Hulk Hogan told millions of kids to eat their vitamins. Stone Cold didn’t. They were both wildly popular wrestlers. I learned everything I know about marketing by watching 90s wrestling.
I should probably learn more, so I picked up Seth Godin’s This is Marketing this week.
Here are some takeaways.
Find a focus and ignore the rest
I took my first physics class in college. Going over the syllabus, I learned about the bell curve for grading and standard deviation. It didn’t really matter because I bombed the exams and barely passed.
Anyway, good to see a standard deviation curve that isn’t showing me how terrible I’m doing. Seth explains that a part of the curve (left of where most people clump together) represents neophiliacs. Focus on them. And what about the rest of the curve?
From This is Marketing:
Good marketers have the humility to understand that you shouldn’t waste a minute (not of your time or of their time) on anyone who isn’t on the left part of the curve.
You can’t change their mind. What you make is not for them.
That’s okay. Spare your energy.
Most people don’t know most people
“I don’t think about you at all.”
It’s one of my favorite lines from Mad Men. I try to remember it whenever I worry that I said something dumb in front of a group. Or when I think someone might be upset with me.
Ok so that’s not exactly the point of this section, I just wanted to share that. Mad Men itself is the point. Or the popularity of Mad Men. Or, one more try, the lack of popularity of Mad Men, depending on how you looked at it.
At its peak, it seemed like every pop culture critic wrote about or referenced Mad Men. Which is great but it didn’t mean that everyone beyond that was actually watching Mad Men.
From This is Marketing:
Today, though, popular culture isn’t as popular as it used to be. Mad Men, which was hyped by the New York Times in dozens of articles in just one season, was only regularly seen by 1 percent of the U.S. population.
On Tim Ferris’s podcast, Seth points out that most people don’t know Tim Ferriss. Of everyone you walked past today, 99 out of 100 people don’t know who Tim is. Still, he’s wildly successful. (Same goes for Seth.)
NBA players are really popular on social media. Until you start comparing them to global soccer stars.
Here’s the good thing. You don’t have to be nearly that popular to have an audience to build a career around.
Mad Men didn’t need to be seen by as many people as Johnny Carson. You don’t need to be known by as many people as Tim Ferriss.
You can start by aiming for something much smaller.
SEO is one thing, but it’s better for people to be searching for you
I used to be the first image search result for “machete costume”. It was a fun icebreaker when joining a new team.
SEO is useful, but It’ll be a long, hard battle if you’re trying to make it to the first match of any generic search term.
Why try showing up for “blog” when you can have people just search for your name?
From This is Marketing:
The path isn’t to be found when someone types in a generic term.
The path is to have someone care enough about you and what you create that they’ll type in your name. That they’ll be looking for you, not a generic alternative.
Yes, you can find my blog by searching for “blog” in Google.
But I’d rather have you search for “Seth” instead.
How do you get there? It’s simple, not easy: be good enough. You get good enough by showing up frequently and building trust.
(I also just want to explicitly acknowledge that “first image search result for ‘machete costume’” isn’t exactly the same in value as being the first search result for “blog”.)
What brands are around you? Why? (You probably like them.)
A brand isn’t just a logo. But a logo can be an important element.
From This is Marketing:
Here’s a simple exercise: Make a list of five logos you admire. As a consumer of design, draw or cut and clip five well-done logos.
Okay, here’s my prediction: each one represents a brand you admire.
I looked around at the different things around me while writing the first draft of this. I wrote it at a gym. It wasn’t Equinox but if I said I wrote this at Equinox you might have a picture in your head of what my environment looks like. Their brand is clearly more than just their logo.
Oh yeah, the things around me.
I had multiple Nike things on. Easy to draw that logo from memory.
I was drawing on an iPad. I know the logo is an apple with a bite in it but I had to look at it to draw it. I had AirPods with me. Which are clearly apple and again go to show that brands go beyond logos.
Then there were a few other things with logos I couldn’t have drawn from memory at all.
I had a Uniqlo jacket and pants. Couldn’t describe the logo to you except that it’s geometric.
GORUCK has a logo but it’s not anywhere on the outside of my backpack. That said, I notice when other people have the same bag. And I always assume they must like their bag as much as I do.
I also had a logo on that I couldn’t draw from memory but can recognize on someone across the street: the Carhartt wave (?) on a beanie.
Give stuff away. If it’s good enough people will pay for your paid stuff.
This post is free.
I don’t sell anything.
If enough people read enough of my free things then some day I can sell something. (And hope that I’d be mentally strong enough to deal with some backlash.)
Anyway, many things you pay for are likely to be connected to something else that was free.
Ever watched a chef on TV?
From This is Marketing:
When a chef gives away her recipes, or appears on a podcast, or leads an online seminar, she’s giving her ideas away for free. It’s easy to find them, engage with them with frequency, and share them. But, if you want to eat that pasta served on china on a white tablecloth at her restaurant, it’s going to cost you twenty-four dollars.
