How to keep your marketing skills sharp

We live in complex times as marketers. Every day brings new advances, new technologies, new ideas for us to incorporate in our work. How do we keep our skills sharp? How do we avoid becoming overwhelmed? We can look to one of the most complex martial arts systems for some answers.

Boston Martial Arts class

I’ve been practicing ninjutsu for over 20 years now; the system I practice is composed of 9 separate lineages. Each lineage has its own distinct techniques and methods. By some counts there are over 700 different techniques to learn.

The way my teachers keep the material organized and teachable is through three principles: refinement, patterns, and frameworks.


Refinement of the basics is the first strategy martial artists learn. We practice the basics endlessly: throwing thousands of punches and kicks, cutting the air with wooden swords, hitting the heavy bag until our hands are sore. With enough practice, we can execute the basics competently even under duress. While I may not be in the dojo every day any more, I practice my basics daily.

Consider as marketers the basics we have at our disposal. Fundamentally, we are…

  • Writers.
  • Problem solvers.
  • Mathematicians.
  • Coders.
  • Photographers.
  • Artists.

If we practice our basics as frequently as possible – even outside of work – we learn to use them in nearly any situation. One of the reasons I blog every day is to practice my writing and composition basics. What are your basics? How often do you practice them for practice’s sake?


Once we’ve become minimally competent in the basics, we start stitching them together. We learn combinations of basics, such as a lead jab, rear cross, and kick. We develop agility with our basics. As we assemble them in different ways, we begin to find that certain sequences solve different problems. We learn these patterns, these sequences, either from our own experiences or from our teachers, who learned them from their teachers, and so on stretching back to antiquity. The Japanese martial arts call these kata, or patterns. Kata are nothing more than previous winning solutions for a particular problem.

Consider as marketers the patterns we develop. We connect writing and coding together to create HTML, to build web pages and email newsletters. We connect illustration and statistics to create infographics. We connect video and audio to produce webinars. Begin to catalog the different patterns you execute on a regular basis and what problem each pattern solves.


Frameworks are how we group patterns together by function. Someone’s grabbing you with two hands? The various lineages have different but related techniques to deal with this situation. Someone’s got a knife / sword / spear? Again, different but related techniques address this problem.

Consider as marketers the problems we face. Facebook changed its algorithm again? What actual problem does this pose? It causes a decline in our ability to create awareness and capture attention. What kata, what patterns do we have at our disposal which solve this problem? We have techniques around advertising, public relations, and other social networks which solve for awareness and attention.

When we begin to classify our knowledge by what problems we can solve, the body of knowledge we have as marketers becomes much more manageable.


When we combine constant refinement of the basics, practice and development of our patterns, and organization of patterns into frameworks, our skills never dull. Every new piece of knowledge we gain fits into one of these three areas, either as a new basic, a pattern, or a framework. We evolve to create our own system of marketing.

As marketers, if we adopt the practices of the martial arts masters, we will never become overwhelmed. Instead, with time and practice, we’ll become marketing masters.

Special credit and thanks go to my teacher Mark Davis of the Boston Martial Arts Center, for his patience and instruction over the decades!

If you enjoyed this, please share it with your network!

Want to read more like this from ? Get updates here:

subscribe to my newsletter here

Marketing Blue Belt Preorder

Order your 2016 Marketing Planning Framework

Marketing Technology is More Than Just Vendors and Tools


I love the field, the practice of marketing technology. However, marketing technology has been regarded largely as a collection of tools and vendors. From Scott Brinker’s outstanding MarTech landscape to marketing technology stacks, marketers have come to see marketing technology as simply a box of tools, a myriad of packaged solutions.

This is a dangerously wrong view.

Why? Marketing technology is a mindset, a way of thinking. It’s what I called the Plus Path in Leading Innovation. When we use the Plus Path, we add things together, combining things together in ways that make something better, something greater than the sum of its parts.

