The 16-word marketing strategy


I often lament the fact very few so-called professionals in my line of work seem to understand the difference between tactics and strategy.

The most common mistake is to confuse and conflate the two and then to compound the error by thinking the former is the latter.

Short and simplistic explanation: strategy is where you want to go and what you want to achieve; tactics are what get you there.

If you've ever read the book Ender's Game you'll be familiar with the phrase "the enemy's gate is down".

This is a classic example of a strategy, one ultimately helping Ender win every simulated zero-G battle he fought.

And within each battle?

He had tactics and they changed from battle to battle.

But the strategy never changed.

Now, a few things wot ain't strategies but wot too many eedjits think are:

  • Social media.
  • Email marketing
  • Networking.
  • LinkedIn, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media platform.

These are all tactical elements of what could be a strategic approach to marketing if only people weren't so enamoured with the latest platform du jour and the incessant bleating of the Influencers thereon.

But now's your chance to break away from all that, because now, I'm going to share something epic with you.

My 16-word marketing strategy

Just 16 words.

That's all it needs.

It's all you need.

Just 16 words.

And I guarantee if you focus on the four elements within it you'll get exponentially better results than you're getting now (and leave your competitors spitting dust and feathers and wondering what the fuck just happened).

Wanna know what it is?

O' course you do.

It's this...

[memb_has_membership membership="IC Silver"]

... the right message to the right person at the right time, and over the right medium.

If you take the advice I'm about to share with you, stick with it, and do your work accurately, diligently, and with commitment you'll never be stuck for clients again.

Moreover, you'll never be hammered down on price or struggle to get prospects and clients to see the value of your work.

Clue: if you've been paying attention you'll have realised this mirrors exactly what I talked about in The Well-Fed Freelancer.

Which should come as no surprise since as any engineer will tell you, form follows function.

Horse first, then cart

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let's first see what the vast majority of business owners get wrong, and, more important perhaps, why they get it wrong.

I'll often get enquiries from wannabes telling me they want to do some [insert random activity] and asking if I can help them.

The answer?

I have no idea.

Well, no, that's not true.

I almost certainly can help them. The question is how. And more often than not the answer to that is not what they came to me wanting me to help them do.

Bear with me.

The 16-word marketing strategy above breaks down into four areas:

  1. Message
  2. Market
  3. Time
  4. Medium

Before we get into anything else let's get time out of the way.

The fact is prospects buy when they're ready to buy, not when we're ready to sell.

There are some advanced and fairly sophisticated things you can do to give you some influence over when people buy, but for now let's keep it simple and say the only way to make sure you hit that right moment is to put your message in front of them as regularly and often as you can.

I'll come back to this another day.

For now, let's just take it as being read you'll be marketing constantly and consistently in whatever ways your strategy says you should.

So, back to the tale of woe.

The mistake most business owners make is to start with the medium. In other words, they’ll pick a marketing channel (or more likely be sold one by a fast-talking advertising rep from the local newspaper or some asshat Influencer with a large following of sycophants) and then try to figure out how to shoehorn the message into it and hope it gets in front of the right market.

So the medium is the last thing to look at, because you can’t know how to reach the people you want to reach until you know who and where they are.

Other than that, there are arguments for starting with either the message or the market.

I, personally, prefer to start with the message, because for me running my business is about running the business my way. But I obviously can’t do this in isolation from my target market because the message is also targeted at them.

It’s kind of a “chicken and egg” thing, but they really go hand in hand.

That said, when I teach this to my clients I almost always start with the market because it's where the biggest problems lie for most. More to the point it's difficult to know what your message is when you don't have a clear idea of whom you're speaking to.

If you’re in an established business you should have plenty of experience, personal knowledge, and data you can mine to tell you who your best kinds of customers or clients are. Once you know that, it’s easy to figure out what you said to them to get them to do business with you, and so what you need to say to people just like them to get them to do the same.

But at the same time, part of your message is about what you personally want from your business and that’s often independent of the kind of people you want to be doing business with.

The long and the short of it is figuring out your message and market is an iterative process, and a job in constant progress.

Your Message

Your Message is what you say to your market to get the people in it to buy from you, and it comprises two parts.

First is the explicit message, what you actually say in the words you use in your marketing pieces, in your sales presentations, and in everything you explicitly put out there with the intention of promoting and selling yourself.

