What You Need to Know Before You Read Anything Else on “Marketing”

Everyone wants more marketing (read: promotional) ideas. As a blogger and strategist, it would be far easier for me to get clicks (and dollars) if I focused on how to get your big idea in front of more eyeballs.

But more often than not, when I sit down with a client, promotion is not the problem. She’s doing all the “right” things but it’s making little impact on her bottom line. And more importantly, it’s not impacting the people she wants to serve. That’s a lot of effort to pour into something that’s not putting anything back in her financial or emotional bank accounts.

Instead of focusing on promotional techniques, we check into her business model.

  • Is it set up to harness her strengths and the way her organization works best?
  • Is it compatible with the way her Most Valued Clients want to be served?
  • Does it address the whole customer and the way s/he naturally evolves?
  • Does it take into account the ebb & flow of the conversation the business & its customers participate in?

So, stop for a moment and check in with me here: Is promotion the problem? Or do you need a better model?

Your business model is the way your business creates value (solutions for customers’ needs or desires), delivers value (how those solutions get into the hands of your customers), and exchange value (how your business receives value in return for the value your business provides). I’ve written before on how to quantify this for your own business and how to consider whether the model you’ve got actually works.

But I’d like to take this idea to another level and talk about “social business models.” As I see it, a social business model is one that not only demonstrates how your business creates, delivers, and exchanges value but does so in a way that is tailor-made to the strengths of you (or your organization) and your customer and leverages the way you naturally relate to each other to facilitate co-creation.

It’s not enough to build a model that “works” in terms of numbers. If your business model isn’t built in a way that works for you and your customer, you’ll expend an enormous amount of energy trying to achieve ill-conceived goals.

As Jonathan Fields recently put it in a post on “Upstream Alignment Metrics“–fancy phrase, important subject:

Does the product, business and mode of delivery that customers are telling you they value enough to pay you to create align with the fiber of your being, your sense of meaning, fulfillment, your maker’s modus operandi and ideal life?

There’s a better way.

When your business model works–when it’s social, you’ll be able to count on your own personal strengths and less on your ability to “power through.” You’ll spend less time spastically promoting your business and more time attracting the right people. You’ll have work days that flow instead of feeling like your potential each day is less-than-fulfilled.

But perhaps the best part is that when you develop a business model that is social, you gain an incredibly powerful new team member for your business: your customer. Instead of making decisions in a vacuum, you can weigh each decision against the point-of-view of your customer. You’ll know what products you need to develop and when, you’ll know better how to price them, and you’ll have a more holistic, integrated approach to the way you serve your customers.

Let’s all take a collective sigh of relief:
you can stop searching for the killer promotional technique. You can stop worrying if you’re doing “marketing” right.

Instead, you can make your model work for you.

When your business model is social, it:

  • Grows from the understanding of your customer as a living, breathing, evolving human being.
  • Understands your market as a conversation in which you participate but don’t control.
  • Puts the function of what you offer first, well before format or price-point.
  • Allows you to work in a way that makes you feel most masterful and puts your customer at ease.
  • Involves your customer, whether directly or indirectly, in all decisions.

Customers are evolving human beings.

Customers’ questions change. Their needs change. Their desires change. Some businesses solve this by providing high-end, bespoke services. Others develop broad product suites of specialized solutions. Still others develop a single product that incorporates feature add-ons until the cows come home.

Which speaks to your strengths? How do your customers like to be served?

Your target market is a target conversation.

Customers control the conversation, not businesses. Your model can have the flexibility to adapt to the conversation as it changes.

Where do your strengths line up with the current conversation? How can your customers guide its evolution?

People want holes, not drills.

At least that’s what David Ogilvy said, and I couldn’t agree more. Building your model function-first means that each product evolves from a perceived need (or set of needs) your customers have. Forget trying to build out your model to some previously established set of offers.

What kind of “holes” are your customers asking for? Which “holes” is your business uniquely equipped to make?

When you operate masterfully, your customers feel at ease.

Part of operating masterfully is knowing how your business operates best. Not every business specializes in customer service. Not every business values customized services. Not every business speaks to the masses and draws a crowd.

When do you feel most masterful? When do your customers feel most at ease?

Your customers can guide your every decision.

Most entrepreneurs don’t suffer from a lack of ideas or a misunderstanding of tactics. They have difficulty making decisions between a whole lot of things that seem really good. Customers can help you make better, more confident decisions.

Does your model have a system in place to consider the customer’s perspective? Are you listening?

