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Chapter 1: What Is Marketing?

Marketing is earning visibility and trust for your service offerings, business, or thinking. There are other definitions, of course, for marketing.

Seth Godin would define it, very poetically, as changing the culture.


3: Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices  by Peter F. Drucker

Peter Drucker wrote that "the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself." [3]

The American Marketing Association definition: "Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational goals."

If we try to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis that these definitions represent (too abstract and too specific) and get to a definition that works for indie consultants, we end up pretty close to my definition: "Marketing is earning visibility and trust for your service offerings, business, or thinking."

Your Business Might Have Been Born in a Cradle Called Crisis

My definition creates tension because it presupposes a proactive context and a relaxed timeframe. It presupposes that you've begun the work of earning visibility and trust well before you need the results of that work. The reality is that for most of us, our interest in marketing is born during a moment of crisis in our business. A cradle of crisis.


4: Source: Oxford Advanced American Dictionary

Crisis: a time of great danger, difficulty, or confusion when problems must be solved or important decisions must be made. [4]

Usually, it's the famine phase of the feast-famine cycle that creates this crisis. During this moment, the idea of patiently, generously earning  our way out of the crisis into a more stable condition isn't the most palatable idea. We are poorly supplied with both the time and resources needed to earn visibility and trust in a way that signals to the market that we are the custodian of rare, valuable expertise. I've been there myself, and I have a visceral memory of the unique stench of this flavor of desperation.

This crisis moment leads us to look for faster-acting solutions. And boy, do we find them!

Wherever we happen to look for our answers about how to "do marketing," if our desired timeline to results is months rather than years, we filter for a category of answers that is known as direct response marketing.

Direct Response Marketing

Direct response marketing is a button or form with a funnel behind it.

If you are camping in the wilderness at night, and from the warmth of your sleeping bag you hear an animal outside the tent, you'll listen closely to determine whether it's a bird, a small mammal, or something you need to actually be worried about. Below are the "bird calls" of direct response marketing.

“To get the free bonus, send me your Amazon receipt showing that you’ve prepurchased 10 or more copies of my book.”  (This is a call to action, or a CTA.)

“To receive this free email course, tell me what email address to send it to.”  (This is a low-friction form used to collect signups or opt-ins.)

“To download this white paper, please tell us about your company demographics and needs.”  (This is a gated content asset.)

Buy this $7 e-book and learn how to increase your website's conversion rate. ” (This is a low-priced product used to measure buying intent and collect contact information.)

Attend this free webinar and learn how to price your services more profitably. ” (This is an event used to collect contact information that will later be used to promote something.)

These are the "bird calls"—the language  of direct response marketing. Direct response marketing may also make use of the following:

  • Long form sales copy

  • A sequence of emails that describes some pain or problem, spends time vivifying that pain/problem, and pitches a solution to that pain/problem

  • Money-back guarantees

  • Testimonials

  • Engineered pricing (a price schedule with three or more tiers designed to maximize volume, revenue, or profitability)

The genre of heavy metal music prepares you to hear distorted electric guitars, heavy drumming, and screamed vocals. There is a fun subgenre of novelty heavy metal music. In that subgenre, you have groups like Hayseed Dixie playing AC/DC songs on guitar, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle in bluegrass style. The difference is not the notes being played, it’s the entire tone  of the resulting music.

Direct response marketing also has a certain tone to it:

  • The goal of direct response marketing is to get a response  from those we market to. This is the most fundamental, defining aspect of the genre. The “response” is not necessarily a sale. It might be some other kind of action: filling out a form, clicking a button, opening an email, attending an event, joining a waiting list, or the like. The larger goal of direct response marketing is to produce measurable results quickly, in weeks or months, rather than years .

  • The ethos of direct response marketing is creating a personalized, one-to-one connection with prospects from the very first interaction.

  • Direct response marketing will intentionally or accidentally collect data—the more individualized and complete the better—about prospects.

