Does marketing seem complex and overwhelming? Start with these three things

When I first decided I wanted to get serious about my health and fitness, I started where any self-respecting geek would — research!

I spent a few weeks trying to read so I could formulate a plan of attack. But I quickly hit an obstacle — there’s just too much information out there. The mountains of advice out there about what to eat and how to get leaner and stronger are staggering. And the best part?

Everyone claims that their system is the only one that works — and that the others will kill you

I just wanted to lose a few pounds, put on some muscle and feel better, and now I had to sort through dozens of competing, do-or-die claims.


But as I stopped hyperventilating and continued to read, a different picture swam into focus.

There were a few basic strategies that almost everyone agreed on

Once I understood these strategic goals, I could intelligently select a specific program that supplied the tactics that would help me pursue that goal.

For example, my fitness is putting a few pounds of muscle on my scrawny, computer geek body. There are thousands of programs that claim to do this, from intense home workouts like P90X to bodybuilding programs and group classes at the local Y.

From my reading, though, I’ve learned that adding muscle isn’t complicated for people in my shoes. It boils down to a few basics: Eat right, lift heavy, and sleep well.

It’s not a complicated formula. But it gives me a framework to start with, three slots to fill, and it helps me choose diet and exercise programs that will give me the nitty-gritty tactics I need to achieve my major strategic goals.

Now evaluating exercise programs gets a lot simpler

P90X, for example, claims it’ll add pounds of muscle over 90 days by putting you through a rotation of 12 grueling, hour-long workouts. It seems challenging, and the claims line up with my goal of gaining muscle. But the program emphasizes a high volume of work — hundreds of curls, pullups and pushups. Good exercise? Yes. But it’s hardly lifting heavy.

On the other hand, the Starting Strength program is designed to help skinny high school kids bulk up for sports, and it focuses on building a good base of muscle through five basic, whole-body barbell exercises. Each workout, you steadily increase the weight in each exercise. Starting Strength meets my lift heavy criteria — it’s a better fit for my goals.

What does this have to do with marketing?

The marketing industry has a lot in common with the fitness industry. There are hundreds of great how-to books and prepackaged systems available for you to choose from. Many claim that their approach is the only one that works, and they’ve got the testimonials to “prove” it.

It’s overwhelming, and your to-do list will grow with each book or blog post you read:

  • Improve landing page conversions
  • Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Google+!!!
  • SEO all the things!
  • Offer Multiple price points
  • Pursue guest blogging opportunities

If you want to get your head around all of this, you have to take a step back and realize that most of this material focuses on tactics rather than strategies. There’s nothing wrong with tactics, but if you don’t have a clear set of goals in mind, you’re going to spend all your time bouncing from tactic to tactic and making little progress.

What core strategies should I pursue with my marketing program?

There are three main strategic goals that I consider essential for marketing:

  • Understanding an audience
  • Building trust with the audience
  • Expanding your reach with the audience

If you continue to work on each of these three areas, you’re going to make progress.

Notice what’s not in that list. There’s nothing about logos, or responsive web page design, or social media. Those are all tactics, and they may or may not help you achieve one of the objectives listed above.

When you encounter a tempting new tactic, try to determine which of those three main objectives it can help you achieve, if any. That gives you a basis for side-by-side comparison with other tactics.

Different tactics, same objective

Let’s look at the objective of expanding your reach. The goal here is to increase the number of people who encounter you for the first time — broadening your exposure.

There are many viable ways to do this. I’ve had some success with the following tactics:

  • Building a large Twitter following
  • Growing a mailing list
  • Writing blog posts on frequently searched terms
  • Writing content that’s likely to be popular on high-profile sites

Any of those activities could consume all of your time, and books could be written about how to use them effectively. But in each case, you’re essentially pursuing the same goal — increasing the number of people who stumble across you for the first time.

Recognizing this allows you to evaluate whether a given tactic is worth your time.

For example, Twitter has proven very effective as a way for me to promote my book about Sublime Text. Software developers are perennially interested in their favorite editing tools, so I set up a Twitter account and use it to tweet Sublime-related tips. This account is one of the main ways my Sublime audience encounters me for the first time.

On the other hand, I have a website I set up to promote standing desks. In this case, I didn’t want to spent time each week promoting the site, so I decided to pursue search-engine focused tactics. I published several articles that might appeal to LifeHacker, angling for some powerful backlinks. They took the bait, and Google started sending me a steady stream of traffic soon after.

Don’t stress about finding the “right” tactics

When you’re getting started, don’t worry about finding the absolute best tactics. Instead, list out a few options under each strategic objective. Do a little reading on each, if you’d like. Then pick one or two and start executing. Stick with it for a while, then evaluate whether you’re starting to get some traction from your effort. If not, set that tactic aside and try something else.