Work Backwards from the Magic

I heard James Clear say this on a podcast just now.

Well, I didn’t know that’s what Marketers should do.

But, it’s what I have been doing for the past decade or so. Maybe my entire career.

What a great statement.

Our job is to look up. Look ahead. Prepare for the worst.

Get ready for what’s coming.

Figure out how to take advantage of the natural curve and push it higher. Attract and inform the margins to get more customers.

Create Zealots. Overcome objections with the art and science of communication.

Starting at the end and working backwards helps you Solve the Problem.

You cannot create a timeless platform or engage an audience if you have not figured out what success looks like before you start.

Everyone is not your customer. Visualize success.

Then build the plans and strategies to make that success happen.

Watch that Big Reveal in your Mind’s Eye – then create the show. Backwards.

Magic People!!

Be wrong. But, be dang sure of it.

One of the kindest souls I ever met said something like this about me once.

“I’ll tell you. He might be wrong, but he is dang sure of it.”

He was an orthopedic surgeon. We traveled the state and spoke with physicians and health care professionals about how to speak with patients when things go wrong.

Imagine: The hard talk. Terrible news. Life and Death.

As I studied and learned from him. As our team listened. We learned together from the tragic events we reviewed to find the best past path forward for the people we helped.

We grew and became more passionate about convincing people to fight their fear: to be vulnerable.

I saw our work as a vocation. One that I cared about deeply.

One night, I made a few emphatic, very emotional and challenging statements to a group of experienced physicians. Statements that eliminated the gray area they were trying to make to give them permission to not do the right thing. To lie. And, their reaction to my statements was more than energetic.

How dare I question their integrity and call them on their untruths and omission?

The good doctor looked at our friend and colleague and he said: “I’ll tell you. He might be wrong, but he is dang sure of it.”

Because I cared. I had read. Researched. Analyzed. And I saw the process we developed work.

We had distilled our message and built our platform so that we could undo decades of poor, learned behavior that was pounded into our audience’s head.

What we talked about every day was, for the lack of a better word – serious.

Life. Death, Cancer. Errors. Mistakes. Millions of Dollars. Legal Proceedings. Anxiety. Trauma.

My favorite part – we weren’t wrong with our premise. It was proven out time and time again. Morals aren’t wrong. Doing the right thing, isn’t wrong. And, yes, I was sure of it.

What in the world does this have to do with marketing?

Well, in the face of these terrible things, the physician had to communicate with someone. It was vital they were understood. It was imperative they were seen as the human they were – in that moment.

If not, clear communication would not occur.

Relationships would be broken. Lives would be thrown into more disarray.

So, as I develop solutions to the problems those I attempt to help everyday. I make sure I have found as much data, listened to customers, learned from those that have been where I am before, and work to make sure I am certain what I am going to recommend will work.

If I am wrong. I am dang sure of it.

And, I smile every time I think of Dr. Ghiz and the vocation he chose to share with his peers there was a gentler, more human, right way to speak with other humans and face fear together.

What are we going to do?

For starters – this is absolutely the wrong question.

Huddled in the meeting.

The number needs to go up.

The opportunity space we have to make a decision is suddenly filled with the infamous laundry list.

This post. That post. This ad. This mailer. This sentence added here. How about this group? They could help us. You know, why not? Yeah. Round Robin. Let’s go.

Please stop. For a minute.

Where’s the dashboard?

What problem are we trying to solve here, folks?

Where’s the data? Who will lead the strategy development? What are the needed outcomes? Do we have 24 hours that we can pause and really dig in and learn a little more?

We have experienced what on the fly marketing and strategy decision-making get us. It’s not pretty. Remember?

“Traditional or programmatic? Social media targeting or grass roots? Text campaign?”


Stop it – this is not the time write copy or design the damn social media graphic.

You don’t know what you are really trying to do, yet.

This is the time we stop and assess. Consider and formulate in our minds what success actually looks like. As specifically as we can. So we can drive that outcome with marketing.

More: is not an answer.

All of them: is not an answer.

“But they want an answer by noon!”

So what.

To me, that means I have until 11:59 to keep them from making a mistake. OR, I have until noon to reset their expectations based on what I learned in the time we stopped writing copy by committee and making this laundry list.

So, grab you fortitude.

Use the next 15 minutes to set the process so you are successful in the next 24 hours.

Stop trying to be a creative genius. This is not that easy.

A lawyer does not go in front of a judge with preparation. That’s malpractice.

A doctor does research and considers all options before making a diagnosis.

A mechanic has a process to determine what’s wrong with your car.

A pilot doesn’t take off without a checklist or a flight plan.

Why in Rosser Reeve’s name are you letting strategy – and the next best idea you will ever have – be dictated by a committee?

Get to work. Define the problem. Stop. Create the solution.

Look at the dashboard and solve the problem.


I don’t have time to read

When I was in newspapers, one of the responses we always received on our readership studies was a semantic jigsaw puzzle.

“Don’t have time to read.”

I remember the research consultant I learned from: Willis Duff. He wore tweed coats, a vest, tortoise shell glasses. And, he shared a piece of wisdom with us.

“Do you know what that really means? I am sorry to tell you folks. It means ‘I don’t have time to read THAT.” Points to our newspaper. Silence. That!

We were just told our product was bad.

You see – what Willis explained was that people have more time than ever to read. I firmly believe, he is more right today than ever.

I’m not out chopping firewood to make sure I survive the winter. I’m not plowing the field like Pa on Little House. Heck, I barely have a commute anymore because of COVID, I simply walk across the room to my office and start my day.

I have. You have. More time than EVER to read.

So here we go Marketers. We need to give them a reason. Enough quality. To read our words and thoughts.

It needs to be valuable. And, that. That is easy to say and difficult to pull off.

