Technician V Entrepreneur

One thing I’m working on doing is trying to be less of a technician and more of a business owner. I’m having trouble though because I’m a bit of a control freak and it’s, unfortunately, inhibiting my ability to meaningfully scale.

I’ve been running Facebook ads for about 9 years. The first ad I ran I remember was for a startup I was working on with some friends in college that was focused on hyper-local crowdfunding. I boosted a post and the rest really was history. Over the years I like to think I’ve gotten at least alright at this having been a part of projects such as:

-Taking a song to #1 Global Viral on Spotify

-Working with Fortune 500 companies

-Working with 10+ Agencies in a media buying role.

-Working with billion dollar DTC brands.

You get the idea.

So the thing is that I kind of muddled around for a few years having these cool flash in the pan moments, but never getting meaningful traction. Recently though I managed to niche down and I’ve found something that has people really aggressively pursuing working with me. Product market fit (or service market fit in this case) really does have a totally different feel to it. Sales are easier, the value prop just clicks with people, it’s smooth sailing. The thing is though that despite calling myself an agency for years and having a handful of team members here and there I’ve never meaningfully run an organization. My lack of process is showing.

My current focus is setting up process, not just to get the work done, but to do it in a way where I can meaningfully transfer my skills while also giving people the room to learn and do the work in their own style and with their own approach. It’s difficult, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it. To me, it’s about following our values and creating systems that re-enforce those values in smart ways that also lessen the workload in the aggregate. I’m still figuring these things out but my 2020 goal is to not be running the day to day on any ad account and rather acting in the “senior” role advising and meeting on all our accounts. At this point in the game I think it delivers better outcomes for clients and lets me do what I do best which is collaborate and mentor on a high level. I’m starting to take the steps to get there, but it’s a long road.

Talking about your trade is more important than being perfect at it.

I saw a really interesting post from a semi-famous Twitter user @shl

While I normally disagree with such broad statements I actually really agree here. The most successful people I see are mostly better at describing their craft to the “normies” than they are at actually doing it. I used to organize a fairly large startup meetup in Denver and we had an agency owner come in to speak to the crowd once about his experience building a PPC shop. He said that early on he figured out that he was better at selling the service than doing it and that’s what enabled him to grow his company so quickly.

I think about him saying that often, and I realize that frankly, he’s right. When I marry that with what Sahil is saying above I’m beginning to think that the people that win in any given vertical are going to be the best content creators and content marketers. Delivery and customer experience matters, but only in so far as you do a very good job versus a perfect job. When it comes to advertising finding the right offer with the right creative is 70% of the battle. You add in some good media buying and you’re at 95%. That last 5% being the difference between good and perfect probably takes up 50% of the effort. For most companies if you’re delivering a 95% experience by spending half your time on the work and you spend your other half of the time on your content I think you win every single time over someone who spends near 100% of their time on the work. Most clients only care that you hit or exceed their targets but that last 5% may or may not get rewarded commensurate to the effort put in.

As I personally move forward I’m trying to prioritize education through content and spend more of my personal time writing and distributing my content about my job as well as actually doing the work. To me though that means bringing in some really energetic people that have some skills and are hungry to learn while I direct them at a high level. This has been a good fit so far and can scale up Moonshine Marketing for the foreseeable future. I think planning for anything beyond that is a bit of future proofing. One side benefit of all this content creation is that instead of being heads down in accounts I’m actually able to gain perspective and learn new tactics to implement from being out in the world. Ironically dialing the effort back just slightly and focusing on learning has driven better results for our clients so far.

What do you think? Am I mad or did I unlock the cheat code to business success because honestly after years of struggling it kind of feels that way.

Marketing Mise En Place

My favorite hobby is cooking

It all started when I got really into it on accident as an escape from my anxiety. The rote cutting of vegetables, simmering a sauce while checking whatever was in the oven. The multi tasking, laser focus on what’s right in front of you, and physical work to bring a meal together forced me into the moment and was an escape for me when I didn’t really understand or have a good handle on what was going on with what ultimately ended up being an un-diagnosed anxiety and panic disorder.

When you’re in the kitchen one of the things you learn very quickly is that in order to orchestrate a beautiful meal you need to have things lined up ready to go. The difference between a spectacular feast and a piece of unflavored rubber is 1-2 minutes in some cases. In the world of professional chefs, lining all your ingredients up in pre-measured amounts is known as Mise En Place (French for “everything in its place”). This allows you to have everything ready to go to maximize your time when the actual cooking is happening rather than trying to frantically chop a shallot while your pancetta is burning.

One thing I’ve struggled with in the past with marketing is this constant feeling of being a firefighter rather than a farmer.