And secondly, there’s your implicit message, what people perceive about you, your business, and your products and services from your ongoing actions and the dialogue you have with them.

Now, in both cases you need to tailor your message to your target market, and, obviously, the more accurately and precisely you can define your target market, the more accurately and precisely you can target your message.

The more accurately and precisely you target your message, the more you’ll sell, and the less your marketing is going to cost because you’ve got less wastage, meaning your ROI will dramatically increase.

So what does it mean to “target your message”?

Well, quite simply it means you say what you’ve got to say in a way to resonate in the minds of the people in your market. 

For example, if you’re, say, marketing gym membership to women in their 40s, you’d use very different language, for example, from the language you’d use if you were selling the same thing to young studs in their 20s. 

The former are probably more interested in losing the flab around their middle and being able to fit into that hot little black number hanging in the back of the wardrobe without looking like 10lb of spuds in a 5lb bag; and the latter are more likely to be swayed by the kind of language implying they’re going to look like Adonis and have women throwing their knickers at them.

In my own case I have a very particular kind of business owner in mind for my products and services, and everything I say or do is aimed at attracting those people and driving the others away.

Your Explicit Message

The explicit message you give out is all the stuff you say in your marketing materials. Since this changes from day to day in the detail, we can usefully think of this as your tactical message. 

At the very base level it’s the actual structure and content of your sales letters, postcards, web-pages, social media posts, emails, and everything else you put out there on a day-to-day basis.

For now, it’s just important we understand a few vital concepts, beginning with the important question…

... why do people buy?

There’s only one reason anyone buys anything, ever: to solve a problem.

What those problems are vary from individual to individual and even vary for the same individual over time. For example, I have spent the last thirty years or more blissfully unaware of all but the vaguest idea of who my dentist is. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true, nonetheless. I’ve been a couple of times recently, but before that I didn’t go for at least ten years.


Because I’ve got great teeth. 

They don’t look great, but they’re strong, and my old dentist told me decades ago I wouldn’t have any problems until I reached late middle-age, and likely not even then… and so far he’s been right.

But here’s something: you can bet your left kidney if the one filling I have fell out, then finding an emergency dentist would very quickly be A Big Problem for me. Although for some unfortunate folks, who can’t even look at a sugarlump without their teeth falling out of their head, the dentist thing is indeed an ongoing problem.

Here’s another example for you: nothing to do with golf will ever be a “problem” for me unless you’re trying to hit me with a golf club, simply because I can’t stand the game; but a golf-nut will be equally bemused by and incredulous of my obsession with all things bicycles.

You want to catch my attention, then start talking to me about disc brakes that’ll stop me on a sixpence when I’m haring down a wet and muddy lane in West Cork, go flying around a blind bend, and come face-to-arse with a cow just ahead of me. 

That’s a problem for me, right there — disappearing headfirst up the back-end of a cow is not something I want to do, if I’m perfectly frank. So being able to stop in the wet and hold my wheel right on the point of locking so I’ve effectively got myself a set of anti-lock brakes is of utmost importance to me.

So what? 

Where are we going with all this?

Well, the point I’m making here is how we define something as a “problem” is utterly subjective. 

And if you really get your head around what I’m about to share with you, then just that one thing, in and of itself, is going to make a huge difference to the way you market your business.


OK… here it comes… 

No one is interested in buying anything from you for any other reason than to solve their problems.

With the rarest of rare exceptions they don’t care about:

  • You
  • Your name
  • Your logo
  • Your products
  • Your sexuality
  • How passionate you are about your (or their) business
  • Your services
  • Your gender identity
  • Your tattoos
  • How great you think you are
  • How old you are
  • How fucking 'authentic' your posts are on social media
  • What your mission statement is
  • What you want
  • What your dreams and passions are
  • Your brand
  • How long you’ve been in business
  • How many shades of pink your widgets come in
  • How many widgets you sell every week
  • How much you need or deserve the cash

You might think this is all very obvious and wonder why I’m sharing it with you.

But before you go too far down that road, just think about how most businesses present themselves. The ads they put in the Golden Pages, Yellow Pages, other business directories, and newspapers are usually nothing but oversized and very expensive business cards. 

They typically comprise the company-name or logo followed by a list of stuff they do, with some half-hearted plea for you to “come in and see us some time”.

