11 steps to marketing nirvana

Ian Lurie

In the event of my horrible messy stinky death, please read this:

Today, I may get flushed down a toilet, then plunge 30,000 feet to my death. I’m not crazy, I tell you. See, I suspect that the Brotherhood of Magical Tea Party Activists is after me. I know they’re annoyed that I’ve actually read the Constitution before gum-flapping. So they sacrificed something small and furry, said the right evil chant and put a curse on me. Read on and you’ll see it’s totally plausible:

Yesterday I got stung by a bunch of extremely pissed-off ground wasps. I was pulling weeds, heard a lot of buzzing, and then “Ow… Ow… OW… HEY AUGHHHH.” I ran inside, flapping my arms around me like I was dancing in a rock tumbler.

wasp: "Make my day, punk"

The day before I cracked one of my teeth so badly I had to go to an emergency dental clinic, and now have to get a root canal plus gum surgery to even make the tooth good enough for a crown. Previously over 15 years of perfect dental health, by the way. What was I eating? A sub sandwich, with no hard stuff in it. Apparently grilled cheese causes my teeth to spontaneously explode.

The day before that, I was recovering from a brief but nasty case of food poisoning. I don’t have a cast-iron stomach, but I think the last time I got food poisoning was 26 years ago, after eating shwarma in a town square in Jerusalem on a hot day. No one else at the conference got food poisoning, as far as I know. I ate the one piece of bad meat?

chickens revenge

And, of course, there was the Great Flood of Portent two weeks ago.
Now I’m sitting on an airplane as it flies to Milwaukee. Just in case my enemies arranged to have me sucked out of the airplane via the toilet, leaving behind nothing more than a few eyebrow hairs and despairing wail, I’m writing down my steps to marketing nirvana. I’ve followed these for well over 10 years now, and they seem to work:

In all marketing, be honest.

Sustaining a lie is hard work. It takes energy away from good stuff. Plus, it’s nearly impossible in marketing. There are too many people involved.

It’s a lot easier to tell the truth about a product. Find the real strengths and advantages. Find the real selling proposition. Then tell it like it is.

Be creative! Use fantastic writing, great art and your talent for storytelling. Just use that creativity to tell the truth. In the long run, it’s a lot more fun.

Know your knowledge gaps.

Only advise clients on stuff you know. If your total body of SEO knowledge is “put words on the page,” for God’s sake, don’t give clients SEO advice. If your video experience is the sum of Aunt Beulla’s wedding and your kids’ last birthday party, you probably shouldn’t direct a commercial, either.

Understand your limitations.

Learn constantly.

Never stop. Your knowledge is your clients’ competitive advantage. Plus, learning new stuff is the coolest part of our job. I’d implode in a job that didn’t make me learn. Enjoy this part of it, ’cause it’s great.

If you’re an online marketer, keep up with what’s happening in offline, too. Styles and practices there may find their way online sooner than you think.
If you’re a print marketer, make sure you understand what’s happening online. You can learn a lot about your audience there.

And no matter what, learn how search works. I don’t care if you think SEO is a bunch of BS, or if you wear I hate SEOs T-shirts to get a rise out of people. You can still learn a ton about your audience by using tools like Google Trends, the Adwords Keyword Tool and third-party stuff like WordTracker. That knowledge helps you whether you’re writing for a magazine spread or optimizing a web site.

Teach other marketers.

Don’t be greedy with your knowledge. Distribute it freely.

Worried you’ll help your competition? You won’t. In the last 2 years, my company’s lost 3-4 pitches. Of those, we only lost 1 to a genuine competitor who knows what they’re doing. The other 2-3? They went to ridiculously low bidders or companies who had no idea what they were doing but ‘seemed more professional’. And two of those clients came back to us after bad experiences.

It’s a lot easier to compete against good marketers than crappy ones. Plus, you’ll grow your profile as an expert. There’s zero downside.

