Why are so many marketers bad at marketing themselves?
This episode of the podcast tackles an issue most entrepreneurs face at some point: the art of self-promotion. When it comes to marketing ourselves we get uncomfortable. Nobody wants to be another asshole selling our products or services online.
That’s why when I came across Margo Aaron’s website, I knew I had to get her on the podcast. She’s a copywriter who fell into marketing by accident after beginning her career in psychological research.
If you’ve ever felt guilty about marketing, not giving your hustle enough time or self-promotion–I think you’re going to gain a lot from this interview.
Listen to this Episode:
- Why most entrepreneurs are lying about their 80-hour work week
- The reason why so many marketers struggle to market themselves well
- What you must do to avoid becoming an annoying marketer
- The easiest solution for identifying what problems you solve for your audience
- How to understand market sophistication (and why it’s a huge advantage)
- What questions to ask your customers to find out their deepest desires
- Why competing on price alone won’t build a profitable business
- How to write a message that resonates with your audience
- The Arena: Virtual Coworking Space
- That Seems Important – Margo Aaron’s website
- How to Send Emails with 83%+ Open Rates (Not a Clickbait) – Episode 46 with Andre Chaperon
- The Brain Audit: Why Customers Buy (And Why They Don’t) – Sean D’Souza
- How to Convince People to Buy Without Being Pushy – Episode 28 with Sean D’Souza
- 3 Steps to Write Copy That Converts with Joanna Wiebe – Episode 47 with Joanna Wiebe
- Value Proposition: What Is It & How to Create One – Episode 52 with Momoko Price
- My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins
- Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
- Copy Hackers
- @MargoAaron on Twitter
Louis: All right. Bonjour, bonjour and welcome to another episode of Everyone Hates Marketers.com, the marketing podcast for marketers, founders, and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier. In this episode, we’re going to talk about why marketers are so bad at marketing themselves, why do we feel guilty if we don’t work 80 hours a week or even 100 hours a week, why some people think marketing is evil, and how to answer all of those questions with a way to really being comfortable with–as marketers and even as people who want to market their products–being comfortable with things that don’t work, that might not work and still being happy with that.
There’s a bit of a funny story with my guest today. She reached out to me via email to compliment me on the podcast. That’s a true story, and then I went on her site, and I was like, “Whoa, okay I need to talk to this gal.”
Her website–we’ll mention it later on–it’s really well written. I loved the style of it, the writing style and the copywriting is truly excellent. This is why I really wanted to get to know my guest better.
My guest began her career in academia as a psychological researcher, and she discovered how difficult it was to get people to act in their own best interest. Then she went to grad school after doing a master’s in psychology and accidentally ended up in marketing like a lot of people I think listening to this podcast. She worked as a market researcher, strategy planner for some fancy Fortune 500 companies before starting her own consulting firm in 2014.
Today, she’s the founder of the world’s first virtual coworking space for solo founders with their own business and virtual companies called The Arena. The Arena and arena is a word that we’re going to keep using I think during this interview.
She’s also a columnist for Inc and writes regularly about entrepreneurship, psychology, and marketing on her website that I mentioned previously, ThatSeemsImportant.com. You should definitely check it out. It’s really nicely written. She’s been featured in HubSpot, The Observer, Entrepreneur, and Business Insider. Margo Aaron, welcome aboard.
Margo: Thanks for having me.
Louis: Right, why marketers are so bad at marketing themselves?
Margo: Because it’s really easy to point out what other people should be doing. The second we have to start doing it for ourselves it’s a completely different skill.
Margo: When you’re working on a client’s project, you can see the entirety. You can see the objectivity. You can take a step back and you can implement best practices. You have the brain space for it. You also have the distance from the actual product that you’re promoting and all the internal politics and all the things that are going on.
When it’s your own project, and I actually just wrote about this today, oftentimes, you are so stuck in the logistics. I’ll give you an example. I know what perfect email marketing looks like. But for me, I have to first get ConvertKit to talk to Stripe and WooCommerce. That’s already going to take up two weeks of my time because God knows what tiny things I’m doing wrong. Then I have to call my developer and see why it’s not working. Then I have to figure out why the segmentation isn’t doing what I told it to do because the tagging has it set up doing this or that duh-duh-da.
There are all these very, very concrete, tactical, logistical things that get in the way of doing what you know you’re supposed to be doing. It’s a lot harder to do it for yourself than for someone else.
Louis: I suffer from the exact same problem. I know how good email marketing looks like because I’ve interviewed this wonderful guest in the past. I’m going to forget his name now. No, I have it, André Chaperon, who’s one of the best.
Margo: The master.
Louis: He’s the best, right? We know the method, but my emails are still very much shit. I just know how to change it, but I don’t have the time to do it and don’t have the distance to do it either.