The last artist you saw at a concert probably has a song for free on the radio. (Or there’s somewhere online where you can listen after skipping through a commercial.)
Did you ever have a Windows computer with one level of Doom on it? Free. If you beat it then you could pay for more levels. And it was completely worth it.
Podcast hosts have free interviews with people, but those people are often showing up to spread an idea. And you can get the premium version of that idea by buying their book.
Write 7000 posts
Why did I pick up “This is Marketing”? I trust Seth’s advice. I don’t know him but I’ve read and listened to a lot of his work. I’ve written a few times about how important his idea of “write in the editor” has been for me for finishing work. (He writes his daily blog post directly into TypePad. Because when he’s in there, his mind knows what to do.)
That trust was built up over time by reading his work regularly. He shares new things regularly. You don’t get to 7000 posts by posting 1000 posts a day for 7 days. You get to that by posting consistently year after year.
Show up. Finish. And show up again.
All I know about marketing I learned from pro wrestling
“Oh. Give me. A hell yeah!”
If you recognize Stone Cold Steve Austin you might have read that in his voice. He built that recognition by showing up.
Wrestlers show up. It’s fake fighting, yes.
People will say “it’s fake fighting” in a disparaging way. But imagine how hard that is.
There’s a stadium with 10s of thousands of people. Now go make that entire place pop.
With a fake fight.
And they do it. Night after night.
They’re serious athletes going through grueling work. They show up and travel town to town to put on a show. Night in and night out. They build trust with the fans. With that frequency.
Beyond the importance of frequency, here are some other ways wrestling applies concepts from “This is Marketing”:
- Brands and logos: It’s not a logo, but whenever I hear a glass break in the kitchen when I’m sitting in a restaurant, I picture Stone Cold walking into the room.
- Not for everyone: Stone Cold was for the kids who grew up and decided they’d start washing down their vitamins with a Steveweiser. If you were still saying your prayers and believed only in 100% good and 100% evil, he probably wasn’t for you. And that was fine by him.
- Some free, some paid: You could see him on TV week in and week out. Want to see him fight for a championship? Fork some cash over for a pay-per-view. (And nowadays, The Network.)
- Status: Pro wrestling is not an elite thing. The people that care about wrestling don’t care about what outsiders think. Outsiders don’t get it. But they do care about status relative to other fans. People that soak in New Japan Pro Wrestling shows and cruiserweight tournaments are different from the fans that are completely absorbed in mainstream storylines. If one of your favorite guys from the indie scene makes it big, then your status is raised for being an early adopter.
I’ve scratched the surface but check out “This is Marketing” for more.
While you do that, I’ll pat myself on the back for showing up today. Then I’ll start thinking about how to show up tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day.
And I’ll say my prayers and express gratitude that the next days don’t involve taking chair shots to the head.
The first time I saw Powers of Ten (1977) was in either middle school or high school.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can be useful to remember how small you are. In the big scheme of things, whatever it is that’s stressing you out just might not be all that important. Remember stressing out about a test in a class in the past? Did those results stick with you? Probably not.
I had a teammate once who had a personal mantra for work: “we aren’t saving babies here.” Always a good reminder it’s rarely worth burning out and sacrificing mental health. There’s always tomorrow to work on endless todo lists.
Here are some quotes that might help you feel uplifted by the insignificance of everything.
From “Principles” by Ray Dalio:
However, when we look down on ourselves through the eyes of nature we are of absolutely no significance. It is a reality that each one of us is only one of about seven billion of our species alive today and that our species is only one of about ten million species on our planet. Earth is just one of about 100 billion planets in our galaxy, which is just one of about two trillion galaxies in the universe. And our lifetimes are only about 1/ 3,000 of humanity’s existence, which itself is only 1/ 20,000 of the Earth’s existence.
If you don’t change the world today, that’s fine. If you don’t change the world this year, that’s okay. And in your career, no worries.
Focus on being a good person in the day in front of you. Help another person today. That adds up a lot better than feeling like you missed on a home run swing day after day.
Seinfeld’s other techniques
In self-development books, people often refer to Seinfeld’s technique of writing jokes every single day and keeping the chain going in a calendar. The Principles quote above reminded me of something I read in Judd Apatow’s Sick in the Head (amazing book, by the way).
Seinfeld shares his technique for staying grounded:
Judd: How do you get over that hump?
Jerry: You look at some pictures from the Hubble Telescope and you snap out of it. I used to keep pictures of the Hubble on the wall of the writing room at Seinfeld. It would calm me when I would start to think that what I was doing was important.
It might be time to put a picture of the stars next to that wall calendar with all the Xs on it.
