Avoiding magic for magicians, marketing for marketers

WhatCounts #ONETeam Annual Meeting 2012

One of my favorite authors that no one outside of a few niche folks know is Darwin Ortiz. In his landmark book Strong Magic, he talks about what makes good magic vs. bad magic, and one of the strongest criticisms is magic for magicians versus magic for laiety.

In short, magic has a purpose. When you choose to become a magician, you’re generally pursuing a path entertaining people. Along that path, you pick up lots of tricks, lots of methods, and lots of inside terminology. Inevitably, at some point, you make acquaintances with other magicians, some of whom may be less or more talented than you.

At this point in your path, one of two things happens. If you get trapped inside the magician’s fishbowl, your magic changes to be more about deceiving other magicians, magicians who already know the majority of the basic tricks. Your tricks get increasingly complicated and complex, and as a result, more entertaining to magicians who understand the different levels of skill needed to perform the tricks. Paradoxically, your tricks get less and less entertaining to the general public, who can’t tell the difference between an Olram subtlety and a monkey shuffling cards.

The second path is to improve your showmanship. You may, as someone like Darwin Ortiz did, become an incredibly talented and proficient magician, but you aim your magic towards the general public. A handful of basic deceits wrapped in a great story does more to entertain the general public than all of the fancy moves strung together incoherently. Why do magicians like Ortiz or other magicians choose this path? It’s where the money is. Magicians are entertainers and thus catering only to magicians caters to a group that historically isn’t terribly wealthy. The general public offers much more opportunity.

What does this have to do with marketing? The same fishbowl can sneak up on you as a marketer. Read enough marketing blogs or SEO blogs or hang out at enough social media conferences and you risk starting to play marketing magic to other marketers and not the general public. Anyone who’s been around an SEO person who’s had too much Kool-Aid has seen this – their ability to use the English language itself changes when they spend all their time using every trick they’ve found.

The antidote to both avoiding magic for magicians and marketing for marketers is the same: go out into the world and practice. You’ll find that a handful of basic techniques performed flawlessly with great showmanship will win you audiences on the magic stage, and a handful of basic marketing techniques performed flawlessly with great content and stories will win you business.


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  • http://www.DataScopic.net/ Oz

    Fantastic summary to a common problem. As a bassist, I encounter the same thing: do I want to impress other bassists or do I want to make a song feel good, be a showman on stage and help entertain an audience of people who’ve been working all day?

    The people who insist that Excel is dead are the uber-PHP developers who can’t do a darned thing for a client who’s got a $500 budget. An Excel solution might be $200, and doesn’t require collaboration or space in the almighty cloud.

    Chris, the essence of this article is a reminder for anyone who has expertise in any area.

    • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

      Indeed. I believe some even call it a curse :)

      • http://www.DataScopic.net/ Oz

        I can see it being a curse.

  • http://my168project.com/ Matches Malone

    As a magician, I can definitely see what you’re saying about us. It happens all the time at The Magic Castle ;)