Okay, so that’s the problem you wanted to start with that we wanted to talk about. We’re going to talk about a solution for that as well as two other problems, we’re going to mention right now.
The second thing that I also very much agree with is there is this hustle guilt going on with the likes of Gary Vee and all of those people. I also remember the CEO Yahoo, the ex-CEO of Yahoo, there might be some connection there between the fact that she’s ex-CEO and what she said. But she mentioned that for her, it’s completely normal to work 100 hours or 120 hours a week and that she basically expects others to do the same or else they won’t be successful. Why do we feel so guilty most of the time, if we don’t work 80 hours a week?
Margo: Because we’re comparing ourselves to people who are lying all the time. When someone is sitting next to you saying, “I’m working an 80-hour week, and I’m getting all these things done,” and the way you perceive them is they’re someone you admire, or they’re impressive. This is the piece of advice that they’ve given you. You’re going to feel like crap about yourself. That is just how we are wired as humans.
But also because there’s this feeling of not enough. When I talk to my parents about what it was like when they went to work, they would say, “We came home at 5:00. If we had a long day, we came home at 9:00 PM, but we were done. There was no smartphones. There was nothing more we … Logistically, we couldn’t do anything else.”
That’s not the case for us. I come home, and I still have so much I could be doing. I could be on Twitter and entertaining my followers. I could be doing more market research. I could be reading another book. I could be taking an online course. I could be asking my readers more questions. I could be practicing copywriting. I could be doing this thing on Slack.
The list is never-ending. You have to choose a point in which you’ve determined an arbitrary boundary. You usually have to say this is where I stop working. But the guilt comes up because you’re always feeling like that’s not enough. We don’t have permission to stop working anymore, and especially when you have an unforgiving startup culture.
We today confuse words like dedication and commitment and hustle with what it really is, which is neglecting people you love, acting like an asshole, not showing up when it matters for the people you care about. We’re conflating those two things in the business world. We brag about them. You get bragging rights if you’re like, “Oh, I haven’t slept. Oh, I don’t go to anyone’s birthday party.” Those are the things you get badge value from today.
Louis: I don’t think … The issue is I don’t think we are able to deal with the information we see on social media and whatever about people lying about their day and their week and their month, and how productive they are, and how long they work for. I don’t think we’re able to process it. I don’t think we can train our brain to truly say, “Oh, I’ve seen this update, but I know it’s a lie.” I don’t think the solution is just to have this in your head and then just being able to see those updates on a different light. I think the solution is to truly switch off from most of those, right?
Margo: Yes, yes. No, I was recounting the problem. The solution is very different. You have to set a boundary for yourself. You also … You know that famous saying of differentiating between what’s important and what’s urgent. I think that’s a big part of this conversation. A lot of the hustle guilt we feel has to do with vanity metrics.
I feel really good when Twitter’s exploding because I wrote something that went really viral, but it doesn’t often lead to conversions on my site. Why do I need to be spending time on Twitter away from my family, away from the things that are actually moving the needle in my business?
I think objectivity is really important here as well. Being able to look at your own business and say, “Okay, what are the things that I should be investing my time in, and what are a distraction?” Because a lot of the guilt comes from that distraction.
Louis: Right. That’s the second problem that you’ve nailed really well. The third one, and I feel almost redundant talking about it. Because this podcast was built on this third problem which is that a lot of people are very uncomfortable with marketers and marketing because they think it’s evil. Which is why, most of the time, everyone hates marketers, literally.
Why, from your perspective, I don’t want necessarily you to repeat my point of view, because I think we have maybe different ones, but why a lot of people think that marketing is evil?
Margo: Because the version of it they’ve been presented the last 100 years looks evil. I think it’s very similar to why people hate salespeople. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of what these skills really are, and they also have ironically terrible branding. When you think of a marketer or a salesperson in your head, you think of the most annoying person ever.
I remember when I first started in this field after coming from academia and thinking of myself on this moral high ground. My family and friends were like, “Oh, you’re in marketing?” Like, “Ugh, that is so below you.” Right? There’s this hierarchy, this perceived hierarchy that it’s below you. It’s because a lot of people don’t do it well or don’t do it right.
If you look at the people who are truly skilled at marketing, someone like a Claude Hopkins or Ogilvy, they wouldn’t disgust you. They would fascinate you. They’re truly interested in people, and what makes them tick, and how you can use behavior and understand psychology and help people.
There’s a lot of misunderstanding for what marketing is, and there’s a lot going back to what we said on vanity metrics. There’s a lot that you can get caught up on that we mistaken as marketing but really is just flashy lights and attention and buzz but doesn’t yield any real results and ends up being annoying.
That’s why it makes us really uncomfortable, because none of us want to be “that person”. We don’t want to be the annoying person. We don’t want to be the marketer, because we’ve conflated it with having to be the self-promotion person, the shameless self-promoter. That’s wrong. That’s not actually what marketing is about.
