Their Marketing Does Not Apply to You

(Listen to this post, here.)

When it comes to watching sports, I am far from what you would call a “superfan.”

Football? Occasionally.

Baseball? Only if I’m at a live game.

Hockey? No interest. Looks like something a bunch of middle schoolers invented after their moms told them to turn off the TV and go play outside.

But basketball … that I like.

Plus, because I play each week in my town’s middle school gym, there’s some potential for me to take what I learn from watching the professionals and apply it to my own game.

And when I say, “some potential,” I mean “zero.”

Am I technically playing the same sport as the large men on TV?

Sure. Like them, we have two hoops, ten players, and if you have the ball in your possession, walking without bouncing it is frowned upon.

But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Unlike the pros, in our game there’s no clock, no coaches, and no referees. Plus, if memory serves, I have never had to worry about hitting my head on the backboard after a particularly ferocious dunk.

The pro game is about pushing the limits of human physical and mental focus and toughness. Our game is about walking out of the gym at the end of the night on your own power.

In other words, while I enjoy watching the professionals, there is little benefit in my trying to model my game after theirs.

Which brings me to you and your marketing…

Stop Copying the Big Guys

If you haven’t given a lot of thought to marketing – let alone been formally trained in it – it makes perfect, logical sense as a professional service provider to look to the brand name companies as the model of “the right way to do it.

After all, the Marriotts, Nikes, and Microsofts of the world are clearly doing something right. Why not just shortcut the process and follow their lead?

I can think of at least two reasons…

Reason #1. We don’t have the financial horsepower to build a well-known brand.

There’s nothing magical about the phrase “Just Do It.” The McDonald’s arches? Those look like something your five-year-old drew on the wall with crayon when nobody was looking.

But put hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising behind them and they become part of the culture.

Your company tagline and logo, on the other hand – and believe me, it breaks my heart to have to tell you this – are recognizable to nobody other than you and (possibly) your mom.

So while it’s fine to have these things, neither is going to move the marketing needle (i.e., help in your quest to stand out and be remembered). Settle on something you like and move on.

Reason #2. We are not in the volume business.

According to The Google, Pepsi and its owned brands have 25.9% of worldwide beverage share.

That’s correct: One out of four purchased drinks on the face of the Earth is a PepsiCo product. They are in the more-is-better, available-to-anyone business.

You and I, on the other hand, are not.

And while it’s true that my writing is also occasionally responsible for rotting the teeth of unsuspecting children, small professional services providers and independents like us are in an entirely different business.

We have clients, not customers. Our leads come from word of mouth, not advertising. We sell a service that is hard to sample, difficult to comparison shop, and heavily trust-based.

The big consumer brands need to appeal to a broad swath of humans. You and I need a few dozen new clients a year.

Do This Instead

So, “Mr. Look how cool I am for using a word like ‘swath’ in an earlier sentence,” if the answer is not fancy graphics and taglines, or trying to appeal to everyone in the hope of attracting someone, what’s a better approach?

I’m so glad you asked. I live by a very simple marketing mantra: “Stay in front of the people you know, over and over again, in a way that positions you as a likeable expert.”

And while this simple phrase (it’s trademarked, don’t steal it) does not account for the entirety of how to market a professional service, it’s a good 85%.

Let’s break that phrase down…

“The people you know.” Make a list of everyone you already know, defined as, “if you called or emailed them you would not need to introduce yourself.” Then commit to connecting with each one of them, individually, at least twice each year.

I have nothing against strangers, but the people you know are way more predisposed to listening, buying, and spreading the word about you. When you focus on your existing relationships you are gaming the system.

“Over and over again.” Focus on activities that put you in front of the same audience, ongoing: newsletter, social media presence, podcast, networking groups, etc.

Big bang” events such as publishing a book, speaking at a once-a-year conference, or getting quoted in a major publication are good for your resume (and ego), but do little to keep you top of mind over the long haul.

“Likeable.” When you sell a professional service, it’s very hard (impossible?) for a potential client to distinguish between your skills and those of everyone with whom you compete.

