Fixing Your Marketing; “Me, Too” Doesn’t Work

Why doesn’t your marketing work? Reason #3 – The Two Last Words of a Dying Marketing Campaign – “Me, Too.”

A lot of marketing success is just dumb luck, other times its extensive research. But once somebody hits on something that works, a Mother Duck/Duckling phenomenon kicks in. If it worked for the other guy, maybe I should try it, too. Maybe not.

So we try it, and it works! Then a few others jump on board and pretty soon that unique marketing tactic is being used by nearly everyone in the same industry. Now the tactic is no longer yielding the results it did when only a few people were using it simply because it’s no longer unique and the customer sees no difference from one company to the next.

They’re all in lock step waddling down the same path.

Every medium has suffered from this as it proved to work, became popular, then saturated and then ineffective.

The problem is that we confuse cause and effect. We think that since everyone in our industry is doing it “this way” that it must work, so we do it, too. There is safety in numbers and if I’m going to spend a lot of money on a marketing campaign, I want to know that everyone else would do it that way, too. But if everyone is doing it that way, cut and run. “Me, too” is a bad advertising strategy.

Formula websites are an alluring form of “Me, too” advertising.

People pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to be let in on the secret formula of how to build a unique website that will get you traffic and results like none other. So thousands spend money to be sold the same formula, so they can be nearly identical to everyone else who has paid to get this secret.

I’m guessing the formula still has some verifiable results. I also know that every time I hit one of these sites, I leave immediately because I believe whoever bought the formula is banking more on the formula than on the actual value of their product.

I’m an early adapter, but as others begin to see this formula repeatedly, it will be a big problem for all those that banked their identity on being unique by being exactly like tens of thousands of others. The saturation effect isn’t far away.

What can you do to be different? Where can you make a splash where no one else is skipping stones? Are your competitors all in newspapers, TV, radio, Yellow Pages, direct mail? It’s counter-intuitive, but the more your competitors are concentrating their market in traditional mediums, the more you should think about going a whole different direction. You’ll get a much bigger bang for your buck.

“Me, too” is a waste of your money and time. Waddle down your own path.

Fixing Your Marketing; Features vs. Outcomes

Why doesn’t your marketing work? Reason #2 – Maybe you are marketing Processes, Features, and Benefits/Results when you should be marketing Outcomes. My friend and fellow Team Nimbus facilitator, John Nordlander reminded me of this during a MasterMind session with some great business owners this week.

Processes – Most of us are making money at something we are either passionate about or at least deeply involved with. That attachment makes us want to tell everyone how we do what we do. But they really don’t care. HOW we do what we do is only interesting to us. Stop trying to tell your customers HOW you do things (actually they’ll ask later if you market your Outcomes first).

Features – The same love for how we do things (Processes) makes us want to tell people all about the features of what we sell; how it stretches farther, has stronger glue, spins faster, takes up less space. Again, your customers really don’t care. Stop trying to tell them WHAT your cool product can do (actually they’ll ask later if you market your Outcomes first). FYI – “our system is 99% reliable” is a feature. Boring.

Benefits/Results – Now we’re getting to some things that are on some customers’ radar screens. What’s the benefit to your customer? What result will it bring them? If I can get them to realize the benefit of using my product, I’ve got a shot at getting their attention. The problem is that benefits and results are “clinical” – 4 out of 5 dentists recommend. Or “you will have cleaner teeth”, or “your car will run cleaner”. While some customers will connect with the clinical results, it’s not enough for most.

Outcomes – The difference between this and a Benefit/Result? We connect intellectually and “clinically” with Benefits and Results, but we connect subjectively and “emotionally” with Outcomes. “You will feel the power”, “You will have more free time”, “Skiing will be more fun”, “People will like you better”, “You won’t have to sweat the details anymore.” “Life will be easier.” Outcomes stir the emotions.

Buyers at all levels, whether a child buying bubble gum or a hardened government buyer – all of them without exception buy emotionally. If you connect on the emotional level, you win. Bank on it. Help people connect with Outcomes.

By the way, if you do, they will then want to know the clinical Benefits/Results, all the Features, and how in the world you make it happen (Processes). So you’ll still get a chance to share all that “craftperson” stuff pent up inside. You’ll just have to be patient and wait until they want to hear it – after they connect emotionally with the Outcome.