Louis: What is marketing about?
Margo: People. It’s about understanding people.
Louis: Amen. I said the exact … We didn’t even rehearse, but I say the exact same thing when people ask me. I say … What is marketing? I will say, “It’s just about understanding people so well that you can sell them what they need.”
With that in mind, we talked about three problems here. They seem somehow disconnected, and you might be listening to this podcast and feeling, “Okay, well, you’re talking about three different topics here where are you going with this?”
Let’s just recap. Problem number one, marketers are very bad at marketing themselves. Problem number two, we feel guilty for not working 80 hours a week. Problem number three, you might think that marketing is evil, and a lot of other people think that marketing is evil including maybe your family, your friends, or whatever.
You do have a point of view that is quite interesting. You think that those three problems can be solved with one key solution. You started to talk about it a little bit. What is this … How can we solve those three problems with one core solution, and what is it?
Margo: Well, you need to jump in and make mistakes. That’s a big part of it, is that we are so afraid of testing things and understanding what business is, what marketing is. We have outsourced our thinking to thought leaders, to courses, to other people, because we are afraid of messing up, of doing things wrong.
We’ve all been indoctrinated in this system that said you need to study for the test, and you will be graded, and this is how you will do. That’s part of why we feel the hustle guilt. That is part of why we think there’s a way you’re supposed to do marketing. That’s why we have a misunderstanding of how these things work. It’s because we’ve not actually used our own brains to come up with how we can make this work for ourselves.
I would say number one, is getting comfortable messing up and jumping in, doing things differently, and understanding that it’s in the messing up and learning that you actually figure the stuff out.
Louis: But I think beyond this being comfortable with doing things that don’t work, I think there is the thing that you mentioned before which is about making sure that you focus on people–
Louis: –is the core difference, the core solution of the three problems. Because if you focus on people first, then you don’t feel guilty about all of those people telling you they work 80 hours a week or 100 hours a week. Because you focus on people, you focus on yourself, and you don’t have to copy them.
The second … The first one, I need to go back to my list, because I keep forgetting stuff. Why are marketers so bad at marketing themselves? The second stuff is when you focus on people instead of focusing just on yourself, you are able to take distance out of things as well.
The third one about thinking that it’s evil, well, if you focus on people and truly understand them, then you don’t do bad marketing. You do good marketing. You truly understand what they need. You truly understand who they are, and it doesn’t feel like selling. It doesn’t feel like marketing. You are just there when they need you, right?
Margo: Yes. Thank you. That is … I misunderstood the question. 100%, 100%, it’s about keeping your attention on the things that actually matter. It’s really easy to get distracted with vanity metrics, with what the best practices are, what the trends are at the time. The one thing that’s stable that will never change is the basic mechanics of desire and human behavior.
When you keep your attention on human psychology, why do we want what we want? What is the problem that we’re struggling with? How much do we know about this problem? How can we help someone solve their problem? And you stay focused on that and don’t get distracted with the things that make you insecure.
Louis: Right, so let’s dig into that a bit more, because I know … I can hear my listeners telling us, “Come on, we need examples now. We need practical details.” Let’s take a scenario of someone who’s completely challenged by those problems. Completely suffering from the three problems you mentioned, the hustle guilt, the thinking that marketing is evil, and struggling to market even themselves.
What would you say this person to start switching things around? How would you go about it step-by-step? What would be step one?
Margo: Yes. I would start with reframing how we’re thinking about selling. Where people get really stuck is, what am I selling? How am I pushing something on someone else? That’s the wrong way to think about it.
I would flip that script. It’s not what you’re pushing. It’s that you have a solution, and someone else is suffering. The first thing that you have to do is identify what problem are you actually solving. Some people say, “What are you selling?” In plain English that is, what is the thing that you solve? What is the problem that you solve for, and how are you solving it? Saying that in plain English, having clear line of sight of who you’re talking to, and what problem that they have.
For a lot of marketers, you think you’re selling marketing. That’s not true. You, nine times out of ten, if you are selling … Let’s say you have an Instagram company, and you help people get more followers. You think on the surface that the problem you’re helping people solve is, get more followers. That’s not true. The thing that you’re helping them do is not feel like such an idiot every time they get on Instagram. Which is actually the problem of self-doubt.
Every time a founder logs in and says, “I have all these followers, and I don’t know what to say to them.” Your role is giving them confidence, understanding how to master a platform that doesn’t make sense to them. That’s not necessarily fluent to them. The way you do that is through Instagram. Instagram is just the how, right?
But you need to understand the real problem that you’re solving for them. That helps you reframe, so you no longer feel like you’re pushing something on someone else. Being really, really clear on, what problem do I solve? That’s number one.
Louis: We change our frame of our mind and the way we think by understanding the problems that people suffer from. But then, how do you do that?