What do I mean?

Rather than being able to invest time into long term projects and watching them grow (like a farmer), I’ve felt in the past that I have to run around attending to the disaster of the day or execute on some random new initiative to try and hit an aggressive KPI (like a firefighter). To some degree that’s just a part of the job. There’s always *something* more a marketer can be doing and when the growth of the company, in large part, comes down to your performance there’s a lot of pressure.

A lot of it though is that I, and many other marketers, are frankly just disorganized.

A professional kitchen is a very high pressure environment where people have to move very quickly and execute perfectly not once, but dozens of times in a single night. When you take a look at the military level of precision they have to have you see how they’re able to take and perfect process to the degree that they do you realize just how much is possible. Ultimately, by looking at a restaurant back of house I realized its not a trade off between farming and firefighting, but rather building processes that allow you to not only be bother but 10x at each role.

My learning haven’t stopped there though. There’s a lot more parallels to the world of professional cooking and marketing, and an equally large number of lessons that can be drawn.

-Set a menu and execute it really well. Basically, decide your strategy and stick to it. When you do everything custom every time or go off on wild goose chases you’re going to be super inefficient, far more inefficient than any growth hack you may glean from such an adventure.

-Utilize Mise En Place. When it’s time to execute on whatever dish (marketing strategy) you’ve decided on, make sure your tactics are lined up to be well executed. I use airtable to setup ad creative and define audiences etc. for things like Facebook ads. All my tasks are setup with due dates and subtasks in Asana. This saves such an incredible amount of time.

-Be great at one thing. Not mediocre at everything. What’s the best taco place in your city? Best pizza place? Now what’s the best place that serves, tacos, and pizza, and fried chicken? The top 1% of marketers in any discipline reap disproportional rewards as compared to others and you should usually strive to go deep rather than wide especially if you’re a 1 person show.

Ultimately, any services business where you have a client and it’s a creative process to some degree you’re going to have similarities. Marketing and cooking have a ton of overlaps. In general, I think it’s useful to see what another industry is doing to learn and apply it to your own. What other industries could marketers learn from?

Stop looking for hacks.

I had a really interesting exchange with someone who is fairly well respected in the Facebook marketing community today on Twitter named Andrew Foxwell.

For those that don’t know Andrew, he runs Foxwell Digital all with his partner (in more ways than 1) Gracie Foxwell. They’re a stellar team that has earned his praise from industry leaders such as Jon Loomer and has worked with some really impressive brands. More than that though Andrew is always giving out pretty stellar advice on Twitter, and for those of us in the digital advertising world, it’s clear he is one of the better Facebook advertisers out there.

The exchange we had today is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. First, we hit on a recency bias that is prevalent in the digital marketing world. Which, to some degree, I understand. You want to get in on the next Facebook before it’s overrun with advertisers. In addition being the first or an early mover into a promising new area is a great way to build authority. People crave it, and it’s hard to keep up with demand, but it is what it is. I think one thing though that I thought of when I saw his original tweet was something else entirely. It was a trend that I absolutely hate and yet have no idea how to handle as both a marketer and a content creator. That trend?

The bias towards “hacks”

There have existed, do exist, and will exist system exploits. Whether that’s in advertising or anything else, they are there and someone will use them to make money. My rant isn’t some sort of denial of their existence. My rant is about this very unfortunate trend towards marketers caring primarily, or only about finding the next hack.

First, what do I mean by “hack”? So I’m defining hack as something that primarily finds some sort of loophole or unfair advantage inside of a system, and in this case a digital advertising platform. Typically it will look something like a video game cheat code but IRL. Basically, you do some out of the box, odd, or downright counter intuitive practice, not because it per say makes sense or it follows advertising best practice, but because it takes advantage of some weird platform quirk. An example might be bidding $500 cost per click because the platform over prioritizes high margin bids over other factors to some absurd degree that means you always get the best inventory for the same or a lower price. Maybe it’s that if you run a video in a lead campaign where you pay by the cost per lead, and you make the form super overly complicated so that your video is seen millions of times but no one ever fills out the form so you get tons of impressions for nothing. Things like that.

People crave these, and it’s easy to see why. When we all only talk about our biggest wins, and never about our losses, it creates a culture where everyone, even true experts, mostly feel inferior all the time. So you start wondering what you’re doing wrong, abandon your experience and skills, and start looking for the quick fix to save your clients and your business. It’s to some degree understandable, but it is almost always counter productive for a number of reasons.

Here’s the hard truth.

