How to cause the effects of marketing

I’ve written before about my love of bad horror movies. In so many cases, it’s clear that the director didn’t want to make a movie. They wanted to have made a movie. And there’s a huge difference between those two desires.

I’ve written before about my love of bad horror movies.

In so many cases, it’s clear that the director didn’t want to make a movie. They wanted to have made a movie. And there’s a huge difference between those two desires.

Making a movie is hard. One prolific director likened it to running a marathon—if you don’t enjoy the process, you’re not going to do your best or stick with it.

And many, many makers of films buried in the depths of streaming services like Amazon Prime Video clearly did not enjoy the process.

Their lack of proper lighting and mic-ing demonstrates that they tried to rush it, they tried to get to the end without taking the necessary middle steps.

They wanted to be successful without having to succeed.

Many marketers fall into the same trap. They want to sell high volumes of their product. They want to win a major award. They want to get noticed and be appreciated for their genius.

But they forget that, as Claude C. Hopkins put it, “Genius is the art of taking pains.”

Genius is the result of putting in the work, and doing your best. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do.

To get the effects of marketing, we have to cause them.

As Roger Martin and A. G. Lafley wrote in Playing to Win, “Without supporting structures, systems, and measures, strategy remains a wish list, a set of goals that may or may not ever be achieved.”

So the way to reach your goal of marketing success is to understand what would have to cause those effects, and how your daily actions can be those causes.

Donella Meadows wrote in Thinking in Systems: A Primer, that, “Structure is the key to understanding not just what is happening, but why.” Which means you need to identify the underlying structure of what you intend to happen. Not just what needs to happen, but why it would happen, and how you can cause it to happen.

So start with your ideal end state, like reaching a revenue target for the year.

What would you have to cause to achieve that effect?

You’d need to sell a certain volume of your product or service at a particular price point.

What would you have to cause for that to happen? You’d need the right people, the ones ready to buy, to know about what you offer.

And you’d need to have structured your business to generate profit on each of its sales.

For that, you’d need your prospects to recognize that you have a clear advantage over the available, likely cheaper, alternatives.

And you’d actually need to have an advantage or difference.

You’d also need to promote your offering in a way that you can sustain, which will get you noticed, and which you’ll enjoy doing so you do your best.

For that, you’d need to focus, without trying to do a little bit of everything.

For that, you’d need to know what you’re truly best at, and what you love doing most.

Which means you’d first need to spend time thinking about what you actually like, what you’re clearly the very best at, and how you can make money combining those elements.

All of those causes bubble up, one at a time, to the effect you wish to create—profitable sales.

And figuring out how you’re going to do all of those things, in order, and efficiently, is your strategy.

Strategy is really that simple—it’s just a structure. But as Clausewitz wrote, “In Strategy everything is very simple, but not on that account very easy.”

Because you can’t skip to the end—the part where you make bags of money and accumulate acclaim—without actually doing the difficult middle parts.

In Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday relates this wonderful story:

One day, Degas complained to his friend, the poet Stephane Mallarme, about his trouble writing. “I can’t manage to say what I want, and yet I’m full of ideas.” Mallarme’s response cuts to the bone. “It’s not with ideas, my dear Degas, that one makes verse. It’s with words.”

We don’t achieve marketing success by trying to skip to the end. We get there by doing the work along the way. Taking pains and doing the hard parts because we enjoy the process.

Which means the secret is to make the hard parts fun.

You’ll never get the success you want from your marketing if you hate it or if it’s a chore. In fact, I can’t guarantee anything about marketing except for this crucial point—you’ll never succeed at something you despise.

But if you like your marketing, if it feels good to do, you’ll never stop. And if you never stop, you can’t help but succeed.

If you take nothing else away from this newsletter, at least take this:

Strategy is structure.

Strategy is structure.

Strategy is structure.

The structure to work efficiently to get what you want.

Which means you must know what you want. And you must know the efficient—the sustainable, the joyful, the affordable—actions you can take to get there.

And you’ve got to wrap a structure around it to make progress every single day.

In short, you’ve got to know the causes for every desired effect. And you need to want to cause them, one at a time, until you get the effects.

There are plenty of ways to fail: Overexerting yourself. Poorly implementing tactics you don’t believe in. Overspending. Rushing and making mistakes.

But there’s only one way to succeed:

Sticking with it, because you want to.