Wasted kindling

The most valuable wood at the campsite is the dry twigs and branches used to start a fire.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger waste than cooking an entire meal using nothing but kindling. It burns fast and bright, but it doesn’t last. You might be able to cook something, but then there’s be nothing left for the next guy. No, the useful technique is to have some bigger logs standing by, and to use as little kindling as possible.

This, of course, is my analogy for marketing and promotion. That juicy link from a design blogger or your appearance on TV—that’s kindling. If that’s what you’re depending on, you’re in trouble. One manufacturer I know explained that he got about thirty orders from a post on a well-known blog, and so he needed a post like that every week to stay in business. Good luck with that.

PR and promo addiction starts this way. It’s the easy and lazy way to keep your product selling. Spray and pray. Work the kindling system, get the quick bits of attention and then move on.

It might work now and then, but it’s not a dependable and scalable way to grow your business. You need significant logs, things that keep the system working without a constant stream of promotion. A few:

  • a remarkable product that users enjoy talking about
  • a product with virality built in–something that works better when my friends use it too
  • a community orientation, so that each new user enhances the value of the community, creating a virtuous cycle
  • economies of scale in both production and marketing. As you grow, things get both cheaper and easier to talk about

All four are intentional (and not easy) acts of a marketer and designer who realize that they have a choice about what to build and how to build it. [Here’s a post from three years ago with more on this.]

Using up all the kindling is selfish and ultimately pointless.

How to succeed

You don’t need all of these, and some are mutually exclusive (while others are not). And most don’t work, don’t scale or can’t be arranged:

  1. Be very focused on your goal and work on it daily
  2. Go to college with someone who makes it big and then hires you
  3. Be born with significant and unique talent
  4. Practice every day
  5. Network your way to the top by inviting yourself from one lunch to another, trading favors as you go
  6. Quietly do your job day in and day out until someone notices you and gives you the promotion you deserve
  7. Do the emotional labor of working on things that others fear
  8. Notice things, turn them into insights and then relentlessly turn those insights into projects that resonate
  9. Hire a great PR firm and get a lot of publicity
  10. Work the informational interview angle
  11. Perform outrageous acts and say obnoxious things
  12. Inherit
  13. Redefine your version of success as: whatever I have right now
  14. Flit from project to project until you alight on something that works out very quickly and well
  15. Be the best-looking person in the room
  16. Flirt
  17. Tell stories that people care about and spread
  18. Contribute more than is expected
  19. Give credit to others
  20. Take responsibility
  21. Aggrandize, preferably self
  22. Be a jerk and win through intimidation
  23. Be a doormat and refuse to speak up or stand up
  24. Never hesitate to share a kind word when it’s deserved
  25. Sue people
  26. Treat every gig as an opportunity to create art
  27. Cut corners
  28. Focus on defeating the competition
  29. When dealing with employees, act like Steve. It worked for him, apparently.
  30. Persist, always surviving to ship something tomorrow
  31. When in doubt, throw a tantrum
  32. Have the ability to work harder and more directly than anyone else when the situation demands it
  33. Don’t rock the boat
  34. Rock the boat
  35. Don’t rock the boat, baby
  36. Resort to black hat tactics to get more than your share
  37. Work to pay more taxes
  38. Work to evade taxes
  39. Find typos