It’s the same with websites, sales letters, postcards, emails, and all those other things we throw into the marketing mix hoping they’ll bring in some business. They all so often start like this:

“Hi, and welcome to my boring website. My name’s Billy Boring, and I love bikes. I’ve been riding them for years, so I thought I’d open my own bike shop, Billy Boring’s Bikes. I do bikes, tandems, biking clothes, and all the other stuff people who love bikes need. 

We sell all the best brands, too. Loads of them! Trek, Ridgeback, Scott, Raleigh... you name the brand, and we’ve probably got one for you.

My mission is to give you the best bikes and all the other cycling stuff you need at the lowest prices possible.

We’re different from all the other bike shops out there, because, well, we say so. And we give great service.

So why not give us a call — we’d love to hear from you and maybe sell you a bike.” 

Now, that’s an exaggeration, but not much of one, to be sure. The big problems with it are it’s all about them, their products and services, and what they do, and the best promises they can come up with are they give “great service” and a “low price”.

Well, I’ve got news for you: “great service” is a minimum requirement and nothing to write home about; and a “low price” is a terrible thing to be selling on for all sorts of reasons we’ll come to anon.

See, no one cares what you do; they care only what you can do for them by way of solving their problems. Because of this they don’t even care much about low price, at least not the kinds of customers and clients you actually want in your business.

In other words, I don’t care about your bike shop, your brakes or your discs: I care only about their ability to bring me quickly and safely to a halt and stop me from disappearing up a cow’s arse at high speed.

Why Do People Buy From YOU?

We know people do buy stuff, and now we know why they do so. But that’s no use to us if they’re buying from our competitors. So the question, and it’s often an unspoken one held unconsciously in your prospective customer’s or client’s mind, but a question you must answer nevertheless is “why out of all the available options should I buy from you instead of from your competitors?”.

This is probably the most important question you can ask yourself about your business, and until you have the answer, I strongly urge you to stop all of your marketing activities and set your mind to purpose in answering it.

Your Unique Selling Point

The abstract answer to that question we just asked is often called your Unique Selling Point, Unique Selling Proposition, or just USP. It’s what makes you not just different but also better than your competitors for that particular product or service.

Here’s an important point: anyone can say they’re different, and most people do. One particular ad I saw some years ago springs to mind. It was a bunch of penguins with one purple one in the middle, and the caption said something like, “we’re different”. As I recall it was advertising some professional service or other — a full page, full colour ad in a professional trade-magazine and probably cost an arm and a flipper.

My question is this: how on Earth is any of that supposed to answer the most important question? Not only is that a terrible ad in its execution, but the concept is fatally flawed: saying you’re “different” is easy.

But what’s different and why should I, the reader and prospective client, care? Besides, merely being different isn’t enough: to secure the business, to answer that all-important question, you’ve got to be better, too. 

This is where your USP comes in, because it’s an explicit or implicit promise to be just that — better.  It’s the answer to that question we saw a few minutes ago.

An explicit USP is something like the one Domino’s Pizza used: “You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less — or it’s free!” It’s a clear and unambiguous promise aimed at a very specific target market: people who want fresh, hot pizza and who want it now.

Another example is the Remington Razor USP: “Shaves as close as a blade or your money back.

A third example is from Ross Jeffries, the seduction “guru”, who says, “If you don’t get laid, I don’t get paid.”

Your USP is not the same as a strapline, which is usually just a catchy phrase that doesn’t actually mean anything. It drives me nuts when arty and “creative” people talk about the need for “catchy straplines”. There’s no point in being able to remember these things if they don’t bring up an association with the business they relate to and answer that big question.

Your USP is the answer to that big question, remember, so saying something like “Boring Bill’s Bikes... We’re Wheely Good” isn’t a USP.

Your Implicit Message I — Premier Positioning

The common wisdom tells us we start a business, work hard in the field of our choice for a depressingly long time — measured in years if not actually decades — and then at some point mysteriously and magically we get to ascend to Expert Status, most likely after a sprinkling of Expert-Fairy dust, grudgingly wafted our way by the incumbent experts in our chosen field.

Some years ago I was consulting with a client in my office and I asked her about her pricing. Her fees were probably half what they should be. “OK”, I said, “don’t tell me how you got that figure — let me read your mind”. 

So I put my fingers to my temples, closed my eyes and concentrated for a moment, then said “you looked at the range of fees charged by your competitors and picked somewhere in the middle”. “Close”, she admitted sheepishly, “I actually picked a price nearer the bottom”.