Remember, promotion probably isn’t the problem. If your model isn’t working for you, your business won’t ever feel like it’s working to begin with. Today, stop and consider whether your business is set up to work to your strengths, make your customer feel at ease, and bring you both together to make things flow.

uncertainty, agility, failure, and the bets that will make you a success – or – how to have your art, analysis, & cake and eat it too.

I have often felt like a creative freak. I am not left-brained (metaphorical not physiological) enough to create detailed plans for ideation & exectuion. I am not right-brained enough to feel artsy fartsy and anything-goes-about creativity.

When it comes to my business, I am comfortable figuring out how things work, what you need from me, and when my strengths truly shine over time instead of all at once.

I am a Virgo but I’m not a traditional perfectionist.

I am analytical but not obsessive.

I am innovative but not overly imaginative.

Frankly, I’ve felt like I was doing everything wrong even when I was having great success.

Shhhhhh. Don’t tell. They’ll find out.

Which is why I’ve been stoked to find books on this very subject dropping in my lap over & over again recently. If you’ve been hiding a similar style because you thought it was “wrong” or it just didn’t fit with the paradigms on display, you’re in luck.

There are more of us than we thought, for sure!

I believe we all have a lot to learn from each others creative styles. But I also believe that this blend of art & analysis is an asset in the fast-paced, conceptual age we are currently navigating (and continuously designing).

Embrace uncertainty.

Settling on (or worse, waiting for) your “big” idea is a waste. Not even the venerable Mr. Jobs waited for his big idea. The big idea is a process – not an epiphany.

Which means that you need to get comfortable with “not knowing” more often than not. This is not about a lazy, post-modern denial of Truth. It’s about profound possibility. When you acknowledge that you don’t have the answers you’re more open to all the opportunities available to you.

Jonathan Fields just released the definitive book on this subject, aptly titled, Uncertainty:

The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas, and creations.

Achieve failure.

I recently shared with an interviewer that everything I do is a mistake. On purpose. Positively.

When you realize that every service you offer, every product you create is likely to have something that you will learn & grow from, you start to become comfortable with putting great value into the world in the form of mistakes. You can do it better next time and still be happy with the “great” you are creating today.

When you’re focused on perfection instead of value, you lose sight of what is important to the recipient of your product or service. You lose sight of what’s truly important to you.

And “failure” is becomes discouraging if not paralyzing.

When you’re focused on value, on understanding what constitutes money well spent or energy best transferred, failure is a bridge to greatness.

Eric Ries discusses this at length in The Lean Startup as it applies to business:

Even when experiments produce a negative result, those failures prove instructive and can influence the strategy.

Place your bets.

At each part of your creative process, you’re testing assumptions and [dis]proving hypotheses. You do this for yourself constantly. Yet, you probably try to avoid this when bringing ideas to market, presenting them to your audience.

But it’s placing your bets – publicly – that will truly tell you what to do next.

It’s not enough to make a thousand private mistakes. You need to put your ideas to the test with others: a list, a network, a mastermind, a focus group.

Keep your larger goals – the higher stakes – in mind and smaller mistakes will remain in context.

In Little Bets, Peter Sims dissects this strategy:

Experimental innovators must be persistent and willing to accept failure and setbacks as they work toward their goals.

Or if betting on the product of your creativity is a little too Vegas for you, think of them as proposals.

Proposals are new, sometimes radical, most often completely unproven. Roberto Verganti outlines this in his book Design-Driven Innovation:

These companies are instead making proposals, putting forward a vision. That is why I call this strategy design-driven: like radical innovation of technologies, it is a push strategy.

These proposals, however, are not dreams without a foundation. They end up being what people were waiting for, once they see them. They often love them much more than products that companies have developed by scrutinizing users’ needs. These proposals are wellsprings for the creation of sustainable profit.


When I think about agility, the image that comes immediately to mind is jumping back & forth over mid-line of a basketball court. Back & forth, back & forth.

Strength. Quickness. Reaction. Response.

Muscle movement happens fast & furious. But not without a thousand tiny course corrections happening even faster. Lest you fall over.

Agility is one of the most important physical skills of an athlete. It’s the rigorous combination of physical and mental performance.

Agility in business is the same. It’s shifting priorities. It’s responding to true urgency and not reacting to perceived urgency.

Agility is empathizing with customers and analyzing your numbers – then doing something about it.

You can achieve an environment of agility when you get cozy with uncertainty, embrace failure, and place bets.

That’s an environment for not only financial & entrepreneurial success but creative success. It’s self-fulfilling.

How are you creating an environment of agility in your business right now?