Margo: Right. We need to know who we’re talking to, which gets us back to the question of people. What person are you targeting with this particular service offering? Who has this problem? What do we know about them? Really, really humanizing this interaction.
One of the things that we tend to do is take the human side out of it. We like to focus on numbers. We like to focus on conversion rates. We like to talk about SEO and keywords and all of the fancy very sexy things and take away from the qualitative side, which is who is this human on the other side of this interaction, and what do we know about them.
There are two specific things I would want to know in a sales interaction, which is their awareness level and their sophistication level with the problem that you have.
Louis: Okay. We’re on this level. Let’s go about it.
Margo: Yeah. Do they know they have this problem? Let’s say you sell a shampoo for men who are balding. You want to sell to men who think balding is a problem. You don’t want to sell it to the men who are like, “I’m bald who cares.” They’re never going to buy your product.
Louis: Let’s take an example, right? At the minute, in terms of awareness level of the problem, I am at the very beginning of it. I am losing my hair a bit on the side, but I know looking at my dad and my granddad that I’m unlikely to lose my hair. It’s like you’re trying to sell this product, I’m going to be like, “No, it’s not for me.” Just to give a concrete example that’s what you mean, right?
Margo: Yes. You want to get to someone who’s on the scale of awareness where that pain point is really heavy, where that problem is an imposition in their life. That it’s causing them distress in some way, so maybe they can’t get a date, maybe they just feel insecure at work, maybe they look a lot older than they really are. They wake up, they look in the mirror every day, and they don’t recognize who they are. You want someone who has that pain point that’s really acute. That’s number one with awareness level.
With sophistication level, that means what do they know about the existing solutions on the market? In the case of hair loss, you have to make a decision if your target market is the person who’s never tried a shampoo before for hair loss, or who’s tried all of them and none of them worked. There’s no right or wrong on that answer. It’s just a matter of knowing who you’re going to target, and how you’re going to talk to them.
In reframing the problems that you outlined before, not feeling icky about marketing when you know someone’s sophistication level, you feel less icky, because you’ve reframed this now in terms of a problem and solution, not sales. It’s not we’re pushing something on you, it’s that oh my god, you’ve tried 50 things. You’re hurting every single day. The woman you love is not paying attention to you, because you’re going bald. I’m just making this up. Now, I have an opportunity as a marketer to change this for you.
Louis: That reminds me of the concept behind The Brain Audit. I interviewed the author of The Brain Audit there a few months ago, he’s framing it in a very similar fashion.
It’s about … When you go to an airport and you have those suitcases that you wait for in the bell there in the … I don’t know if it’s the right word. But anyway, you know what I mean. You land, you wait for your luggage. Let’s say, you have … If your luggage is in front you, basically your brain has those luggages in your head. You have those luggages, and the key problems are on top of each other. You can’t really move on to anything before this key luggage, this big luggage is in front of you. This big problem that you want to solve first.
Let’s say that you really want to get this woman you love to love you back, and you think that being bald is the reason why, then this problem is going to be on top of your mind 24/7. That’s going to be the acute sign that you want to do something about it. Repeat for me the two things, the awareness level, and sophistication level, right?
Louis: I didn’t forget. Right, but then again, how do you go about it? That’s all … Still that’s very theoretical. We are talking about a very important concept here that we need to define, but how do we go about finding that out, and how do we go about picking the right levels for each?
Margo: You have to talk to people. There’s just no shortcut. This is the part that everybody skips. This is the part no one wants to do. This is the part that takes a lot of time, and this is the part that’s really hard to quantify. Every great marketer will tell you that they spend time with people. They develop the skill of listening, of talking to them and watching them.
A lot of the mistakes people make at this stage, when they’re moving from the theoretical to the practical, is that they have based their strategy, all the stuff we’re talking about, where you said the theoretical, people make it up. They don’t actually base it on anything real, or they do what’s called confirmation bias which is they send out a survey with leading questions, and they confirm what they already want to be true to be true, and they move on down the road.
Mind you, I’ve been in rooms where companies have spent low six figures on doing stuff like this. Where they’re just wanting to hear that what they believe is true, is true and not actually listening to what people are doing.
Louis: Give me an example of a leading question.
Margo: I’m trying to think. For shampoo here, how problematic has baldness been in your life? The assumption there is that it’s a problem. You need to ask a question open enough to determine that maybe the problem you’re solving is not actually a problem for people.
Louis: What would be the question you would be asking instead?
Margo: I would start with, how do you feel about your looks? What has your hair meant to you over the last few years? Does it matter? Getting that person to open up and talk about, “Oh, it’s not a big deal. I didn’t really think about it. Oh, I spend hours styling it.” Getting them to talk to you about it, and then once they’ve indicated that it matters to them that how they look or that their hair is valuable then I would say, “Okay, have you started to lose your hair?” “Yes.” “How do you feel about that?” Getting them to talk there.