Respect your clients.

Don’t wave away their concerns. Do tell them what you’re doing and why. Their livelihood is in your hands. They deserve to participate, contribute and, at all times, know what’s going on in their campaign.

Also, respect them enough to disagree. I’ve gotten fired by clients when I wouldn’t back down one issue or another (I’m sure that’s hard to believe). But I’d rather that than play diplomat, let a bad idea go forward and then have to explain to the client why I wasted their money.

Saying “You told me to” doesn’t cut it.

Demand the respect of your clients.

The respect door swings both ways. Your client needs to treat you with respect, too. They can’t curse at you, yell at you or abuse your other team members. They can’t totally ignore your advice without an explanation as to why. And, once they hire you, they must always keep you apprised of any marketing stuff they’re doing on their own.

Portent recently had a nasty experience with this. A client sent out a press release announcing a contest. The press release contained the contest rules, including:

“Anyone linking back to our site from their site, where their site has a PageRank of 3 or higher, will get extra consideration.”

That’s paraphrased. But you get the idea. If you’re a search marketer, you just banged your head against your desk to make sure you were awake. If you’re not a search marketer, just understand that sending out a press release with this message is like calling up Google and saying “Hi. Just wanted to let you know we’re violating your terms of service, so you might want to remove us from your index. How long? Oh, forever works. Thanks! Bye.”

The client didn’t tell us about the press release. I hope that’s obvious. We found out about it via a Google Alert. A mad scramble ensued: My COO frantically called the client while we monitored rankings and link counts. The client had to write and issue a retraction.

This kind of behavior is not OK. As a marketer, you are your client’s messaging bodyguard. The client has to stick close, or they’re going to get their butts kicked.

Respect your audience.

Listen to the audience. No matter the medium, make sure your copywriting reflects the terms people actually use to find your products. It’s my old example, all over again: Don’t write about ‘athletic footwear’ if you sell running shoes. Write about running shoes.

And, if a campaign falls flat on its face in one market, don’t shrug and go on to the next. It’s tempting to say “This market is the exception,” but I’ve never seen that hold true.

Don’t sell ads. Sell products.

I’ve seen a lot of on- and offline marketers obsess about one kind of marketing and put everything into selling more of it. Maybe they get a commission. Maybe they just don’t know any better. Regardless, they’re more focused on selling ads than products. Avoid this by repeating Don Draper’s insightful quote:
“I don’t sell ads. I sell products.”

‘Cause that’s your job. I seriously may hire Jon Hamm to come to Portent and teach marketing.

Get moving.

Iterate rapidly, and start iterating now. Sit on your ass and you’ll get it kicked. Execute, or die.

Keep it simple.

Always opt for the simpler solution. Strip out any tactics that aren’t essential. Distill your copy down as much as you can. Always look for the unnecessary and get rid of it.

Be smarter.

Consider your decisions. Base them on evidence whenever you can, and on your best instincts when you can’t. Have a good explanation for whatever you’re going to do. Deliver it in a concise, intelligent way. No typos in e-mails. No phone calls that sound like you’ve just woken up. No poorly-written plans.
Just do stuff smart.

Your choice

There are lots of other ways to love your work and do right by everyone, I’m sure. This is my version. Just serve your clients well, tell the truth to the consumer, and help grow the profession.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. Hi Ian
    I laughed so much at your pain, how mean am I ha ha.
    Aside from your unlucky few days though, the post was great.
    I think it is so important not to pretend to be the expert your are not, and it’s ok to say “hey, I don’t know about that subject”.
    No one knows everything!
    I learned something today from you and I will NEVER try and pass myself off as an expert in everything Internet Marketing related.
    Sally 🙂

  2. Enjoyed the post a lot, thanks Ian!
    “As a marketer, you are your client’s messaging bodyguard. The client has to stick close, or they’re going to get their butts kicked.”
    That’s a keeper!

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