Category Archives for Strategy

The #1 Most Powerful Marketing Secret (That No Guru Will Teach You)

I’m about to give you what is beyond doubt the single most powerful secret to marketing success.

I don’t know why it’s so secret, but people sure seem to avoid talking about it. Ready? Here it comes…

be . . . useful

That’s it. I didn’t say it would be mind-bogglingly amazing or obscure or complex. It’s very simple, because marketing is simple, it’s just about doing simple things right. And this is the most important simple thing to get right.

Just be useful, incredibly, beautifully useful if you can. Go the extra mile to design your entire offering or business strategy to delight your target market.

Let’s unpick it now, because there is a little more to this secret than meets the eye.

Sell What They Need

Being useful means that you’re directly solving a problem. Of course, solving problems is what marketing’s all about. If you have a problem, and I can show you my thing can solve it, you’ll likely buy the thing. If I fail to prove that to you, you won’t.

One of the most common mistakes in marketing strategy is trying to sell something that isn’t very good. And that’s really hard to do.

The antidote to that is to be useful. Be good, be great! Be single-minded about your intent to deliver exactly what your prospects need.

The trick to making selling easier is to make sure you’re selling something people actually want or need. If you’re selling crap they don’t want or need, I think you’re making life difficult for yourself.

You know the correct term for persuading people to buy something they don’t really want or need? It’s “scamming”. Check out the snippet at 3m 27s into the Scamworld documentary where Frank Kern appears to be teaching from the stage that, when you have the right marketing tricks, “The product is really irrelevant.”

Of course Frank also acknowledges that a kick-ass product is better than a crappy one, but this highlights a worrying dogma in Internet marketing circles that marketing is more about persuasion, more about executing trickery than delivering true value.

Why Does Nobody Teach This?

No marketing “guru” will teach you to provide the most useful service you can, because service isn’t sexy. It takes courage, heart, love, willpower, and hard bloody work. And that doesn’t sell courses.

The gurus are in the business of selling you hacks, mind tricks, shortcuts. It’s like magic diet pills that promise to shed inches off your belly while you carry on eating pizza.

The thrill of their outrageous promises (and the sheer weight of bonuses) persuade you to pull out your credit card, and when the results don’t magically appear, you get an emotional dip, just ready for the next launch to come along offering you the next magic pill shortcut, keeping you as a marketing shortcut junkie.

The truth is, just like losing weight and getting into shape, marketing isn’t an obscure, arcane dark art. It’s about doing simple things right, and then doing those simple things better. There are really no secrets and no shortcuts.

So let’s go deeper into the hidden power of the simple things…

Hack The Circuit

You have WAY more control
over what and how you sell
than you believe you do.

It is often said that there are two ways to be a marketer or entrepreneur:

  • Get a product or service and then find a market, or…
  • Spot an unserved need in the market and then develop a product or service offering to meet that need.

Both approaches are valid, and yet they don’t tell the whole story. To understand it better, we need only look at The Circuit, the model we use in Open Source Marketing to map out any offer or campaign.

The Circuit has five basic elements:

  1. The brand. Who’s making the offer?
  2. The product or service. What actually gets delivered?
  3. The offer. How are you promising to solve a problem?
  4. The problem you’re solving.
  5. The market, i.e. the community that shares the problem.

If you think about it, you can actually change any of these elements. Too often, we get stuck in default thinking, assuming that the pieces of the Circuit are set in stone. In reality, I think that is rarely the case. You can hack it all.

Working in reverse order…

  • You can research and target different markets (i.e. problem groups).
  • You can choose the problem(s) that your solution addresses, or change its focus.
  • Your offer is clearly very flexible. (This is where scammers focus most of their attention.)
  • Of course what you deliver can vary tremendously.
  • And finally, you can also change who you are.

I appreciate that last point could be challenging. It may seem odd to say you can change yourself. But when you think it through, you’ll see there is a lot of flexibility, it just comes down to how flexibly you allow yourself to think.