Share Outcomes and you’ll have more fun selling, have happier customers, and live on a tropical island. And the birds in the trees around you will sing continuously. (OK, a little heavy on the Outcomes, but you get the idea.)

Fixing Your Marketing; The Penguin Problem

Create our own waddle.

Reason #1 why your marketing doesn’t work – You are using Big Business marketing rules. If you’re playing by their rules, you’re going to lose just about every time. Make up your own rules and you’ve got a better chance of your marketing working.

It’s a problem of penguins.

Marketing is noise – 1,000 penguins on a rock outcropping. It’s like white noise out there. What do I mean? The biggest competitor in the industry spends $1,000,000 on advertising and grosses $10,000,000 in revenues – a nice 1 to 10 return ratio. So we assume that if we spend $10,000, we’ll get $100,000 back – 1 to 10 – right? Wrong. Why? Because we’re focused on the wrong ratio.

Back to the penguins. Our $10,000 is fighting with their $1,000,000 for attention. They own 990 penguins all making noise for them, and our solution is to add 10 penguins to the same rock to make noise for us. Our penguins are drowned out every time.

And worse yet, we’re competing against everyone advertising in the medium we’re using, so it’s really tens of thousands of penguins against our 10. The marketing noise is deafening. We don’t stand a chance if we play by big business rules.

I met someone starting a small business who was about to put 100% of their $10,000 annual marketing budget into newspapers – a few penguins up against thousands. We got her to redirect the funds. (FYI – If you’ve got thousands of penguins or a paper with a unique niche, newspapers can work.)

Until they have a big enough budget to place more penguins on the rock, how could they spend that money better? Understand this: the two last words of a dying marketing program are “Me, too.” Everyone else is advertising in a certain medium, so I think I better be there, too. That seems reasonable, but is the best way to waste your money. Instead, ask yourself, “What could I do to make a noise where no one else is squawking?”

I do a weekly lunch workshop with 35-50 business leaders and once a quarter I’ll ask “Of the four major ways to market ourselves (advertising, direct marketing – including cold calls, public relations, relationship marketing) which one brings you the overwhelming majority of your clients?” If there are 40 people there, 39 answer “relationship marketing” and the other guy didn’t understand the question.

If you spend time and money building a network of gate-openers and raving fan clients, you win. The big guy with lots of money doesn’t have your relationship network and would never invest the time to create that network. Until you’re big enough to own a big “waddle” of penguins (yep, that’s a penguin herd), put your dough into relationships.

By creating your own marketing rules, you beat the big guy, because he actually can’t afford to play by your rules! All he can do is keep throwing money at the problem. And since you’re penguins aren’t on his rock, he’ll never beat you no matter how big his waddle is.

Why living abundantly will make you more money.

Do you live in a world of abundance or in a world of scarcity?


Really. The answer effects just about everything you do in business including how you make money, how you grow your business, how you serve your clients and employees, and how you impact the community around you.

If you live in a world of abundance, you fundamentally believe you will get yours by helping others get theirs, because there is plenty to go around, and the generous will do well. Profit comes from serving others and focusing on getting better, not from eliminating competition.

If you live in a world of scarcity, you fundamentally believe you will get yours by getting it before the greedy guy does, because there is only a limited supply to go around, and the bad guys will get it all if I don’t get mine first. Profit comes from grabbing the scarce market before the next guy gets it, and eliminating the competition.

Companies that live in a world of abundance operate differently. I was in Nordstrom’s once and they didn’t have what I wanted. They called their competitor in the same mall, found the product at a lower price, had someone go down and buy it for me, brought it to Nordstrom’s while I finished my shopping, and gave it to me at the competitor’s price.

Many examples of both abundance living and scarcity living exist in the technology world. Abundance living is demonstrated by Linux and other open-source software that is available for all to build on. Google built their business on “do nothing evil” (some say they are wavering on that lately). On the flip side, in 1997 I was given a confidential document that showed a three-year plan by Microsoft to drive Novell out of the market. The focus wasn’t on how Microsoft could get better, but how they could eliminate the competition so they wouldn’t have to get better.