  1. No guru is going to sell you a course or tell you for free about an exploit like this until it’s no longer useful to them.
  2. Finding and chasing hacks doesn’t make you into a better advertiser. In fact it actively makes you worse. Rather than honing your skills and learning advertising fundamentals you never have time because you’re panicking about finding the next hack.
  3. Finally, you’re building a house of cards. You will eventually run out of hacks and when you do clients will bail. You’ll be basically playing an anxiety inducing confidence game where you can never get ahead because your retention is shit. You will be on the treadmill forever. The big win that you think will get you out will never come.

So I now find myself in a predicament. I love making content. It’s my favorite thing. Honestly if I could I would probably just make content about marketing all day every day. I want to make great content that helps people learn, and grow, and live their dreams. I try my best to make that sort of thing. The truth is though is the handful of “hack” videos I have out there drive probably 80% of all my reads, views, engagement etc.

It’s a sinking feeling. I want to teach people to be better marketers, but they all just want the secret shortcut that doesn’t exist. Ultimately I want to create cool stuff, but I also want to meet people where they are and produce content they want. I’m trying to figure out how to reconcile these things. Maybe it means I need to step up my content game, find some sort of middle ground, spend more time on production value. I honestly am not sure.

I also want to be clear I know this isn’t something that is just in the marketing industry. It’s endemic to everything in life and in every industry. Hell, my kid wants to eat more chocolate chip pancakes but he needs broccoli. All of us, at least until we change our mind set, want to cheap win until we become disciplined enough to go for the hard but valuable wins.

I’m being genuine when I say I want to hear your ideas. Let me know what you think in the comments. As with all good things testing is probably the best way to figure out this balance. My first instinct is to take the “spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down approach.” to this issue. Figuring out ways of showing the hacks, but then explaining how this isn’t sustainable and if their goal is “X” where X could be cheaper media, higher click throughs, more leads, whatever, I would focus on these other things instead. Showing the fundamentals but teaching the core skills. Basically being a high school science teacher who has the power of fire to compete with iPhones so he can try and teach people what an electron is in between explosions. Not sure if it will work, but on some level I have to be true to myself, and myself wants people to become better marketers and not run on the digital hedonistic treadmill. I want to be known for my content and frankly I want my content to directly or indirectly propel me to the place I want to be professionally, but not at the expense of substance.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

Introducing ROMS (Return on Marketing Spend)

Now I’m not some sort of fancy professional quote maker, but I do appreciate accuracy in my industry jargon. This is probably more “old man yells at cloud” than I’m willing to admit, but I think that we need to expand the marketing sayings lexicon when it comes to talking about business outcomes versus marketing expenditure.

Right now, I hear 2 terms thrown around a lot when people are trying to measure the effectiveness of their marketing program.

  1. ROAS (Return on Ad Spend)

  2. ROI (Return on Investment)

Neither of these are perfect terms, and are often used as stand ins for a term that I want to deem ROMS (Return on Marketing Spend)

ROAS is useful in a certain context. I spend $500 on ads and get $1500 back. That’s a 3x ROAS as the revenue was 3 times what I spent. Simple and useful, but utterly lacking from a high level KPI perspective. Marketing is so much more than just ad spend. Labor, tools, brand building, etc. This isn’t even to mention all of the types of marketing that have no ad spend associated with them. Organic social, content marketing, SEO, etc. ROAS is clearly useful, but lacking at a high level.

ROI is really an investors term in my mind, and not a particularly useful one for marketing. ROI, to me, is basically short hand for what’s the profit on this activity. However, there’s so much more than marketing being included in that definition. What if there were sales people involved, what if a marketing activity was a perception exercise, or brand building, or built around increasing customer loyalty? How do you measure that? Let’s set aside for a second that analytics and reports aren’t nearly a accurate as we all believe they are. ROI is clearly a much broader term than is useful for a marketing department to be able to reasonably control or be concerned with.

ROMS on the other hand is inclusive of labor, and ad spend, and tools, and brand building etc. It takes into account the total amount of money spent in every facet of marketing, and then contrasts it with the revenue over the long term that marketing has brought in. To that end I would suggest that ROMS be measured on the basis of 1 month, 1 quarter, and 1 year to get an accurate idea of the direction that you’re heading in. While I’m not claiming ROMS is a perfect metric, I think that it can help better frame the conversation around the questions that executives are actually trying to get answered.

Prior Idiot CMO Phenomenon

persone wearing a shirt that says dumb

There’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed that happens when a new marketing team hire joins, or a new agency is hired, or a consultant is brought in. Universally, the person that was doing the job before you was a complete and utter idiot.

They had no idea what they were doing. They made baffling decisions that seemingly undermined the company and the marketing mission. They spent way too much money, didn’t achieve anything, and left things worse than when they showed up.

