There is a popular image in the world of software which many young and inexperienced entrepreneurs are becoming infatuated with. It’s the idea that when you come up with an awesome idea, the highest peak to strive for — the ultimate goal — is getting in front of a venture capitalist and receiving a huge lump sum to propel your business to unimaginable heights and bring tremendous personal wealth. Well then, let’s explore what it really means to fund your business with equity capital.
Five years ago, when, for the first time ever, I was invited to speak at one of the best front-end conferences in Europe, I had quite a mixture of feelings. Obviously, I was incredibly proud and happy: I had never had a chance to do this before for a diverse audience of people with different skillsets. But the other feelings I had were quite destructive.
I sincerely could not understand how I could be interesting to anyone: Even though I had been working in front-end for many years by then, I was very silent in the community.
It’s about time that we take a step back and have a little chuckle at ourselves. Image via Shutterstock.
Plenty of products and services help people, making them healthier and happier. For those things, marketing is great — but sometimes, the way we talk about ourselves is absurd. Yeah, I said it, it’s absurd, but it’s all right because this post has a happy ending (stay tuned).
If you work in any sort of marketing role, you might have noticed that as a collective, we’ve done something incredible:
We’ve turned buzzwords into real, salaried jobs.
You can be a Growth Hacker these days, or a Content Marketer. If you work somewhere really cool, you might even be a Conversion Ninja. Plenty of people do these jobs (myself included) and one day we’ll have the awkward pleasure of explaining to our grandchildren what it was like being paid to be a Solutions Architect, or a Dev Mogul.
“Neat, grandpa! Did you invent a new form of calculus?”
“No, son. But I had over 25,000 Twitter followers. I was an influencer.”
This is the part-time nihilist’s guide to all those marketing terms you hate (but need). It might also clarify why your parents will never understand what the heck your job is.
Homer gets back to basics with marketing. Video: Fox.
Disclaimer: This post tears down marketing terms and the idea of becoming an influencer. We hope that it is popular and that you share it. We see the irony, and we’re disgusted by it, so just move on, okay?
Being considered an “expert” or a “genius”
To be considered an expert in most other professions, you need to have studied and practiced for years and years and years. You study, you’re tested, you pass, you advance. After what feels like a lifetime of this, people trust you as a voice of authority, as an expert.
Pro tip: Inclusion in a listicle or roundup guarantees automatic employment — should you want it — with some of the most prestigious companies in Silicon Valley.
There are expert marketers, of course: people who have been to school, who dedicate their lives to the craft of combining insight and communication into the most irresistible calls to action. But if you’ve got a profile photo, maybe a Linkedin Premium account, and a byline on somewhere like Unbounce (Hey, that’s me!), you might be considered an expert.
This will do one of two things to you:
It’ll make you lazy, because you’ll think that you’ve reached the top of the mountain. (By the way, there’s no top. There’s no mountain either.)
It’ll scare the crap out of you, and you’ll work your ass off to become a genuine expert, or at least, someone with useful insights.
I hope for everyone’s sake that it’s the second one.
Bonus option: You’ll develop a nasty case of Imposter Syndrome, where you’ll live in constant fear of being called out. It’ll make you triple your efforts, but it’ll never be enough.
Pursuing “thought leadership”
As a marketer, when you have a good idea, you call it a thought leadership piece and you milk it until it’s red and sore. Never mind the idea that “thought leadership” sounds like some sort of mind control, it’s just damned impressive that we managed to turn the act of having ideas into a tool for marketing.
In a way, being considered a thought leader is a lot like being considered an expert. Not so long ago there were real thought leaders, people like Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King Jr.. Now, all you need to do is tip that scale from 9,999 followers to 10,000 and praise, be! You’re a thought leader.
“One of us, one of us, one of us.” Video: Fox
Free infographics and ebooks
The only real way to tell whether a post is legitimate — whether the author’s really serious about the information they’re giving you — is to check for an associated infographic or ebook. At Unbounce, they call these in-post giveaways Conversion Carrots. Some other places call them Lead Magnets. I call them necessary evil.
“Can we make it go viral?”
I once worked at a place where a department, armed with five grand, asked us if we could make them a viral video. In their defense, they didn’t understand the process of how something becomes viral (another gross marketing term), so points at least for the thought. But directly asking for a viral video, or setting out with the intention of making a viral video, is like marrying a stranger for the tax benefits, and not because you love them.
Hey bud, if you RT me, I’ll RT you.