And it turned out she was going to do the whole tedious and laborious routine of climbing that big ol’ Expert Mountain before charging more. 

Think now how you set your own fees or prices. My guess is you’ve done something similar. Don’t be shy about admitting it. Personally, I think that attitude sucks and it makes for a seriously crap life and business.

Oh yes, I freely admit I did it myself... at least, until I figured out I didn’t have to! I’ve done the whole “competitive pricing” thing, with one eye firmly fixed on my competitors, in the mistaken belief it actually matters what they get up to. But not for a long time; and never, ever again. 

Best of all... you don’t have to, either. 

Not now, not ever. 

One of the most dangerous ideas in business is that of the “going rate”. It’s entirely imaginary, yet it serves to keep business owners in line all charging roughly the same prices and fees as each other.

But the “going rate” is a chain that holds us only if we accept it. One old client of mine is in the printing business in Watford in the UK, an area saturated by the printing trade.

The average margin in his industry is 15%, but after following my advice, often lovingly administered with a sharp kick up the backside, his margins are now 65% — meaning his prices are vastly higher than the “going rate” charged by the 65 competing companies in his area. Better yet, he’s suddenly attracting a much better class of client, including some “blue chip” companies, because he’s presenting himself in a manner to make price irrelevant.

It might be hard for you to grok how this all might work right now, but it does, nevertheless. I won’t pretend it’s always going to be easy and there will be times it seems far easier just to relax and go with the flow. In my experience, though, those are the times when it’s even more important to keep a “stiff upper lip”, straighten your back and soldier on. 

It’s worth it, I promise.

Your Implicit Message II — Premium Pricing

If you’re selling at premium prices, then that is a Premier Positioning strategy in and of itself; moreover, if you have your Positioning down pat, then people expect you to be charging premium prices. 

You know it’s true, and you have to look no further than your local Rolls Royce dealer to see it’s true. No one expects a discount on a Rolls... and no one thinks a Rolls is anything less than quality, even it they’re not to your personal taste.

So, with Premier Positioning and Premium Pricing, one begets the other, which is marvellous news for us as entrepreneurs.

And the best thing of all is... it’s all so very easy.

The biggest and most easily corrected mistake people make is failing to realise two things: 

You don’t need anyone’s permission to adopt Premier Positioning.

You don’t need anyone’s permission to start charging higher prices.

The perception is, though, in today’s troubled economy everyone is scratching to make a living. It seems like no one is buying, and everyone wants the best deal: “Money’s tight”, you’ll hear them say as they check out the prices on your goods, and with a wistful look they’ll be off down the street to buy from your competitors.

Or will they?

Well... the sad truth is, yes, they probably will.

And do you know why?

Because you’ve become commoditised

It’s because whatever you’re selling — products, services, whatever — are indistinguishable from the products and services of your competitors.

The Pain of Commoditisation

The indistinguishable nature of your business from your competitors’ is a blow to the ego, and a sad and unpalatable truth… but it’s a truth, nevertheless. Yet when I point it out to business owners they usually object and come back with all sorts of “reasons” they think their business is a better choice than their competitors’, things like “but we give great service”; or “we’ve got a bigger selection and choice”; or “we’ve been in the business longer than anyone around here, so we know the ropes better than anyone”.

All these things might be true, of course, but given what we know about customers and buyers buying only to solve their problems and caring only about themselves, none of these reasons mean anything to anyone but you, the business owner. In any event, giving great service isn’t a selling point — it’s a minimum requirement.

When you boil it all down and cut through the bluster and the bullshit, it usually comes down to businesses competing on one of two things: location and price. And neither of these is anything but a disaster in the making. And it’s a disaster of your own making and one you can easily avoid.

Your Market

These are the people you want to sell to. And this is the area most business owners get terribly wrong, assuming they “get” it any way at all — because most business owners don’t even know they have a “market”, let alone that they should seek to refine, hone, and target their marketing in a way to get it in front of as many of these people as possible.

Some years ago I was working with a client and I took him through an exercise beginning with the question, “Who is your ideal customer or client? Describe him or her to me.”

And his answer was, “anyone with a credit card”. I can’t tell you how depressing that was to hear. I mean, the guy who’s just stolen your mother’s handbag now has a credit card, but you probably wouldn’t want to do business with him, right?