Markets are indeed limited. It’s counter-intuitive, but in the long run you will almost always get more of that market by living abundantly, not be grabbing everything you can up front. Scarcity living might give you a first leg up, but will create a reputation you don’t want long term.

Put helping your clients above your own desire to sell them something. I dare you to help your competition be successful, too. Or if you can’t get your arms around that, at least focus on getting better instead of eliminating the other guy. You’ll make more money in the long run, create loyal followers, and develop a legacy that will carry the company forward.

Do you live in a world of abundance or in a world of scarcity? The answer will affect everything you do in business, and will go directly to the bottom line.

Make more money – stop selling and let people buy.

Serve, don’t sell.

The stereotypical used car guy focuses quickly on what he could say or do to make the sale. What emotional string can he pull? What weakness can he exploit? Do they hate confrontation? Are they easy to confuse? Do they have big egos? Do they fear losing out on the car to somebody else? Most importantly, how are they perceiving me, the salesperson?

Problem – We all want to buy things, but nobody really wants to be sold anything. I might actually enjoy buying furniture if I didn’t have someone in my face as soon as I walk in trying to “answer my questions” (translated, figure out what they can start selling me).

Here’s a simple concept; serve, don’t sell. Don’t ever sell anybody anything. Ever. Just serve them where they are in what they need, even if their need has absolutely nothing to do with what you sell. If you were disciplined enough to stop selling your product or service and simply figure out how to serve the people you meet, your sales would increase exponentially.

Why? First, the old sales saw is true – people buy from people (not companies), and they buy the most from people they like the most. Do I get people to like me by being clever or reading body language? No, people like me because I do something that actually helps them move forward in whatever it is that is standing in their way.

Second, if we serve people in what THEY need, not in what advances our agenda, it builds trust, credibility, and motivation all at once. And the result is ironically indebtedness. You’ve helped me so much, if there is anything I can ever do for you… The used car salesman would die to get that kind of loyalty out of a customer. He just wouldn’t serve the customer to get there.

You’ll read this, but it’s not likely you’ll actually apply it. We all “believe” it, but because the benefit is many times delayed (no quick sale), we have trouble actually doing it. You may make a few less quick sales, but you’ll make a lot more long term ones.

Oh, and be prepared for this. “My friend said you took care of him in a way that didn’t even relate to your business. That’s why I’m here to buy from you.”

I dare you to not even bring up your business. Just serve them where they are, not where you want them to be. You’ll make more money in less time.


A Gold Medal Business Lesson from Jonny Moseley

I was at a customer appreciation event for a large telecommunications company in Beaver Creek last week. Jonny Moseley, 1998 Olympic gold medalist in freestyle skiing, and I sat and talked on the shuttle bus together on the way to the golf course the first day. And on the second day we played together. He had some great insights about skiing that apply to business and life in general.

His best tip?

“Skiing is all about many small recoveries, finding a way to reign it back in each time you begin to lose it.”

So goes business. So goes life. When we focus on skiing with no risk, we finish well down the list in obscurity. When we focus on skiing on the edge and making good recoveries each time we cross the threshold, we’re in contention to win. We need to take measured risks, but we also need to have the tools to make it through the rough patches.

Speed of Execution is the #1 indicator of success in business. What have you been thinking about for days or weeks that you should already be doing?

Are you playing it safe so you never have to recover? Or are you creating a business with an edge?

And just as importantly, do you have the tools to recover as you hit the rough times?

Make more money in less time!

A Gold Medal Business Lesson from Jonny Moseley

I was at a customer appreciation event for a large telecommunications company in Beaver Creek last week. Jonny Moseley, 1998 Olympic gold medalist in freestyle skiing, and I sat and talked on the shuttle bus together on the way to the golf course the first day. And on the second day we played together. He had some great insights about skiing that apply to business and life in general. Read more

Good and bad profit, & how they define your future

After Kinko’s was bought from Paul Orfalea in 2000 by FedEx, Kinko’s went from a paragon of “good profit” to a great example of “bad profit”. Orfalea said “the Kinko’s he created “has been gone for a very long time.”

One small but significant change FedEx made was to change the payment process for copies from good profit to bad profit. GoDddy has the same “bad profit” disease.

