photo by Sebastian Ritter
Beware of focusing so much on marketing that you forget to do great work.
Ah, that nasty word.
It conjures up images of Yellow Page ads, SHAM WOW!!!, varying font sizes, and colors … bright, bright colors.
Marketing: there’s even something a little bit tawdry about the word. Meanwhile, there’s branding — that overused hipster coinage. It conjures faded hipstamatic photos and “old school” paperback notebooks, all perfectly colorwheeled and packaged. Either way, whether a thing is luridly “marketed” or oh-so-subtly “branded,” there’s a certain feeling to the whole affair of being manipulated to acquire something you don’t actually need.
But here’s the deal, and this is not a small point, so pay attention: Branded to perfection, or marketed to death — none of it matters if the product or service is lousy, or if people don’t really need/want it.
The trick is: DO THE WORK. Show up to the office and do the work day in, day out. Sometimes, people focus so much on the selling that they forget that the marketing isn’t the thing. The work is the thing.
I am humbled by some of my fellow investigators, their dedication, their drive, their willingness to work 15-hour days for weeks on end. Their willingness to spend hours, days, weeks, months of their lives away from family and friends to do the work.
If you’re a baseball player, show up to batting practice early, swing the bat, work on your form. Do the work. If you’re a basketballer, shoot free throws, dribble, work on the fundamentals. Do the work.
If you’re an investigator, improve your camera skills, talk to people, ask questions, get comfortable with interviewing. Read books about behavioral science or discourse analysis. Work on the basic skills necessary for the job. Do the work. And then devote a little thoughtful energy to getting the word out about what you do so well.
Seth Godin once wrote a post about kindling, that small pile of wood used to start a fire. It burns hot and fast and is necessary to get the flames going strong. But the slow-burning embers, the hard wood at the center, that part that keeps going, doing the work day in and day out — that’s the part that counts.
Mr. Godin likens kindling to the brushfire mentality of some sham-wow marketers who fan a flame and get people’s attention in (sometimes) less than subtle ways. I tend to agree: it’s the hardwood fuel that is stored up and preserved that carries the day. It burns longer and dimmer, but it cooks the meal through, and warms you through the night.
If you’re going to sell your service to people, be sure it’s something they need. Something that will add to their overall well-being.
Author and artist Debbie Millman, in the intro to her book Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, writes this: “The word ‘brand’ is derived from the Old Norse word brandr, which means ‘to burn by fire.’” She goes on to trace branding history, from the first trademark to a modern world drowning in logos.
Her book includes interviews with the country’s best known branding experts. Many of them define a brand as a promise to customers about your product or service. Author Daniel Pink warns about the potential problems with this:
(From “Brain Pickings“:) “If a brand is making a promise that you’re going to feel better about yourself if you buy it, they’re making a false promise. Human beings metabolize their purchases very quickly … If you’re always looking to validate yourself and get satisfaction from buying stuff or having a bigger house, then you’re on an endless, addictive treadmill. There’s no enduring satisfaction to this.”
In summary: If you’re going to sell your service to people, be sure it’s something they need. Something that will add to their overall well-being.
It’s not about tricking people into giving you their money. It’s about spreading the word about the work you’re doing. But when you value the marketing part over the work/quality part, you might just find yourself selling something worthless to vulnerable customers.
The best investigators I know do not trouble themselves with bright colored ads in the Yellow Pages. They show up and do the work on a daily basis. They stick with a case and chase the leads. They build a reputation over a number of years by doing the work. They are ethical. They take cases they believe in, and they say “no” to clients who are hiring them for the wrong reasons. They give customers their very best work.
No, it’s not glamorous. No, it’s not going to drive huge numbers to your website.
But it’s fundamental. Do the work. In the end, that’s really the only thing that matters.
People will come.