The mistake this fellow was making — and it’s a mistake the vast majority of business owners make, so don’t get feeling all smug or depressed, whichever way your own approach to this has fallen — is he didn’t realise how important knowing who his “ideal customer or client” was. And yet virtually every business owner will, if you ask, be able to describe for you very accurately the kind of people they  prefer to serve the most... yet they do absolutely nothing with this valuable information.


Yes, because once you know exactly whom you’re selling to, then you can do two things: first, you can more effectively create your “marketing messages” so they appeal to these people; and secondly, you can start thinking of all the different ways of getting that message in front of them. 

We call this “stuff”, this information about the people in your target market, the demographics of your target market, and it encompasses everything from their age, employment status and sexual orientation, to shoe-size, hair-colour, and eating habits, and everything imaginable in between.

Golden Rule: you can never, ever know too much about the people you are selling to or want to sell to.

The Power of Knowing Your Market

Here’s a real life example for you. 

Some years ago there was a guy in the US who had a “Russian Brides” website. Because it was a competitive market, he was constrained in his pricing by the “going rate”. 

His service was a commodity, in other words.

And then one day he decided to look at the kinds of people his client-base comprised. To his surprise and wonder he found something like 70% of them were truckers. We can theorise all we like about why this was the case, but the facts remained: 70% of the people on his books were truckers. What that then allowed him to do was to scrap all his existing marketing and then to reinvent his entire business and become the “go-to guy for truckers who want Russian brides”.

As a consequence he was easily able to raise his fees from the industry norm — some $39 a year or so — to a staggering $8,000 or more. That’s 200-times the going rate. This was possible only because he figured out who his “ideal client” was and could then tailor his entire marketing strategy to fit.

More recently a client of mine in Dublin, a gym owner, trawled his membership data and discovered most of his clients are women in the age range 34 to 55. This meant it became possible for him to aim his marketing directly at women in this age group — meaning anything he sent to them would be more relevant to them and thus will get a better response and so give him a higher ROI.

Never Mind the Facts

Here’s something else you’d do well to understand and embrace: people buy for emotional reasons and not logical ones. Real-time FMRI scans have shown what marketers have known to be true for a long time: we decide things emotionally and then back-rationalise the logical reasons for making the decision. It happens pretty quickly; so quickly, in fact, we fool ourselves into thinking we came up with the logical justification first and then made the decision. 

And that’s just not how it happens.

Why does this matter?

Well, it matters because when it comes to constructing our message to resonate with our market — telling them we can solve their problems, in other words — we’re going to get a much better response if we sell on emotions rather than if we sell on logic. It’s the old “you don’t buy the drill, you buy the hole in the wall thing”, kind of.

But even that doesn’t go far enough, because it’s more like you buy the drill for the warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you look at your daughter’s photograph at her graduation you just hung on the wall.

Now, most people will deny this happens. Most people will tell you marketing doesn’t work on them and they make their decisions on logic and logic only.

That’s cool. 

That’s how it feels for me, too.

But the fact is, if you’re a human being rather than some alien who’s evolved in an entirely different way and you don’t have a limbic system, I’m afraid you make your decisions emotionally.

Take my word for it: once you know whom you’re talking to, it becomes so much easier to figure out what motivates and moves them and so construct your messages to suit.

The Gold Lurking Within Your Business

Knowing your external market is one thing... but perhaps even more important is knowing your internal market.

Let me explain...

The immediate and most obvious thing to think about is how the 80/20 Principle applies here: if you take the list of the people you’ve done business with over the past year you’ll likely find 80% of your sales have gone to just 20% of the people on your list. That broadly tells you who your best buyers are. Look closer and you’ll probably identify a small percentage of them, perhaps just 1% but maybe as many as 5%, who buy everything you offer to them, regardless of what it is. 

Those people are your “hyper-responders” and I guarantee you have them on your list. I have them on mine, for sure, and I know most of them personally because I make it my business to know them. There’s very little I won’t do for them because they are so valuable to me. 

You need to identify these hyper-responders, as well as your most profitable 20% and reserve your best offers and services for them.

How effective is this?

To give you an example, one client of mine regularly held large meetings and seminars in London, for anything from 500 to 1,000 people at a time. As you can imagine, not only was there an enormous cost in setting up and running these events, but actually getting people to them was a mammoth task. Filling an event or a seminar is one of the toughest challenges for any marketer or copywriter. 

