Selling is hard. Creating long term value is harder.
The obstacle is the way
Ryan Holiday is the author of “The obstacle is the way”. One of my favourite books. Stoicism as the entrepreneurs’ operating system.
He was also the assistant to Robert Greene, the man behind “33 strategies of war”, THE book on strategy.
His latest book is “Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts”. A “Loveability” approach to selling.
“Lovability” brings more of those strings together, including the attitude of entrepreneurs and start-ups to business. Why focus on pivoting, PR spin, fundraising, valuations and exits? Why not just focus on customer delight? On building on relationships, quality, and real value creation. And why not build something that lasts?
Long-term thinking is the new black
It may be just me, but there is a wind of long-term, sustainability and quality starting to blow. I think it is a response to the fluidity of social media, climate change and the speed of change. Why build something quick and mediocre, when you can create something slow and enduring. With long-term value.
Forget the hacks, the quick tricks, flash in the pan approach. Focus on mastery, longevity and perennial. On lasting impact and relevance.
Ryan Holiday brings the “Mastery” approach from Robert Green and combines it with the no nonsense Stoic philosophy, and it is refreshing and honest. There are no magic bullets. Graft, grit, deliberate practice and a focus on excellence.
The Lindy effect
The book mentions companies that have been around for hundreds of years. Companies such as Zildjian (founded in Constantinople in 1623, Fiskars (founded in 1649) and Trudon (candle makers since King Louis XIV). In that way, it feels a bit like “The hidden champions of the 21st century.”
Again, the Lindy effect. Named after a famous restaurant where showbiz types used to meet to discuss trends in the industry, it observes that every day something lasts, the chances that it will continue to last increase. Or Nassim Taleb has put it, “If a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years.
How to create something that lasts for hundreds of years? That is the question. Creating lifelong value and thus lifelong, or even multi-generational, income. And that is hard, hard work. Making great work is incredibly hard. But it must be your primary focus. While many dream perennial-selling dreams, they think that the wanting—instead of the work—is what matters. “Lots of people,” as the poet and artist Austin Kleon puts it, “want to be the noun without doing the verb.”
Once you realise that there is no quick fix and are willing to put in the hours, the blood, the sweat and the tears, you can start thinking about other success factors. Again, no magic there.
The first success factor is segmentation and definition of the target market. Picking your beach head. An audience is not a target that you happen to bump into. Instead, it must be explicitly scoped and sighted. It must be chosen. Having no specific user in mind is one of the major mistakes that kill startups.
Some question to consider:
- Does it have a purpose?
- Does it add value to the world?
- How will it improve the lives of the people who buy it?
- Is it either very entertaining or extremely practical?
- What does it teach?
- What does it solve?
- How are you entertaining?
- What are you giving?
- What are you offering?
- What are you sharing?
- What sacred cows are you slaying?
- What dominant institution are you displacing?
- What groups are you disrupting?
- What people are you pissing off?
- Is it the best you can do?
- What feedback did you get?
It’s not “promotion” we’re talking about here—that comes later. Instead, prior to release, considerable effort needs to be spent polishing, improving, and, most critically, positioning your project so that it has a real chance of resonating with its intended audience. Who is buying the first one thousand copies of this thing? Who is coming in on the first day? Who is going to claim our first block of available dates? Who is buying your first production run?
There is there is no publisher or angel investor or producer who can magically handle all the stuff you do not want to handle. Nobody has a reason or the time to give you the star treatment. What does that mean? At a very basic level, if you’re not amazing in every facet, you’re replaceable to publishers, studios, investors, and customers alike. Nobody cares. Get over it.
Therefore you need to take control of your own fate. You are the CEO. Taking responsibility for yourself. For marketing and selling. Get ready for the real marathon that is marketing. Marketing is your job. It cannot be passed on to someone else. There is no magical firm who can take it totally off your hands. And if you don’t see any salespeople, you’re the salesperson too.
The pitching question
And to help you with that, start with this question “This is a ______ that does ______ for ______.” Consider how someone would describe your book, movie, restaurant, campaign, candidacy—whatever—at a party. Consider someone trying to tell someone else about it in just 140 characters. What would they say? Will they feel stupid saying it?
It’s a ______ that does ______ for ______. Have you made filling in those blanks as easy and exciting as possible? Have you done the hard work for them?
- Who is this for?
- Who is this not for?
- Why is it special?
- What will it do for them?
- Why should anyone care?
Word of mouth
No one has the steam or the resources to actively market something for more than a short period of time, so if a product is going to sell forever, it must have strong word of mouth. It must drive its own adoption. Over the long haul, this is the only thing that lasts. Your marketing efforts, then, should be catalysts for word of mouth. Which is hard work.
Take inventory of everything you have at your disposal:
- Relationships (personal, professional, familial, or otherwise)
- Media contacts
- Research or information from past launches of similar products (what worked, what didn’t, what to do, what not to do)
- Favours they’re owed
- Potential advertising budget
- Resources or allies
- Champions—The More Influential, the Better
- Lists and platforms
A “high-impact recommendation”—an emphatic endorsement from a trusted friend, for example—converts at fifty times the rate of low-impact word of mouth
Call to arms
Create a“Call to Arms”—a summons to your fans and friends. I been working on ______ for a long time. It’s a ______ that does ______ for ______. I could really use your help. If you’re in the media or have an audience or you have any ideas or connections or assets that might be valuable when I launch this thing, I would be eternally grateful. Just tell me who you are, what you’re willing to offer, what it might be good for, and how to be in touch.
The other parts of the marketing mix
All other means are at your disposal. PR, social media, advertising, etc. However, when it comes to creating a perennial seller, the principle to never lose sight of is simple: Create word of mouth. And if you are clever, you build a list (not building a list is know as “amnesia marketing”) and a platform of loyal fans. The platform is not a stepping stone. It is the finish line. Read “Machines, Platforms, Crowds“.
Create events, rile your detractors (if you don’t have any, you are doing something wrong), swap your list, engage, be authentic, be nice, create relationships, do crazy things, explore and experiment. Again, no quick fix. Hard work.
You need to settle in for the long haul. Remember, the best and most valuable things that do not find their echo immediately. In other words, it is far better to measure your campaign over a period of years, not months.
Why are you doing this?
It is hard work. It is hard work. It is hard work. Just to repeat again. Hard work. You need to commit and you need to focus. If you’ve committed to doing something incredibly difficult that countless others have failed at before, you probably also shouldn’t be juggling five other projects at the same time. You’ll need to put 100 percent of your resources toward this one. A person on a singular mission can’t be distracted; he can’t chase every coloured balloon he comes across.
No nonsense, hard work
This is a book in the style of “Do-it Marketing”, “Be obsessive”, “The navy seal art of war” and yes “The obstacle is the way”. Read this books and add “Mastery” by Robert Greene and you will have a complete no-nonsense approach to long term success.
To summarise that approach in 3 words: Bloody Hard Work.