Make products and services for the customers you want to serve rather than finding customers for the products and services you want to make. Marketing is about making change happen. To do that, create a culture by telling stories that match the built-in narratives and dreams of the smallest viable market you choose to serve. Then, show up consistently to earn permission—by building confidence and trust—to follow up and share your work.
Marketing seeks more. More market share, more customers, more work. Marketing is driven by better. Better service, better community, better outcomes. Marketing creates culture. Status, affiliation, and people like us.
Marketers make change happen. Each of us is a marketer, and each of us has the ability to make more change than we imagined. Our opportunity and our obligation is to do marketing that we’re proud of.
How to know if you have a marketing problem? You aren’t busy enough. Your ideas aren’t spreading. The community around you isn’t what it could be. The people you care about aren’t achieving everything they hoped.
The internet is the first mass medium that wasn’t invented to make marketers happy. Television was invested to hold TV ads, and radio was invented to give radio ads a place to live. But the internet isn’t build around interruption and mass. It’s the largest medium, but it’s also the smallest one.
It’s easier to make products and services for the customers you seek to serve than it is to find customers for your products and services.
Your emergency is not a license to steal my attention. Your insecurity is not a permit to hustle me or my friends.
Marketing in five steps:
If you want to make change, begin by making culture. Begin by organizing a tightly knit group. Begin by getting people in sync. Culture beats strategy—so much that culture is strategy.
People don’t want what you make. They want what it will do for them. They want the way it will make them feel. And there aren’t that many feelings to choose from. If you can bring someone belonging, connection, peace of mind, status, or one of the other most desired emotions, you’ve done something worthwhile.
Marketers tell stories, make connections, and create experiences.
Being by choosing people based on what they dream of, believe, and want, not based on what they look like. In other words, use psychographics instead of demographics.
Here’s a template, a three-sentence marketing promise you can run with: My product is for people who believe ____. I will focus on people who want ____. I promise that engaging with what I make will help you get ____.
Start with empathy to see a real need. Not an invented one, not “How can I start a business?” but, “What would matter here?”
Everything that we purchase—every investment, every trinket, every experience—is a bargain. That’s why we bought it. Because it was worth more than what we paid for it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t buy it.
The people you seek to serve care about a range of inputs and emotions, not simply a contest for who’s the cheapest. Choose your extremes and you choose your market. And vice versa.
I need a team of eight engineers and a budget of millions of dollars to send emails to a million people in 1994. Today, anyone can do it for nine dollars a month using Feedblitz. A decade ago, it took a dedicated team of publishers, print brokers, and sales reps to get a book to be available nationwide. Now a Kindle book can be published by one smart person with a digital file. We made the “doing” easier, which is precisely why we need to outsource that part of our job and focus all our energy onto the hard work of making change happen.
Authenticity in the marketplace is a myth, that what people want is to be understood and to be served, not merely to witness whatever you feel like doing in a given moment.
What do people want? If you ask them, you probably won’t find what you’re looking for. You certainly won’t find a breakthrough. It’s our job to watch people, figure out what they dream of, and then create a transaction that can deliver that feeling.
It’s cheaper and faster than ever to create a prototype or a limited run. That’s true for nonprofits, as well as manufacturers or service businesses. And it’s cheaper and faster than ever to find the early adopters, to engage with people who want to hear from you.
Everyone always acts in accordance with their internal narratives. You can’t get someone to do something that they don’t want to do, and most of the time, what people want to do is take action (or not take action) that reinforces their internal narratives.
Changing our behavior is driven by our desire to fit in (people like us do things like this) and our perception of our status (affiliation and dominance). Since both these forces, often push us to stay as we are, it takes tension to change them.
Six things about status:
Modern society, urban society, the society of the internet, the arts, and innovation are all built primarily on affiliation, not dominion. This type of status is not “I’m better.” It’s “I’m connected. I’m family.” And in an economy based on connection, not manufacturing, being a trusted member of the family is priceless.
Morden businesses plan in five sections: Truth, Assertions, Alternatives, People, Money.
The people you are seeking to serve are trying to figure out who you are. If you’re going to show up in their world, make it easy for them to know who you are and where you stand.
A brand is a shorthand for the customer’s expectations. What promise do they think you’re making? What do they expect when they buy from you or meet with you or hire you? That promise is your brand.
Always be wondering, always be testing, always be willing to treat different people differently. If you don’t, they’ll find someone who will.
Everything you do, from the way you answer the phone to the design of your packaging, from your location to the downstream effects of your work, from the hold music to the behavior of your executives, and even the kind of packing peanuts you use—all of it is a form of marketing your brand. You can’t measure it. You might not even notice it. But it still matters.
All the storytelling you do requires frequency. You’ll try something new, issue a statement, explore a new market… and when it doesn’t work right away, the instinct is to walk away and try something else. But frequency teaches us there’s a very real dip—a gap between when we get bored and when people get the message.
The market has been trained to associate frequency with trust. If you quit right in the middle of building that frequency, it’s no wonder you never got a chance to earn the trust.
Because people form assumptions and associations based on your pricing, and your pricing shapes what people believe about your service, it’s important to be clear about how you position yourself. Your price should aligned with the extremes you claimed as part of your positioning.
The price is more than a signal. It’s also the engine for our project’s growth, because price determines what we stand for, who we’re designing for, and the story we tell. And price creates or eliminates margin, and that margin is the money that’s available to spend on our outbound marketing.
Free is not simply a penny less than a penny, a dollar less than a dollar. It’s an entirely different category of transaction, because like dividing by zero, it scales to infinity. A free idea is far more likely to spread, and spread quickly, then an idea that’s tethered to money.
When people are heavily invested (cash or reputation or effort), they often make up a story to justify their commitment. And that story carries trust.
Real permission works like this: If you stop showing up, people are concerned. They ask where you went.
In order to get permission, you make a promise. You say, “I will do x, y, and z; I hope you will give me permission by listening.” And then—this is the hard part—that’s all you do. You don’t assume you can do more. You don’t sell the list or rent the list or demand more attention.
It’s worth nothing that whether something is remarkable isn’t up to you, the creator. You can do your best, but the final decision is up to your user, not you.
The hard work of creating the change you seek begins with designing evangelism into the very fabric of what you’re creating. People aren’t going to spread the word because it’s important to you. They’ll do it because it’s important to them. Because it furthers their goals, because it permits them to tell a story to themselves that they’re proud of.
We hear about the outliers, the kids who make millions of dollars a year with their YouTube channel or the fashionista with millions of followers. But becoming an outlier isn’t a strategy, it’s a wish.
The three-step narrative for action:
The best marketers are farmers, not hunters. Plant, tend, plow, fertilize, weed, repeat. Let someone else race around after shiny objects.
The thing that we do—whether it’s surgery or gardening or marketing—it’s not us, it’s the work that we do. We’re humans. Our work isn’t us. As humans, we can choose to do the work, and we can choose to improve our work.
Join Work Less to get practical insights and tips to help you work less, earn more, and live a better life—straight to your inbox—every Sunday.
👆 Join 3,100+ leaders, creatives, and knowledge workers today.
Dean is a strong voice in the self-mastery space. His newsletter consistently delivers insightful ideas on how to become a better version of yourself and is the only newsletter that I always read.
Head of product and engineering