Creative marketing on the crappy days

Carnaval Weert 2009

Iris was King Shrewd’s herald, and she blew the fanfare trumpet.

She wouldn’t settle for any random toot-toot, though. No, Iris’s fanfares stopped all conversation every time the king entered. (As a good fanfare should, of course.)

Iris joyfully created the king’s theme and delivered it with repeated and varied motifs. (Many many years later, a composer named Aaron Copland heard some of them and wrote Fanfare for the Common Man. It would have given the king hiccups of rage if he’d known his majestic greeting had been transposed into an ode to ordinary citizens, but luckily the king had died many years earlier from eating a renegade pear.)

For many years, Iris blasted her amazing fanfares with all of her energy and breath and innovation.

But then Iris had the flu. And she had a raging row with her boyfriend about money. Iris felt run-down, put-upon and wrung-out. Even picking up the fanfare trumpet felt like too much work. And as for blowing back the coronets with a joyous blast? Forget it.

Exhausted and anxious, Iris paced in the quiet spot behind the tapestries. (The court’s backstage area.) She wanted to do a magnificent job. She wanted to produce her usual creative and innovative amazingness. Mentally, she rehearsed… and all she could think of was a big fat raspberry. She was going to let the court down. She was going to let her king down. She was…

“What’s the matter, Iris?” said King Shrewd, with a kindly look on his face.

“Oh, your Majesty,” she wailed, “I don’t think I can produce a wonderful fanfare for you today. I’ve been trying to create something great, and it’s not working.”

“I see. Well, can you do a decent fanfare? Something from the standard book?”

“I… suppose so. But it won’t be as good as my usual work.”

“Well, we can’t be amazing every day. Remember when I invaded Ruritania? That was embarassing.”

Iris smiled weakly. “I’ll do my best, sire.”

“Good lass.”

Accordingly, Iris walked out and blew Standard Fanfare #7.

The next day, she blew Standard Fanfare #15, with a small elaboration of the final flourish.

The day after, she delivered a muted but engaging version of her standard theme.

And after that, Iris was back to her normal improvisational best. (At least until she sprained her ankle and her mum found a suspicious lump.)

The moral of the story

Generally, you know you’re doing your best work when it just flows out of you with no feeling of effort. Most times it will be easy-peasy to get that work done.

But most times is not every single day.

When you do machine work – putting blue widgets into boxes or processing insurance forms – you can get through on those days when you really aren’t feeling it. You won’t be as efficient, but Tab A will get into Slot B nonetheless.

When you do creative work, the occasional off day (or off week) is hella alarming. It’s hard to do creative work with no feeling of flow, and hard to apply ourselves to creating work we know won’t be our best. It’s so very tempting to say, “Ah, fuck it. It won’t be any good anyway, why should I even bother? I should just eat this peach ice-cream instead, recuperate, and come back at it tomorrow.”

It’s a dilemma. Do you show up uninspired and do your best today, accepting that the end result might be workmanlike and maybe unworthy… or do you do no work at all, letting your mojo return naturally but getting nothing done (and maybe letting The Resistance in through the back door)?

In regards to creative work around marketing, this is even more tricksy. There is nothing less energising and exciting than someone saying, “Hurrah. I have a thing for sale. You should check it out. It’s amazing.” It’s very tempting to pack it all in and leave the marketing for another day.

But… to be effective, marketing has to keep showing up. If you save it only for the days when you’re feeling tippy-top, then it won’t get done often. So it won’t be effective. And you’ll have yet another reason to say, “Eh, marketing sucks. I won’t bother with it.”

So there’s a strong reason to answer your emails, promote your work, talk in the forum, put up new flyers, chat on Twitter, write a newsletter, post an update… whether or not the mojo is flowing as you’d want it to.

Only you can choose.

What are your thoughts? Tell me in the comments!

If you want a weekly reminder of your amazingness, with encouragement to keep marketing even on the crappy days, then sign up for Mo’Cash, Mo’Joy today.

Creative Commons License photo credit: FaceMePLS

Why your secrets don’t matter

Homemade Wheat Bread

If you traveled to a certain town in the south of France, you would know that they had only one baker.

Oh, there were plenty of people who made loaves of bread, but they were merely workmen. Standing far above them all was… Arnaud.

Arnaud! So many tales told of Arnaud! Of his incredible perfectionism – did you hear that once he threw out an apprentice for stirring a batch of dough with the wrong spoon? And then he threw out the batch of dough and started afresh?

And his secrecy! Mon dieu, no-one knows even where he buys his salt! It appears in mysterious vans in the early hours, in boxes which have been painted over! Just his salt!

For twenty years it was thus, and then the unthinkable occurred: a new artisan baker opened his doors. Ha, said the wise ones. This new shop won’t last a month.

But it lasted the month. And the next one. Any by the end of the third month, it was a raging success. People lined up outside the shop in the mornings to buy their baguettes, the same way they not-so-long-ago lined up outside Arnaud’s.

It was a sensation.

Reporters arrived, as reporters do. They interviewed a very grim Arnaud, who bit off every word and glared at the boom operator.