Louis: Right. Talk to people, it’s something that we talked about in this podcast countless times. But I’m going to keep talking about it forever, because it is a first principle. It is something that will never change. That’s why I’m so comfortable talking about it over and over again, because every guest has different perspective. The question I’m going to ask you now is going to lead to an answer that only you can tell, because it’s you.
How do you go about talking to people? People usually skip these steps, whether they are Fortune 500 companies or small freelancers with one or two clients, they still do not do this, most of them. They are scared and all of that. How do you go about it? How do you traditionally advise people who are in this situation to go about it, to talk to people?
Margo: It’s such a silly question because you just talk. It’s kind of redundant, but I’ll be more specific here. You want to talk to people who have spent money on this thing that you are talking to them about. That’s key, or they represent who you think your market is, as a hypothesis.
The way you would go about it is find them freaking anywhere. I talk to people when I am in line at Starbucks. I talk to people when I’m on the subway. I am the most annoying person to be around at all times, because I am always talking to people. Having a mindset of just curiosity and asking questions and listening and being open to it at all times. This is the piece that people don’t get. It’s not just when you’re in a structured interview.
My husband won’t even go to Costco with me, because I’m so annoying. Because I’m constantly just standing in the aisle watching what people are doing. I’ll be like, “Why did you take that? What do you want that for? Why that one and not that one?” I’m constantly thinking in that way and trying to understand people’s behavior and getting them to explain to me. I think adopting that mindset of curiosity, being open to conversations wherever you see them, and then also being able to break the third wall, of talking to people being afraid that you’re annoying them. This is the part that people don’t want to do, “I don’t want to ask my client, because I already have asked them so many things. I don’t want to seem like I’m annoying.”
It goes back to that problem you and I were talking about earlier which is people think marketers are annoying. A good solution for that is don’t be annoying. You know when you’re being annoying. When you’re talking over someone. When you’re not asking good questions. When you’re being pushy. You know when you’re being pushy. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you don’t have that level of self-awareness. If you’re listening to this podcast you know. If you don’t, we have bigger issues, and maybe we can recommend a therapist.
But I think that what we have to focus on when you’re talking to people is leaning into the discomfort of asking your clients to give you feedback. Most people don’t want to do that, because they’re afraid they’re being annoying, and they don’t want to hear it. We don’t want to hear that our idea might be bad, or that our product might not be something people want to buy, or that the entire campaign we just planned is going to fail.
What you said on first principles is key here. Because people skip this step, and they’ve gone so far down the line, they have all these sunk costs now. They’ve invested in a copywriter. They’ve designed a whole website around it. They’ve paid for the ads. They have 12 consultants working on this. They have secured 19 JV partners. It’s all done, so all of a sudden if you discover your initial assumptions are wrong, you’re screwed. Who wants to do that? You’d rather have the campaign fail, right? That’s something at least tangible that you can show.
It’s a long-winded way of saying, if you start by talking to people and by listening and forcing yourself to have conversations with people who have either paid for your product or represent the type of people who would pay for your product, that’s where this starts.
I want to make an important note on this, your friends and your family are not those people, and your colleagues are not those people. If you’re a yoga teacher, and you’re like, “But all my friends are moms who do yoga.” I’m sorry, no, do not interview your friends. They are not your market. I want you to talk to people you don’t know, who are not going to just be nice to you and tell you random things, I mean nice things.
Louis: Yeah, they will tell you random things but not necessarily nice. Listen, you don’t have to convince me, because I’m convinced. It’s been a few years now that I’m convinced about this. Now a listener reached out to me a few weeks ago, he works for a large travel website, and he works on the metric side of things. He works for the paid ads side of things which is like … They focus 100% of the time on campaign improvement, optimization, and stuff like this, right?
He got the hint from the podcast that he likes that he should start talking to people. But he told me, “Yeah, I wish I could … I understand talking to people could lead to interesting stuff and whatever. But we know that people want the cheapest, most convenient way to find somewhere to travel. They want cheap as possible, most convenient, with nice destination, whatever. We know that, so why should I talk to people? What else could I find out?”
Margo: Okay. Well, one, how do you know that? That obviously came from something, right? Somebody talked to someone to know that information. Two, if your campaigns are working, then keep doing it. Start talking to people when your numbers don’t start working, usually this is an indication that something’s wrong.
When we’re talking about talking to people, we’re usually talking about messaging. That can be through visual brand assets, that can be through copy, that could be through different ways in which you communicate the message that you’re sending across. But if this person’s in charge of paid ads, I would say if what they’re doing is working, then keep doing it. If you don’t want to talk to people, then … If it’s working, it’s working. Somebody along the way has talked to someone if the ads are working, I can tell you that off the bat.
