All posts in "Marketing"

Long time no see!

Published a couple of years ago - 28 Comments

I thought I’d record a short video to let you know about what I’ve been up to over the past couple of years, and to tell you about two incredible projects I’m involved with.

  • The first — “The Human Unleashed” — has just gone live. You can check it out at
  • The second — “Holistic Marketing” — will start very soon! Watch this space.

How NOT to Handle a Groupon Promotion, According to Peter Drucker

Published 4 years ago - 10 Comments

I recently had an experience with a Groupon promotion run by a local hotel, which I think makes a great example of how NOT to do customer service.

Briefly, here’s how it went…

In May I signed up for a Groupon promotion by the Buxton Palace Hotel for “£59 for a leisure day with two treatments, cream tea and a glass of Prosecco for two”. I got a message saying they were already booked several weeks ahead, so I left it a while.

Yesterday (August 9), I looked up my Groupon account to check the promo was still valid. Yes, great!

So it’s still listed as “Available”, with “21 days left!”. I sent off an email to the hotel, excited to make my booking.

This morning, I was surprised to receive…

I enquired what they proposed to do next.

Only to be told…

OK, what’s so wrong with this “Customer Service”?

I can accept that I missed the window and I can say goodbye to my £59. My issue here is that the Buxton Palace Hotel seem to have missed an opportunity.

Let’s start by examining the whole point of running group-buying promotions like Groupon. As I explain on this post in Open-Source Marketing, the single biggest reason for doing these promos is to build your customer base.

The legend Peter Drucker

The legendary economist Peter Drucker wrote in his famous book “The Practice of Management” that…

…there is only one purpose of a business: to create a customer.

Businesses that don’t build a customer base don’t stay businesses for very long.

Now, I have to say that businesses can often lose money in the short-term with a Groupon campaign. That’s absolutely kosher marketing strategy (called a “loss-leader”): you sacrifice short-term revenues specifically in order to build your customer base.

It is worth noting that small businesses in particular should be aware there is a very real risk of bleeding themselves dry by running too successful a loss-leader campaign (so I hope that Groupon & Living Social etc. counsel their clients carefully before they let them take on too big a promotion).

(I’m sure I remember reading another quote by Drucker that most fundamental rule of business is, “Don’t run out of cash!”)

So, Buxton Palace ran this promo in order to build their local customer base. (Remember that, it comes up again.)

The model is straightforward:

  • you offer an attractive discount (on a product that should be a repeat buy),
  • then do everything it takes to delight your customers,
  • and hopefully they’ll come back many times,
  • so you make your money back manyfold in the long-run through repeat business

How they totally screwed it up

Here, the hotel has managed to screw up that simple process in style. They fell at the first hurdle, because they failed to get me and my wife through the doors.

Even IF they had to lose a bit of money by honouring the offer, they would still have the chance of making a new regular customer. I am actually actively looking for a spa that we can visit regularly for a monthly wind-down!

Plus, by showing good grace, I would also feel an automatic sense of goodwill or indebtedness, making me actually more likely to become a frequent flier.

Tip: Always be the first to give, and the last to give.

So they missed out on the opportunity to delight me and Mrs Hunt, and they lost the chance to get our regular spend.

And to fall back on, “It says in the small-print that we don’t have to honour this” is basically giving your prospect the bird. Sure, it’s legally fine, but it’s a terrible way to do business!

And now a message from Buxton Palace Hotel and Spa

What they could have done

First, never, ever, insult your potential customers! (Did I just have to say that?)

(Feel free to disappoint those who will never be your customers, but take care whom you insult, because the market is a fuzzy, rich soup and word gets around.)

Here’s what I would have preferred to see…

  1. Any kind of taking responsibility or apology. Even saying, “I’m so sorry, but the promotion actually closed on {x}.” (Signing off “Sincere apologies” does not count!)
  2. Any kind of alternative offer. “While I cannot honour that voucher, we would love to see you, so here’s what I can do. I’m sending you a £15 voucher for…”

The point is not that they are obliged to give me £59 of value. I’m a reasonable person and understand how these deals work. I have missed the window on group buying deals before and was not 100% confident I would still be able to claim this one.

But manners cost nothing, and even a token offering of alternative compensation has significance, because it respects the business-customer relationship.

As things stand, Buxton Palace Hotel has lost any chance of this previous customer’s business, not just in 2017, but for ever, which is a great shame.

Peter Drucker would not be happy.

A Marketing Lesson from Land Fertility

Published 4 years ago - 15 Comments

If you know anything about me, you probably know that I think a lot about land, soil, the way we live, and where our food comes from.

One of the reasons for my fascination with dirt is that it’s extremely important. (Soil erosion may be the single biggest threat to humanity there is, as it’s happening at a predictable and frightening rate.)

But I also love to learn lessons about life, business, and marketing from meditating on dirt. It’s increasingly clear to me that everything follows the same natural laws, which are as beautiful as they are complex.

Here are some thoughts about how the life in our soil could relate to marketing.

The same patch of dirt could be abundant with life, or it could be practically dead.

You can change soil from being fertile to infertile very quickly. You can also make infertile soil fertile again, but it takes longer.

If you take too much from your soil, and put too little back, it becomes impoverished.

Strip away the dirt’s natural protective “skin” of decaying matter, leave it bare and open to the elements, and it will become parched and dry. When the rain comes, the precious topsoil will be washed away into watercourses, rivers, and eventually oceans.

So short-term thinking can be catastrophic for the land. When we take Nature for granted and think that we can take and take and take, without a care for her natural balance, the net effect is rapid impoverishment.

But when we work with Nature, revering the soil and caring for it, it will remain productive indefinitely. That approach is simply more profitable over time.

How does this apply to your business?

There’s a saying in gardening that I love…

Don’t feed your plants. Feed your soil; let your soil feed your plants.

I see two distinct approaches to business and marketing:

  • One common approach is to consider only what you can get or take from a market.
  • A second is to view one’s business and one’s markets as interdependent.

The first way is a kind of parasitic or cancerous behaviour. As Alastair Smith put so well in this interview before his passing, a cancer cell has “broken the sacred covenant with Life” in its quest for endless resources.

