Three chords and the truth

Johnny Cash released Folsom Prison Blues in 1955.

It wasn’t until many years later that he managed to actually land himself in prison, if only for a night.

While Cash sang about and played in prisons, having never been, he was speaking a truth.

At the time, not entirely his own truth, but his audiences.

He was a master at it. Wearing black as a symbol for the neglected. He was the man in black.

It was his trade mark.

It’s what he sang.

He sang a truth about an audience. And, they loved him for it.

I love him for it.

The same holds true for our marketing.

Understanding our audience. Telling a story that’s their truth.

We buy stories, so tell a great story.

All you need is three chords and the truth.

When should you worry about your competitors?

If you’re not too familiar with New Coke, it’s because it was a colossal failure.

Coke began worrying about their competitors.

So much so, they changed their iconic product to be like the competition.

A reformulation of their soda to taste more like Pepsi-Cola.

It lasted 3 months.

And, to relaunch their original formula, it went through a rebrand and was introduced as “Coca-Cola Classic”.

In short, don’t be like New Coke.

Stop worrying about your competitors.

Too often, I’m in a meeting and someone asks “what is XYZ competitor doing?”

Typically, we’re talking about top of the funnel marketing activities.

This is the wrong time to be concerned about a competitor.

Sure, we want to have a pulse on the competition.

But, there is a time and a place for this.

It’s at the end of the funnel.

If we think about an attribution model, concern about competitors would be last-click attribution.

It’s when our audience begins to evaluate their last options directly before making a purchase.

It’s when we have battle cards. Competitive analysis landing pages.

Only then should you heavily discuss the competition.

Anything before that, we should be telling our own story. One that resonates with our audience.

Not trying to be like the competition.

Let’s avoid becoming New Coke.

Giving your audience a reason

If you have a reason to do something, it’s more likely you’ll actually do it.

Pretty obvious. So obvious, you might not even continue reading.

As it turns out, this isn’t particularly obvious to most marketers.

But, it was obvious to one.

Lester Wunderman.

Who wanted to test a theory.

The theory was, if I give my audience a reason to watch my T.V. ads, they will hear my message and purchase my product.

In a high stake’s competition, Wunderman bet the Columbia account against McCann. Test this theory, if it works, Wunderman gets the account. If it doesn’t, McCann gets the account.

Winner takes all.

This is all taking place at the height of Mad Men era advertising. Needless to say, McCann is the frontrunner in this competition.

What happened next is the Gold Box campaign.

Wunderman placed a Gold Box in his magazine advertisements requesting the reader to look for his T.V. commercial.

Giving the target audience a reason to look for the advertisement.

It was a roaring success.

He beat McCann in every test market.

It was an “omni-channel” campaign where he used one channel to give the audience a reason to engage with him on another channel.

In our next campaign, how can we be more like Wunderman and offer our audience a reason to look for us?


A thank you to Malcolm Gladwell and the Tipping Point for providing this example.

Dink, Dunk, then go for the big campaign

Jon Gruden’s offense teaches us a great way to run marketing campaigns.

He runs a West Coast offense with the Oakland Raiders. It relies on a lot of short yardage plays.

Then, once or twice a quarter, he opens up and calls a big play.

It’s a dink and dunk style.

What I love about this style is that when it works, it’s predictable. You know, with a lot of certainty that things are going to work. It will get the football down the field. It will get you a first down.

Then, with enough of those first downs, you can put points on the board.

This is a perfect framework for how to think about our marketing.

If we’re always investing in huge campaigns, we are setting ourselves up for boom and bust.

They might give us 100% growth or they might give us 0% growth. Nowhere in between.

Instead, if we launch our marketing activities in a dink and dunk fashion, getting 10% growth out of each activity, it only takes 10 of those to hit 100%.

And if only half of them get any growth, we just grew 50%.

Then, if we know we have this foundation of small marketing campaigns running, we might be able to go for the big one. Without the risk of betting all our growth on one thing.

Just like Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders.

Let’s just hope his strategy leads to a winning season.

Yellow Journalism

Sensationalism.

Attention grabbing headlines.

Getting you to read the story today. Regardless of facts.

Does this sound like modern media?

Well, it was the state of journalism in the late 1800s.

Newspapers were designed to sell now.

They needed your attention today, regardless of what was to come tomorrow.

It’s known as yellow journalism.

What is interesting about yellow journalism is what came after.

The New York Times.

The first subscription newspaper that changed journalism for the 20th century.

Which, led to more subscription newspapers.

Then, we got ground breaking stories, like The Pentagon Papers.

Today, we would call yellow journalism click bait or fake news.

It’s everywhere. It’s because of the internet. It’s why I can publish this.

Money is made on ad revenue from impressions.

This is a similar model yellow journalism operated with in the 1800s.

We think this might be a problem.

The best part about problems is that we get to find solutions.

Actually, it’s the only way we get solutions. It’s our path to something better.

It’s not fast. A problem has to get bad enough that we’re willing to pay for the solution.

At that point, the problem is worth solving.

Then, you have a product, you have marketing, and you have a business.