In Orfalea’s Kinko’s, you grabbed a copy key, plugged it into a copier, made 10 copies and went to the counter to pay. If a copy or two was bad, they subtracted it at check-out from the total before charging you. The copies were high-priced, but the service was good, flexible, and customer-focused. I came back regularly to let Kinko’s make more “good profit” from me.

FedEx had a better idea that made me stop coming back. The FedEx Card. Here’s a review from a Kinko’s consumer written on

“All I had to do was make two copies and fax it…
but noooooooooooooooooooooo, it can’t be THAT easy. what happened to the old way at kinko’s when you used to walk in and grab the copy key counter and walk to your copy machine make copies…”

Now you have to buy credits on one of their payment cards, or use your credit card – they prefer and push the payment card option, because they are literally banking on:
– you not using all the credits, and making huge interest off the money you have given them.
– a significant minority of people losing or tossing the card before spending it to zero (like a gift card, the amounts that go unspent are staggering – pure profit).
– not wanting to stand in line to get a few pennies put back on your payment or credit card for a bad copy.

It’s all bad profit.

GoDaddy gives you “free privacy” when you buy five or more domains. No where on their website does it say “free privacy until you renew, then we’ll charge you.” No modifier anywhere – just “free privacy”: “Register or Transfer five domain names or more and get FREE PRIVACY – . No fine print anywhere on their website. If you don’t catch it when checking out, you’re paying for “free privacy” until you catch it on your credit card a couple years later. How many millions of dollars in bad profit have they made on this? I talked to customer “service and they actually said, “You know it will be charged on renewal because the statement doesn’t say it won’t.” How many lawyers did that take to come up with?

The Kinko’s payment card system and “free privacy” GoDaddy charges for probably bring millions in short-term profits to them. But it’s “Bad Profit”. Good profit makes me glad to come back and spend more money. Bad profit makes me know that I’ve been had up front and makes me want to find another solution as quickly as I can. I never want to go back if I can help it.

Nordstrom’s is famous for good profit. They charge more than others, but focus on making sure the customer is completely satisfied. And people happily go back and spend more money there then they would somewhere else, because they know Nordstrom’s really means it – the customer comes first.

Kinko’s and GoDaddy aren’t alone in bad profit. Lots of companies do everything they can to extract as much money from you as soon as they can, without regard for any future relationship. Blockbuster made a lot of bad profit on late fees until Netflix came along and didn’t charge late fees. Blockbuster took it on the chin.

And then there’s the airlines.

Not only are they charging for you to check a bag, without telling you, they are charging you both ways. There is nothing on the websites or in their marketing info that makes it clear that you are going to pay $100 for your golf clubs leaving home, and another $100 coming home. They are in survival mode, so trying to create long term relationships where people are glad to spend money with them doesn’t enter into their equation right now. But it’s a big contributor to the downward spiral of the industry. Hats off to Southwest for being the exception so far.

The bigger questions, though:

  1. Is there any bad profit in the way you work with your customers? Are you getting every penny you can from them up front without regard for building a long term relationship that could bring you profits for years to come?
  2. Is your offering built on good profit? Are you making people want to come back by treating them well up front and NOT taking every penny available?

Don’t be GoDaddy or FedEx. Create a business around good profit and customers will bring their friends the next time. Create one around bad profit and they will ask their friends for an alternative solution.

The Seven Stages of a Business & getting off the treadmill.

We identify Seven Stages that seem to apply all businesses. See what you think. Which stage is your business? What’s the ONE THING you need to do NOW to get to the next stage? Sure, there’s probably a number of things you could do, but what is the one thing you will do to move ahead?

1 Concept & Start-Up
Business Owners pour time & ideas into creating a new business & getting it off the ground via outside funds. “THIS IS FUN!”

2 Survival
Survival is everything; funds from “outside the business” drying up. Need to generate funds by urgently driving sales. “We burn a lot of fuel on take-off.” “I DIDN’T THINK IT WOULD BE THIS HARD!”

3 Subsistence
Business regularly breaking even. Business totally dependent on Business Owners for all functions. “I’M BREAKING EVENWONDERFUL!”