Ultimately, of course, cancers or parasites can destroy their hosts. Sometimes they are able to jump to new hosts. In marketing terms, that means taking so much that you constantly have to find new customers.

The second way is more symbiotic. Your business is not there only to take resources, but to enrich its environment, in the knowledge that, when we build up our ecology, everyone benefits.

The first approach seems to be short-term and separate; the second is longer-term and integral.

What would a symbiotic marketing approach look like? Some initial ideas might include…

  • Creating valuable free content (not sales material in disguise)
  • Pro bono work for good causes
  • Mentoring, speaking, or coaching without demanding direct reward
  • Freely sharing your experience on social media or forums
  • Promoting others without compensation

Which way is the right way?

Is there a right way?

Does it all come down to how one defines success? Do we measure success as short-term profits, long-term profits, value created, or through other, softer factors?

And does it really matter if we set out to take what we can? Life is short, so why not take everything it has to give? If there’s always a big enough market to sustain everyone who wants to take, can caveat emptor (buyer beware) provide all the cover we need?

It’s certainly clear that it’s possible to take the parasitic approach, bleed customers dry, cut corners, bend the truth, and “win” — at least through the measure of making good profits. I know plenty of people doing this.

And there is also plenty of evidence to support the idea that, when we give value with no expectation of reciprocation, that that value can come back to us in complex, fuzzy ways at some later time. (I’ve had people who have followed my work for years who suddenly pop up with a proposal or join a course etc.)

One way to answer the question would seem to be to choose a time scale. If we work quarterly, then long-term benefits may not factor. This seems to me a reductionist approach.

On the other hand, if we aren’t counting our returns and assigning them to specific actions (with associated costs), can we actually prove a return on investment from a more symbiotic approach?

This is anti-reductionism. We would actually have to let go of the notion that all returns are, or should be, measurable.

What’s true? Ultimately, it comes down to your world view.

Just like morality, ethics, politics, or spirituality, the way you see the world is a framework that you use to gather feedback. There is no right or wrong, only your truth.

Me, I see the world as one huge, messy, lovely, interconnected, symbiotic mess. To me, my market is like my soil. I have a duty of care to create value that I can’t measure, and that echoes beyond my lifetime.

The life I enjoy today is not my own. It is the result of the gifts of past generations, my parents, my educators, the peers who invited me to their conferences, the bloggers and podcasters who shared their wisdom, the crazy folk who let me interview them. So who am I to hold back my knowledge or gifts as “my own”?

Those are my values, and I really don’t care if they’re yours. You are free to judge me by your values, and I will judge you by mine. That’s the freedom we enjoy.

Marketing is Sex

Published 4 years ago - 7 Comments

When you think about it, marketing is very much like sex.

When it works, it can be so right, empowering and creative. When it’s wrong, it can be disempowering and destructive.

The relationship metaphor is often applied to marketing. The idea being that you go out and look for your prospects, or attract them to you, and then go through some kind of courtship that may take anything from moments or months. But let’s be honest — ultimately it’s about the consummation. (There’s a reason why we use the term “proposition“.)

When the chips are down, what really matters is, is this going to work? Is this a fit?

As I’ve said so many times, marketing is all about creating the conditions for a trade.

Anatomy of a mortise and tenon joint

In “The Secret of Selling Anything”, sales genius Harry Browne defined a trade as a transaction where two parties exchange something of theirs for something else that the other offers, each party convinced that what they’re getting is worth more to them than what they give up.

When we’re selling, it’s possible to have what seems like a great product and an ideal customer, but for some reason the trade doesn’t work. Maybe it’s timing, or maybe the communication is incomplete or inaccurate.

That’s just like relationships and sex. You can have two great people who look made for each other at face value, but the chemistry just isn’t there.

Male & female connectors in a VGA interface

Maybe it’s the wrong prospect, maybe it’s the wrong product, or maybe the proposition was badly put together or mis-communicated.

Whatever it is, that’s all marketing.

Marketing is about finding a fit between brand, product/service, problem/opportunity, and customer. The proposition is where those elements come together.

So as a marketer or businessperson, what you’re really doing is designing that fit. The “male-female fit” is all around us, whether you’re a carpenter creating a mortise and tenon joint, or you’re using a VGA connector to get a monitor to work with your computer.

So far so obvious. The real question this raises for each of us who’s in the selling business is…

What kind of marketing (sex) do you want?

Just like sex, marketing can work for both parties, or can benefit just one side of the arrangement.

Are you looking for people who really need or desire what you offer, or will you take any sale you can?

Marketing can be consensual or non-consensual.

Are you committed to providing all the information a prospect could need in order to know for sure whether your offer is right for them, or are you prepared to withhold, misrepresent, or embellish the facts in order to get the sale?

Marketing can be a genuine two-way experience.

Are you willing to get intimately involved with your market? Will you listen to their needs and concerns so you can respond positively, or just keep pushing directly to get your immediate needs met?

Marketing can focus on building long-term relationships or single transactions.

Does your marketing activity filter your prospects so that you can concentrate on those who are likely to have a long-standing customer relationship, or does your focus stop at the first consummation?

It all comes down to the nature of the relationship you’re looking for. Depending on what you’re selling, you can choose to have an extended, friendly, consensual courtship so that your prospect really gets to know you, and wait until the time is right for them to say “yes” to you.

How was it for you?

You can choose to have your customers wake up the next morning with a warm glow, knowing they have been an equal and respected partner in the event.

Even after the transactions are over, you can choose to remain friends, giving your customers every reason to speak well of you.

I don’t know your business, and I’m not here to tell you what you should do. And there’s nothing wrong with quick, dirty, cheap marketing.

The ultimate question is, what do your customers expect from your brand? How do they expect to be treated? Answer that question, then you can choose the right way for you to proceed.

Can Software Write Your Copy?

Published 4 years ago - 28 Comments

It has been a while since I felt compelled to write one of these reviews calling out Internet Marketing bullshit.

(I honestly don’t like doing it, and would prefer not to.)

But then it has been a while since I saw anything quite like this email I received today from Internet Marketing guru Russell Brunson, with the subject “want ME to write YOUR copy?”

Here’s the subject line.