Louis: Right. I think the question came from the perspective where they want to do more. It’s working but maybe could work even more. I’m always struggling to think about, for example, Amazon, the reason why people go on Amazon is because it’s cheap, it’s easy to browse, and there is all the products you want in the world. I never believe that it was that simple. I think there’s a lot of more reasons people use the product. How do you leverage those insights to really get a competitive advantage as well?
Margo: Yeah, I gotcha. Because at a certain point when you’re competing only on price, that’s a losing game. Your customers, if you’re using ads or messaging that’s saying, “We’re the cheaper one,” that’s what you’re training your customers to base their decision hierarchy off of.
That’s a game you can play. A lot of retailers do play it, but it is a race to the bottom. It ends up being unsustainable, and if you’re investing in paid ads, the numbers just don’t make sense. At least I’ve never talked to anyone who maintained profitability when they were doing that route, because the customer lifetime value never outweighed the cost of acquisition, ever.
I welcome, by the way, if anyone wants to send me examples of them having done this, I would love to hear from you. But I don’t know any to date.
The reason why you’d want to talk to people is that you do want a unique selling proposition. You want to get to why you’re different, why someone should buy from you. What is in it for them? Because any time people are looking at an ad, they’re only thinking one thing, ever, which is, “What’s in it for me? Why should I care?” If you’re not answering that question correctly, they’re not going to pay attention.
You might be answering it with, “Because we’re 10 cents cheaper,” and that could be enough, but it could be better. If you want it to be better, there’s no way you’re going to know unless you talk to them. You’re just making guesses.
Louis: Right and then, let’s say we have those people. We know … We have a group of people in front of us who are probably aware to the point where they’re aware enough for us to start talking to them, and the problem is quite acute, so they need a solution. Then we also know that maybe they’ve tried a few solutions, and we know that our product is very good for people who’ve tried a few things before, but actually this one is completely different, maybe different chemicals, or whatever. We know that it’s going to really change your life.
Let’s say we have this group of people. Then how do you go about writing a message or coming up with messaging that is so good, people feel like, “Whoa, I feel that this ad or this message or this website has been written for me.”
A little bit like when I went on your website, and I laughed my head off for two or three minutes reading your copy because I really felt you were talking to me. You have a nice way with words. It is not easy for most people to go about this and to truly understand markets so well that you can write messaging that just clicks, right? How would you advise people to go about it?
Margo: Thank you. This is a skill you don’t develop overnight. I think you have to test it, you have to hone it. This is where studying direct response copywriting comes in and a lot of those principles of persuasion. You could do a whole dissertation on this. But if I were to give listeners a brief take away, it starts with having empathy, thinking about the person on the other side of the exchange. What do you want them to feel?
As a writer, oftentimes, you’re trained to think like, “What do I want to say?” That’s how they train you in school. That’s what they teach you when they’re like, “This is how you should do a job interview.” Your whole life it’s like, “What do you want to say? What point do you want to get across?”
I would get that the hell out of your mind. This is not about you. The person on the other side of the exchange, what do they need to hear? Once you develop that level of empathy, of understanding the person on the other side, the words are less important, because the intention is there, and the words will assemble themselves. Which I know sounds like a cop-out, so I’ll come back to that.
But I want to give an example but take us out of marketing for a second. The same thing is true in all relationships, so I like to equate it to dealing with your husband. Let’s say that you want to go to your friend’s birthday party, and he hates your friend’s husband, and he doesn’t want to go.
Louis: That seems like a very specific example, just saying.
Margo: Laughs. It’s never happened in my house. What are you going to say to your husband to get him to want to go to this party? Because you don’t want to just make him go. You don’t want to say, “You have to. You’re obligated,” because he’s going to be an asshole the whole time he’s there, so that doesn’t help you.
You want to figure out a way to make him want to go. It’s using the same kind of skills that you would use there but on a website or in an ad or on a headline. Step number one is starting to have some empathy. In the case with my husband, my husband, we’ll just go there, why does he hate this guy? Does he have to talk to him? What makes him uncomfortable about this person? Why would he not want to be spending his time at this place?
Understanding that maybe he was really stressed at work, and he only has a few hours to detox during the weekend. He would rather spend it with me. Being empathetic to that and addressing him based on that understanding is where you to get to the good messaging.
The other thing is, going back to my cop-out on words, is that you often get stuck trying to sound like you think you’re supposed to sound. This is where people screw up with messaging. They look at their colleagues’ websites. They look at their competitors’ websites. They look at other people’s ads. They look at Ad Age. They follow who’s winning awards.
But nobody’s actually looking at number one, what actually works, because a lot of these things that win awards, you don’t see how much revenue they really generate. Two, they have different markets than you. You have no idea if what works for them is going to work for you. There’s really no one-size-fits-all.
