Excess energy

Philip Morgan

This Kevin Hillstrom guy is fascinating to me, and his latest email/blog post is quite illuminating for us.

I don't know Kevin personally, but I'd like to interview him for The Self-Made Expert because he seems to have turned a long career in retail marketing into a really interesting consulting business. He's cultivated a strong point of view along the way.

Two things from his latest email: https://blog.minethatdata.com/2020/04/like-taking-bat-to-beehive.html

The first is a keen, universally true observation about marketing:

You devote excess energy to any marketing channel you have excess control over. -- Kevin Hillstrom

We all know this.

I'e been writing about it for a while, but framing it in terms of Ben Thompson's idea of Aggregators since last year: /indie-experts-list/pmc-make-hay-while-the-sun-shines

Jake Jorgovan recently wrote about it in terms of outbound and the specific wannabe-aggregator called LinkedIn: https://jake-jorgovan.com/blog/the-outbound-industry-is-evolving-and-what-to-do-about-it

A secondary point Kevin Hillstrom makes is that you don't just use those channels you have excess control over, and you don't just try to use them well. Instead, you get spectacularly, incandescently great at using them.

I've been writing and publishing daily for since January, 2016 -- over 4 years now. I've missed a few days, but if we don't count those, that's 1,118 working days. I've had 1,118 chances to get better at publishing insight via email. Even so, I send plenty of duds. I phone it in some days, and it shows. And every once in a while, I reach that point of writing something great.

I keep thinking some day I'll back off the pace, but the opportunity to rapidly cultivate deeper insight into a subject I care a lot about keeps me going. Being really great at something is too enjoyable to quit.

The second thing you'll notice in that email from Kevin Hillstrom is something I would bend a bit to support my claim that direct response marketing has been optimized to sell superfluous stuff to bored people.

When you seek advice about marketing, the default style of marketing that's recommended to you is direct response marketing.

I just searched Google for "marketing for consultants". Here's the advice from the first page of search results:

That's not a cherry-picked list. I could keep going, but you get the point. There's nothing wrong with direct response marketing being the default. But it is inarguably the default.

What's problematic is that direct response marketing, over the years, has been optimized to sell superfluous stuff to bored people. And if what you're selling is expertise, that's problematic.

Again, from Kevin's latest post:


Question: Why would we work so darn hard to personalize email campaigns via the merchandise the customer wants when I can just tell the customer to SHOP NOW and let the customer click on the link and buy whatever the customer wants to buy? Isn't my approach more customer-centric than your approach?

  • No.
  • The reason email marketing doesn't work is because we all just tell the customer to SHOP NOW. Do we really think that the customer, after 250 email marketing campaigns a year for 15 years across a dozen brands a day doesn't realize that the customer can SHOP NOW?
  • Lead the darn customer.
  • Be a marketer!
  • Tell the customer what to buy.
  • Tell the customer WHY the customer should buy something.
  • Show the customer the merchandise you already know the customer loves (via prior purchases and website visits/views).
  • Work hard.


Imagine applying this thinking to selling your expertise-driven services!!

Realize, please, that we're dealing with a domain of subtleties here. We could tweak just a few points from that excerpt and have excellent advice for the self-made expert.

s/Lead the darn customer/Shape the market with your thinking or POV or research


s/Tell the customer WHY the customer should buy something/Tell the market WHY your expertise will improve its condition

I'm changing one word -- substituting "customer" with "market" -- but that changes everything. Direct response marketing, with its focus on collecting and leveraging data on individuals, morphs into something that looks more like brand marketing, with its focus on leading and shaping a whole market.

Anyway, I'm not disagreeing with Kevin Hillstrom. He advises B2C retailers, and I suspect his advice is quite helpful for them.

But do be careful where you import marketing advice from, especially if what you're selling is the impact of your expertise.

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