Pepsi marketing and the performance coach

UW Madison 4x100 Anchor

Steve is a performance coach. So of course before he left his employers to set up his own business he prepared diligently.

One of his preparations was to find the most successful businesses to model his marketing on. He studied the Top Ten performers in the Fortune 500 (why aim lower?) and easily came to the conclusion, “I need to be seen by as many people as possible.”

Accordingly, he had a thousand posters printed that said Steve Gibson: Performance Coach and pasted them up in all the highest-traffic areas of town. He bought radio ads and made plans for TV when the budget improved. He spent his free $75 Adwords voucher and another $300.

His total new clients? Two.

*sad trombone*

So THAT didn’t work.

Steve, always adaptable, tried a new tactic.

A number of clients had followed Steve over from his employers to the new business, and he asked if he could interview them. He asked, “What do you like most about our work together?” and “Why would you recommend me to others?”

“I love the way you discuss the mechanics of what I’m doing and the underlying science of it!” said one. “I love understanding the process, not just improving it.”

“You don’t patronise me and you always explain.”

“I feel like I’m part of the work, and it’s not just happening to me.”

Steve put this all together and then asked one follow-up question to his clients: “So you really enjoy the way I demystify the work and put you in charge of it?”

The response was an overwhelming YES. (And one, “Also, you’re cute.”)

Steve thought about this for a long time. The number of people who decide they want a performance coach AND enjoy taking most of the responsibility for their work is… small. Of the ten thousand people passing his posters maybe a hundred would fit that profile. (Maybe less!)

Steve thought ruefully, “And all hundred of them are probably jogging past with their iPod on and not looking at the posters anyway.”

So what now, Steve?

One of Steve’s mantras: When conditions are adverse, change the playing field.

Steve got some shirts printed that said, “You know you can do better.” on the front and “Steve: your secret super-power” on the back. He started wearing them to chess tournaments, triathalons and competitive sports of all kinds.

Those shirts started up some interesting conversations. They also led to ten new clients in the first month.

High five, Steve!

Steve isn’t Pepsi. And neither are you.

Pepsi is in dire straits if only 100,000 people buy their product, so Pepsi wants to be in the mind of the entire world. To achieve this goal they use mass-broadcast multimedia advertising: it’s expensive, wasteful, and not very effective. (It only works at all because the numbers are so large.)

We know this, but we don’t always know the alternatives. Steve is an adaptable and creative guy and was able to think up a clever way to redefine his audience and how to reach them.

He’s rare: you and I both know business owners that have refused to change what isn’t working, and watched their businesses go slowly bankrupt.

But you can do something Pepsi can’t.

Pepsi (and every other mega-brand) needs so many customers to stay afloat that they have to be generic and impersonal. (They do use targeted branding, but “geeky students” is still a very large group.)

Big companies find it almost impossible to do one magnificently effective thing that you can do easily: making their customers feel special.

If like Steve you say, “I’m only looking for clients who want to understand the process, and take responsibility for their own growth”, how appreciated and delighted and welcomed will your clients feel if they’re one of those people?

Everyone wants to be celebrated for who they are. If you can provide that experience, your clients will praise you to the skies and love everything you offer them.

This would not have worked if Steve hadn’t gotten very specific about who he wanted to attract. No-one feels particularly excited about being part of a huge group. (Which is why demographics suck.) You have to make your definition of Bestest People tight enough that it feels meaningful to the people who are in it.

If you’re thinking, “That sounds great. But how do I DO it?” Goddamn Radiant is here to help. In just three hours, you will be able to describe who your Bestest People are, where they hang out, and so much more. Stop trying to act like Pepsi, and start acting like the most effective version of yourself.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Mark Sadowski

The fabric shop, and our biggest marketing mistake


Kim had a passion for textiles: colour, thread count, texture and fibres… they were her loves. And so she opened a business to sell fabric. Not just any fabric, but the best. Italian cottons, French linen, costume brocade and William Morris prints… a gorgeous effuserie of touchable hues.

