Strong opinions, weakly held

Thinking like a marketer

Yesterday I argued that while it’s true some people might benefit by having more of a tendency to better promote their work, they probably won’t be capable of doing so. My argument isn’t that it’s impossible to be more thoughtful about the decisions you make and choose to go against your nature. The problem is understanding what those choices are.

Let me give you an example. One of my coworkers got advice from a friend that she should always be nice to people at the gym. She responded that she’s always nice to everyone (which, in my experience, is true). Then her friend explained that she should be especially nice and friendly to people who work at the gym for marketing purposes. Guys at the gym who are interested in her will ask the gym employees about her, and it’s important to have a good reputation with them.

That had never occurred to her, and never would have occurred to me, either. But it’s the sort of thing that people who have an instinct for marketing think about. So it goes beyond deciding to market yourself, it’s about having a sense for what marketing yourself entails. My theory is that it’s difficult to develop that sense if you don’t already have it, but I’d be delighted to be wrong.

Here’s a reader challenge: let’s say you wanted a specific person (who has their own blog) to be a regular reader of your blog, because you admire them and think they’d be interested in what you write. What would you do? Just keep posting my regular stuff and hope they one day notice me is a perfectly acceptable answer, but I imagine there are people who are more creative than that.


  1. I don’t have the answer, but I suspect it’s not by yelling FIRST! in their comment thread. Then again, I could be wrong.

  2. As I work in marketing (paid search) this is an easy one.

    First – I would think about why exactly I like a persons blog. Is it the style of writing, tone? Is it it the subject matter that I find compelling? Or is it the authors viewpoint that seems to resonate with me on a variety of topics and why? (love rc3 dot org!)

    From these questions I would either:

    A) Formulate a blog post on my own blog articulating the answers to the questions I’ve asked myself and email them a link.

    B) I would begin to comment on said blog in a thoughtful and non stalking manner (wrapped around the answers above.)

    also-room34’s answer gave me a good chuckle

  3. See now, I’d never do (A) above, in keithl’s post. Nor would I want anyone to send me such a thing, without having them comment in my blog first.

    When somebody emails me something they’ve written out of the blue, and I don’t know them or haven’t read them, I’d never link them without having a comfort level with their writings and opinion. I don’t have time to follow up a written piece received out of the blue by researching a person’s blog, but if someone comments over time, I’ll read their webloggings and get a comfort level and then be open to such a thing. I’ve been burned by what I call ‘blind linking’ many times before, linking someone who has one good article, and the rest is straightjacket and padded-room material. The reputation of my weblogging is on the line with every link, every day.

    If I’ve watched a blogger for a long time, and enjoyed their posts, I would start by commenting. Then progress to answering their post with a post on my weblog, and letting them know privately that I’ve done so – or just saying in their comments, “I’ve answered you on my weblog”. You can’t count on trackbacks working (of course), and some do not ever look at the referers in their stats (surprising, but true). Most comment areas link a poster’s name, so the linkback’s taken care of simply and elegantly without having to wave one’s link under their nose. Hopefully the blogger would be aware enough of me, and like my writing enough by then, and they’d link back. I think one can expect that regular commenting would be rewarded by reciprocal reading and eventual regular linking if there’s a meeting of the minds. Email usually follows as an online friendship is born.

    I never just baldly plunk my own creations into someone else’s comments as a link … but perhaps I’m way too old fashioned about this kind of thing. I feel it’s like dumping a billboard on someone else’s lawn – some stranger’s lawn. It’s just weird. I don’t want it done to me; I sure as hell won’t do it to someone else. I hope my readers would ask, first.

    Rafe, I do agree with you about marketing persona. I think it’s a habit that has to be learned, learned enough to be reflex. I can work marketing angles for clients extremely well, but I cannot for the life of me do it for myself. Most of the mistakes my clients make can be summed up in one phrase: not targeting their audience. That’s my focus for myself this year, through the filter of the new ‘personal branding’ ethic.

    I’ll tell you, however, some things I just can’t do. The overt self-reference and cloying optimism of modern ‘personal branding’ are just gag-producing.

  4. I’m with garret in that I’d reverse the order of keithl’s suggestions: Make some insightful comments on their blog, and then gradually bring the conversation to my own blog.

    But then I’m not a marketer either, that’s just what’s worked effectively on me.

  5. Here’s perhaps a related argument: You have a Shape object with a draw() method. The Shape has a type attribute which can be ‘square’, ‘circle’, etc. You want draw() to behave differently depending on what type of shape it is. A poor programmer might put an if statement in draw(). A programmer with a better instinct for software engineering might suggest that this would be a good place for polymorphism. Now, read your third paragraph and substitute ‘marketing yourself’ with ‘software engineering’.

    But here’s the thing: That ‘software engineering instinct’ is really just another name for experience. The better programmer isn’t magically being more creative. They just have a wider palette of techniques to draw from because they’ve seen it before.

    That’s not to say that it isn’t difficult to acquire this instinct. I’ve been programming for 15 years and I’m still learning. And sure, there may be innate factors as well. But the bulk of it comes from the unmagical process of reading and practising. I don’t get why marketing should be seen any differently.

  6. I think that’s a good point, but it also provokes another thought. You can definitely improve any skill with practice — look at salespeople — some people have a disposition that leans toward it, but getting good at it requires a lot of practice. But the question is, do you have the disposition that leads you to practice that skill? Getting better at marketing requires you to be willing to practice on humans and assess what’s working or not. Some people don’t mind that, some are horrified by it. Likewise, getting better at programming involves spending a lot of hours telling a computer what to do and thinking about how you can do so more efficiently and elegantly. Few people seem to have the disposition that leads them to want to work on improving that skill (including a fair number of people who are paid to program).

  7. Garret and Dan pretty much have shared what I try and do, but my feeling is that I’m a terrible marketer in the end, if I were to judge success versus failure. The times it has worked I’ve been able to forge some connection though and thats what counts. Sometimes even making a friend a long the way.

    I can count on both hands the times I have emailed a link in the past ten years (yeah I’ve done it) and each time have felt pretty low afterwards – insecure even.

    If I had to market something (music, application, service, etc), I would need to do as you suggest Rafe, which is practice and practice some more. I’m sure I could learn some practices that worked for me, but that would mean I’d need to get over my insecurity and fast. I’m thankful I don’t have to worry about that right now. Very, very, very thankful.

  8. The way cartoonists do this is to pay homage to the creator they like, sometimes with a parody, or by ‘guesting’ one of their characters in your comic.

    I’m not sure how you’d translate that into a blog though. Perhaps spoofing the blog you like on April 1st.

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