His approach was to send everyone on his list all the same stuff, so every letter, postcard, brochure, lumpy mail, and other direct mail piece would be sent out to more than 30,000 people.

That ain’t cheap.

But then he changed his strategy somewhat and began to focus this costly direct mail on only the top 40% of his best customers.

The result?

He filled up the events just as quickly but did so with a lot less work and at a saving of 60% off his marketing costs. Given the numbers, that’s a lot of cash and it was all going right back to his bottom line.

Segmentation, Segmentation, Segmentation

But we can go far beyond this simple idea of selling only to the best buyers by segmenting our list into the categories of things they’ve bought or showed interest in.

For example, my own business covers a wide range of topics including copywriting, advertising, direct mail, email marketing, Google Adwords, PR, telemarketing, radio and TV advertising, sales techniques, and then there are all of the different ways I have of sharing my knowledge of these topics with the people who want to acquire it.

In other words it’s highly unlikely everyone on my list, even the people who have bought from me before, are going to be interested to the same degree in everything I have to offer, and even if they are they won’t all be interested at the same time.

There’s an important point here...

All Customers and Clients Are NOT Equal

The obvious consequence of this is you should target your marketing at the people most likely to respond to it. That not only means buyers in general but also buyers of specific products and services. In my own business I have people I know who are particularly interested in email marketing, say, and so if I was going to do a promotion of my email marketing product, Email Supremacy, with expensive direct mail, I’d send it only to those people, and not to everyone on my list.

The second and less obvious but very much more uncomfortable conclusion is in how you should treat your customers and clients. Quite simply, the guy who’s spending 100,000 Groats a year with me on services deserves more of my time and energy than someone who’s invested in a 47 Groat CD set and manual and then wants me to answer his marketing challenges by sending me a string of questions by email.

Don’t misunderstand me: they are equally deserving of respect as people and we’re not making a judgement of their worth or value as human beings; but what we are doing is judging their worth to our business. That not only makes sense to us as business owners, but it’s also fair on the customers and clients who are spending a lot of money with us. I’m occasionally asked to do “special deals” with people, and I always turn them down.


Because not only do I know from experience things don’t work out the way my wannabe clients think they will (for all sorts of reasons), but also because it’s unfair on anyone paying me top-whack.

The Medium

The medium is the means by which you get your message in front of your market.

And it’s perhaps where all the trouble really starts. You see, most business owners choose their media completely arbitrarily.

The usual way it works is they’ll get a well-timed call from some ad rep or other at the local paper or perhaps working for one of the popular business directories, and find themselves being talked into dropping a few hundred Groats on some advertising.

After all, they know they need more business, and advertising reps obviously know all about advertising and marketing, don’t they? Um, no. As it happens they don’t. 

What most advertising reps actually know about is selling advertising space and the associated creative services, because that’s the business they’re in — selling advertising. They are master salesmen and saleswomen, expert at extracting cash from business owners’ wallets. A useful analogy is to think about a car salesman and imagine he knows as much about fixing cars as does the mechanic in the garage.

Doesn’t happen, does it?

Unfortunately, choosing your marketing or advertising medium before you’ve identified your target market and crafted your message is entirely the wrong way to go about it.

It’s putting the cart before the horse. I mean, how can you possibly know the best medium to use to get your message to your target market unless you know who they are and what you want to say to them? In other words, the media you choose should be guided by the audience you want to reach and the message you want to send to it.

Sure, it’s often an iterative process, and it’s always worth testing a new and unknown medium if you can afford to lose the money, but the place to start is always with your market and your message.

And the range of media you have to choose from is vast. Don’t be fooled into thinking everything has to be online these days. It’s true every business should probably have a website, but to conflate this with the idea that means every business should also focus its marketing efforts online is a huge mistake.

A good example is the current fad for Social Media Marketing. It seems everyone and his uncle is pouring good money after bad into it, without any hard data on whether or not it’s actually making them any money. I’ve even come across business owners who have stopped perfectly good and effective marketing strategies and diverted the marketing Groats saved into Social Media Marketing — because, apparently, “that’s where all the action is”.

Well, yes. There is a lot of activity among Social Media Marketing consultants, bigwigs and gurus, I’ll give you that. But I see little or no evidence anyone but these people are making money from it beyond selling consulting and content production.

