The biggest mistake in your 2015 marketing strategy

Old money sign

There’s a mistake lurking in your 2015 marketing plan. It’s a doozy, a real whopper. It’s probably lurking in your plan right now if you’ve made one, and if you haven’t, it’ll be in there when you do.

The mistake is this: 2014. And 2013. And 2012. And so on. The past is what’s in your future marketing plan, and the past is going to hurt you.

Every day, I talk to people, to colleagues, to friends, to clients, and to prospects. Every day, I hear people mention outdated knowledge, knowledge that is now ineffective or outright harmful to your marketing. In years past, it was good advice, but times change.

SEO? SEO became content marketing and public relations.

Social media marketing became content and paid media marketing using social platforms.

PPC became RTB/RTX and programmatic.

The grand strategies haven’t gone anywhere – make great products, market where your audiences are, avoid saying stupid things out loud – but the implementation certainly has. The tactics you’ll use in 2015 will be different than even in 2014.

So how do you keep up? How do you figure out what’s relevant and what’s out of date? Here’s what I do: go old school and subscribe to a few email newsletters to keep up with the changes. If you can make time once per week to read through a handful of emails, you can keep up to speed with everything that’s going on.

Digital Marketing

My colleague Scott Monty publishes the excellent This Week in Digital, which is a must-read.

Content Marketing

Jay Baer’s One Thing is an excellent daily big idea delivered to you.

Social Media

The Social Fresh newsletter rolls out on Tuesdays with what’s new in social media.

Paid Media

Though new, Larry’s Links from Wordstream promises to have lots of good paid media insights.

Search/SEO

Hands down, Search Engine Land has some of the best roundups out there when it comes to SEO, SEM, and local search.

My Newsletter

My Almost Timely newsletter a little more eclectic – it’s a roundup of what I’ve shared each week, broken out by category. Even so, it’s heavy on marketing news, so you’ll still get the goods.

Can you make the time for this handful of marketing newsletters? If so, you’ll drive the past out of your future and always be working with the latest knowledge.


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Cracks in the armor

There is no place on Earth with a greater reality distortion field (since Steve Jobs passed away, at any rate) than Disney World, which is where I was for the last week. Yet even Disney World, the self-described “happiest place on Earth”, is losing its power to shield you from reality.

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Disney World does an absolutely masterful job of quarantining reality. If you wanted a master class in managing large groups of people, go to Disney World and pay attention. Line queues have interactive exhibits and multiple blind spots so that it’s difficult to tell how long the line is. Rides are engineered to move large groups of people at a steady pace, because a short line that doesn’t move is more infuriating than a long line that inches forward steadily. Food is portioned to be healthy, but not so filling that you’re not hungry a short while later – just in time to pass many of the snack kiosks. Your experiences are manicured, groomed, and managed to the greatest practical extent possible… but that extent is beginning to fade.

Why? Disney made the choice to bring the Internet into the park everywhere. It’s part of the experience in many ways – the mobile app experience is incredible. Lines have near real-time wait times. There’s a restrooms near me button, arguably the most useful thing ever. You can plan your entire visit – but the penalty is that the Internet is in the park everywhere.

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That means that parents can be absent in-person. More parents than ever were taking calls, checking email, and not being wholly present with their families. More kids were texting, Snapchatting, and Instagramming. The Internet’s reach into the park brings reality back into Fantasyland in an unparalleled intrusive way.

If you want to see where the armor really cracks, fire up any geo-located pseudo-anonymous messaging app such as Whisper, Yik Yak, etc. and you get a sharp dose of reality that completely breaks the illusion.

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More and more, if you want to have a reality-distorting experience, it now has to be a conscious, willing, disciplined choice. Discipline means not checking your email, even though you can. Discipline means turning off Facebook. Discipline means actually seeing and hearing your kids scream with delight when they meet a Disney princess, and not looking at a phone instead.

The reward for your mental toughness is the richness of the experience you’ll have. It’s a mighty struggle to be present, to be focused, to be in the moment, but the struggle is worth it.