As a marketer, you want eyeballs. You’re hungry for eyeballs, you want to pour them all over your website. Some people have lots of eyeballs looking at them; those people are called influencers, and if you’re kind to them, sometimes they’ll let you borrow their eyeball collections.
People with a lot of eyeballs in their collection tend to be good at making things go viral. They often make infographics and eBooks, as well. They are the Aaron Orendorffs of the world (Hey, man!), and they are all-powerful.
“We simply could not function without his tireless efforts.” Video: Fox
“Epic,” “unicorn,” “guru,” etc.
No, it’s not. No, they’re not. No, you’re not.
“We need more user-generated content.”
The idea behind user-generated content is sound; it’s word-of-mouth for a digital age. Having a strategy to develop user-generated content, though?
Do you ever watch those videos publications like Gothamist do on some donut shop in Brooklyn that’s been around for 140 years? You think, “Wow, they must have a lot of user-generated content!” No, they just make great donuts. If you want your users to generate more content, just make stuff they like.
“Can’t get enough of that Sugar Crisp!” Video: Fox
Time to follow in mommy and daddy’s footsteps?
For over 20 years my dad spent most of his days with his hands plunged into ice water, gutting and slicing one fish at a time. I spend my days trying to get prospects to type their names into a CTA form field. In those final years before the sun explodes and we’re all plunged into an every-man-for-himself scenario, who’s going to be more useful? My money’s on the old man.
I told you that there was a happy ending, and in a way, the sun exploding and annihilating everything from Mercury out past Pluto is a happy ending. It’s a reminder that we’re all in this together, from your parents and their grinding manual labor jobs, to us word-pickers and graph-checkers who moan when we can’t find the right long-tail keywords to optimize conversion rates. One day everyone that’s left will go together, burning up with all the finest email lists, and all the leads. It’s all going to be fine.
People make some great stuff, and for the short time we’re here, it’s up to us to help get it in front of as many of the right people as possible. That’s your job, and it’s a fun one.
What are some of the marketing terms you hate to need? Drop them in the comments below, then download this free infographic. Jokes, there’s no infographic.
I recently sat down with Rock Zhang, a Chinese mobile entrepreneur. Rock is my classmate from business school, and we have both worked in the mobile industry for a while. In an age when the best marketing is good product management, Rock knows how to make millions of Chinese users fall in love with an app. I asked him to share his thoughts on app localization.
For me, China has always been a hard market to crack. I’ve marketed several mobile apps in European and US markets, and my apps have been featured many times in the App Stores in Russia, Israel, Spain, Germany and the US. But in China, our growth was stalling, and I don’t think we ever got a request for promotional artwork to be featured in the App Store. Truth be told, my “Asian expansion strategy” usually boiled down to hiring freelance translators through Elance to help me localize App Store pages in Chinese, Korean and Japanese.
In the tech industry, many of us came of age during hip-hop’s rise as a dominant art form. Its spirit of individualism, bravado, and constant reinvention makes it impossible for us not to admire. Our thought leaders craft mixtapes and pour millions of dollars into apps that decode rap lyrics.
The founders of my former company rapped to celebrate every corporate milestone. We’re compelled to quantify what we love about it, and to somehow technologize it the same way Instagram did photography.
This week I mostly spent time on fixing bugs, improving a deployment workflow and on getting another new front-end project structured. One major takeaway from this was that it’s good to have a proper deployment workflow in place already in the early stages of a project.
We should document appropriately in git what has been done in a commit instead of sleazily writing “changed [XY] because of [some arbitrary reason]”.
I spend a lot of time buying and testing iPad apps for kids. To be more specific, I lovingly do this for a certain two-year-old girl who is currently on a very successful #OccupyiPad mission in my house. Through extensive observational research, I’ve discovered what works and doesn’t work for my daughter, so I’m going to shamelessly generalize my findings to all children and propose four essential guidelines for developers who work on iPad apps for children.
Are you fed up with hearing about yet another Silicon Valley Web application built with fairy dust and funded by magic pixies? If so, this post is for you. Most of us will never get to work on a Web application that is funded by venture capital and for which the business aims are a secondary consideration. For us, developing a Web application is about meeting a particular business need as part of our job working with some large organization.
No matter where you go in the known universe, there is design-by-committee. It has become a pecking order of disaster for the society that used to pride itself on being a mover and shaker and that allowed its mavericks and dreamers to innovate their way to success.
In a business climate fueled by fear and the “Peter Principle,” as it is today, a decision not made is a tragedy averted.