  • Critically, direct response marketing is focused on problems .

  • Direct response marketing often tries to manufacture or amplify urgency  around the recipient taking some kind of action.

  • A lot of direct response marketing focuses on the pain  of the problem the marketer purports to solve. The pain of doing nothing. The pain of doing the wrong thing.

  • Sometimes you’ll see direct response marketing make use of curiosity . The apotheosis of curiosity in direct response marketing is the clickbait headline.

  • Product or service benefits will often be stated in strong or exaggerated ways in direct response marketing.

The Danger of the Wrong Tools in the Wrong Context


5: Excluding the results for marketing agency services.

Eighty percent of the results returned to a search for marketing for consultants [5]  will be advice about how to implement direct response marketing. There's nothing wrong with this, but let's recognize both the content and the context at play here.

The content  of your search for advice about how to "do marketing" for a consultant is dominated by advice about how to implement direct response marketing. That's because the context  surrounding most of these searches is: "Holy crap, I need more work NOW NOW NOW and my network isn't coughing up opportunity like it used to and OH MY GOD, I NEED WORK NOW WHAT DO I DO?!?!?!" Maybe that's not you  right now, but the folks writing the advice and working to get it ranking well on SERP pages are aware of the searcher's likely context, and so all the incentives align to supply the searcher for marketing for consultants  with direct response-oriented advice.

Direct response marketing is . . . fine. It's morally fine, and it represents a neutral set of marketing tools that can be useful and effective.


6: Would you trust a brain surgeon whose website tried to get you to download an e-book on the seven benefits of brain surgery? (This example is exaggerated, of course, to point out the underlying tension between having rare, valuable expertise and needing the opportunity to apply it. If you have the former, we expect you to have an abundance of opportunity as well.)

However, using direct response marketing tools in a context of desperation or impatience is fundamentally incompatible with the idea that you have cultivated rare, valuable expertise. It threatens your reputation as an expert. [6]  That's the only reason I spent the previous ~700 words talking about direct response marketing. If this tool set combined with impatience or desperation wasn't a threat to your reputation in the marketplace, I wouldn't bother defining it for you. But, because we tend to be in a moment of crisis when we first seek out advice about marketing, this stuff about direct response marketing matters and recognizing the "bird calls" of direct response marketing is valuable for us.

The Right Tools

The alternative to direct response marketing is brand marketing.

Brand marketing is a gift with a logo on it.

I'm not going to try to further define brand marketing here because brand marketing is the mindset and approach that informs every bit of this book.

Brand marketing is actually a bit harder to define, and I really believe that you'll be better served by soaking up the idea of it, the feeling  of it, through the rest of this book. Which, by the way, really is  about specialization and positioning for indie consultants! This detour through what marketing in general is—and what direct response and brand marketing specifically are—was necessary context to help you get the most possible out of what follows in this book.

Visibility Is Central to Marketing

Again, marketing is earning visibility and trust for your service offerings, business, or thinking.

If you're invisible to your prospects, they can't trust you for obvious reasons. So marketing starts with answering the question: How do I earn visibility?

In marketing, there is a multitude of small ideas that huddle together under the big umbrella of visibility . You've probably heard the labels for some of these small ideas: lead generation, reach, audience size, stages of awareness, and so on. I thank the branding and marketing firm Hinge Marketing for popularizing an idea that lets us unify all these small ideas under the umbrella of a big, powerful idea: visibility .

Buyers can't buy from you if they don't know you exist. They can't trust you if they don't know you exist. They can't evaluate whether you are trustworthy if they don't know you exist.

Visibility—being seen by your market—is the precondition to every downstream necessity in marketing.

I'll henceforth assume that you, like 98 percent of us, need to plan and work to earn visibility because it's not automatic for you like it was for Matt Cutts, and like it is for the children of celebrities.

Let's methodically and thoroughly answer the "How do I earn visibility?" question.