What bayonet-wielding professors can teach you about online marketing

Ian Lurie

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…

Other stuff

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. Another of your top posts, Ian. Immediately I have an idea for my own blog posts that will work much more kindly than and “idiots” guide could.
    Thank you

  2. That you combined the subject of history with content marketing makes me love you just a little bit more (history major turned marketer over here).
    It’s those outside the box content ideas that are content marketing gold! Yes, they ultimately help in building a rock solid page rank strategy, but that kind of content is also delicious link bait.
    People love to share those bizarre and unique articles. Especially if you can somehow tie it int with Star Wars, zombies or kittens.

  3. I LOVE Chamberlain (just finished Killer Angels) and what he did, though I never thought to copy him in my blog writing. I need to noodle a bit on how to ‘charge the enemy’ in a blog post! But thanks for posing the challenge to be bizarre!

  4. Just a great angle on this, and headline, really pulled me in…made me think of his opposite, the British generals in World War I who had their troops marching into slaughter in front of those new fangled machine guns the Germans had, row after row…
    Reminds me of how many people just set their goals and keep going forward even though they are getting massacred, where Chamberlain found the tools and took a different direction to victory.
    Onto writing blog posts inspired by this about Luke Deathwalker, the zombie kitten marketer who invites you in with his cuteness, then plays with you like a mouse till he munches you…aka Acai Berry and other flog marketers…

  5. Well, regarding plumbing on the Death Star, I’m certain that was a disaster.
    However, if they would have had the same technology that Star Trek The Next Generation had, they could simply beam the excrement directly out of their colon and into space. You wouldn’t even have to sit down. I know they use the transporter for delivering babies, but I’m not certain they took it this far. But I think it would work!
    That could really save space on the Death Star, and they wouldn’t have had a need for Garbage Compactor 3263827 (that is, of course, the Garbage Compactor Luke and his friends almost got crushed in).
    Just food for thought…

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