And here’s the body of the email.

Now I’m not guessing that this email was spat out by the magic software. It’s well written.

The subject line makes you think, “Hey, really? Russ is gonna write my copy?” which gives you a reason to open the message.

And it gives you the familiar market trader patter of setting up the usual massive price, before saying, “But wait. Now you don’t have to pay a fortune!” plus “Usually this would be out of reach, but not anymore!” All good, tried and tested sales copy.

I don’t have a problem with any of that.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that Russell is claiming that someone had to give him equity in order to write copy for them. I’m sure that happened, although in reality it was probably far more of a happy joint venture.

No, my problem is with the proposition itself. The idea that ANY software can actually WRITE COPY.

It’s bullshit of the highest order. The only way I can really describe the supremacy of this bullshit is to borrow a line from Pulp Fiction.

Pulp Fiction Vince Lance

But when you shoot it, you’ll know where that extra money went. Nothing wrong with the first two. It’s real, real, real, good shit. But this one’s a fuckin’ madman.

It’s not just bullshit. It’s fuckin’ batshit-crazy madman bullshit.

Why? Because anyone who’s written copy, whether it’s good or bad, knows how hard it is, how complex, and subtle it is. And how every piece is a brand new challenge.

The process is as human as things get! There is NO SOFTWARE that can WRITE good copy, period!

Good copy means fully and intimately understanding the audience, the product, the offer, the feeling you want to create, how to generate curiosity or intrigue or whatever hooks you’re going to use to get people to keep reading. It is really, REALLY difficult.

Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. …”Why, no,” dead-panned Red. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

So the idea that software can WRITE even basic copy effectively is preposterous. Why? Because there’s no software anywhere that can empathise with human emotions. End of story, goodnight, sweet prince.

So for Russell to say “THIS is the next best thing to having ME actually sitting in your office writing copy for you!” is not just hyperbole; it’s a blatant LIE. I bet my ass that ANY moderately talented copywriter can out-perform Russ’s machine.

So What CAN Software Do?

I’m not saying Russell hasn’t created something that can churn out words. Clearly he has.

(And he isn’t the first. Black-hat SEOs have been using software to chew up content and vomit it back out over the web for years. The bastards.)

But that’s not the same as copy. “Copy” is the result of a creative process. Humans can create things that elegantly balance the super-complex factors of psychology, emotion, imagination, and legal responsibility. Computers can’t, and won’t be able to for a while.

Let me predict what this magical “mechanical Turk” will turn out to be. It will be a template system that asks you a bunch of questions, then spins out some familiar-sounding wordage using your responses. And will miss the mark, by a long way.

If you’re going to go to the effort of answering all the questions you need, and you really don’t have the writing gene, you would be better off taking that time to put your answers down on a brief and giving it to a third-rate copywriter on Fiverr. I’m certain you you’ll get better results.

What Else is Out There?

A quick search revealed this article by Bob Bly that talks about an alternative software solution called Persado, which had just (July 2015) raised $21 million to take their product to market.

Persado seems to be far closer to the kind of AI copy-writing software that you might be expecting. It uses algorithms to help it compose a range of copy, but even then it can’t actually write.

From the article…

But, as it turns out, the WSJ misinterprets what Persado’s software is really doing. So let me set the record straight, based on a recent interview I conducted with Persado CMO David Atlas.

First, the software does not write copy in the sense that you or I might write a sales letter, ad, landing page or brochure. It cannot do what we copywriters do — yet.

Atlas explained that the Persado algorithm is limited to creating persuasive sentences with a maximum length of 600 characters.

So far, Persado is mostly used to write email subject lines, Facebook ads, text messaging for mobile marketing and short-form landing pages.

“Persado solves a mathematical word puzzle to figure out the best sentence,” says Atlas. “It automates the creation of small sentences optimized for persuasion in digital marketing that drives action.”

What’s Your Problem, Ben?

I love to see people innovating, solving problems in new ways, and making money selling those solutions. Bravo to every entrepreneur and inventor out there who does that.

But when I see people peddling so-called “solutions” that promise to solve problems that are as challenging — and as important — as marketing, when those “solutions” are merely patterns that have proved effective in a few cases, and pitching them as UNIVERSALLY effective, that’s where I lose my shit.

This is me about to lose my shit and turn green.

I’ve railed against cookie-cutter marketing solutions in the past, and I’ll keep doing it as long as people are losing money on them.

For example, I literally just got off a call today with a group of people who are promoting a technology that could transform the world. They invested time in studying (wait for it) Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula, and followed the system thoroughly.

No sales. Not one. The previous 2 times they sold this product, they sold over ten units (it’s a fairly high-priced training). This time, after months of work to follow PLF, zilch.

Why? Because Product Launch Formula doesn’t always work! There is NO FORMULA, there is no special sauce, no cure-all, no magic fucking beans, no answer to YOUR marketing challenge… because YOUR marketing challenge is UNIQUE!

Anyone who says there is a one-size-fits-all solution to marketing is
a) lying, and
b) about to try to sell you one.

So yes, Russell Brunson’s team have created some software. It is probably the result of months of cutting up previously successful copy from a wide range of campaigns. It has probably taken months of programming. It will certainly spit out copy in response to what you give it.

And it will fail.


I would like to see this software in action. If it really can write great copy, I will eat my hat, retract this post, and will go on record proclaiming Russell Brunson as the saviour of marketing.

(Update: I’ve now seen it in action, and it cannot create great copy. My hat is safe, hooray!)


Image from Russell’s G+ page:

I’ve got nothing against Russ as a person. The first time I came across him was a couple of years ago when I saw a video of a presentation he gave, and I found him immediately likeable and authentic.

I can’t remember the details of what he was talking about, but I remember sharing it with my group at the time saying, “I think this guy could be one of the good guys” because it definitely struck me with its integrity. And I know Russ has worked very closely with Dan Kennedy, who’s one of the smartest marketing minds alive.

So, before the trolls are released (as they always are) let me say this isn’t an attack on Russ, it’s a comment on the prevailing habit that many Internet marketers exhibit to extrapolate a product or service’s ability that works in some cases and claim that it could work for everyone. It can’t. Marketing isn’t like that. Sorry.