Let’s say you’ve always designed websites for a living. You’re a web designer, right? Well, yes, but also not necessarily… Let’s look at how you can spin the combination lock of The Circuit to come up with a range of options

  • You don’t have to serve a general market. You could choose to specialise in a particular niche, which I would argue is a very good idea. For example, you may become THE web designer for small businesses in your home town. Or you could specialise in e-commerce sites for florists, or church websites, or independent financial advisers. The options are almost endless.
  • What is the problem that unites your market? Is it finding new clients, running more efficiently, presenting a smarter image? “I need a website” is not a hugely motivating problem, as most businesses already have one, or can make one for practically no cost. So what problem are you really addressing? You get to select one, or more than one, and focus your offering around that.
  • What are you offering, then? Don’t assume your clients are just buying a website. They could be buying an ongoing monthly marketing service, a branding overhaul, a new sales channel, a multi-lingual customer service portal. A website is a tool. What does that tool do for people? That’s what they’re buying, the ultimate benefit, a genuinely useful solution to their problem, and you get to choose what that is.
  • What product or service will you actually deliver? Years ago, people would quote prices for a “ten-page website” but today you could offer a package that includes any of website publishing, copywriting, email marketing, SEO, PPC, social media. You could sell blocks of time each month that you devote to developing your client’s campaign.
  • And you can see how the combination of the options above could mean that your brand can take a variety of forms. You don’t have to be “web designer”. You can be the marketing specialist for auto bodyshops, the copywriter for alternative health practitioners, pretty well anything you like!

Ultimately, you get to choose. Whatever you choose must be useful, of course. If you have chosen your market, problem, offer, solution and brand wisely, I’m sure it will be.

Level Up

Spinal Tap: But it goes to eleven

Even after you have chosen an elegant and integrated Circuit, I always like to ask, “How can we turn this up to eleven?

  • Can you reach out to a bigger, more challenging market?
  • Can you tackle a deeper, more motivating problem?
  • Can you present a more powerful, bolder promise?
  • Can you deliver something that will fulfil your customers’ dreams?
  • And, finally, can you be a bigger, better, badder version of YOU?

Of course, we all work within the constraints of our skills, strengths, weaknesses, experience, education, aptitudes, and preferences. All those things can focus our range of choices. But even within those constraints, we have a degree of choice that is ultimately limited only by our self-image and our imagination.

Designing YOU

The incredible choice that’s before us really is the challenge of the #1 most powerful marketing secret. It’s exciting, and it can also be quite terrifying.

You don’t have to be who and what you are now!

You can choose to be whatever you want… with one provision.

Who you choose to be should be integral to who you really are.

What I mean by that is, can you get into a place where you can believe and declare, “I am…” with authority, power, and integrity? Can you mean it? Does it excite and inspire you?

Is it a true reflection of YOU — not just the YOU that you have been, but the you that you aspire to be today, tomorrow, in ten years’ time?

What is the vision of the world that this YOU offers and is working to make reality?

What is the stand that this YOU is taking? What tribe do you wish to attract with your message? Whom do you wish to repel?

Why will you love this YOU? Why will other people?

How will your market, your people, instantly know and trust YOU? What aspects of the true YOU will come through in every element of your business that triggers that trust?

Are YOU an individual, or a company, a team, a group, a tribe, a movement? Why would people want to join YOU or identify with YOU?

Is this YOU something that will get you jumping out of bed every Monday, eager to carry on, something that makes work appear as not-work?

What do YOU love to do? What do YOU do well?

What don’t YOU love to do? (Why waste time on that? Either design your life so you don’t need to do those things, or partner with others who love to do them.)

That’s why the secret is “be useful”, not simply “sell something useful”. You can choose to be whatever you choose and declare yourself to be. Why choose to be not you? Why choose to try to be like anyone else? Why choose to be anything less than your truest and highest expression of YOU?

I believe that, for each of us, our truest expression will naturally inspire not only us, but people around us. Our life’s mission, when we choose it (or it chooses us), will reach out to address a real need.

So I guess I’m saying that to be useful, you just need to be YOU. No pretence, persuasion, or trickery needed. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

(For an easy free course in finding more about YOU, check out my Path Program.)

Marketing Strategy for Skin of Gold

28th March 2016

I would like to share an early-stage project with you, to give you a feel for the approach I’m designing to creating new marketing strategies.

So in this post I would like to share my thought process (so far) and to start to explore the reasons why a particular marketing strategy makes sense.

My ultimate goal is to break down the logic of “when this, do that” for all small-business marketing strategy decisions, so that the process of deciding what to do becomes simpler for all of us.