Every day, acknowledge that something unexpected is coming your way.

By holding a belief that everything is marketing: moving a perception from point A to B to C, I drive folks crazy.

Crisis communication … it’s marketing.

How you respond to emails: marketing.

Your social and digital footprint – what do you think I am going to write?

M A R K E T I N G.

As marketers, something is coming in about five minutes that could knock your day for a loop. Because, in the art and science of communication, perceptions, conversations, and business conditions change constantly.

To keep your head. To be your best. To help the most. To solve the problem – that is our goal.

We cannot panic. We cannot complain. We adjust.

We define the current problem, learn, and think for as long we have, and develop a plan of action. Then, we act.

Sometimes, that means scrapping or pausing or redoing a plan we made yesterday.

Accept it.

Frustration for some, an opportunity to learn for a marketer.

“ta eph’hemin, ta ouk eph’hemin”

Let’s ask him…

Epictetus – Stoic

“What is up to us, what is not up to us.”

What does this have to do with marketing? Everything.

2,000 years ago, Epictetus first penned this thought. When I am thinking about the communication and marketing problems I am asked to solve each day, this idea helps me.

I can choose to complain about the things I have absolutely no control over: trolls, misinformation, fragmented media, media that has been stripped of it’s resources, those that don’t take time to read, research, and understand complex topics.

Or, I can act.

And, I can take my best swing at solving the defined problem we have uncovered.

How can I use technology? How can I use research? How can I test, then replicate?

Who can I ask for advice and guidance? Have I solved this before in another industry? Has someone else? What mistakes have I made in the past that I can avoid? How can I measure my progress?

What do I truly have control over? And, what is the highest and best use of each of those resources?

This is so easy to write. Terribly complex to execute.

But, it is where we need to start each time.

Define the problem.

Asses your situation.

Prepare and Plan.


Control what you can.

Let go of what you cannot.


You cannot put this back together

This is media. This is also what your marketing plan should look like.

The media is shattered. We cannot put it back together.

It’s fragmented, broken, comes in all shapes and sizes, and someone keeps stepping on the pieces and making them smaller and smaller each and every day.

New algorithms. Smaller bites. Smaller bits. Links to links.

As marketers – it’s the obstacle we face. We better learn from it.

My work has shown me to be effective, our plans need to be as broken, fragmented, and shattered as the media we are using to reach our prospects.

The smallest common denominator.

Bits. Pieces. Bites.

Reach, Frequency, and Trust.

Reach me where I read. Reach me where I sit.

The more nuance to your offering, the more fragmented our marketing plans must be.

Go break something. Drive results with fragmented marketing plans.

Trust me. Fingers Crossed. Learn.

This month, I stuck to the “Readers are Leaders” mentality and dove into these two books by author Ryan Holiday.

The contrast between these books is unreal.

Both challenged me to think in ways I had not before. I highly recommend them both.

The media manipulation he outlines in “Trust me..” should terrify you.

We just lived through it.

The Stoic mindset he conveys in the other should lift you up. It did me.

Both have become on my “will read, multiple times” list.

They were the gift I needed.

The problem with 800 words

Most blogs are about 800 words. What’s the problem with that?

No clarity. Marginalization. Distrust. Bullying. Ambiguity.

Well, if the topic is complex, it takes a heck of a lot of talent and time to explain the complexities of science, economics, public health, and how democracy works in 800 words (the average length of a blog post).

Look at me, writing on all four topics with only 105.

And, the only thing we learned together is that I may have planted in your head the idea that we all need to read, research, and think more before reacting.

Pause. Think. Learn. Slow this nonsense down.

CAUTION: Reading this will erase your memory and make your friends hate you.

Poignant observation by a good friend of mine today: “we need a new message.”

We were talking “Mask Wearing.” Man, he is smart.

C’mon, man! This isn’t Quantum Physics: Mask, Hygiene, Distance, Caring, Patience.

People are dying for goodness sakes.

Then he said, “we don’t consider warnings on cigarette packs. People still smoke.”

He nailed it.

We need a different feedback loop. Like Claude Hopkins created with Pepsodent Toothpaste in the early 1900s. Hopkins was a copywriting genius.

“Run your tongue across your teeth,” read the advertisement. “You’ll feel a film – that’s what makes your teeth look ‘off color’ and invites decay. Pepsodent (like all toothpaste) removes that film.”

BOOM! People dramatically changed their behavior.

They felt the film. They purchased and then used Pepsodent, a product that created a ‘tingle’ when used (the tingle has no medicinal value by the way). Dental Hygine practices changed dramatically.

Before Pepsodent and this national ad campaign, only 7 percent of Americans used toothpaste daily.

After the ad campaign went nationwide? 65%.

Um, sixty-five friggn’ percent!

That message. That feedback loop: feel film, brush with Pepsodent, feel the tingle.

It changed behavior. Because, people felt it.

Dental hygiene improved dramatically across the entire country.

The film – gone.

The tingle after brushing – minty fresh.

Intrinsic, selfish reinforcement – yeppers!

Repeat. Twice a day, every day! Compliance central!

Here’s the problem: wearing a mask – there’s no selfish, individual feedback loop.

Unfortunately, the altruistic message of caring for, protecting, and giving a darn about our friends and neighbors doesn’t make our mouth tingle.

If it did, I bet compliance would be through the roof.

Until we create the breakthrough message, please #MaskUP, wash your hands, and keep your distance.

We marketing folks are trying to come up with the warning label that gets you to cover your nose at the grocery store. “It highlights your beautiful eyes…”

You know, the message that breaks through the selfish, non-caring act of recklessly spreading this thing.

Until then – give a darn. Wear your mask. Stay home. Stay apart. Save someone’s life.

And, brush twice a day with your toothpaste of choice. Please.