I’ve just been through a previous recording of Russ’s sales webinar where the product is actually demonstrated, which I found with a quick web search.

It’s called “Funnel Scripts“, costs $297 (at least that’s the “buy it now before it disappears” price offered at the end of the webinar), and it does exactly what I thought it would…

You enter a few details (main benefit 1, main benefit 2, main obstacle, etc.) and it spits out basically a document that slots your words into many combinations of boilerplate text (along with a bunch of other outputs like webinar presentations). So it’s basically a “fill-in-the-gaps” copy spinner.

My Conclusions

For what it is, Funnel Scripts seems very good. But the problem is, what it is is not what it is being pitched in this email. It cannot replace a skilled copywriter.

The makers do not promise that Funnel Scripts will produce your final copy. In the webinar, they stress that all copy needs to be edited and tweaked, so you should expect to rework it to some extent.

If all you want is basic, generic, shallow, and narrow sales copy, this product WILL spit that out for you more quickly than writing it yourself, and probably more cheaply than hiring someone to write it for you.

If your market is relatively naive and dumb, that may be cost-effective, so go for it. If your market is sophisticated enough to have seen a range of similar generic sales copy before, it may not work so well.

If you know beyond doubt that your offer does not deserve its own custom strategy, this could work for you. But I can’t think of any offer I’ve worked on recently that fits that description. Even if you need to do something as basic as tell your offering’s origin story in an original way, you’re way beyond the scope of Funnel Scripts.

If your product and/or your market require particular insight (beyond the basic, brash, bold claim aimed at the unsophisticated impulse buyer), that will require close attention and the software can’t help you.

The end result will never be as good as copy that has been expertly crafted. The reason is that this software solution provides, by its nature, what is basically a relatively dumb process. As I’ve said, nobody can write software that can actually write copy, make it fit-for-purpose. All it can do (at least at this price) is automate a fill-in-the-gaps template.

To propose that this software means you don’t need to be a good copywriter or hire a good copywriter, or that it’s anything LIKE having a good copywriter write your stuff is disingenuous beyond measure, at least for 99% of us.

In other words, if you’re selling magic beans, go for it.

A Business Proposal For You

Published 4 years ago - 6 Comments

I’ve been mulling on this idea for a few months, and I guess it’s just time to put it out there.

In brief, I’m looking to partner with a few people who want to take advantage of my online marketing platform in return for some compensation (fee / share of revenues / etc.). Specifically, I want to know YOUR ideas for how YOU would partner with me.

Here are the facts as I see them…

1. Incredible Potential is a kick-ass domain! Here are the top traffic keywords from Google Analytics over the past four weeks. top traffic terms (past 4 weeks) top traffic terms (past month)

That’s only what I could fit on the screen, but Analytics shows 38,313 visits to the domain in the past month, of which 29,766 came from organic search.

WDFS Traffic

I also have a mailing list with over 8000 contacts that has grown by 4000 in the past year.

My mailing list growth over the past two years

My mailing list growth over the past two years

Bottom line: If YOU were to post your high-quality content on my website, it has a great chance of ranking well. Plus we can instantly promote it to thousands of people who are interested in web design, marketing, copywriting etc..

2. Seriously Under-Utilized

When I was in the agency business, I ran a five-figure monthly business with several staff with zero marketing work, other than posting on Web Design from Scratch.

Here’s what I learned early on…

Sharing what works and telling people how you get great results for clients is the perfect advertisement for your business!

While I am still working in web marketing, design, development, I don’t have the time to continue to develop new courses, books, and other products.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll have seen the evolution away from web design, SEO, CRO etc. and through ethical marketing and the open-source movement.

These days my professional focus is more on innovation for companies, and my personal passion is in the area of sustainability and green living.

So I’m not posting enough on WDFS, and I’m not mailing my list enough. These are amazing resources that are simply not being used optimally. That means there’s a huge amount of business — and money — sitting on the table.

3. You Need More Business, I Want to Help.

I’m looking for a few partners who share my values, who have big ideas, and who are keen to build something cool.

This opportunity may be for you if…

  • You’re not a dick.
    • This is super-important. I promise everyone who signs up to my mailing list that I won’t sell them out, so anything I promote must be legitimate, useful, interesting, and honest.
    • Plus, if we’re going to work together long-term, we need similar values or it isn’t going to work.
    • Of course, you need to be good at what you do, and passionate about it.
  • You like to share what works.
    • The whole purpose of Web Design from Scratch has always been to share information about how to market online the right way.
    • So I only want content that’s generous and genuinely helpful.
    • That doesn’t mean you can’t blow your own trumpet. On the contrary, I’m specifically looking for your case studies about how you get traffic, get conversions, solve problems, win customers, retain business, make money, increase profits (whether for your own business or for clients).
  • You’ve got big ideas.
    • When it comes to the difference you’re making in the world, the bigger the better. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a large agency or a big product/service company, or you’re just one person. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got lots of money in the bank or none. I am interested in hearing what you’d like to change.
    • I love innovation, I love passion, and I love ideas that will improve the way we live. Making money is important, but it should come as a result of making a positive difference.

Your specialist area could be almost anything, as long as it’s interesting and helpful to my audience (people who do web design, web development, or online marketing).

You may be interested in WordPress, graphic design, copywriting, email marketing, web security, search engine optimisation, pay-per-click marketing, social media, conversion rate optimisation, or pretty much any area of online marketing and tech.

The Deal

I’m offering you:

  • Licence to publish your content on
    • This may be your own work, or joint interviews etc.
    • It is subject to my editorial quality control (must be top-quality stuff), and also subject to fair use (you can’t spam the site, we need to keep balance).
  • Ability to promote certain top-quality content to my mailing list.
  • This may include genuine offers and deals.
  • Plus any connections, collaboration, ideas, or coaching I may be able to offer (in limited time!)

What I’m asking from you is your ideas for trade.

  • Could be a partnership fee (suggested $500/month).
  • Or possibly a revenue-share arrangement (need to be clear how this would be monitored).
  • Or… something else. What kind of win-win scenario can you think up?

To take the next step, simply email me with your proposal! (I promise to reply to any genuine proposal that isn’t fucking stupid.)

