Looking for the Trick


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Another word for the silver bullet we seem to keep trying to find in the next shiny new object — social media, content marketing, big data, automation, machine learning, you name it — anything that will help sell more with less often in a one-to-one tactical swap.

This excerpt by Paul Graham# [h/t Fred Wilson] has enough distance from the marketer's day-to-day to offer a dispassionate example of what many conversations look and sound like:

[…] in a lot of classes there might only be 20 or 30 ideas that were the right shape to make good exam questions. The way I studied for exams in these classes was not (except incidentally) to master the material taught in the class, but to make a list of potential exam questions and work out the answers in advance. When I walked into the final, the main thing I'd be feeling was curiosity about which of my questions would turn up on the exam. It was like a game.

It's not surprising that after being trained for their whole lives to play such games, young founders' first impulse on starting a startup is to try to figure out the tricks for winning at this new game. Since fundraising appears to be the measure of success for startups (another classic noob mistake), they always want to know what the tricks are for convincing investors. We tell them the best way to convince investors is to make a startup that's actually doing well, meaning growing fast, and then simply tell investors so. Then they want to know what the tricks are for growing fast. And we have to tell them the best way to do that is simply to make something people want.

Make something people want. It goes like this:

  • How do we build traffic to our site? Write content people look for and want to read
  • How do we get people to engage? Post updates that are useful and informative from their point of view and what they are trying to do
  • How do we get people to convert more? At a minimum, take a look at the experience — make it easy for them to complete tasks by looking at your site with their eyes
  • How do we get people to come back more often? Make them awesome when they use your product and service

Just some ideas.

Gaming the system may work for a while. It used to work for longer when acceleration was not this fast. Now many organizations face parity and a slow decline before looking at a precipice or finding a cliff.

In a startup the bosses are the users/audiences. Thinking about your business as a startup is more about serving the user and helping them be awesome than using lean startup methodologies or canvases.

Many more lessons for marketers in the Paul Graham post, so read it.

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Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.

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