What bayonet-wielding professors can teach you about online marketing
Ian Lurie May 9 2011
You’re a plumber. You want to rank #1 for ‘Seattle plumbing’. That means you have to write interesting content about plumbing, in Seattle, every 2 days, for the next year. All you can think is “Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap.”
Well, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (ex-college professor) laughs at your silliness. You think you’ve got it rough? Try being a college professor, leading a regiment that just ran out of ammunition, with a bunch of crazed Alabamans charging up the hill at you.
Do something irrational. It’s only reasonable.
The Battle of Gettysburg—during the US Civil War, for you folks who aren’t in the US—was a defining moment in US history. And the defining moment of the battle was arguably when the 20th Maine, led by Col. Chamberlain, ran out of ammunition.
Chamberlain did something totally irrational. He ordered his regiment, which had a handful of bullets left, to fix bayonets and charge down the hill.
Given the circumstances, it was the only reasonable thing to do.
The courage to be bizarre
Chamberlain had the courage to be bizarre if it meant achieving his goal.
Do you have the same? Yes. Especially since no one’s shooting at you.
If you have to write about plumbing, write about the plumbing required for the Death Star. Seriously, how would that work?
Need to talk about spa treatments? How many famous historical figures would’ve benefitted from a quick mud bath? I bet George Washington would’ve smiled for the occasional painting.
Every subject can become fascinating if you let it. You just have to have the courage to be bizarre every now and then.
I’m not suggesting you write one ridiculous post after another. But taking a flyer now and then can’t hurt, and it might attract whole audiences you didn’t know you had.
Sometimes, bizarre tells the story
Every now and then, explaining what you do in a totally unique way helps your audience understand.
I tried to explain PageRank and authority for years. What finally worked? Turning pages into buckets
Want to understand the problems with quantum theory? Read about a cat in a box.
Weird can be a great teaching tool.
So, what happened?!
Oh, yeah, the battle.
If I’d been in Chamberlain’s place, we’d all need passports to visit South Carolina.
But Chamberlain’s move worked. The 20th Maine ran screaming down Little Round Top with sharp pointy things at the ready. The 15th Alabama was exhausted from a long march, no water and a day of fighting uphill. Chamberlain’s regiment turned the battle at a critical moment. The move helped the North hold the line and possibly win the Civil War.
If Chamberlain and his regiment could do that in the face of dying, I’ll bet you can come up with a few creative ways to explain your business to your customers.
Like writing about Civil War battles…
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Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint.He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More
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