Your pal,


Spend an Hour in the Company of a Great Teacher

Published 5 years ago - 6 Comments

Today I learned that my friend and mentor Alistair Smith passed over into “whatever happens next”.

Our history is relatively short. Alistair contacted me around a year ago to discuss his visions for reconnecting the spiritual and business realms, and his ideas for bringing a new creative vitality into entrepreneurship. We struck up a friendship.

Alistair also told me that he was living with late-stage cancer, but, far from being a death sentence, for him it was an embodiment of his relationship with life. Alistair had a lot to say about his insights with this experience, and I know there will be books published about it.

I feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to interview Alistair about life, the universe, and everything, just a few weeks ago (as a bonus for my course “The Path” that I ran recently).

While he was physically very sick on the day we spoke, he felt energised and was able to talk for an hour.

I would love to share that interview with you.

Now, please don’t think this is about marketing or making money, although we do go into the ethics of wealth (which is fascinating). This is an opportunity to walk alongside a phenomenally wise human being on the last stage of his “earthwalk”.

I learned a huge amount from this short time with Alistair. I hope you will too.

God speed, my friend!

Download MP3 Version

Bowing Out

Published 5 years ago - 5 Comments


This is something that has been brewing for some time, and probably won’t come as a big surprise if you’ve been following me for a while.

Basically, I have decided to retire from the business of online marketing / web design.

Why? Because it is no longer a complete expression of who I AM, and there is an urge to do something more that I just can’t shake off.

I’ll explain the reasons more below, but first let me give you an outline of what’s going to happen from here:

  1. I’ve asked my good friend and colleague Brian McFarlane to take over the management of Web Design from Brian is an outstanding marketer who really *gets it*, and he will help build the site’s presence in a way that it deserves. WDFS is a great asset, but I have not given it the attention it has needed (that’s a sign in itself). You can expect to hear some exciting news from Brian and other great marketers in the near future.
  2. I have taken down the WDFS Premium restrictions, because that also didn’t get the attention it needed, so that content is now freely accessible. Anyone who has been subscribing… please go ahead and cancel your subscription now. (However, watch out for my next thing, as I’ll offer you a discount on that as a thank you for your support.)
  3. I will still be writing, and I’ll remain on hand as editor-in-chief, to provide what support I can to WDFS and Open Source Marketing.

More on why…

For several years, I have been bashing my head against a wall, trying to make something happen that I thought I should do… Some kind of ethical and fair reinvention of the online marketing model that could involve a flexible network of specialists using a new profit-sharing model.

Great in principle, but (as my inner circle friends will be only too aware) never managed to see the light of day.

For a while, I told myself that the reason why I never realized that new business model was because I was either too lazy, or lacked the ability to manage.

But I now know that’s bullshit.

I now believe the real reason it never happened is because it wasn’t supposed to. Without getting too woo-woo on you, it feels like a voice has been getting louder in me, pushing me in a different direction.

As my “Finding Your Why” essay suggests, that true path or calling has always been there, and has been expressing itself through various projects and achievements…

Web design, copywriting, usability, conversion optimization, branding and positioning, ethical marketing… ALL this stuff is an expression of what I’m REALLY about… which is

“to explore and to share ways we can do things better together”

Lying beneath all those symptoms and expressions there has always been something deeper. And the truth is that none of those things has been a true, full expression of that one thing.

So I have decided to take the plunge into the one thing. If I don’t, I’ll keep going round the same carousel ride, ignoring the increasingly loud messages from (the Universe?)

Next question: What is my ultimate expression (right now) of exploring and sharing ways we can do things better??

Right now.. it’s this! It’s what I’m doing myself. It’s what I’m writing to you about in this letter..

If you go through my Circuit Questionnaire, you’ll pick up that the essence of what I want to help people or brands discover is their magnificent and unique gift that they can offer the world. (And, to be totally honest, I get a lot more excited about doing that exploration with people than with brands!)

That’s what this is… It’s the process of discovering and manifesting the BEST that we can be. Stepping into our true calling, which will not only be what will deliver personal fulfilment and happiness, but will also allow us to give the most we can to the world.

Now that I write it down, I can see how everything has been pointing this way.

Do I know exactly how it is going to pan out? No, of course not! If I did, I wouldn’t be on my edge, I’d be playing it safe!

Am I scared? Yes.

But I’m excited too.. and right now I know that some of you guys on my list will share that excitement…

Because you may be one of those folks who have felt this gnawing doubt, probably for several years, that there’s something more that you’re supposed to do… But you don’t know what it is!

So that’s where I’m going to invest my energy next. With pride and humility I’m handing over other areas of my business to people who have more drive and commitment than I can offer, so that I can create something to try to help other people (like you) to step into the life you truly want.

Briefly, I’m sketching out a program to deliver exactly that, in partnership with two other amazing facilitators. I don’t know exactly what form it will take, but I know it will be unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced, and I know it will be an experiment, a step into the unknown. If you’re interested to know more, please email me back.

There will be more to follow in the next few days. If you’ve read this far, thank you! I don’t take your attention for granted, and I truly hope I can continue to serve you in new ways.

With love, your friend,

Time To Take My Own Medicine

Published 5 years ago - 15 Comments

This is an open letter to my tribe, my friends in the marketing world.

You already know if you’re one of them, because you’re going to keep reading, because you care about making a real difference, you care about integrity, and you believe that marketing can be a force for good.

First, let me start with a confession. I know that, over the years, I have written too many posts about new business models, models which I have never implemented.

Although I’ve been in the online marketing business for over twenty years, I guess I’ve always felt like a bit of a lost soul, restlessly looking for something that I could never find.

It wasn’t visual design, it wasn’t conversion, it wasn’t niche marketing or application development or SEO or copywriting… or any of the other things I’ve turned my hand to.

Big Realizations

I’d like to share with you some very important insights that have led to the big change I’m about to announce.

1. Genius

My first big realization from the last year was discovering my Genius (what you might call my why, my path, missioncalling, dharma, or ikigai).

I have understood that I’m not really a web designer or a marketer. My own genius is…

To explore and share ideas for how we can collectively make a better world.

