It all comes down to giving people what they want
I’m going to bust a myth you won’t want to hear — but you deserve the truth: Some people haven’t failed (yet). What’s worse? Some of them are still riding the coattails of ten-year-old luck, yet attempting to offer sound business advice based on their narrow (and rose-colored) perspective. These are the one-hit-wonder investors who made an early bet eight years ago, but haven’t made another profitable move since. These are also the one-lane entrepreneurs who chucked the right product onto the market at the right time, but haven’t attempted (failed or succeeded) at any other ventures since.
As a multi-failure and multi-success entrepreneur, startup advisor, and business consultant, I can assure you it takes experiencing both the good and the bad to determine what truly works. However, we don’t all need to fail firsthand; thus, I’ve distilled down 7 of the most shockingly little-known marketing and content truths that have more than 7x’d my earnings without costing me a dime. At the end of the day, it all comes down to people, perception and psychology; if you don’t master that, nothing else matters in sales, marketing, or business.
I’ve sold products and services that have transformed millions of lives (no exaggeration), but I’ve also sold products and advised entrepreneurs selling what some might call “nice-to-have” widgets. Believe it or not, the biggest difference isn’t in the product itself, but rather the positioning.
If you believe you’re “just selling a widget”, then yeah, you’re probably not convincing yourself or prospective customers that their purchase will make a life-changing impact or improvement. But, it might…
For example: While one person can position a college degree as in-person education (which, let’s be honest: we can probably access even more robust and high-quality education more efficiently online), another can position it as a stepping stone to a future career. One perspective sells the facts and features, while the other sells the broader impact the product or service could have on a customer’s life and future.
The little-known truth? You can position many “wants” as “needs” if you get inside your ideal target customer’s psychology and understand what makes them tick.
While I’m most publicly known for my work in startups, business, and Wall Street, I’ve also dabbled in Hollywood (with an award-winning screenplay, as well as some other secret high-profile projects under pen names you may have read or heard of). You might never think that the rules of screenwriting would transcend into marketing and business, but I’ve found that one universal rule most certainly does. It’s also the simplest rule to understand but, ironically, the hardest for most to steadfastly follow:
Don’t be boring. Ever. Not for a millisecond.
What does that have to do with marketing or content creation? Simple: If you can take a step back and ask yourself if a stranger (of your target market’s demographic) would be bored by your content, sales pitch, or copy, this should tell you exactly what and when to ruthlessly cut.
Once you realize that people like to be entertained and engaged above all, then marketing to, educating, and selling them becomes far easier. Keep them entertained while connecting with the psychological thing that makes them tick and you’ve likely got their attention — and possibly their purchase, too.
You know the saying “rules are meant to be broken”? To some degree, it’s kind of true. There are plenty of marketers and one-hit-wonder entrepreneurs out there who swear by one — and only one — style of copywriting or method of marketing. Some of them have even made millions (even tens of millions) by teaching others that their one universal style or strategy is the strategy. In reality, “the” strategy probably won’t be the strategy forever or for all groups, for a few reasons, one being:
- Pervasiveness killed the cat (not curiosity): Once a marketing tactic becomes too pervasive or overdone, every prospective customer can spot it a mile away. In other words, they know it’s simply a selling tactic, which raises their guard and erodes the sincerity in your message.
Case in point: “Imagine if…”
For years when the online coaching industry was just taking off (before hyper-saturation made social media ad costs surge off the charts and that industry took a severe profitability hit), most coaches, mentors, and teachers would use illustrative, imagery-based marketing.
They would paint the picture of their clients sitting on an island, sipping margaritas, while their $20k-$100k cash months rolled in effortlessly.
Once one too many prospects read an “imagine if…” post with a margarita-sipping woman on a beach chair, they stopped imagining and started questioning who, if anyone, was actually achieving that imaginary outcome.
Some marketers and entrepreneurs in that industry have since flipped the old marketing on its head, going for a more relatable and less fluff-filled strategy. While clients used to be wooed by the beach snaps, now many in that industry are looking for substance.
Reason #2? The market changed, evolved, weeded out the faint-of-heart, and left a more business-savvy audience seeking those same services.
