notion of what opportunities exist based on observing how people have reacted to what the company (i.e. the blog) has done. Doing more of the same, except with a clearer focus, would go a long way toward conversion of views to some kind of sustainable revenue model. The Production Team, however, is deeply suspicious and anxious about this kind of self-promotion, because they don’t want to be pigeon-holed into advertising goods and services that they can’t fulfill with confidence.

The premise that “clearer, focused communication” and “more marketing” is a solid-enough truth to act on based on general market mechanisms:

  • Targeted communication that focuses on the right points is more convincing, and therefore leads to better conversion from prospect to paying customer. Duh.

  • More communication means more people are being exposed. As response rates tend to rise proportional to the amount of contact, this should lead to more conversions. Double duh.

From the Executive Suite’s perspective, this reasoning alone should be enough to kick the Production Team into a frenzy of communication design, but frankly it’s just not that motivating. While it’s true, it is just the kind of watery executive BS that substitutes bland mechanical truths for responsible leadership. This is the kind of directive that implicitly retains executive veto power over any creative direction that the Production Team might come up with. The very lack of definition is a giant red flag to any production team that hates wasting effort on speculative work. Fortunately, since this is all happening in my imagination, I can change the dynamics of the organization immediately. First, definition: my Executive Suite needs to provide the additional context that enables the production team to make decisions that will solve the problem under consideration: how to make this business thing I’m doing work for real while retaining my independence and identity. Second, leadership: as capable my Production Team is at making stuff, they work in a dark room all day and don’t have a clear picture of what the outside world wants from them. Without firm conceptual ground to tread upon, the team digs in and locks up. Looking outside is one of the jobs of the Executive Team, and leadership in this case is firming up the foundation of challenge so we can build a solution on top of it. As I’m sitting here at Starbucks puzzling this out, I’m noting the following thoughts:

  1. Effective marketing offers a clear benefit to the potential buyer.
  2. I don’t want to sell a product that doesn’t do what it claims.
  3. I want the value of the product to be as self-evident as possible.
  4. I don’t want to be embarrassed by what I am selling.
  5. Marketing clearly takes a lot of effort in writing and design.
  6. I don’t know really what people want specifically from me. Or do I?
The thoughts become more alarming if I threaten to market something that doesn’t seem ready. For example, if my imaginary boss were to barge into my office and announce that the company will list “The Printable CEO Productivity System” on Amazon next week, I feel a sense of anxiety:
  1. What? There is no system!
  2. How can I price a system that doesn’t exist?
  3. How do I guarantee that it works? It probably won’t work for everyone, anyway!
At this point, my imaginary boss would have to calm me down and address each point in turn: “There’s a system there…you just need to write one up. The system you are defining isn’t supposed to solve the world’s problems. It just needs to be designed to solve ONE problem in ONE way. That’s all that needs to be conveyed in your system design. Over time, we’ll have many systems, and new meta-system will become apparent.” “There’s two ways we’ll price it: one based on perceived value relative to personal benefit, and the other based on prevailing market prices for similar products. For example, if the system we sell helps someone be more productive so they can achieve a certain level of benefit, is it worth $20? $100? The spectrum of existing products are day planners, software, mobile apps, and to some extent ebooks, personal coaching, and workshops. We will figure it out through experimental pricing.” “There is a big difference between creating THE SOLUTION (which I know you tend to prefer) versus providing A SOLUTION. We are going to provide one solution with the various PCEO things you make, and make its design intention clear in the marketing. We’re marketing to people who like their tools to look nice and make sense. We’re also marketing to people who are looking for affordable tools that can drop-in their existing life organization infrastructure. The marketing materials that we will create will speak directly to those two segments.” This all sounds quite reasonable to me. The approach, given these constraints, would go something like this:
  • Describe and illustrate a PCEO system. There is a lot of source material available. This is going to take an undetermined amount of time, so limit effort to the first usable step: write a brief description of each system.
  • Consider the two markets: system buyers and tool integrators. A system buyer will be looking for a complete methodology to follow and assess. A tool integrator just needs to know what it is supposed to do and how it fits in their existing methodology. Take the output of the previous step, and write it up from the perspective of each market.
  • Clearly state the benefit that the product is designed to produce, and make it easy to try it out.
  • I’m not promising it will transform users into productivity powerhouses. I’m just saying that the product is designed to make you MORE productive, and this is how it is designed to work.
As I write that up, my imaginary Director of Branding is poking his head into my office, reminding me of the underlying reasons that we’re doing productivity tools in the first place (other than we already have them):
  • My productivity niche is “harvesting tangible accomplishment from untamed creative impulses”. People like myself, in other words: creative, inspired, and excited about making things, but have been frustrated in their own attempts to make headway.

  • What I stand for, and am terribly passionate about, is people who want to do something that they’ve dreamed of, and are in the process are learning what that really means through a personal journey of discovery and experience. The journey itself strengthens and transforms us with every step we take, and we become the stars of our own story.

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p>In practical terms, this means using language that reflects these values in some way, while not making it the focus of the materials themselves; this is an example of “show, don’t tell”. The values of the brand are self-evident to the people who recognize the vibe.

It also marks a shift away from “marketing myself” to “marketing product”. It’s hard for me to promote myself even indirectly, but it’s a lot easier to describe what something I’ve made is designed to do. And that is, I think, the crux of my newly-synthesized approach to marketing. Why do so many experts tell you to get over yourself and just market yourself? A lot of people find this distasteful because it’s unhumble and against personality. Perhaps an alternative is to just tell people what you have designed and where they can get it…is that enough?