What Still Works

By October 26, 2018Branding, Leadership, Life


One of our mantras at Root + River is “if you aren’t producing value, you’re just contributing to the noise”. And oh what noise there is in the over-proliferation of formulaic marketing. Carefully staged Instagram photos. The endless stream of click-funnel language. The pleas for attention from email marketing. And (to me at least) the biggest culprit: cut-and-paste pitch emails and LinkedIn messages.

To be clear, I’m not really complaining about the tools (although I do find click funnels to be extra annoying). I am complaining about the way these tools are being used. That’s because how you market has far more impact on your brand than what you market.

There is a silver lining to over-information fatigue. We are returning to more ancient principles of communicating, relating and collaborating. As these new marketing fads run their course, certainly new ones will replace them. But there are a few timeless practices that will work in perpetuity.

  1. Be Direct. Use a scalpel not a butter knife to get your point across. State your why/what/how (in that order) in the most succinct way possible. Then clearly and directly ask for what you want. Over-explanation is a sign of insecurity. Simplicity and directness are signs of confidence. Your audience doesn’t need more insecure marketers begging for their attention.
  2. Don’t Waste Other People’s Time. There is some direct correlation with the above point. But it goes deeper than that. Wasting someone’s time is the modern equivalent of stealing someone’s horse in the Old West. Time is our “horse” – our most prized possession, our biggest asset. When you send long ass emails or write long ass marketing copy, you are stealing your audience’s horses. The same applies to asking for someone’s time for a call or a meeting. It better be at least equal in worth to them as it is for you.
  3. Storytelling. Ah, yes. The most ancient practice of sharing and liking. If you are sitting around a fire swapping stories, two things become quickly apparent: a) not having a story to share and b) not be very good at sharing it. Such is the case today. Not having a story to share is usually because you haven’t done the work to find out what’s truly interesting about your brand (hint: it is you and the humans you impact). Most people settle for checking the box next to “Marketing” on their to-do list without ever considering whether or not they’re telling a story. Secondly, storytelling is far more about will than skill. Storytelling takes vulnerability and consistency. Both of which are matters of courage and discipline, not following some storytelling formula.
  4. Tell the Truth. One of the positives about the acres and acres of bullshit caused by over-marketing is that the truth is far more obvious and far more memorable. Most of truth telling in marketing boils down to these three things: 1) Don’t over-inflate what you think makes you different. I call this the “turkey bacon” rule. “Turkey bacon” isn’t bacon. It’s pressed meat with an ad agency. 2) Don’t be afraid to say no. Not everyone is worthy of being your customer. Or your friend. It’s ok to say no to people that are not energy positive for you. And 3) Don’t pitch or preach. Nobody likes to be pitched to or preached at. Yet this is 90% of the behavior of most marketers.

To reiterate, I’m not saying the tools are the problem (although sometimes they are). I am saying that how they are used is important. To paraphrase Dr Jordan Peterson, marketing is suffering; don’t make it worse.

Further, there’s something to be said for using timeless practices. It grounds us in our history. It shows that time is a continuum but some things transcend that continuum. These timeless practices of directness, not wasting other people’s time, storytelling and telling the truth provide a solid baseline of branding and marketing competency. And all four get amplified by most contemporary tools.

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