4 Stability (& Growth) by Hands-On
Business thriving; sales expanding. Business Owners – “hands-on” managers. Quiet desperation sets in. “MY BUSINESS OWNS ME!” CRAFTPERSON DOMINATES

5 Stability (& Growth) by Walking Around
Sales continue to expand rapidly and organization expands dramatically.
Owners operate on a basis of “management by walking around.” “I CAN TAKE VACATION, BUT STILL TIED TO MY BUSINESS.”

6 False Maturity – Mgt. In Place
Full-time management in place.
Business is thriving and only needs for the owners to give it vision and guidance. “I GOT PEOPLE IN PLACE – I’M GOING FISHING!”

7 Maturity – Mgt. in Charge
Business is thriving and only needs for the owners to give it vision. To complete “succession”, owners need to pass vision torch to a successor. “MY PEOPLE KNOW EXACTLY WHAT TO DO AND HOW TO DO IT. I’M FREE TO ENJOY THE LIFESTYLE I’VE CREATED FOR MYSELF AND MY FAMILY!”

KEY – The business will have high sale value because it doesn’t depend on you to run it. Succession is a reality.

Stage four is the most dangerous stage. It’s the first stage where you can have some minimum life. The urge to escape any future risk to get to the next stage keeps us on the treadmill for years if not decades. But stopping at this stage ensures you bought a job, not a company

Moving from one stage to the next is like climbing a cliff. You have to take some measured risk, get back on the cliff face, and climb to the next stage. The only reason it takes decades to get to Stage Seven is because we spend years at each stage before we get fed up enough to take a small risk, put out some extra effort, and get to the next level.

Stage Six is the second most dangerous stage. You’re so close to having a business that will run itself that you convince yourself you’ve already got one. If you go off and “play” at this stage, you will come back to a business that will have slipped back a few stages. Focus for just a little bit longer, and make sure someone else is giving day-to-day GUIDANCE to the business, and all you have to do is give it VISION.

If you have that person or persons in place, you’re at Stage Seven.

Congratulations – take the next month off with pay. They won’t miss you!

A Steady Stream of Customers – The Key to Growth

What’s the biggest issue you face in selling your products or services? Market positioning? What to say? Collateral? Bad Product/service? Too many potential customers (don’t we wish)?

For most businesses – it’s not any of those, but simply a lack of interested prospects to engage in the proposal and acquisition process.


My wife, Diane, and I and our three kids spent 10 years in New England before moving to Denver. We bought a home with a woodland and were told it needed thinning in order to grow strong.

The romantic in me saw how fulfilling it would be to go back to the earth, and this woodland management problem seemed the perfect opportunity. I told a neighbor of my plan to use the wood to heat my house the next winter and even my hot water year round. It was June when I started. He laughed, then explained that I needed to go buy some firewood because the green wood I was felling wouldn’t be dry enough to burn for another year. Undaunted I called and had dry wood delivered in 16 foot logs, cut, chopped, and stacked them outside.

It was a great system until the outside woodpile was depleted some time in early February. Fortunately the oil boiler I never intended to use again kicked on and got us through the winter.

We learned a valuable lesson. A hot fire was not the key to heating the house, and neither was a full load of wood in the inside woodpile. And how many trees there were in the woods was completely unhelpful. The only thing that mattered was if we had enough wood in the outside woodpile to get us through a full winter. The outside woodpile was everything. We paid much more attention to the size of the outside woodpile in the years that followed.


I have come to find out that business development in marketing support services shares the same requirement – the outside woodpile is everything.

My New England experience translates to business pretty well. My woods is my target market, my outside woodpile is potential customers with real names and phone numbers with whom I have easy access (they’ll take my call), my inside woodpile is those potential customers who are actively talking to me about my services, and my fire/boiler are those with whom the pricing and proposal process are complete – the only thing left is for us to get a yes or no decision.

A friend of mine, Art Radtke, helped me see clearly why the key to successful growth is the outside woodpile.


Where does the sales process break down for most for us? If we had a steady stream of potential customers who need what we have and are interested in possibly buying it, how would that impact our sales? If all you have to do is call the next person on the list and begin a buying conversation, would business growth be an issue? It’s not a far-fetched idea, but a very practical way to grow our business that most of us are missing. And it’s the only way to even out the peaks and valleys we experience in the sales cycle.