On the very first day, Kim’s heart was full of dreams of freedom and potential. Through a rising choir, her heart announced that her fabric shop was going to be magnificent.

Her head, however, was thinking, “MUST MAKE CASH BY FRIDAY.”

Every time she made a decision, her heart and head started a vicious tug-of-war. Her heart cried, “We want to be bold, to be transcendent, to create, to be whimsical! We want to do the work that no-one else can do!” Her head muttered, “Look, can we make enough to pay the rent first? I’m on board once we take care of the essentials.”

To keep her head happy, Kim made some compromises. She advertised in wholesale magazines and made a big sale to a Taiwanese import group who clearly didn’t care about the fabric but knew they could get a good price for it. She made special offers to schools and sold bolts of cloth to students who “had” to sew a pair of shorts and planned to throw them out after.

The fabric shop was making decent money, but Kim’s soul was dying. After head and heart fought a vicious 3am guerilla war across her pillow for the sixth night running, Kim’s heart won.

The sign went up the next morning.


Kim started demanding that her customers explain why this fabric appealed to them and was a better choice than any of the others.

A number of interior decorators were banned from the shop forever, and a few others were given special invitations to locked-door previews of the next season’s prints.

Orders started flooding in from designers in four different countries (Kim could speak passion in any language), and one noted Hollywood costume designer flew out just to browse her jacquards.

Kim’s business was finally magnificent.

The mistake we all make

Kim knew who her Bestest People were, but she didn’t market to them.

She ignored the people who could actually appreciate her work, in order to grab the attention of people who didn’t care. And because they didn’t care, she had to push and force and discount and make her work a thousand times less glorious to make it acceptable.

When said like this, it’s a ridiculous mistake to make. Why would you chase the disinterested instead of proudly displaying your goods – your greats – to the oh-so-interested?

Because we see our empty shop or website and we think ohshitohshitohshit. (Nature’s got nothing on us when it comes to abhoring that vacuum.) We’re so desperate to fill that empty space that we grab wildly at whoever’s walking past.

The dude who just happens to be wandering by probably doesn’t give a damn about what you have to offer. Crap! Well, we can’t lose him, so… let’s make some changes. He doesn’t like it to be spicy? VoilĂ ! It’s less spicy. He doesn’t think it’s worth it at that price? Price dropped!

All of a sudden you have a business and marketing plan designed to attract someone who is never really going to value what you have to offer.

That’s fucking crazy.

The new plan

  1. Figure out who would love the hell out of what you do, with no cajoling.
  2. Market to them. Lovingly ignore everyone else.
  3. Make a lot of money, and love it.

Goddamn Radiant is here to help. In three hours, you and I will kick everyone out of the shop that doesn’t deserve the magnificence we both know you can deliver. Because you and your offerings deserve no less.

Creative Commons License photo credit: cuttlefish

Cinderella is a story about marketing


In the Grimm Brothers version of the Cinderella story, one of the wicked and vain stepsisters – let’s call her Charise – claimed that she was the rightful wearer of the glass slipper. Only problem? Her feet were too big.

No problemo, says Wicked Stepmother. Out comes the kitchen knife, slicey slicey off goes Charise’s big toe, and voila! the shoe fits. The Prince escorts the stepsister off to the palace, until birds alert him that her shoe is filling up with blood. Then the birds peck out her eyes. (You don’t remember this part? My copy had some disturbing illustrations.)

Completely undeterred by her sister wandering as a blind and limping beggar, the other wicked stepsister  – Jessamine – claims the slipper. Her foot is also a bit too big: slicey slicey, off with her heel. It works out exactly the same way, because the prince is clearly not that bright. Shoe fills with blood, birds sound the alert then peck out her eyes. Jessamine goes to join her sister in pain and obscurity.

The moral of the story

Like many fairytales, this makes more sense as an analogy than as a story. So let’s make the moral about positioning.