I’m not saying Social Media Marketing doesn’t or cannot work, not a bit of it. No, what I’m saying is it’s utter folly to assume it’s going to work for your business and to dive in headfirst without testing it and measuring the ROI; and the folly is compounded if you neglect currently profitable marketing strategies in search of the Next Bright Shiny Object.

You should always choose your media very carefully and test it to see what response you get. And there are so many to choose from:

  • Print advertising
  • Direct mail
  • Referrals
  • Search-based Pay-per-click (Adwords, Facebook advertising, LinkedIn Advertising, and so on)
  • Banner advertising
  • PR
  • Writing in the media
  • Radio advertising
  • TV advertising
  • Flyers
  • Article marketing
  • Public speaking
  • Trade fairs
  • Stands in malls, stores and other places where you get lots of foot-traffic
  • SMS marketing
  • Search engine marketing
  • Booths in garden centres, malls, and the like
  • And many, many more.

The list I’ve just given you is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and comes straight of the top of my bald head. There are literally hundreds of different ways to generate leads and sales for your business both online and offline, and, indeed, using a combination of both. We’ll revisit some of them later.

And the inevitable question, which one is best?

The answer is… the ones you find make you the most money.

Every marketing guru and his uncle has his favourite marketing medium and swears blind his way is The One True Way.

But this is nonsense. Not every medium works the same way for every business and for some businesses some media may not work at all (but work fabulously for the business next door).

And this is, of course, why you have to test, test, and then test some more. For example, some people say Google Adwords is the last word in lead-generation marketing, but this is predicated on the false assumption people are searching on Google for a solution to the problem your products and services solve. If they’re not, then Google Adwords simply isn’t going to work for you.

Finally, be very careful not to rely on just one medium, no matter how effective and lucrative it is. We’ll dig into this a little deeper later on, but for now just realise if you’re reliant on one medium for all of your business, and that medium stops working or is taken away from you, then your business is dead in the water.

Online Marketing

I think it’s fairly safe to say every business should have a website nowadays, even if it’s no more than a place-holder.


Because it’s expected and these days virtually everyone is online in one form or another. We can draw a parallel with the telephone if we go back far enough — there would have been a time when a business having a telephone was unusual, then optional, and then, ultimately pretty much mandatory if they wanted to be taken seriously.

So even as recently as a few years ago you could probably get away without a website.


A much more difficult proposition, although possible with correct positioning. 

This has been good news for website designers, even in the recession, because it’s meant they’ve had a steady flow of business, often from beleaguered and struggling businesses who imagine their salvation lies in having a website and tapping in to the vast riches promised by the Internet Marketing “gurus”.

A nice thought… but an ultimately fanciful one.

There are many reasons the dream fails to materialise, but three really come to the fore. 

The first is unrealistic expectations. The allure of effortless and fast millions made online is a powerful one, which is why there are so many snake-oil salesmen out there promising the Earth and delivering nothing much of substance.

I’ve helped Mrs. EBG build a business online from scratch, a blog, so I know what’s involved. I’ve also helped many of my clients do the same. In other words I know what I’m talking about and you can take it from me, the “Internet laptop lifestyle” is a myth. None of the rich and successful entrepreneurs I’ve helped over the years is sitting on the beach with a laptop making effortless millions while some hot native chick pushes her tits in his face and serves up piña colada. That ain’t the way it works, and anyone suggesting otherwise is someone to avoid because they’re either fucking stupid, utterly deluded, or just lying bastards.

The second reason is flawed perception of what a website should be. Most businesses’ websites are really nothing more than online catalogues, the Internet equivalent of glossy brochures that tell but do not sell

An effective business website does two things: it sells the business’s products and services, and acts as a kind of Concierge, allowing prospects, customers, and clients to interact with it.

Exactly how the sales are made and what the interaction consists of depends on the business, but it’s important for you to understand technology and society are now at a point where your website should be an integrated part of your entire sales and marketing and not just an add-on, or afterthought. Indeed, for some businesses, the website is the business.

Although, the chances are your website designer is a menace, and your website is likely doing more harm than good to your business. I always get complaints from people when I talk about this, even to the extent of one lady telling me rather huffily how offended she was and how it was “unprofessional” of me not to value these designers. But that’s OK, because if you’re offending people you know you’re serving up some unpalatable truths, and we all know unpalatable truths have a habit of being left to rot and fester.