The product in question here is called “Skin of Gold” and it is a small-volume, artisan-made face cream produced in the United States. (See the current website:


The product itself is distinctive. Here are just a few key points…

  • The product contains pure 24ct gold (which has powerful antibacterial properties) as well as silver and a range of other organic natural ingredients.
  • It is made about once per month in small quantities (production literally happens in a dedicated room in the maker’s home).
  • The makers, Botanical Joy, claim it can positively help to reawaken the skin’s own natural healing abilities, and they have told me a number of stories of the cream’s effectiveness against blotches and other skin conditions.
  • The majority of sales are to repeat buyers.

Short Circuit

Let’s do a brief Circuit analysis, as a sanity-check…

  1. Brand: There is very little about the Botanical Joy brand, which is okay, as when you sell a single product, the product pretty much is the brand. The website does mention that they donate 15% of profits to environmental causes.
  2. Product: From what I can see, the product is excellent and unique, with a reasonable number of positive testimonials. The product is free from a range of ingredients found in even well-known brands (e.g. Lancôme) that the makers say are toxic.
  3. Proposition: The overall (global) proposition is that the cream can replace your moisturizer, toner, and serum. (Works with all skin types, including combination dry/oily skin.) That means you can simplify your skincare routine, saving time and possibly money.
  4. Problem: Can address a range of skin problems, possibly including aging. There is an issue that the sellers are prohibited by law to claim certain benefits (even if they’re true).
  5. Market: Primarily women over the age of 30, in the USA, Canada, the UK, and also Australia (where skin health is a much bigger issue and the benefits of gold are better known). Customers are likely to treat their skin with great care, and will be sensitive to issues around holistic health.

Initial Notes

It’s Far Too Cheap!

One of the first things that occurred to me is that the product is too cheap! A one-month supply (50ml bottle) currently sells for $47, however I believe many women will happily pay much more than that — particularly considering the exclusivity (low volume), cost of ingredients, and the fact that this one cream could negate the need for a range of other treatments.


I would advise putting the price up from $47 to $99 (if not more), which will have a dramatic effect on profits. (If the product costs say $15 to produce, $47 means a gross margin of $32, whereas a $99 price point would deliver $84 — 162% MORE profit for a price increase of 110%.)

Additionally, I would argue that an affordable price might set inappropriate expectations for the target customer. You expect a $47 product to be as good as other products in that general price range. But you expect an exclusive $99 product to be at least twice as good.

Play on Exclusivity

I love to flip potential perceived negatives into positives. In this case, the product is produced in very small batches, which might be viewed as “unsuccessful”, however it could be flipped into “artisan” and “exclusive.”


Exclusivity can create urgency, which would also lend itself to price elasticity (i.e. prospects and customers might tolerate a higher ticket price).

Add into the mix the fact that the majority of production goes to repeat customers and demand could be heightened further.


I have also suggested to Botanical Joy that the bottles themselves could be reviewed, to suit a more up-market angle.


I think the product design itself should more closely match the specific features of the brand and the product.

Compare the current packaging to one alternative that I found in minutes on


So I would recommend making more extensive use of the colour gold, and I also like how the alternative bottles connote other high-end healthy products (specifically royal jelly), which can only be a positive association.

My Proposed Strategy

After consideration, and taking into account the fact that it would not be feasible to increase production too fast, the crux of the strategy I would propose is a challenge.

You know the kind of thing…

Try Skin of Gold for One Month, and IF You're Not Convinced It's THE BEST Skin Product You Have Ever Used, Return Your Empty Bottle to us for a 100% Refund!

Remember the Pepsi Challenge?

Remember the Pepsi Challenge?

The problem I now face is to decode WHY a challenge backed by a money-back guarantee could be the right approach!

The idea here is that, if I can figure out the factors that make this a good strategy, then next time I come across a business with a scenario that matches the same combination of relevant factors, we could assume that the same strategy should be considered.

That process is the crux of Open Source Marketing.

After deconstructing the relevant factors, the next step of the process is to revisit the Circuit to ensure that each factor is represented by questions. (In future, my ultimate goal will be to automate the strategy process into some kind of wizard!)

(That’s why I have added a few more questions to the Circuit today. It keeps getting better — and longer! But the good news is that, by constantly testing this process with new case studies, we’re building a comprehensive and truthful model that can in theory be applied to any marketing challenge!)

Break it Down

So now comes the hard part… Why is “challenge” a good strategy??

Here are my ideas so far.