It’s easy to understand the desire to jam that glass slipper on your foot. The rewards are massive: money, adoration, power, (dim-witted) admirers… if you can wear the slipper you can have them all.

But we forget that the slippers were made for Cinderella . Made with magic! They’re a custom-fit solution that we can’t use without sacrificing parts of ourselves.

We also forget that the big prizes go to the first one through the palace gates. Even if the slipper fits you perfectly… there’s only one prince, and Cinderella’s already nabbed him. You might get a slightly warty baron, but that’s all.

When we forget these two things, we get blinded. And we hurt ourselves, and allow others to shape us to fit someone else’s path to success.

But what if…

Charise and Jessamine, horrified by the idea of slicing themselves into a dodgy version of someone else, decided to be themselves. They started a marvellously bitchy website commenting on how fantastic they look and how sooty the new princess is and oh my GAWD did you see what the High Duchess of Grabavia was wearing to the coronation? It’s the sixteenth century, hellllloooo.

All those who were tired of Princess Cinderella and Her Attack Birds of Death, or looking for the latest goss on The Least Observant Prince in History, flock (PUN) to the website. Soon Charise and Jessamine are rolling in admirers, money, and high-end gift bags. The End.

Charise and Jessamine could own that story in a way that they couldn’t own the Path to Princessdom. It allows them – requires them – to use their natural gifts, their voices, and their totally wicked hairstyles. And it rewards them accordingly.

So the moral of the story is this:

You can’t fit someone else’s slipper. Find your own.

Have you lost touch with your own glass slipper and started eyeing off your sooty stepsister and her shiny feet? Together, we can uncover what you need in Goddamn Radiant, the three-hour marketing transformation.

Creative Commons License photo credit: kevindooley

A love letter to my Wrong People.

i love you

Dear Wrong People,

I adore you.

Thank you so much for helping me learn more about myself. Thank you for disproving my first naive and hopeful, “Oh, I’ll work with anyone,” marketing. For reminding me, again and again, that my Wrong People are not Bad People.

There’s nothing at all wrong with you, or with me.

It’s just that we’re not great together.

So now I’m going to do the best thing I can for you, as a gesture of thanks: I’m going to do my utmost to warn you away from here.

I don’t want you to waste your time on me.

Seriously, I will never rock your world: our conversations will likely never develop an easy to-and-fro, and I won’t come up with the solutions that suit you best. Even when I’m saying smart things, it will take time and energy for you to translate them into your patterns of thought. You deserve better than me, Wrong People. You need someone that’s absolutely kick-ass for you, and I’m not.

So as a favour, I’m going to work my ass off to make it easy for you to know that we’re not a great match.

In fact, I aim to make it abundantly obvious within the first three seconds of you arriving on this website, so it’s easy for you to leave and continue searching elsewhere. Here, I’ll even help with the search.

Find someone who agrees that business is a serious matter and shouldn’t be the subject of levity. Enjoy the unshakeable discipline, guidelines and predictability they’ll bring to the work you’ll do together. Revel in the reserve and professional courtesy and distance between you that makes you feel most respected, and the way they don’t shock you with their bluntness or expect you to discuss things that aren’t any of their business.

Find yourself someone who works on your timescale and won’t drive you crazy with their desire to act Right Now. Look for someone who is as detail-oriented as you are and fully appreciates your need to think over every aspect of a decision before making it. They’ll please you with tried-and-true methods (with studies backing them up), and won’t force you to try anything unproven or fuzzy.

They will make you feel safe, appreciated, smart and magnificent in a way I never can.

Run to them, dearest.

Enjoy the warm feeling of talking with someone whose values mesh perfectly with yours, who has the same ideas of quality and respect. Be your best and most wonderful self in their company. I want that for you, Wrong People.

Now get the hell out of here.

Much love,

Made it through the gauntlet and realised that you are one of my bestest people? AWESOME. You should definitely sign up for the weekly newsletter Rise and Shine, then!

Creative Commons License photo credit: erin MC hammer