Only, they weren’t idiots. Or at least not all of them are.

See, I’ve been quite guilty of this myself in the past.

I’d rush in with my cavalier attitude, completely ignoring all context, declaring everything dumb, and I set to work building my vision, and only my specific vision, of what right looks like. I implement a perfect and flawless plan and everything becomes sunshine and rainbows. I save the day and am a hero. Everyone loves me. Albert Einstein gives me $100 while everyone claps.

In reality, what actually ends up happening, is I don’t understand the company dynamics all that well, I’m arrogant about my knowledge of the market, I get tunnel vision on my own way of doing things, I don’t take into account all the stake holders, I fail to realize that just because something worked somewhere else doesn’t mean it’s a fit here, and I get frustrated and sloppy.

The result? I make a series of seemingly baffling decisions that undermine the company, the marketing mission, and leave things worse than when I was originally brought in.

Sound familiar?

Look, we all do it. Most of us, I believe, pride ourselves on our abilities and genuinely want to deliver a win to the people we’re working with. It comes from a good place, but is tinged with just enough arrogance and ignorance to make things a disaster.

Here’s what you should do instead.

Go in and say nothing. Ask a ton of questions to all the stakeholders. Understand the company dynamic. Spend more time than you think you need on customer empathy. Understand not just the stated mission, but the real mission of the company. Learn what has been done and why it’s been done that way.

Then, and only then, start slowly changing things towards your new vision, the vision that’s inclusive and actually tailor made for the company and their customers. Introduce things one by one. Listen to what people think. Bridge the gap between your knowledge and best practices with what the present reality is for the company. Use data to make decisions and test in a thoughtful and deliberate way.

I promise you things will go much better, and not just for the marketing outcomes, but for the relationships as well. Don’t be the next prior idiot CMO.

There are no hacks for hard work.

One thing I’ve noticed, and been deeply guilty of myself, is that there are no hacks for hard things when it comes to marketing. 

What do I mean?

I mean that you can get every industry report there is, and marketing is still work. You can have the most comprehensive, seamless, and automated reporting system there is, and marketing is still work. You can have cutting edge AI tools that will optimize your bids, audiences, placements, and creatives, and marketing is still work. You can outsource large parts of your job to agencies or the greatest experts in every kind of marketing imaginable, and marketing is still work. You can be absolutely dominating on a specific platform with a fantastic ROI that requires very little upkeep, and marketing is still work. 

There is no way around hard work when it comes to marketing. This shit is hard. 

No tool is perfect, platforms are always changing, what works today, may not work tomorrow, agencies need direction and collaboration, etc. etc. etc. 

There are, of course tools, processes, and systems to make your job easier. There’s no doubt.

There are however no hacks, or tricks, or tools to make the job easy. 

You see, marketing is an inherently self destructive field. What do I mean? Anytime something gets popular, a marketer comes in and ruins it. 

Media companies inherently trade on people’s attention. It’s the business model they’ve been in ever since the first billboard went up in the Colosseum (I have no idea if this is true, I just made it up. Sounds cool though right?) They create something people want to watch, and the price is they’re forced to watch something they never would otherwise. Us marketers? We’re that otherwise bit. 

So, then a new medium, or channel, or site, or whatever becomes popular it’s a race against time before it becomes so saturated with marketers that people, frustrated and disillusioned, move on to some other form of entertainment. Any time you find something that works, there are 10s of thousands of other marketers chomping at the bit to take what you’ve found and use it for themselves. In the process the fierce competition for consumer eyeballs is every so slowly wearing down the credibility and the usefulness of whatever trend or authenticity the mediums we market on have managed to build. Repeat ad infinitum. 

I say all this not to be cynical about my profession, but to point out that the work never stops. You can never have it all figured out. At best you can have it all figured out for today. A platform changes a feature and you’re dead. A competitor rolls in swinging their weight around with 1000x the ad budget, you’re dead. People realize your product is accidentally killing all the sea turtles one day.

No matter what, you have to do the work.

Marketing Is Not A Destination

This is going to come off a bit pretentious artisty of me, and I get that, but I’m going to say all this anyways.

Marketing is not a thing you do, and then it’s done.

I see a lot of founders, especially a lot of product focused founders, treat marketing as if it’s an item to check off their to do list. As if it’s an action item to be solved and then it’s done. Not the case.