We combine peanut butter and jelly.
We mix art and science.
We blend marketing and technology.

When we think of marketing technology as a mindset – how can I do more in my marketing with the technologies I have – we become more capable. We indulge in curiosity, we build things for the sake of building them, we explore what’s possible.

Compare that to the vendor mindset, where we are encouraged to just buy more pre-packaged tools. Vendors certainly want to encourage that version of marketing technology, because it selfishly serves their needs.

The difference is akin to learning a love of cooking versus buying more and more processed foods. The former, a mindset of curiosity, exploration, and eventual delight, takes time. Learning to cook takes effort. We make a lot of mistakes along the way, but when we look back at our journey, we see how far we’ve come and what we’re capable of. The latter is a literal recipe for disastrous physical and financial health.

Don’t fall for the vendor mindset. Embrace a love of marketing and technology together, a love of exploration and creation. When you escape the vendor mindset, you’ll find a whole universe of amazing opportunities just waiting for you.

If you enjoyed this, please share it with your network!

Want to read more like this from ? Get updates here:

subscribe to my newsletter here

Marketing Blue Belt Preorder

Order your 2016 Marketing Planning Framework

Clarifying the Twitter App Family

Twitter made waves again recently with its launch of Dashboard, the latest app to join its already confusing app family. The intent of Dashboard and Engage appears to be to narrow down Twitter’s feature set for specific kinds of users. This is built on the premise that the platform overall is perceived as too difficult to use compared to Facebook.

The current app ecosystem looks like this:


plus Tweetdeck on the desktop.

How do we make sense of this? By intent. Here’s how we should be deploying these apps.

For Marketing Technologists

Fabric is a mobile app analytics platform. Use it with your app developers in the same way you use the Google Analytics Mobile SDK. Business users can give it a pass; developers should be deploying it as part of a standard operating procedure.

For Business Users

Dashboard is aimed at the small business owner, but it’s useful for any social media manager for a very top-level view of the brand’s Twitter account.


Throughout Dashboard are subtle hints to engage more, which are good for the business manager who doesn’t have a social media team. It’s bad if you do have a team, because spontaneous activity could disrupt an existing content calendar.

For Executives

Engage was built initially for “celebrities” and other prominent personalities, but its feature set is ideal for business executives and thought leaders, especially those who aren’t as familiar with Twitter.


Engage shows what’s happening in real-time, which is nice if an executive wants to see how their actions generate engagement from their audience.

For Marketers

The core Twitter app and its video companion, Periscope, are for us marketers. We’re familiar with them. We know them. We know what we’re doing with them (mostly). While business users and executives could get great benefit from Periscope, it’s not the first app I’d put on an executive’s phone, not without coaching and training.

Ignore Niche; apparently it was a failed attempt at a consolidated social dashboard that never went anywhere.

The Glaring Omission

While Periscope may need coaching, the omission of live video in Twitter’s app ecosystem is a glaring one. Video is top of mind for everyone today. Facebook integrates video into each of its apps, so that embarrassing yourself live is always just a touch away.

Twitter should have done the same, if it wanted to keep parity in the video arms race.

Why the Mess?

Why did Twitter make such a mess of its app ecosystem? It actually makes a great deal of sense. They’ve essentially repackaged their core features for different kinds of users, which is better than trying to make one app be all things to all people. Executives and celebrities need different emphasis than business owners. Business owners don’t necessarily want or need the entire timeline first and foremost.

Attempting to re-imagine the core app to do everything and be what everyone wants would likely result in people disengaging even further.

For us marketers, our role in our organizations is to help match the right app to the right person. Knowing the ecosystem as we do, we select who needs what, providing them with the optimal experience on Twitter.

If you enjoyed this, please share it with your network!

Want to read more like this from ? Get updates here:

subscribe to my newsletter here

Marketing Blue Belt Preorder

Order your 2016 Marketing Planning Framework

mautic is open source marketing automation