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What’s your marketing scratch game?

Chris Brogan recently mentioned not having a scratch game when it came to pancakes:

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I thought this was amusing, because as foods go, pancakes are fascinating. For those folks who aren’t familiar, a pancake is a breakfast bread that’s cooked entirely in a pan or griddle. The recipe for your average pancake goes something like this:

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

Mix it all together and then put on a griddle in portions until cooked.

That’s a fairly straightforward recipe, and that’s where most people stop. They get the recipe, they cook the recipe, they eat. There’s an entire world happening beneath the surface, however, something that can up-level your scratch game considerably. The recipe describes the structure, and underneath the structure is the framework. Once you understand the framework, you know what can change and how much flexibility you have to adapt it.

Let’s look at the pancake recipe again.

  • The flour provides nutritional mass, and in the case of wheat flour, it also provides stability via gluten.
  • Milk provides a protein-based liquid transport that helps the leavener work and create gluten when water is exposed to gluten proteins.
  • Egg provides additional structure in the white part, and mixture stability via emulsification with the yolk.
  • Salt and sugar enhance flavor by activating additional neuroreceptors on the tongue.
  • Oil in the recipe provides lubrication and keeps the goods from sticking to the pan. It also creates a more rich sensation on the tongue.
  • Baking powder provides leavening via the release of carbon dioxide. This gives pancakes their "fluffiness".

Now that you understand the framework of what a pancake is and what all of the components do, you also understand what can be changed and how. This is what makes your pancake scratch game powerful For example, you can’t omit the baking powder without providing a different kind of leavening that’s gas-based. If you omit it or substitute it for something scientifically non-equivalent, you’ll cook up bricks rather than light, airy cakes.

You can, if you’re gluten-allergic, substitute the wheat flour for a different kind of flour. Doing so reduces structural stability, so you’d need to increase the amount of egg in order for the pancake to hold together.

You can, if you’re lactose or dairy sensitive, substitute in soy mile or almond milk or any other water-based protein colloidal suspension without needing to change anything else.

Want to reduce or substitute the sugar? Not a problem – in this recipe, it only adds flavor. You could substitute with vanilla extract and a bit of stevia.

Want to add dried fruit or chocolate chips or any other solid additive? Add a bit more egg or flour to provide additional stability.

Want to add a wet flavor of some kind? If it’s water based, substitute out a bit of the milk (such as apple cider). If it’s oil based, substitute out a bit of the oil.

All of this variation comes from understanding the framework of what makes a pancake versus what doesn’t. Once you understand the framework, you can customize and make exactly the kind of pancake you want to make. This makes your scratch game incredibly powerful. You understand the function, and thus you can vary the form; you understand the spirit, and you can adjust the letter.

Unsurprisingly, all of this applies not only to cooking, but also to your marketing. A recipe is nothing more than a tactic. (recall that strategy is the menu) If you just blindly follow marketing recipes without understanding what they do or what the outcome is supposed to look like, then you’ll forever be locked into the same way of doing things, rather than adapting as things change. Your marketing scratch game will be weak, and you’ll have to resort to using other people’s boxed products at a significantly higher cost and questionable ingredients.

For example, let’s say that you found a marketing recipe promoted by a social media expert that said you should follow 25 people a day and reply to anyone who mentions you. What’s the underlying structure? It’s about acquiring audience reach (follows do tends to net follow-backs) and engagement (replying to people sets the perception that you’re actually interacting and not just broadcasting).

Once you know those ingredients and what they do, you know what can change. If you don’t have time to follow people, a promoted account campaign can do the same thing with probably similar results. On the other hand, like the baking powder in the pancake recipe, you can’t substitute anything for engagement. There isn’t a viable substitute for acting like a human being and talking to people.

Take the time to not only acquire marketing recipes, but understand what the framework is that makes them work. That understanding will help you make them far more useful than just blindly following someone else’s experience and hoping it applies to your business as well. Your marketing scratch game will be amazing – and so will your business results.


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