When it comes to messaging, taking away the idea of a template and leaning into that empathy of understanding that there’s a human being on the other side of this exchange. What do you need to say to this human being to make them feel seen, heard, and understood, period?
Louis: It’s much easier to do that once you’ve talked to people face-to-face for a long time. The example with a husband is a good one because you don’t have your husband behind the screen as a Google Analytic number. You see your husband in front of you, you see this person in front of you, and you’re able to empathize with him because you know him. You see his reactions and all that.
It’s much more difficult for digital marketers or people working online, and I think most listeners are working in these conditions to actually empathize with a spreadsheet or numbers on Google Analytics. This is so … This is why it’s so important to talk to people to the point where you don’t have to say, “Okay, now I have to come up with a fucking headline for this website, where do I start?” No, you know exactly who you are going to talk to, and words, they should come naturally.
We are not going to have time to go into that amount of details, but you mentioned that when we talked. I did interview Joanna Wiebe recently about this particular process on how to actually extract people’s words in order for you to use that in your marketing. The second person I’ve interviewed recently who explained something similar for value proposition is Momoko Price who’s a commercial copywriter, and she talked about very similar methodologies that you mentioned as well.
As you can see my dear listener, as you’re listening to this right now, you can understand I am not trying to coach every guest to tell me what I think they should say, just like that it seems like all smart marketers do the same thing. They listen to people. They talk to them. They extract their thoughts. They put that on paper, and they’re just being nice and empathetic and curious.
Margo: Can we talk about why that is? Because I hate that you have to make a disclaimer about this. Here’s the misunderstanding people have is that people think that marketing is one tactic. I’m a PPC marketer. I’m an inbound marketer. I am a designer. I do UX. I do … They’re only talking about one piece of the pie, and they don’t see how the entire system works together to one end which is you want to sell something. That could be a product. That could be a service. That could be an idea.
When that is your ultimate goal, everything else is just a means to an end. Those are just ways that you can do that. When the goal is, I need to get this person to take an action, then it automatically comes back to people no matter what.
I would say this is not just true for marketing, it’s true for business. There’s no business that’s going to work that isn’t taking into account what people actually want because people won’t buy things they don’t want. They’ll buy things they don’t need, but they won’t buy things that they don’t want. That’s my caveat.
Louis: There you go. We’ll finish on this, because I think we’ve … I’ve quizzed you enough on this particular step-by-step. I hope you find it useful if you’re listening to this. But we can move on then to other very interesting questions that are more related to you, Margo, as a person. I’m curious because you seem to have a strong personality, strong point of view, you’re not afraid to say things as they are on your website and this podcast. If you have to pinpoint one particular event that made you who you are today, what would it be and why?
Margo: Oh. That’s a really good question. When I started my career, I was working in academia in a mood and anxiety disorder lab where I was in charge of recruitment and retention. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my first introduction to lead generation and funnels. But I was an academic, so thinking in that way wasn’t ever anything that had come to mind. No one had ever used that language with me.
I would say if there was a pivotal point in what led me on to this track is having to be on the phone all day long with … I worked on a specific study that was offering free treatment for depression, and so it was my job to put out effectively advertisements to get people to get free treatment. Which seems like a no-brainer, why would you not want free treatment? It’s really expensive.
I couldn’t get anyone to sign up for my life. I spent all day long on the phone talking to people and trying to understand why they weren’t signing up. If I knew then what I know now, I could have saved so many lives. I could have helped so many more people. But back then the advice was you put out a flyer. You use really condescending and patronizing language like–
Louis: Like what?
Margo: Are you feeling blue? Do you feel sad and disgruntled? If anyone … Listen, the majority of this audience probably has depression, because, statistically, we all do, and none of you resonated with that just now, none of you, because it’s patronizing. That’s not how we talk, and it’s not how we think, and that’s not how depression makes you feel.
It looks really different for different people. If they knew about how it looks in women, it’s different. How it looks in men, it’s different. The language if they had spent the time on the phone that I did with people who would say to me, “I don’t know something’s just wrong. Nothing in my life is actually wrong. I just have a cloud. I just feel off. I don’t feel like myself. It’s weird to talk about, and I feel really embarrassed. Honestly, I haven’t even told my wife. I’m just talking to you, and you’re some stranger.”
Listen to all that. There’s shame involved. There’s secrecy involved. There’s an inability to actually articulate what it is that you’re feeling. All of those things could have been used in the copy. Back to your question of why this was a turning point for me is, it actually made me really angry. I was frustrated, and I couldn’t understand why nothing was changing. We had been doing the same thing in the field for decades and decades and decades.
I took this frustration with me into graduate school, and it’s what spawned the next decade of my life was looking at why it’s so hard to connect with people, and why we don’t do it. At the time, I’ll tell you, it was because it was much easier to shut down and do what I was told and just put out a bad flyer and tell my boss, “Yeah, I did it. I did my job. I answered phone calls. They put out flyers, and I’m done.” That to me is no longer a feasible solution. But at the time, you could get away with it. Anyway, it fired me up for the rest of my career.
