Color-Coded Marketing

Among my many rules of life – never pass up the chance to charge your phone or to pee; never shop for food when you are hungry; pet every dog available – is this one: No book goes on the shelf until I have read it.

The benefit of this rule is that my office shelves serve as a great resource, whether I need a refresher on a particular concept or a quote for a presentation. Plus, it’s nice to look at the books and know I’ve read every one of them.

The challenge is that after 24 years of working for myself, I’ve collected a lot of books … What’s the best way to organize them?

For a long time, and following in the esteemed footsteps of Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey – inventor of the Dewey Decimal system and (I’m guessing) frequent wedgie recipient – I grouped them by category: writing; sales; working solo; social psychology; etc.

A few years ago, I switched to “alphabetical by author.” That was okay, although it came with the unfortunate downside that often, when I had to place a book properly, it would kick off a domino effect of reorganization across all the shelves.

Which is why last week, sensing it was time for a new approach and at the joking suggestion of my client Barry, I reorganized them yet again: by color.

That’s correct. I have grouped all the books in my office based on the color of the book’s cover.

You will be pleased to know that in just a few days, I have already learned two important things:

#1. In the nonfiction world at least, white books are by far the most common. They represent nearly half of the total.

#2. Organizing books by color, while possibly aesthetically pleasing – although I’m not even sure about that – is of zero practical value.

Yes, it’s a “system.” But when it comes to locating a particular book, it’s no better than random.

One question I frequently ask of my fellow professional service providers is, “What’s your marketing approach?”

Many people respond as if I had just asked them to explain how the “icing” rule in hockey works. In other words, lots of blank stares.

That’s a problem. If you don’t have an approach, there is nothing to fine-tune and improve; you are left in the uncaring hands of Lady Luck.

Other people have an approach but, whether because they are copying what’s popular or simply haven’t thought things through, it’s not a good fit for who they are and the work they do.

In other words, it’s the marketing equivalent of sorting your books by color.

Three suggestions for improvement…

My clients are professional service providers – leadership coaches, consultants, recruiters, etc. They are selling a high-price, high-trust service to people who are, for the most part, middle age or more.

For them, an email newsletter is a great marketing tool. Email – and email newsletters in particular – checks all the right boxes for any number of reasons.

Contrast this with my son Evan. His company is in a high-volume business, selling board games to a much younger population – the kind of people you need to text to remind them to check their email.

For Evan, newsletters are not a good tool. Instead, he’s all about using social media effectively.

In other words, when it comes to your marketing, the fact that email is “old school” and social is hot, is irrelevant. What matters is who are you trying to reach (or “whom” if it’s English majors) and how can you best reach them.

In choosing tactics, your marketing needs to align with your target audience. If you ignore this, it doesn’t matter how “good” your marketing is; you are wasting a lot of time and money in the wrong place.

P.S. If your answer to, “Who is your target audience?” is “everybody,” you have just earned a seat in the back of the class.

A perfect tactic poorly applied – or not applied at all – isn’t going to advance your cause.

For example, if you determine that the best way to reach your target audience is by cold calling – but the thought of it turns your stomach; or publishing a newsletter – but you hate writing and are terrible at it, it’s not going to help.

On the flip side, if you’re really good in person and one-on-one, maybe you build an approach around networking events, phone calls with colleagues, and coffee dates.

If you can find things you naturally excel at and like (or at least don’t hate), you are much more likely to be good at them and continue doing them.

The end-point answer to that question, of course, is “get more clients.”

But how? What’s the path these people will take to reach that place?

Are you…

… writing a book, so you get speaking gigs, so you get in front of potential clients?

… raising your visibility on LinkedIn, so you can increase your connections, so you can have conversations with people who fit your target client?

… producing a podcast, so you can invite industry leaders as guests, so they will share you with their respective networks, some of whom will hire you?

Each one of these is a simple, logical plan. It’s not just “publish a book,” or “participate on LinkedIn,” or “launch a podcast,” or anything else for its own sake.

None of those things are inherently good or bad. The difference between “useful marketing plan” and “cool waste of time” depends on connecting the dots in a way that makes sense given numbers 1 and  2 above.

Your marketing need not be complicated. In fact, if it is, you’re probably trying too hard.

What you do need, though, is a consistent, logical system that works for you and your business, in particular, and that you can put to use every day.

Beware of “colorful” tactics, whether in the name of book organization or marketing. Often, they are nice to look at, but of little value.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is one of your “rules of life?”
  2. How are the books in your office organized?
  3. What “popular” marketing tactic do you deliberately avoid?

Share your answers below…

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14 thoughts on “Color-Coded Marketing

  1. Beverly Matoney

    Rule of life: We create our own reality. Get the creation part right, and the reality is magnificent.

    My books are organized by the Dewey decimal system because in a former life, I think I was a librarian with OCD.

    The tactic may be popular, but I avoid making videos. I embrace the fact I’m a wordsmith. Pretending I’m effective on camera would not help me market what I do…which is write.

  2. David Katz

    My books are in no order at all. If I’m looking for a book I can usually sense where it is. I find, however, that if I speak badly of a book, it goes into hiding. If I then speak kindly of a book just dissed, it magically reappears, often at eye level. When we moved 5 years ago, the movers claimed we had 7000 books. We have a few hundred more now. Every now and then we manage to give one away. Damn you!

  3. Jean Feingold

    1. Two rules: Don’t go missing. Don’t fall down.

    2. I used to work in a library. Now books are everywhere. There is a special set of shelves for the ones that might be valuable (first editions).

    3. I have no website, no blog, no podcast, no TikToks, no newsletter. I try to remember to always have business cards with me. Somehow without really doing anything my LinkedIn profile has brought me a few clients.

  4. Carole Seawert

    Always have supplies of nut butters in the cupboard (especially hazelnut)

    By subject matter

    Cold calling

  5. Daryl Gerke

    1. “Do some good – have some fun – make some money.” This has served me well for almost 50 years of consulting. Now easing into retirement.

    2. Books are organized (if you can call it that) by general categories. Fortunately I can usually find what I’m looking for in reasonable amount of time.

    3. I avoid cold calling, and even dislike warm calling. Past experience shows more success if a potential client first called me. This meant creating “credibility & visibility” through highly targeted newsletters, articles, talks, and more. A mix has worked best for me — yet to find a “silver bullet.”

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Your #1 seems like a terrific mantra, Daryl! I may have to post that one on my monitor.

  6. Allan Johnson

    My rule in life is “If I rest, I rust”. I find that keeps me engaged (& moving) – maybe that’s my undiagnosed ADHD tendencies!

    My books are totally disorganized.

    I don’t have time for marketing as I’m busy enough without it (not very helpful, I know, but “a man’s gotta know his limitations!”).


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