You aren’t that special
Ginsberg: “I feel bad for you.”
Don Draper: “I don’t think about you at all.”
That’s one of my favorite lines from Mad Men. We grew up thinking we were special and each and every one of us would go on to do amazing things. It can’t pan out that way. If everyone were amazing, nobody would be.
Remember that people don’t think about you all that often. Remember that what you do isn’t that significant in nature’s eyes.
And remember that this can be a great thing.
I finished Atomic Habits yesterday and wanted to write some quick impressions. It definitely deserves a longer post. But I wanted to write something shorter because I’ve wanted to write long book notes posts for other books I really enjoyed and then never got around to it.
First, here’s a tweet from yesterday about one of the core analogies from the book.
Really enjoying @jamesclear's #AtomicHabits. Lots of great imagery to make the concepts sticky. I'll keep reminding myself of the ice cube analogy (poorly animated here by yours truly!) Small habits add up over time even if you don't see the change immediately. pic.twitter.com/44ytwjG06x
— Francis Cortez (@activerecall) October 16, 2018
The small things you do get stored and they add up over time. You won’t see the change for most things immediately but it doesn’t mean the effort is wasted.
Atomic Habits is great because it has (1) long-term strategy for building good habits and breaking down bad habits and (2) effective tactics that you can apply immediately.
- Long-term strategy: Re-framing your views around habits will not be an overnight thing. Just like overnight successes really have years of work backing them, it will take some time to change your views of habits. One big shift is looking at your systems instead of goals. (The NBA season just started. In every game, every team has the same goal—to win—and every game still has a loser.) Another big strategy change is to focus on identities. Knowing the magical “X” for changing a habit takes X amount of days won’t be as effective as focusing on your identity. You’re not a smoker who’s quitting temporarily. You’re not a smoker, period.
- Effective tactics: You can make changes today that will help you with your habits. What do you want to do tomorrow? Say it out loud. “I want to work out tomorrow.” Now add a time. “I want to work out tomorrow, first thing in the morning.” Now say what you’ll do. “I want to do a kettlebell workout tomorrow, first thing in the morning.” Now focus on the first two minutes, and make it easy. “Tomorrow, first thing in the morning, I’ll do some bodyweight get-ups for two minutes. Then I can stop if I want to.”
I’ll write more about the book in (hopefully) the next few days. I really enjoyed it.
P.S. I got through a good chunk of the book using a technique mentioned in the book called temptation bundling:
Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do. In Byrne’s case, he bundled watching Netflix (the thing he wanted to do) with riding his stationary bike (the thing he needed to do).
Listening to Atomic Habits (the thing I wanted to do) while folding laundry (the thing I needed to do).
One of my favorite audio duos got together again. Chase Jarvis interviewed Tim Ferriss for Creative Live’s podcast week. As always, lots of great insight into creating a successful podcast.
If you’ve listened to some of their earlier episodes together on each other’s podcasts, you’ll hear similar themes. It’s interesting to take this broader look at Tim Ferriss’s podcast and how it’s grown. It also helps highlight the things that Tim really credits with making it work.
- First things first, aim to make it sustainable and consistent: There are tens of thousands of new podcasts launched each week. How many will get to episode 50? How many will even get to episode 10? When Tim started, he knew the power of consistency through the success of his blog.
- Get there by making it easy: Tim edited the early episodes by himself in GarageBand. It’s not the best tool for editing conversations but it’s more than enough to do the trick. He knew he didn’t want to do it forever and now a few years later he’s able to just record, add a few notes, then share it with his team (of two) for taking care of everything else. He made systems for everything so he could focus on what was important.
- Quality content is still the best SEO: It probably always will be. He’s been able to focus on being a good interviewer because he doesn’t have to focus energy on all the recording logistics anymore. And he knew that being a good interviewer was the most important part of creating quality podcast content. A good interviewer can get good stories from anyone. A bad interviewer can make the most interesting person tune out after the first few words are spoken.
- Broad title, specific audience: Your title will act as a bit of an affirmation. You’ll grow into the full subject matter that your title might cover, with an audience to match. But when you start, start specific. His example topic is FinTech startups in Omaha. Then you expand to covering regional FinTech startups then national then just startups in general.
- If you aren’t passionate about something, you have an uphill battle if your tactic is to be better than the best in that field: They have a head start. They will probably work as hard as you. And they’re motivated to continue working that hard for longer because they enjoy the topic. There’s too many other opportunities in the world to just keep grinding through something you hate.
Here are a couple other posts I’ve written about them:
Last week’s newsletter ballooned quite a bit so this week I’ll focus just on a reading update: books I’ve finished and books in progress
Books I finished
I’ve been improving with listening to fiction audiobooks. Or it just might be that I’m doing it while walking more along fixed paths. (No automobile traffic and less bike traffic so I don’t need to be as aware of my surroundings.) I’m getting better at noticing when my attention has drifted and rewinding back to where I was. This is clearly not scientific, but I’m rewinding less often and the jumps are smaller.