Nevertheless, let me be clear about something: I don’t have anything against website designers. I think there’s a definite need for their services and it’s a skilled job they do, especially fiddling with all that newfangled technology most of us don’t have a clue about.

But the problem is most website designers are very often graphic designers who have added another string to their business bow. And there’s no shame in that… except when they present themselves as marketing professionals, which is something they do implicitly and explicitly. And business owners quite reasonably take their claims of creating websites that “stand out from the crowd” and “get results” at face value and sink thousands of Groats into websites that simply aren’t fit for purpose.

Sure, they look great. 

But as I already pointed out, they’re the online equivalent of glossy online brochures and they suffer from the same problem: they tell but they don’t sell. Something you can probably relate to is your website going live amid a big emotional high… and the expected and sometimes even promised results simply don’t materialise.

A simple way to tell if your website designer or graphic designer is a competent marketer or not is to listen to what they ask you about the work you want doing.

If they ask you how you want it to look before they ask you what you want it to do find someone else.

Form follows function and once you know what a website or other piece is supposed to do, that will dictate to a large extent how it looks.

Offline Marketing

There’s no doubting the fact the Internet has been a Godsend for businesses. Indeed, not only has it made it possible for a butcher in Basingstoke to sell steaks to customers in Caracas with everything save the packing and dispatch being handled by hands-off systems, but it has actually created brand new businesses which simply didn’t exist before the Internet came along.

Small wonder, then, business owners have latched onto it with all the tenacity and tunnel-vision of a drowning man clinging on to a lifebelt. In fact, I’ve heard more than one business owner say he or she has pretty much stopped any other marketing or promotional activity not based on the Internet. Not only is this incredibly short-sighted in terms of their missing out on potential profits, but it’s incredibly dangerous ­— to the point of being stupid and reckless.

Yes, there are some businesses where it would be very difficult to get any kind of sales at all if they were not online. And there’s no real problem with that, because that’s no different from a walk-in store having to have buildings to operate from. A good example of this is Mrs. EBG’s blog. It would be very difficult to run her little business offline and keep it as simple and profitable. We may experiment with offline advertising at some point, but it would mean going into speciality magazines. This is one reason, of course, we wouldn’t focus on this as our main business, even though it has the potential to be much more profitable than it already is. It’s too risky and to make the risk acceptable would require more work than we’re willing to put in.

But that’s really an aside.

My real point is businesses which can get sales and leads from offline sources should get sales and leads from offline sources, because not diversifying when you have the opportunity leaves you vulnerable to many things way beyond your control, like power cuts, Internet outages, and even the capriciousness of the owners of the infrastructure we tend to rely on for our online sales: Paypal, Google, and the like.  And this is especially true when you have a business in an industry which has hitherto trundled along nicely before the Internet came along (which probably means most businesses).

So why the sudden downer on the Internet?

Well... I’m actually not on a downer on the Internet at all. It’s more a case I’m on an upper on direct mail and offline advertising.

One of the most compelling reasons to be looking deeply and seriously at offline marketing it almost no one else is doing it, so you effectively have the playing field to yourself. I've been living here in Ireland for more than 15 years. I've spent tens of thousands of Euro with local businesses on everything from bookcases and window blinds to bikes and wardrobes and in that time I've not had a single phone call, leaflet, postcard, flier, or sales letter. I've never even had a single email trying to sell me anything.

Of course, there are those who claim offline marketing "doesn't work" any more. 

Is that so?

Gotta wonder how one of my clients grew her legal practice from £0 to a £1,000,000 in 18 months since all she was doing was print advertising in the local rag.

I'd also like these people to explain the 8:1 ROI we got on a recent print ad for The Well-Fed Freelancer.

Besides, not everyone is online. 

Even if 75% or 80% or even 90% of people are online and searching for the stuff you sell, the fact remains that leaves 25%, 20% or 10% of people who are not. 

And when you think in terms of populations of hundreds of thousands and even millions of people, that’s an awful lot of business you could be mopping up as well as taking advantage of all the cool stuff you can do online. 

And there we have it

That's your 16-word marketing strategy and enough detail on the four components within it for you to go away and kick some serious business arse.

The place I encourage you to start is with The Well-Freelancer. You have the boo, so you'd be a few cumshots short of a porn film not to go back and study chapters 6 and 7.

If you also invested in the WFF Easy Implementation Pack  then for the Love of All That's Holy use the damned thing to figure out your market and your message.

That's what it's there for.

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