Even after they hire you, if you are a financial planner, leadership coach, management consultant, freelance writer, etc., they don’t know if someone else would have been more capable.

But we all know, definitively, who we like and trust. When you share personal stories and speak/write in a more “everyday” tone, who you are – not just what you know and can do – shines through.

“Expert.” Likeability alone is not enough to get hired. I still need to believe you are good at what you do.

But since I can’t try you on like a pair of sneakers (although if I could, you strike me as a Men’s size 10 ½), the next best thing is creating content.

Not just “liking” and sharing the work of others on social. You need to take a position, have a point of view, and put your thoughts out in the world so others can get a sense of where you stand.

Will some people disagree with you? Only if you’re doing it right.

Here’s the bottom line.

Every time I hear a business consultant address an audience of small professional service providers using companies like Apple, or Walmart, or American Express as examples of marketing excellence, I cringe.

It’s not that the companies in question are not successful, or that the stories shared are not interesting. It’s just mostly irrelevant.

Instead of blindly copying the big guys, who live in an entirely different universe, look for marketing tactics that align with your audience, your business model, your natural strengths, and your available resources.

Now if you’ll pardon me, it appears a young “branding consultant” has drawn a big letter “M” in crayon on the wall and I need to go clean it off.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Did you ever invent a game with friends when you were in middle school (extra credit if it was hockey)?
  2. What is your favorite unhealthy beverage?
  3. What is your marketing mantra?

Share your answers below…

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22 thoughts on “Their Marketing Does Not Apply to You

  1. Mark Heimberg

    My sister and I invented a game while visiting my grandparents in New Jersey. We called it “Foop”. It devolved from croquet, which we had played over and again that weekend, mostly to stay out of the house that was air conditioned to the point of being painful.

    We moved on to hurling our mallets through the air as far as we could throw them, while yelling “Foop”. I am 2-1/2 years younger than my sister, and she was out throwing me consistently. I was ready for a comeback. I dug deep into my small body’s power, wound up, and released to a booming cry of “Foop” – or as booming as a 9 year old can muster. The mallet sailed through the air, at a trajectory I had not planned for. Said mallet crashed through the kitchen window, and landed in the sink.

    Needless to say, several seconds later, as we were heading in to face the music, and angry mother named Irene was coming towards us with a look of anger like I never experienced before or since. Long story somewhat shortened, I offered to pay for the window with the $2.25 I had in my dog-shaped wallet. My grandmother, ever polite and kind, said, “Oh, that’s okay. We were planning to get new windows anyway.” Irene, and our father Ernie, had a slightly different take on the situation. I don’t recall the punishment, but I do know the debut of Foop was also the day it was retired.

    1. Virginia

      Mark, I don’t know if you’re an expert but I think you’ve got the likable part down pat. Great story, well told! Thanks for a great chuckle. ☺️

  2. Frank Franiak

    Well I am an avid reader of your newsletter I take umbrage to your description of hockey. Hockey is the most interesting and exciting sport ever invented. And it’s worthwhile to watch the whole game, not just the last two minutes as in basketball.
    With regard to basketball, I can only give you my father’s description of the sport. “A bunch of tall guys in short pants running back-and-forth.

    1. Nikki Myers

      Frank!! Hockey is physical skills and loaded with strategy. I won’t share my brothers name for basketball players. I can play neither game. Kudos to Michael for playing a sport on a regular basis. I’d have a hard time running up and down a basketball court for very long.

    2. Michael Katz Post author

      Haha, I knew I’d experience the wrath of the hockey fans. And you would fit quite comfortably here in my home of Boston. It can be the finals of March madness and I’ll walk into my local bar and they’ll have all five tvs tuned to a meaningless Bruins game!

  3. Brad Dunsé

    Didn’t invent hocky, but something far more popular among kids. It was called, “But Ma, he started it!” You’ve probably heard of it.
    An icey Lime Margarita (with no salt on the rim, you know, to keep it a little more healthy) is nice, but an ice cold Coke does fine too which probablyh has more sodium in it.
    My marketing mantra is, always be authentically you.

