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I’m often asked for suggestions, tips, and insights about marketing. People ask questions such as:

  • What tools or technologies should we study?
  • What’s going to be the next big social network?
  • How will X technology impact marketing?

While these questions are important, they will not yield the answer the querant is looking for. The underlying question they really have is, what’s the major key to success in modern marketing?

The Secret to Success in Modern Marketing

Is there such a mythical panacea that could make you a wildly successful marketer?


As we would expect, however, implementing the answer is not easy.

The answer is this: the greatest marketers embrace ambiguity and uncertainty.

Does that sound trite? Perhaps. Consider what it truly means, though. Most business professionals are profoundly uncomfortable with a lack of certainty. Most marketers look for certainty and predictability; consider how many people search for things like, “Best time to tweet”. Consider how many people are dissatisfied with answers like, “You have to test for yourself” and “There isn’t any one best time to do anything”.

Even the bedrocks we take for granted are anything but in the world of marketing. What worked for SEO 5 years ago is actively dangerous advice today. What convinced people to open an email last year is greeted by readers with a yawn this year.

How Much Uncertainty Are You Comfortable With?

For example, I’ve been working with machine learning and text mining lately. I built what I thought was a solid recipe, a solid piece of code that delivered good results a week ago. Then, while trying to fix one final bug, I discovered a new library of code that was even more powerful.

Everything I had been working on for the past week was rendered moot in a moment.

I took my code, hit delete, and started over – and the new code is even better. Faster, better results, more useful results – but I had to be comfortable with throwing away all my work to date in order to commit to the new way. That’s an incredible level of uncertainty, of not knowing if what you’re doing at any given moment will even be applicable in a week, but it’s necessary to keep up.

Ask yourself the tough question, “How much uncertainty are you comfortable with?”

  • What percentage of your knowledgebase would you be okay with expiring tomorrow? Next month? Next year?
  • What knowledge do you prize the most that would distress you if it became defunct?
  • What practices, what “secret sauce” would you willingly give up for something more difficult to learn but eventually better for a while?
  • When was the last time you started over in a part of marketing that you thought you knew?

The more comfortable you are with uncertainty, the better a marketer you will be.

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