And then they followed the smell of delicious baking to Sebastien’s. Sebastien himself came out to meet the reporters, and escorted them in to the shop. Inside was a riot of colour on the walls, with two very large posters.

One said, “Bread brings us together. It is a feast for all the senses, and nourishes our soul as much as our body. Bread is comfort and certainty. Bread is who we are.”

The other, “Our Recipe” – the classic five-ingredient mix, with every supplier named. A receipe so simple that you could make it at home, if you were so inclined.

The reporters elbowed each other furiously in order to be the first to ask, “Why do you have your recipe on your wall? Aren’t you worried that people could just use the recipe and make the bread at home?”

Sebastien laughed. “If they wanted to make this recipe, well, it is published on more than 1200 websites. It is a classic recipe. I lose nothing by putting it up here, or by taking people through the back to show them how their bread is made.”

“But what about the mystique?”

“People are not paying me for mystique.”

“Well, what are they paying you for then?”

“Some are paying for an extra twenty-minute sleep in the morning. Some are paying for my beautifully even-cooking oven that will bake the crust exactly right. But the rest are paying for love.”

He laughed again at their bemused faces. “I love my customers, and I let them know it. It gives them pleasure – we all need to be loved, n’est-çe pas? Also, I love bread. I am passionate about it, I am determined to make it as excellent as it can possibly be. Continually, I experiment! Just last week I found that by raising the oven temperature 2 degrees I can improve the texture of the bread, to make it have just a little more of the elasticity we enjoy without becoming dry.”

“But what about Arnaud? He too is a perfectionist.”

“I must correct you: I am not a perfectionist, I am a striver for excellence. Arnaud is making bread for Arnaud; I am making it for my people. I am seeking to please them, to delight them, to make them smile. And that is what they pay me for.”

“So why do you list your recipe then?”

“Because I knew it would get you to come here to interview me.” And Sebastien laughed yet once more.

The moral of the story

Paranoia about sharing the details of how you work is a sign that you don’t think there’s anything unique or amazing about what you’re doing.

I could cheerfully tell you everything I can think of about how I help people name their amazing products and websites and such, because it doesn’t matter. There are so many factors that I bring to my work – word nerdery, empathy, humour, long years of marketing study – that you couldn’t do it in just the same way. Of course you could do it in different ways, but then you’d be offering something completely different anyway. So why should I worry?

When you create magnificent work, you create something that can be analysed but not duplicated. And, free of the fear that sharing your secrets would make you redundant, you can talk openly about your methods, ingredients, inspirations… all the kind of details that help me build trust in you.

If you want to know more about how to create magnificence, then have a look at DIY Magnificence. It’ll get your dough rising.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Emily Carlin

Evil gnomes, shovels, and a very important marketing lesson

The Simple Life

Rina loved story hour. She loved watching twenty pairs of eyes staring up at her enthralled as she told tales, and the stories she liked best were the fairy tales of old.

But then one day she told the story of Rumpelstiltskin, the troublesome gnome who demanded a first-born child in exchange for his straw-spinning gifts, and she ended the tale with the thump of the closing book, “…and it served him right.” And thus she sealed her doom.

That night she awoke from a strange dream to find herself standing in the middle of a warehouse, with a gnome looking up at her and smiling maliciously. “What am I doing here? Who are you?”

“Oh no, sweetheart, I’m not falling for that old trick. You can call me Mr Blue, or maybe Master.” He leered. “And I have a challenge for you that you can’t refuse.”

Rina hadn’t read fairy tales all her life for nothing. “Do I have to spin straw into gold? Or fetch a golden ball from a well? Or take the words from the golem’s head?”

“Nothing quite so elegant. Look around you.”

Rina saw crates and crates and crates, each labelled: Round-mouth shovel x 20. There didn’t seem to be a spinning wheel or a pair of red shoes hiding behind any of the crates, so she turned around quizzically. “What am I doing with these?”

“You have to sell them. There are ten thousand shovels here, and within the next six months you have to sell every single one, not getting less than $30 each.”

“What happens if I don’t?”

“Remember all the fairy-tale punishments? Let’s say… all of them.”

“All of them?”

“All of them.”


So Rina started to sell shovels.

First she went to the big hardware stores, but their suppliers sold shovels to them at $25 or less. They weren’t interested, although one man named Patrick was very sympathetic when she told her adjusted tale of woe – how her batty Uncle Geoff had left her a warehouse full of shovels instead of an inheritance – and he recommended a few other stores she hadn’t thought of.

The smaller stores bought a few shovels, but only a few. It was time to try selling directly.

Rina bought ads in the newspapers, the tradesman’s magazines, and on Facebook. (She thought, “You never know.”) Her prices were similar to the hardware store, but it was not terribly convenient to buy from her, so few people did.

So she loaded up her little car with shovels and went to building sites, gardening conventions, homemaker centres and even sports stadiums. (“They have a lot of people. You never know.”) She sold with the passion of someone who sees the oven and the red-hot shoes and the crows and the tower in her future, and she sold more shovels than anyone would have thought likely.