Ask a business owner how the business is going and you might get, “Great, we have a lot of customers right now” (or the reverse). Translation – “Our ash pile is full of existing customers we closed in previous years. I really don’t have anything in the boiler (yes/no status) because my inside woodpile (proposals) isn’t full, because I don’t have an outside woodpile (relationships with potential customers).” If we don’t have clients, we’re out in the forest (mixers) madly chopping down trees (building new relationships) and hoping they’ll dry fast so we can burn them up.


What we don’t understand is the drying process in the outside woodpile – the process of developing relationships of trust on the way to acquiring clients. It’s the key to consistent and predictable growth.

Mort Murphy, another friend, says there are four major ways to focus on customer acquisition – Advertising, Public Relations, Direct Marketing (including cold calls), and Relationship Marketing. In all my conversations with business owners and sales VPs about how they obtained most of their customers, the 80/20 rule always kicks in. 80% or more (usually more) of their business comes from existing relationships, and 20% or less (usually well less) comes from advertising, PR, direct marketing or other non-relational forms of marketing.

Relationships are clearly the key for us – relationships fill up the outside woodpile with people who need what we have to offer and want to talk to us because they trust us. And these relationships, referrals or migratory relationships (moving from one company to another) are the key to our growth. Ironically, most of us have budgets for advertising, PR, and direct marketing, which account for the smallest percentage of our sales, and no budget whatsoever for building relationships! How many companies do you know with a line item for “Relationship Marketing”? Likely few if any.

Random Hope is not a good sales strategy, but too often it’s our central un-articulated strategy. There is nothing wrong with advertising, PR, or direct marketing, but why do we put all our energy in these when all the evidence says we get our clients from existing clients, past clients who moved to another company, friends, referrals from friends or clients, and other relationships?

If we want to even out the peaks and valleys of client acquisition and see consistent, predictable growth, we need to have an intentional, well-developed, written strategy for Relationship Marketing, including a significant budget to support it. Here are a few elements of a good Relationship Marketing strategy:

  1. Define for your business what would describe Raving Fans and Advocates. For me Raving Fans are people who refer to me without asking, Advocates are those who are glad to help if I give them very specific direction.
  2. Make a list of your Raving Fans and Advocates.
  3. Develop these relationships so Advocates become Raving Fans, and Raving Fans send you even more potential clients. The best way to do this is become intimately acquainted with what will actually help them in their businesses and figure out how to help them get there. All businesses talk about and even believe in serving their Raving Fans, but few of us actually do it.
  4. Make a list of people (not businesses! – people buy from people) who you would like to have as Advocates and Raving Fans. See #3 above.
  5. Which of your existing clients are not already Advocates or Raving Fans? What actions do you need to take to get them to become one? See step #3 above.
  6. Put marketing money into events that serve your Raving Fans, Advocates, clients, and potential clients (inside and outside woodpile). Don’t sell them, serve them where they are at, even if it has nothing to do with your business. People become our friends because they find that relating to us serves them. Why do we treat our business relationships differently? Recreation such as golf, wine-tastings, cooking classes, education on business principles, co-sponsoring of charity events – the list can be endless of things that you can do to develop relationships that will lead to more sales. See #3a above.
  7. Strategic Alliances. What other business owner is chasing the same customer base as you, but isn’t competing with your company? These are just about the best source of new clients. You could rain on each other for years to come. Build these relationships!
  8. Follow up. Events or meetings are only a beginning. How many trade show booths and/or wine socials have you sponsored where follow-up wasn’t done well if at all? And how many of these were actually well-planned to specifically develop your intended relationships vs. a company-sponsored “mixer” for all conference attendees? See #3 above. ?

The key to successful Relationship Marketing is an outside woodpile full of people who know you. This moves you away from “contacts” to “connections” and creates a much higher close rate.

Make Relationship Marketing a central part of your marketing strategy and budget.

Shooting a gun in the woods is not bear hunting, and throwing money at advertising, PR, direct marketing, or even Relationship Marketing is not a marketing and sales strategy. Identify the relationships that are feeding you business and the ones you wish were, and focus deeply and intentionally on serving them in their businesses. This will make them want to refer to you and help you build your outside woodpile.