Maybe that’s why I have never been able to manifest a marketing business? Because that would not be a true reflection of my own calling. What really gets me bouncing out of bed on a Monday morning is idea exploration. I’m a person who needs to be at the edge of new ideas. And managing a business does not fit easily with that.

2. ONE Thing

The second big insight that has come my way this week is from this book: “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller.

The book starts with a movie reference that I love. It’s the scene in City Slickers where Billy Crystal’s character asks Curly, the crusty old cowboy played by Jack Palance, what the meaning of life is. Curly raises one index finger, leaving Crystal’s character puzzled. For the wizened old cowboy, life is about “one thing” and we each need to find our one thing.

I’m only halfway through this book, but it is all making perfect sense to me, and it’s helping me to crystallize a bunch of thoughts, many of which I’ve been preaching for years — but have consistently failed to apply to my own business!

Stuff like…

  • The middle ground is not safe. It’s the path to poor results.
  • Risky is the new safe. Safe is the new risky.
  • Find your niche and immerse yourself in it.
  • Massive success does not come from a sequence of small improvements, but from tackling massive goals.
  • Figuring out what to say “no” to is a far more important factor in success than what you say “yes” to.
  • It all starts with being something remarkable. The rest flows from there.

All this points to my “one thing” — which right now is clearly marketing strategy. To be more specific, we could say it’s cracking the code of marketing strategy.

(So I know I need to stop things like developing web applications, designing websites, and writing extensive copy for clients. More on that below..)

3. Coaching

Realization #3 is that I have not been following my own advice!

I constantly find myself telling clients and prospects how hard it is consistently to apply what you know to your own life and business, which is why the strategy services I provide can be so valuable.

But yours truly has constantly tried to walk my road solo, without asking for help or guidance from others!

So I have arranged to get an experienced coach, who I’m hoping can help keep me pointed in my right direction.

I know that, if I’m going to make a real difference, I have to focus in a way that I have not done before. That will mean saying “no” to a lot of the stuff I have let distract me in the past, and to throw myself completely into cracking my BHAG (“big hairy-arsed goal”).

Change of Focus — “The Marketing Strategist”

So, from today, I have taken on a new role. I’ve changed the tagline on this website to “The Marketing Strategist.” I think adopting that title has the right mix of inspiration and fear. To step into our full powerful potential should feel like going out on a limb.

My big goal now, my ONE thing, is to pick up the original objective of Open Source Marketing, which is to try and crack the code of marketing strategy.

I think there is a desperate need for this in the world right now. We’re inundated with “how-to” marketing advice, but what’s missing is “WHAT-TO” do!

Who should use Facebook? Not everyone, certainly!

Who should use webinars / content marketing / PR / Instagram / squeeze pages / SEO / email follow-up sequences / pay-per-click / product launches / podcasts / YouTube videos / marketing automation..?

The answer is always the same: Not everyone. If we were to try every option, we would quickly exhaust our resources (time, money, energy)!

I think the biggest marketing challenge facing businesses today is simply being unable to see the forest for the trees.

The 80:20 rule applies in full force here. 20% of the things you could do will deliver 80% of the benefits. So it’s essential to know what those bottom-80% activities are, so that we can avoid them.

If we’re going to achieve our potential, we need guidance on WHAT to focus on, what to learn, what to practise, what to become an experts in.

And there is surely logic behind those decisions. That’s what marketing strategy is about. And that’s what I’m going to try to solve.

Here’s how it will work:

  1. Take a bunch of real-world case studies and figure out what the “right” marketing strategy is.
  2. Then figure out why that strategy is the right one. This step is about breaking down the factors that combine to make X the right way forward.
  3. Identify a set of questions that, when answered, would give us the raw material to identify possible positive strategies (or at least to identify approaches that are unlikely to be helpful). That working set of questions is The Circuit.
  4. Then find ways to make that logic more accessible. This could possibly even be an online wizard, which could take all your Circuit responses and give you practical guidance on what your strategy could be!

To my knowledge, nobody has done this before, or possibly even attempted it. It is certainly a mammoth task!

Case Study: Skin of Gold

I am working with one client right now who has two businesses. One of these is an artisan skin cream, which sounds amazing. (It has genuine skin-healing properties, combining pure gold and silver with a selection of carefully-selected essential oils. So it literally promotes the skin’s own healing powers, and has repeatedly caused unsightly marks and skin conditions to disappear.)

The client currently only sells a few dozen units per month, and realistically only has capacity to produce around a hundred bottles per month, as things stand.

When I worked through the strategy, it became clear to me that this product should have a significantly higher price tag than it is now, and that we should try a risk-free “Challenge” tactic, backed up with a 100% money-back guarantee.

The second step is to try to get customers onto a continuity program, where they get a new bottle of the cream every month, in return for a significantly discounted subscription.

Using lean thinking, if that initial small-scale campaign proves profitable, we would then expand production, possibly using a few hand-picked affiliates (beauty bloggers or magazines).

The question is, why? WHY is the “30-day Challenge” a viable strategy?

So my next step is to break down and sort through the factors, to determine which would apply in every similar case. For example, here are some I have identified already…

  • an unknown “challenger” brand
  • a market that already has incumbent products that people use regularly
  • proof of mobility, i.e. customers are open to trying better alternatives
  • decent profit margin (important for money-back guarantee, helped by raising the prices)
  • genuine, demonstrable benefits for the majority of users

Once I have figured out what rules seem to apply, I can then record that logic in some fashion, so that next time we get a client whose business environment matches these same factors, we can apply the same logic, and ideally learn and optimize the system.

A New Marketing Strategy “Agency”

Clearly, I need to devote my time to figuring out as many marketing strategies as I can.

That’s why from today I will now offer only one service: marketing strategy consulting.

The details are not yet finalized, but I anticipate that could start an hourly basis (i.e. the consulting offer I put out in December, which is working great!) but could also ideally grow into a profit-sharing partnership.

For now, my agency will just consist of me. I may build a consortium of other strategists over time. Clearly, the world needs many marketing strategists!

With that in mind, I’m open to running a weekly hangout for people who know that marketing strategy is the way for them too. If you’re interested in being part of this, please let me know.