I was speaking with the head of growth of a recently acquired big startup. He told me about how before the acquisition they had run into an issue. They had massively scaled and gained most of their growth up to that point by cleverly utilizing a feature on one of the bigger social networks and acquiring tons of users for quite cheap through this method. However, one day they woke up, and the rules had changed. Their golden goose was gone, and it was absolutely devastating. We then talked about how they were struggling to find new channels as they hadn’t bothered to invest in anything else in the meantime because it was working so well. They were stalled out and scrambling to find answers.

This sort of scenario is exactly what I’m trying to talk about. This startup got lucky. Not to discount the work they did, but they found a good acquisition channel and then coasted. They found a destination, but like so many people they discovered their destination was really just a pit stop. In retrospect, if they hadn’t simply declared marketing “solved” this wouldn’t have happened.

Marketing is work. It’s day in and day out optimization, tweaking, and testing. If you want to stay ahead of your competitors, if you want to grow your company, if you want to be secure in the future of your business, you can never let marketing just coast. Ever.

Marketing is a journey. NOT a destination.

How to build a 12.5 billion (with a B) dollar company by making almost everyone hate you.

If you’re taking a stand on something. I mean really taking a stand, you’re going to have both supporters and detractors. If you’re trying to make a name for yourself, you’re going to have to make strong statements so people understand who you are, why you exist why they should care. When you make that strong statement. When you make your brand stand for something real, something is going to happen.

People are going to get pissed off.

Anything worth standing for, anything that is going to stir strong emotion, that’s going to inspire loyalty and get people to part with their hard earned dollars is going to have to be a bold statement. The flip side of course is that any statement that is bold is, by definition, one that is daring to make. That means there’s people a lot of people, maybe even a majority of people that will disagree.

The United States has a population of 330 million people. The EU has a population of 508 million people. The world has a population of 7.4 billion people. Let’s assume you take a stance so extreme that 99% of people hate you, but 1% of people are madly in love with your product.

That’s 3.3 million customers in the US

That’s 5 million customers in the EU

That’s 74 million+ customers Worldwide

Let’s also assume that they each give you just 1 dollar per month. One measly dollar. That’s 12 dollars per year for 74 million people. That’s 888 million dollars a year in revenue. At current Enterprise Valuations on the S&P 500 that means you would have a company worth:

12.5 billion dollars.

That’s IF you piss off 99% of the people.

Look I get it. Negative feedback can be really hard to deal with. You don’t want to scare off potential customers. You know what the quickest way for your company to die is though?

Saying so little, or nothing at all, and no one cares.

At least is someone hates you they care. I’ve seen many companies that are hated thrive. I’ve never seen a company that no one has strong opinions about do well.

So go forth. Make a statement. Be thoughtful, but decide to be authentic. Decide to stand for something. Decide to create the kind of company that someone can can incorporate into the idea of who they want to be rather than just building a product. Decide to build such intense customer loyalty that they’re yours for life.

The Best Way To Get Good At Social? Use Social.

I’m going to let you all in on a secret.

It’s a big one.

You can learn how to be a master of any social network.

Literally any or even all of them. It just takes 1 weird trick.

You ready?

Use the social network.

I know that’s super pithy and hand wavey, but it’s 100% true. You see you can have so much of an advantage over your competitors, over the market, over everyone else by just taking the time to actually learn and use a social network. Understanding the inside jokes, the way people communicate, the pitfalls, etc. All this puts you at a huge advantage over your competition when it comes to effectively extracting value from social platforms.

Let’s take Reddit for example.

I’ve been a big advocate of Reddit advertising for a few different reasons. In fact, I am paying out of pocket, not client money, because I believe in it so much. Why am I such a big believer in Reddit ads? I’ve been a Reddit user since 2010, almost 8 years now. I understand the community in a way that many advertisers just don’t. The inside jokes, the interplay in between subreddits, “legendary” stories that people quote that others would overlook, etc.

Here’s the thing. You can read the manual on Reddit. You can understand how every feature works. The thing that if you aren’t a user you can understand how things work, but not the why. You’ll only ever have a skin deep understanding of the user experience.

I’m nto saying spend your entire work day on social media. Not at all. As much as it is my industry, it can also be a huge distraction. I specifically section off 1 hour of my day that is 3 things.

  1. Using social in order to better understand it.

  2. Use social to engage with my target audience of other marketers.

  3. Learn from others in my industry.

So it’s sort of a 3 birds with 1 stone sort of scenario. I’m using social and understanding it, but I’m also accomplishing real business goals at the same time. This sort of combining can give you the context you need to deeply understand a platform, and also accomplish tangible business objectives at the same time so you don’t feel like it’s at all wasted.

At the end of the day whether it’s social or newspapers or tv or whatever, you need to deeply understand the platform to be able to effectively use it. It’s what all good marketers do.