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Really glad I picked this back up and finished it. I don’t read a ton of fiction so it’s been a while since I felt immersed in another world. Even outside of books, most movies I see are in one or the other comic universes. Or even catching up on Black Mirror it’s usually earth a couple decades from now. And now I join the others waiting for the third book in the series. I picked this series up after seeing it recommended in one of those “I like Game of Thrones, what should I read?” threads. If you’re in the same boat, check it out because it lives up to that and more.
It’s great how Rothfuss portrays the process of learning empathy for people in other cultures. Particularly realizing that the normal things you do seem just as odd from their perspective. (Pretty cool to see that things in the book like storytelling with knots isn’t fantasy at all.) Fun quips are utilized throughout:
I’d heard he had started a fistfight in one of the seedier local taverns because someone had insisted on saying the word “utilize” instead of “use.”
A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen
Last week I mentioned I complain too much. I still haven’t go the purple wristband but I’ve noticed this week that I really do see when I’m complaining. When I do, I’m able to re-frame it. (Usually using Jocko’s “Good.”) Getting those reps in is valuable. From A Complaint Free World:
It takes time and conscious effort to make it through that first complaint-free day. But once your habits and your thinking start to change, it becomes easier. The key is to keep trying. For me, this challenge was not just about stopping complaining; it’s about turning the complaints into gratitude for the blessings that I have. I see the good instead of only seeing things to complain about.
I started writing daily gratitudes down (with the 5-Minute Journal) and it’s one of the best habits I’ve started and kept in the last year. Writing down good things helps you recognize other good things that happen in the day.
I really like the idea that Bowen presents of flipping the modes of thinking when it comes to luck. Often we credit our hard work and complain when we have bad luck. Instead, if something goes wrong take ownership and see where you can improve. If something goes right, be grateful for your good luck.
Books in progress
The Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler
I hung out with a full-time poker player once. Not someone collecting bracelets regularly or anything. He was just making enough to replace his day job that he decided to do it full time. The thing that’ss stuck with me is that he said it’s a grind. It can be draining. I sit at a desk on most days for most of the day. The work can be mentally draining.
I haven’t played poker since the games for fun with friends here and there in college. I haven’t played at all for years. I thought it’d be interesting to learn about how poker players think and what issues they face and how they can improve.
I was guessing a lot of the mental game applies outside of poker with just a little bit of abstraction and have been really enjoying this book it for that. For example, here’s a note about variance:
The problem is that because of variance, monetary results alone are unreliable measures in the short term of how you played. Here are a few better ways to evaluate how you played: Look closely at tough decisions to see how you played them. Estimate how much variance influenced results. Calculate whether you accomplished the qualitative goals you set before the session.
It’s really valuable in so many other ways to just look at how you played a situation instead of focusing on the outcome. You can make the right play and still come out on the losing end of things. Looking forward to reading the rest of this and will probably pick the second book up as well.
The middle of a venture is like a lengthy road trip without windows. It is psychologically torturous to travel without any sense of where you are along the way—no sense of progress or landmarks—and without a sense for how many miles remain. Your concept of time becomes warped, and impatience stews.
I heard something recently on a podcast and will now butcher it: you can feel like you’re failing for a long time but then succeed because the consistency pays off. You only felt like you were failing the entire time because you were stretching just enough and growing slowly.
On the other hand, you can also feel like you’re succeeding for a long time and still fail. What worked initially eventually turned into consistently treading water until you were passed by others.
So far I’m enjoying how focused The Messy Middle is on the truths of the journey. Starting is fun. Finishing is a great peak. All the rest of the time is going to be in the middle. It’s worth learning how to navigate through the mess.
The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
Every few minutes I smile because some recent technology I’m enjoying right now is being described in a book from 1995. For example, here’s a description of personalized news:
Now nanotechnology had made nearly anything possible, and so the cultural role in deciding what should be done with it had become far more important than imagining what could be done with it. One of the insights of the Victorian Revival was that it was not necessarily a good thing for everyone to read a completely different newspaper in the morning; so the higher one rose in the society, the more similar one’s Times became to one’s peers’.
We’re able to curate the media we consume pretty specifically these days. For a few seconds anytime I walk into a book store I remember that there are so so many more books than what I see in targeted experiences online. (So you’re telling me there’s more books than just “Subtle Art…”?)
It felt like a good idea to try and read all of Neal Stephenson’s novels and as I get further into The Diamond Age, that feeling is even stronger.
Next week I’m really excited to check out James Clear’s Atomic Habits. In the meantime I’ll be reading the books above.
And I’ll leave you with some more photos from a recent walk. That post about these very long walks is coming… eventually.