It would also make sense to write a book on marketing strategy. I don’t yet know what this will look like, but I do know it needs to be based on real-world case studies, not just logic.

Some Business Opportunities

This refocusing of my business creates a range of opportunities:

1. Have Me Work on Your Strategy

First, if you know you need clarity in your marketing, work with me! I’m looking for a few businesses with great potential. The only catch is that you need to be willing for me to publish some details of your business in case studies!

2. Join My Marketing Strategists’ Working Group

If you know you were born to be a marketing strategist, if this idea inspires you, please email me and we’ll think about creating a working group.

3. Help Me Launch a Ground-breaking PHP App

I also need a PHP / MySQL developer to take on the development of a very exciting web-based application I’m building for one of my clients. I have developed a prototype myself, and now it’s time to take it to market. If you’re a serious PHP developer, based anywhere in the world, and you’re looking for a long-term project, let me know!

4. Manage “Web Design from Scratch Premium”

The plan with WDFS+ was always to bring on more trainers who could contribute to building the best, most current, most comprehensive guide to creating effective websites (in a post-Web-Design-is-Dead world). I have a revenue-sharing model in place, ready to bring on more great content.

If you have ideas for material you would like to share with a larger audience, please get in touch. Alternatively, if you would be willing to manage the growth of the platform, please let me know (I’m offering 25% of all revenues).

Watch this space as we try to crack the marketing strategy code!!!

Why Marketing Strategy is the Future

Published 5 years ago - 7 Comments

If you’ve read “Web Design is Dead” you will already understand why the old generalist web designer/developer/webmaster role is facing imminent extinction, and why I believe that “marketing strategy” is a viable evolution for web professionals who are both smart and multi-talented.

In this post, I’d like to dive a little deeper into that idea of Marketing Strategy as a discipline: why we’ll benefit, how it may work, and what kind of future we could build around it.

What is Marketing Strategy?

It’s the answers to questions like these…

  1. What is my exact brand, and my position in the market? (i.e. Why will people care, and why will they trust me?)
  2. Who exactly is my target market, and what problem do they want to solve?
  3. What exactly am I offering, and why is it so special?
  4. How do I think I’m going to reach my target market cost-effectively?
  5. How will I engage them, earn their trust, and communicate the benefits of my offer?
  6. What assumptions am I making about all this, where could I be wrong, and how will I find out without going broke?

To sum up,

How are we going maximize our chance of success when we go to market?

My position is: if you go to market without having very good answers to these questions, you will waste time and money. (You’ll waste some time and money anyway, that comes with the territory, but having a clear, flexible strategy will help you to minimize the amount you waste, often making the difference between success and failure.)

Why Marketing Strategy?

sensoryAs publishing technology has matured and the technology benefitted from increasing investment, the barrier to entry has dropped like a stone. Practically anyone can publish a great bare-bones website now, with zero technical skills.

That means the web is rapidly getting busier. There is more competition for customers’ attention. Even though most of the competition is poor, the place sure is getting noisier!

A by-product of more noise is more customer apathy. We have tuned our bullshit meter to a hair-trigger.

We don’t want more content or information… we want more intelligence, editorial guidance, trustworthy brands that can help us to navigate daily life more easily.

So publishing online is no longer enough to differentiate. Winning is not about publishing more, or publishing faster, or even reaching more eyeballs. It’s about reaching the right people, with a compelling message, earning their trust, turning them into customers, and then nurturing them through a long-term, mutually-empowering relationship.

We can sum up that strategy as qualitative. We need intense research, deep understanding, focus, and commitment. Scatter-gun, “Chuck it at the wall and see what sticks” approaches won’t work, only add to the noise.

I guess I’m saying that what’s most crucial is having a strategy that’s clear, good, and responsive. If you don’t know in exactly what direction you want to go, how will you know if you’re heading there? And how will you know if the next webinar that’s offered, or the next cool piece of software, or the next coaching programme will help you?

Know exactly who you are. Know intimately what group of people you choose to serve. Know what their problems are. Know what questions they’re asking. Know where they’re asking those questions. Know how to reach them. Know why what you’re offering will help them in a way nothing else can at the price.

Don’t guess. Know!

You (or your clients) can’t try everything. You will break the bank in the attempt. And there are more potential marketing channels today than there have ever been, with more coming online every week.

Whereas a few years ago, you could count the viable channels on two hands (TV, radio, outdoor, point of sale, print ads, direct mail…), today there are literally hundreds of channels.

Plus, success depends on applying focused force. If you spend a day trying AdWords, another day trying email marketing, and the next trying blogging, you will undoubtedly fail at them all.

It may be that there are one or two great channels among the hundreds, where the majority will drain your resources. Or it may be one PR story, one relationship, or one subtle message that outperforms everything else.

The point is, you cannot figure out your path to greatest success by trying everything. Paradoxically, you also can’t figure it out on paper before you start. Sure, research is essential, but sooner or later you also have to try stuff in order to test your assumptions and actually find out.

So strategy is not about figuring it all out up-front. It’s about figuring out how we’re going to find out. That requires discarding a bunch of options early-on, based on logic alone, and then coming up with a plan for cyclically testing and learning using a reduced set. (This is the area where we can learn a lot from the Lean Startup movement.)

Here are a few questions that the Marketing Strategy process should be able to answer…

  • Should my campaign try PPC, social media, PR, organic SEO, content marketing, webinars, books, etc.?
  • Should we try to get prospects’ contact information? If so, what ways shall we try?
  • What other products, cross-sells, or up-sells should we offer, and when?
  • How will we enrich our relationships with our customers over time, delivering and getting maximum value?

I believe that it should be possible not only to answer all those tough questions, but also to do so using a system. We have some handles on some of the logic already (for example, don’t even consider SEO for a short-term campaign, and Facebook organic marketing is unlikely to be profitable for a B2B proposition).

Summary: Why marketing strategy?

  1. Businesses need it, and deserve it. It is disgusting that so many companies have wasted so many resources on websites and campaigns that need not have failed.
  2. Web designers and online marketers need it. The market for delivering websites has lost most of its value, and it will never come back. So web professionals need a more solid way to deliver real value to our clients.