But at the end of four months, she had only managed to sell three thousand shovels out of the ten thousand. The scrofulous gnome appeared again, with a grin that was not allowed to be shown to children under thirteen years of age.

“You’ve only got two months left. Not doing so great, are you?” he purred.

“No!” wept Rina. “I’ve worked so ha-aa-aaard, I’ve travelled for ages, but I’m running out of people to sell shovels to…”

“Yeah, well. Sucks to be you.” said the unsympathetic Mr Blue.

“You’re so mean!” wailed Rina. “Are you going to take your money now?”

Mr Blue sneered with a face well designed for sneering. “I don’t care about the money. Keep it. Burn it. Shove it up your ass, I don’t care.”

Rina sobbed into her hands violently. Those who knew her might think that it looked a bit like she was hiding laughter.

Rina gets serious.

Once Mr Blue was gone, Rina got thoughtful. There was no way she could sell another seven thousand shovels in two months as she’d been doing it.

She decided to dig a little deeper. (Sad puns were her only source of joy by now.) Perhaps she could find a way to improve her shovels so they’d sell more?

She already knew that the round-mouth shovels were used for a bit of digging and to move materials around. She ignored the small panicking voice that reminded her she only had eight weeks left and spent time to see them in action, talking her way onto building sites and landscapers teams.

One week later she tallied what she’d seen and despaired. The builders and gardeners and roadworkers were already amazingly efficient with their shovels. When moving gravel and sand and dirt they would get the maximum possible load into their wheelbarrows with one nonchalant dig-and-flick action that dropped not one grain on the ground. They used heavy gloves so there was no chance of blisters. Many red-necked men, taking pity on her, told her gently that they couldn’t really think of any way to improve on the shovel.

That weekend she returned again to the hardware store to ask the advice of Patrick. She described the builders and their work and stopped when she saw a strange gleam in Patrick’s eye.

“Builders and gardeners and professionals use wheelbarrows, right?”

“Yeah, the shovels are for getting things onto or off the wheelbarrow.”

“But what about everyone else? There are lots and lots of people who don’t have a wheelbarrow but need to move sand and dirt around. How do they do it?”

Rina kissed Patrick on the mouth, making him go a delightful shade of red. “You’re a genius! Can I borrow a clipboard?”

The rest of the weekend was spent out the front of the hardware store, interviewing the populace. “Hi, do you have a wheelbarrow? Do you shovel dirt or gravel? What problems do you have with it?”

Rina heard from lots of people who moved dirt and mulch and sand with only a shovel. They said it was a pain. “So what you do, right, is you get it on the shovel, and you’ve only got to go about two metres to the garden bed, right, but you have to hold your shovel totally steady so all the mulch doesn’t fall off, and that’s such a pain on your wrists. And if you get the kids to do it then they spill it a lot.”

That Monday Rina and $90,000 went for a walk to an engineering firm. The $90,000 became $20,000. Rough sketches became detailed ones, and then prototypes. The manufacturing team was put on double overtime. Six days later, the Shovelbarrow was ready for sale.

The Shovelbarrow was a normal shovel – of course – with a special attachment. It dug like normal, but when you pressed the button on the handle a strong plastic bubble snapped into place. You could carry the shovel pointing straight down at the ground and no dirt would fall out until you pressed the button again.

Rina revisited the hardware stores with her new invention. She grinned as every buyer’s eyes lit up and they went on and on about how smart an idea it was.

The orders started avalanching in, and a second and third manufacturing team were brought in with the new money. Within a month, Rina had twenty thousand orders for seven thousand shovels.

On the last day of the six months, she was waiting in the empty warehouse when Mr Blue arrived. She was leaning on a shovel and keeping the look of triumph off her face.

“Yeah, well. So you found a way to sell ten thousand shovels. Bully for you.” A gleam of cunning appeared in his eyes. “Or did you not mange to sell one of them?”

“Oh no,” said Rina. “I bought this one myself. I have the receipt, if you want to see it.”

“And is this one of your fancy-ass Shovelbarrow whatsits?” he sneered.

“Nope, this is a standard shovel. It’s just like all the others except for one small thing…”

“What’s that?”

“I got it sharpened.” Light gleamed from the knife-edge of the shovel as Rina moved in.

You don’t need to know their name to defeat them if you’re well armed, you know.

The moral of the story

Fairy tales are messed up. Also:

Selling something extraordinary is a thousand times easier than selling something ordinary.

evil gnome advice

You can choose to do your marketing at the end, after every other decision has been made –  like Rina at the gardener’s convention, exerting tonnes of energy to convince people that this is the shovel they want.

Or you can do your marketing at the beginning, by designing something worth talking about. When you create something that people want to buy, the rest is easy.

So how do you create something worth talking about?

I know how, my lovely, and I thirst to teach you. Sign up for Rise and Shine, the Cash and Joy newsletter, and keep learning more.

P.S. Don’t ask me why I keep writing about wheelbarrows lately. I have no idea.

Creative Commons License photo credit: kennymatic