Sometimes audiences evolve, and profitable marketing and sales tactics that convert will need to evolve with them. Point being, there is rarely — if ever — a universal style of marketing or copy that works for an industry or target market forever, without tweaks, changes, or evolution.
Would you rather hear about my entrepreneurial successes or my failures? Don’t answer that; I already know the truth: It’s the latter — always. People simply gravitate towards bad, scary, negative news and drama more so than positive, uplifting stories of contentment. It’s exciting, escapism, and the type of clickbait we all hate to admit lending our clicks and eyeballs. Knowing that can offer strategic marketers and salespeople a positioning advantage — if they want to take it.
I once hired a marketer who was one of the most successful salespeople in her country. For perspective, she was making more than ten times what the average American makes (upwards of $500k+) in a country where she could comfortably live on one-tenth of that average American salary (under $5k). According to her, the two biggest motivators for sales (the tactics that result in the swiftest customer action) are not “know, like, trust”, but rather fear and guilt. I hate to admit that in working with founders across industries and building and marketing for multiple diverse ventures of my own, she’s right.
Fear: If prospects don’t purchase your product or service, what’s the negative alternate scenario they’re accepting?
Guilt: Are they short-changing themselves an outcome, experience, or opportunity that they deserve, one that may never come again if they don’t act now?
Whether you’re selling multi-million-dollar houses or $12 dog treats, these same principles can be applied to get to the root of a customer’s desires and incite a purchase — from the right-fit prospect.
If they don’t work? Maybe your marketing is good, but you’re simply barking up the wrong tree (pun intended).
Do you ever feel like business, sales, content creation, or marketing is performative? If so, you’re in good company, but you may also be inadvertently sabotaging yourself. The problem with approaching business, sales, content creation, or marketing from a performative standpoint is that you risk evading sincerity. Bluntly put, if you prioritize the “performance” or perfection over the sincerity or the connection, your prospective customers may feel the fourth wall barring them back.
The “fourth wall” is the thing that separates the performers (on stage) from the receiving audience. Business, however, shouldn’t always (or even often) be a performance; instead, it should be a conversation, in which two parties meet, connect, relate, and exchange goods, services, or money for a mutual benefit.
If your marketing is insincere or purely outsourced to someone else who can’t invoke the sincerity of a founder who truly cares, your prospective customers will likely catch on. People buy from people, not picture-perfect posts and pitches. Be careful how much you “perfect” your marketing, as “perfect” doesn’t guarantee purchases or profitability.
While insincerity can reek and keep customers at bay, there’s one thing that repels them even more: Anxiety.
We all get nervous, anxious, or deal with bouts of imposter syndrome from time to time as entrepreneurs; however, if this bleeds into your sales pitch and leads you to frenetically rush customers to buy now, simply out of your own fear of failing to close, you may be repelling them instead.
Sure, creating a sense of urgency is a marketing tactic, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the right move. Every sales cycle, conversion window, and optimal marketing strategy and funnel is different. Nonetheless, most customers (across industries, products, and services) would agree that they dislike being heckled, pressured, or rushed into making a snap purchasing decision. If you have confidence that your product or service will truly improve a customer’s life, you probably won’t feel the need to nab a fast sale at your prospect’s discomfort.
If it feels icky, awkward, or high-pressure to you, imagine how it must feel for them.
This one sounds flippant and oversimplified, but sometimes it’s the truth. Calm conviction in the product or service you’re selling and its benefit for the prospective buyer, coupled with honest proof points of its impact on other customers can be the easiest, least-icky sales tactic in the world. Why? Because some products and services offer such unequivocally good, no-brainer benefits that it doesn’t take twisting a customer’s arm to make them see it.
Have you ever walked into a stunning $20M oceanfront home and had a real estate agent throw themselves at you, begging you to buy the house with every last bribe up their sleeve? Probably not. Some products and services sell themselves — to the right buyer.
Be honest with yourself: Do you believe enough in your product to present it to prospective buyers with the calm confidence and conviction that you know it’s so good you don’t have to throw in the kitchen sink to close a sale? If not, you might want to reassess what you’re selling, why you’re selling it, or how you could reposition it to best present the inherent benefit and impact it has on customers.