When I look at my work over the past few years, I can tell that the problem of systemizing marketing strategy has permeated most of what I have done. That really is the big problem that I would like to crack.

The Circuit Questionnaire took a few months to develop, and now gives us a great foundation for what questions we should ask. The next challenge is the logic, and I think that’s a much bigger one. The Stack model is also proving to be very useful.

When I started Open Source Marketing, my vision was to create an automated wizard that would take your answers to the Circuit Questionnaire and print out the bones of an effective marketing campaign. I would like to believe that’s still a possibility.

It may well require some human intelligence, or to ask a bunch more questions, to reach final conclusions, but if this decision-making process can be simplified in any way (even as simple as, “Should I use AdWords Yes/No?”) we should try!

How Can We Make it Work?

The Stack teaches us that, whatever the market, there are potential customers at every level, from the free DIY user, through the “self-serve” paid DIY, coaching, mentoring, and consulting models.

Of course this holds true for the “market” for marketing strategy. There are small business owners who want to know how to invest $100 per month in marketing, who have time and desire to learn. At the other end of the scale, there are large businesses who invest $100M per month in marketing, and who want to hire the best person or team they can to do the heavy lifting for them. Both (and everyone in between) deserve access to the right kind of marketing strategy intelligence for their needs.

  • DIY market: They can invest time, but little or no money. Books, free or low-cost self-study courses, group support (like forums) and automated wizards are common solutions.
  • Done-With-You market: These are businesses who have some talent in-house, and who need (and can afford) more guidance than the DIY users. They want more direction, to maximize their chances of rapid success. Typical DWY solutions include group coaching programs and time-based, directed courses, often with some “hot seat” or 1-1 element.
  • Done-For-You market: At the top end, we’re playing with bigger stakes, so buyers want the best expertise money can buy. This is where we get into consulting, and also where profit-sharing models become more attractive (as explored in my WebPro2 concept).

One of the things I like to do when considering a Stack model is to ask how we can take learning from the point of the stack (the DFY, hands-on consulting end) and let that knowledge filter down to the other levels.

(You can apply this thinking to many service businesses. Even, for example, a vacuum cleaner repair guy! Now, you might think you can’t get more of a hands-on business than vacuum cleaner repair. But even there it might be possible to generate DWY or DIY streams. If the repair man diagnoses a particular fault that’s common to a certain model of vacuum cleaner, he could make a video of the repair job and sell that online for a few dollars. Or he might create a self-study course in vacuum cleaner repair, including all the training videos plus some centralized marketing support. The principles are: there are always people who need your skills, and they always want those skills packaged in different ways.)

So let’s start to put some flesh on the bones. If I’m serious about creating a real marketing strategist discipline, what would that look like, and what would it require?

My Vision for the Future

The first thing is a personal step for me, which would require stepping into the “Mr. Marketing Strategy” shoes. I teach a lot about the importance of finding your genius, choosing your niche, and putting your roots down in that space, so that you become the most intimately-connected brand. Essentially, you become equivalent to your niche.

(Personally, I have struggled for years with how to brand myself. The main reason is because I have enjoyed some success at a range of different things. Each of us needs to find the environment that complements our unique capabilities, desires, and interests. What appeals to me about marketing strategy is that it allows me to indulge my interest in everything!)

Marketing Strategy Agency

brain-powerAt the top end of the Stack, we need a model for a new kind of marketing agency: i.e. a marketing strategy agency. I think this is a very interesting idea indeed.

By focusing entirely on one area (in this case, strategy), one can increase one’s knowledge and expertise faster than by being a generalist.

One of the cool things about hiring someone only to do your strategy is that it can increase trust by removing the conflict of interest. If you go to a marketer who specializes in SEO, they’ll offer to help you with your SEO (for a fee), and the same goes for most other professionals in most other disciplines.

But when you go to your marketing strategy person, if they’re paid on your success (say a percentage of turnover), and if they do not actually deliver your marketing campaigns themselves, it is not in their interests to sell you an idea that won’t benefit you. If I’m paid when you succeed, why would I propose you hire a PPC person, unless I’m confident that PPC will be profitable? It is really interesting how aligning the service provider’s success to the client’s success changes the decision-making process.

Clearly, we would need more than one agency, so a model for an agency is required. How does a marketing strategy function efficiently? What business models should we use? How do we write up contracts, manage compensation, and resolve disputes? WebPro2 could expand to fill this space, i.e. an open-source pattern that anyone can use to set up their own strategy agency.

I am already on this path, as I am now choosing to work with clients more on strategy (including keyword research and high-level copywriting) and less on “lower-level” delivery tasks.

Marketing Strategy DIY

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 18.03.42There is always a range of possible DIY products, both paid and free, including courses, ebooks, and online content in various formats.

My thinking is that the Open Source Marketing project is already the natural home for the “how-to” of marketing strategy. There is a big space there that remains unfilled: the exact steps for designing a marketing campaign that has maximum chance of success.

So, as the agency does its stuff, what we learn should be turned into useful DIY materials, useful both for DIY clients who want to do their own marketing, and also for people who want to develop their marketing strategy skills to market to clients.

Marketing Strategy “Done With You”

That leaves the middle band, the “done with you” section of the market. There are a few possibilities here, among which a coached course, which combines live and pre-recorded material, for prospective strategists is likely to be the most appealing.

However, first I still need to make progress on developing the discipline. Right now, the process of strategy has very little shape (beyond the Circuit and Stack models, which prove to be helpful in practically every instance).

Another interesting option could be to have a working group of end-users (i.e. businesses, not marketing professionals). I ran a program called Breakthrough in 2015 along these lines, which was very effective.

What’s Next?

I’m giving serious thought to how a marketing strategy agency might work, and am enjoying developing ideas using my existing clients. To launch a dedicated agency would massively accelerate this learning.

If you know that the marketing strategy discipline is for you, or if you would love to be part of an early working group, feel free to reach out to me and perhaps we can set up a working group.

I plan to continue to develop Web Design from Scratch Premium, and to open it up to more providers, so we can keep a good flow of web design best practice, always anchored to “the right way.”

All feedback welcome. Please leave a comment.

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