  4. Menke

    Just saw in Star Supermarket this morning, probably the lamest marketing mantra:

    I suppose there is WE ARE THE MYTHICAL EXPERT … but I dunno

  5. Don Sadler

    Remember the movie “Rollerblade” from the 70s with James Caan? We’d play rollerblade in the driveway, making that “swooshing” sound like the roller-skates, and literally try to tackle and drive each other into the pavement! No pads, of course. How did us kids of the 70s survive our childhoods?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I definitely remember that movie! And I agree, it’s a miracle we survived those days.

  6. Stephen Church

    Firstly, Michael, thank you once again for a wonderfully entertaining and informative newsletter. Parts of it remind me of one you sent out years ago – equally memorable – centered around the saying, ‘In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.’

    1. Invented a game? No … but we did invent a language – Elfenglish. You stick ‘lf’ after most vowels. It takes a little practice but can sound hilarious. Here’s my pitch in Elfenglish.

    ‘My nalfame is Stelfephen Chulfurch. I’m an SEO Colfopywriter. I’ll gelfet you molphore, and belfetter, clilfients by wrilfiting wolfords for your welfebsite which are clelfear, confolcise and compelfelling.’

    It sounds much better after a little practice. Although be wary when you come across words like ‘lucky’ .

    2. Favourite unhealthy drink. It has to be the famous Irish stout – ice-cold Guinness – bitter black topped with the creamiest white foam head you’ve ever seen. It’s health attributes have been long debated. Decades ago, the company developed the simple, bland, yet effectively memorable slogan – Guinness is Good for you.

    3. My marketing mantra – a quote (possibly erroneously) attributed to the late and very great poet and activist, Maya Angelou (who surely deserves to be elevated to the position of patron Saint of Copywriters) –

    ‘People may forget what you said. They may forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel’.

    Making people ‘feel’ that they want to buy or enquire about a product or service, or even click on a button, sums up my role as a copywriter.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I lke Elfinglish, Steve! Although you are being too modest, since you and your countrymen invented actual English. And no, we Americans don’t apoligize for ruining it with our slang and odd spellings!

  7. Sherri Friesen

    Hmmm. I’m with you regarding sports. Not a fan (although I like to watch gymnastics…how can they do all those flips and tricks when I pull a muscle tying my shoe?)

    I used to ‘watch’ hockey so I could stay up late (and some of the players were pretty cute — like Rod Gilbert of the New York Rangers). I even went to a couple of live Leaf’s games when I was in grade 7, but just for the ice cream bar I knew my grandfather would buy for me.

    We actually did invent a game (or at least we’re taking credit). The idea was for the “seller” (always the biggest kid, out of necessity) to take the other kids and spin them around in a circle by grabbing an arm and a leg and letting go. Whatever position you landed in, you stayed in. You were now a “statue”. The “buyer” would go around and pick which “statue” they liked best and that person was the new “buyer”.
    It seemed like a lot more fun at the time…

    Great post!

  8. Mark Walker

    1. I was not a big sportsman. Although small, I ran track and did summer camp fencing. My basketball experiences were the crunch of elbows to the face and asphalt to the hands and knees. In high school, my main game was making my parents crazy!
    2. In your honor, I had my favorite naughty pleasure– a chocolate milkshake with whipped cream—only about 800 calories… no din-din for me.
    3. Three steps of action are better than no action. Keep moving forward. Stay focused. Never quit!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Yes! Forward motion is a key to marketing, I think. And thank you for your caloric celebration last week, Mark!

  9. therese

    I’m incredibly disappointed in your description of hockey and your “dislike” of the sport. If I knew you personally, I’d feel betrayed. Everything else?? AGREE AGREE AGREE.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I know, the hockey fans love the game. But you’ll need to outlaw the midgame fighting for me to take it seriously. Tradition is not a good enough justficiation. Time to end that like in all the other sports. But let me know if I’m missing something on that too!


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