  1. Great product, with tangible, demonstrable benefits (*). This may seem obvious, but we need to be confident that our product will actually deliver on its promises if we’re going to make a powerful claim for ditching your existing product/s. In this case, we can!
  2. Emotive topic (*). Women who care about their skin (and aging) can really care! Clearly, there is some inertia we have to overcome with our call to “take the challenge” so we’ll need to be confident that the benefits we’re promising are not just realistic but emotionally engaging too.
  3. “Switch” proposition (*). We’re taking the position of a challenger brand/product, and asking customers to ditch their existing (incumbent) products and to try our product instead for a fixed period of time.
  4. High margin (*). This is a requirement for a money-back guarantee. You have to be able to honour every request for a refund without hesitation. Of course, this is much easier for digital products (which have a near-100% profit margin) and trickier for services (which have a hard cost), so where there are real costs (i.e. services and physical products) there must be sufficient margin for a MBG to be viable.
  5. High customer loyalty (+). This may not be a critical factor, rather a positive factor. Basically, a regular repeat purchase pattern reinforces the high margin, effectively creating higher LCV (lifetime customer value), thereby further off-setting the risk.
  6. Minimal cost/risk of switching (+). We’re not asking someone to switch car brands or move house here. And we’re not asking them to commit to spending $100s per month. In fact, it may be that (even at a higher $99 price point) they could end up paying no more than they spend now on their beauty régime. Also, if they don’t prefer our product, there’s very little risk, as they can just go right back to what they were using before. I’m also listing this as a positive factor (+) rather than a key factor (*), because of course we are often persuaded to spend significant amounts when we are convinced of the benefits and value.

Test the Assumptions

Next, we can do an intellectual exercise where we ask the question…

Should we assume that the “Challenge” strategy could apply in every case where these same factors are evident?

I don’t think we can ever say that with 100% certainty, because we could find counter-indications in future case studies that override or negate these factors. However, I would say that, in principle at least, we can be confident that the answer to the question will be affirmative.

Later Phases

Note: My marketing strategy includes more steps and phases, including rolling out a continuity program (“get the product for a significant discount if you subscribe to receive one bottle every month”) plus expanding the market through carefully-selected affiliate partners. However, taking a lean approach, none of those will apply until we have first tested and proven the immediate assumptions.

Please Comment!

I’d love to get your perspective. Is there something I’ve missed? Or do you disagree with my conclusions?

Please share your thoughts. This is an open-source process, so everyone’s view counts. Thanks 🙂

Avoid “Non-Promising” Words

It’s so easy to look around at our competition and to assume that we should be doing whatever they’re doing.

This is often a huge mistake. Your future customers are looking for positive reasons to know they’ve found “the one”, which means they need to see positive signs of differentiation. They want to choose you!

Trying to look like the other players in your market is a great way to make it hard for your prospects to choose you.

Remember, in nature, animals come together in large numbers (shoals of fish, herds of wildebeest, flocks of birds) for a very good reason: to make it harder for predators to single them out!

That is precisely what you don’t want to be doing in your marketing!

One of the major purposes of a Circuit Review is to identify those factors that help you to know exactly what you’re about, what you do and don’t do, and what you’re promising the world… and to let your prospects see that clearly as well.

So if you find yourself donning the uniform of your competitors — STOP!

One way you’ll spot people who don’t know what they’re about is when they try to communicate their organization’s purpose using what I call “non-promising words.”

What Are Non-Promising Words?

You’ll know these. They’re ways of sounding like you’re saying you’re going to do something — without actually promising that you will.

(Just watch any news clip of a politician whose party is in power, and you’re bound to get a dose of greasy non-promise.)


  • “We aim to…”
  • “Our mission is to…”
  • “We are committed to…”
  • “Our goal is to…”
  • “Our primary objective is…”
  • “We stand for…”
  • “We are in the process of…”

What all these have in common is that they don’t actually promise anything! Instead, they all push action into an uncertain future.

If you catch yourself using any of these structures, it’s a sign that you need to stop copying the woolliness of the rest of the flock, and be really honest about what you DO stand for.

Copyright UPS Inc.

Copyright UPS Inc.

The Flip Side

The Circuit Questionnaire will help you to peel away the layers of what you really are about. You just need to be honest (notice I didn’t say, “You need to be committed to being honest”)

If you’re really going to stand for something, here are some ways you can share it passionately with the world…

  • “We will…”
  • “By [date] we will…”
  • “We believe that every… should…”
  • “We believe that no… should…”
  • “We help [people] to [achieve specific benefit]”
  • “We will never tolerate…”
  • “We love…”
  • “We hate…”
  • “We will not rest until…”
  • “We exist to…”