The marketing optimization trap

Chasing his tail

In marketing, we love to talk about optimization. Conversion rate optimization. Landing page optimization. Revenue optimization. Search engine optimization. Social marketing optimization. We dream of being able to squeeze every bit of performance out of our marketing machinery like a Formula 1 race car driver.

In our endless quest for optimization, we forget one vitally important thing, however:

You can endlessly optimize a bad system.

For example, we can endlessly delve into our analytics and optimize our practices for any given metric. You can optimize your Twitter habits to maximize the number of followers you have whose handles begin with the letter A. A ludicrous example, to be sure, but not so far from what many marketers already do.

In the quest for optimizing for that metric, we forget to question whether we should even be doing the practice at all. Worse, as Simon Sinek points out in his book Leaders Eat Last, our brains give us positive chemical reinforcement for every little optimization we deliver. We get a shot of dopamine in our neurons every time we squeeze out another percentage point of performance – but we fail to ask whether the performance even matters. We can chase our tails endlessly and feel like we’re getting somewhere.

The best thinkers, the best strategists in marketing don’t just leap into optimization without first understanding the strategic (un)importance of any given practice or method. Ask first whether you should do it at all before you ask how to do it better!

You can get very good at being very bad. Better to not do at all than to do the bad par excellence.

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5 personal branding tips for students

Sara Jane Fair from Rochester Institute of Technology’s Social Media class asked if I had any personal branding tips for college students:

Let’s start with some Hippocrates: first, do no harm. While he was speaking of medicine, this equally applies to branding. First, don’t do stupid things. Don’t post photos of yourself that you wouldn’t want on the front page of a newspaper, because when someone Googles you, that is the new front page. Don’t behave irresponsibly, because cameras are everywhere. Don’t load photos to the cloud that you’d prefer people not see, because clouds get hacked. If you should happen to do something stupid, don’t do it repeatedly – just ask the NFL how well that works for them.

Financial Aid Podcast 2007 Year in Review

Second, figure out your personal core values. My company, SHIFT Communications (we’re hiring), has 7: creative, connected, dedicated, honorable, smart, positive, and ballsy. My personal core values are smart, selective, curious, and driven. These are words that help you decide what to say no to in life. When I’m interviewing someone for a job, if they aren’t in alignment with both my company’s core values and my personal core values, they don’t get the job, even if they are technically “qualified” on paper. Conversely, I’ll give someone a shot if they evince those values, even if they’re slightly less qualified than another candidate.

Third, once you know your own personal core values, seek out people who are in alignment with them, because those are people you’ll genuinely enjoy interacting with. Like attracts like, which means that as you expand your reach, you’ll meet more people in organizations who are aligned with you. Hang out with people that you want to become as much as you can.

Fourth, make a place to call home. It’s no accident I’m putting this on my personal blog and not a social network. You own nothing in social media. Your Facebook account, your Twitter account, all of that isn’t yours and could be taken away. Build your own website. Make a digital place to call home, and put your best stuff there.

Fifth, learn to express your achievements in an impactful way. “Worked at X company doing Y” is unimpactful. It doesn’t in any way tell someone what you’re capable of. “Worked at X company writing sales copy that outperformed other sales copy by 23% (as measured by closing rate) in 4 months” tells a much different story. In the words of one of my former sales colleagues, the radio is always tuned to WIIFM: what’s in it for me. From the perspective of a potential hiring manager, what can you do for me? Making your words more impactful on resumes, LinkedIn profiles, blog posts, and social media updates is an important ongoing tactical task.

These are the basics, the building blocks of personal brand. Remember that a brand, as Ze Frank so artfully put it, is the emotional aftertaste of a series of experiences. When someone interacts with you, how do you want them to feel? As human beings, we make decisions with emotion and then later rationalize them with logic. By doing the above work, you’ll know better what emotions you want convey, and how to convey them a little better.

For some additional reading on personal brand, I wrote these a while back:

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How to read the room as a speaker

“If you want to become a more effective public speaker, you have to learn how to read the room.”

That’s advice you’re going to find in nearly every public speaking manual, course, etc. Read the room. Read the crowd. Gauge the audience. Watch the body language.

Except… no one actually tells you in usable detail HOW to do this. Read the room becomes a useless platitude, a cliche that’s not actionable. So here’s my template, my recipe for reading the room. Yours probably will vary once you develop it, and I’d love any fellow speakers to contribute their tips as well.

First, look at the room environment itself. What time of day is your talk? Right after lunch is food coma slot. 2-3 PM is siesta slot. Last session of the day means you’re all that stands between the crowd and the bar. Adapt your talk accordingly. If you’ve got a naturally low energy period of the day, you’re going to need to turn up the energy knob.

Lighting should ideally be bright. If it’s dim, people will natually fade out on you. Make the lighting as bright as possible without compromising your visuals.

Temperature should ideally be cool to cold. 68-70F is great. 70-72 is okay. Above 72 and people can get warm, and that means natural drowsiness. Above 75 and you’re hosed.

Next, look at the crowd. Divide the room up into front, middle, and back, left side and right side. Pick one row or table in each of the 6 areas, and look at those people.


Are they energized? Eager? Bored? The back row is typically the first to be disengaged, so that’s not necessarily a warning sign. If the middle row appears disengaged, start to worry. If the front row has checked out, again, you’re hosed.

Before your talk, walk around. Talk to a few people here and there, but at a business conference especially, look at what’s up on people’s screens. If it’s email, they’re not paying attention, and chances are they will only be paying partial attention during your entire talk. If it’s online shoppping, they’re really not there. You might have to resort to the dreaded “Please close your laptops” tidbit. If it’s Facebook, Twitter, or another social network, or a Word document blank, then they are paying attention, at least partially.

Pay attention to typing cadence and device cadence – how fast people are typing on their devices, and when. if it’s in sync with your key points, then you’ve got an engaged crowd. If it’s out of sync, if your sample rows are furiously typing when you haven’t said anything critical in a little while, then they’ve checked out.

Finally, turn on Twitter notifications of mentions on your phone, then set your phone to vibrate. Twitter is the new applause. With your phone in your pocket, you should feel more vibration if people are tweeting about you and your session. Don’t use the conference hashtag – specifically use your username, and make sure to highlight your Twitter handle early and often in the talk, even to the point of putting it (in a small way) on every slide.

These tips should help you read rooms better as a speaker for any engagement where the room is larger than just a handful of folks.

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