Louis: Yeah, it seemed like it. Thanks for sharing this story. I think it’s a great insight into why some people are so driven like you, and why some people are so passionate about marketing which I am too.
Yes, this is it. Marketing can help you save lives in some instances. Marketing can really help you make others understand that they do have problems that they need to solve right now, and that we do have a decent solution, a good solution for that and that you shouldn’t ignore the signs. It’s the same for stop smoking, for all of those breast cancer awareness campaigns. There’s a lot of good things you can do in marketing in order to make people aware of some serious health issues and others, so I’m glad you mentioned that.
It’s a bit difficult to move on from this now, but I’m going to try. Apart from this particular story, I’m not implying this was a marketing fuck up because that’s the question I’m going to ask you. But apart from this entire story, can you pinpoint the biggest marketing fuck up of your career? The one that you really regret or the big mistake you’ve done that you could have solved.
Margo: My god, where do I start? There’s so many. I don’t actually have a huge one. I would say it was a series of small mortifying ones that were actually worse. Because they derail you in a way that shakes your confidence.
I’ll give you an example. I had a launch for my virtual coworking space that I planned. I was traveling during it. I was at a conference. I didn’t do the ample promotion that I needed ahead of time to get the list in the right place. The emails weren’t sequenced properly and started sending too much or double. Just really basic things that were going wrong.
I ended up learning that a lot of people didn’t notice, and we ended up being fine. But it was little things like that that taught me how to have a thicker skin around marketing and trusting that it’s really just a series of things that may or may not work. That all the best practices that I always know I would do them, and sometimes they won’t work, and sometimes they would. Having to trust my gut on campaigns was a skill that I learned over messing up.
But I actually have a better story that’s not totally a fuck up of mine. It was a client’s, so it was a really strange ethical dilemma. Can I share that one?
Louis: Of course.
Margo: I worked with a client that was a selling a course, and I wrote the most beautiful sales pitch for it. It was gorgeous. I would have put it on my … I wanted to frame it. It was perfect. Nothing was wrong with it. I had tested it in front of his audience. He hadn’t really tested it, but I’d put it in front of people.
Cut to about seven months later, because he didn’t end up executing it for a number of reasons. He sends me the final version. It has the stock testimonials in it that I had written as placeholders, right? I know. No one can see his face right now, but he’s shaking his head like I was.
It was one of those moments where I thought, “Oh my god, am I empowering … Am I one of those marketers that’s empowering shady crap that people are getting away with?” Because that to me is deception. That is unethical, and that’s a really, really clear violation of a boundary.
I was very clear with this guy that that was not okay. Especially if I was going to be associated with this deal, but I was not on the campaign anymore. He ended up moving forward with those fake testimonials telling me later that he would change them.
We haven’t worked together since, but it was one of those moments where I was like, “This is not okay.” The fact that he thinks it’s okay speaks to a larger problem to your point, why everyone hates marketers.
Louis: Right. Why do you think … No, not why do you think, but what do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Margo: Develop the skill of listening. Because right now–what we were saying about talking to people –because right now we’re getting to a point where everything’s going to be automated. We already have tools that can tell you how to achieve brand voice. That’s something you thought you couldn’t outsource, but you can now.
There are tools that are going to be writing perfect headlines. There are tools that are going to be doing all the things we think is not outsourceable. We’re developing AI on a level that’s really impressive. We have SaaS companies that are doing really cool things at scale that are decimating the agency culture and business.
But the one thing that no one’s going to ever be able to outsource is human psychology. I’m not talking studies. You can understand … You can read Cialdini, and you can learn all the studies. You can learn the tactics and the tools, but understanding the mechanics of human behavior, what drives desire, what you already said, want, and really recognizing the human being behind the interaction and connecting with that, that’s something you can never outsource. You have to learn how to feel it.
The greats always do. There’s a great chapter in Claude Hopkins, My Life in Advertising, where he talks about how the only reason he’s good at marketing is because he spent most of his life around normal people.
Louis: Yeah, I think it’s a wish that a lot of people would like to have to spend their life with normal people. What are the top three resources you’d recommend listeners to check out? It could be anything, any format.
Margo: Yes, number one, Claude Hopkins, My Life in Advertising. If you have not read that book, get it immediately and then email me. Tell me how you liked it, but that will change the way you think about marketing, for sure. There’s a double version of it where it comes with Scientific Advertising, that’s really fantastic which is his second book. I would say Claude Hopkins, number one.
Number two, Ogilvy on Advertising, if you have not read this book, get this book. It’s got pictures, so you won’t be bored. But he goes through a lot of principles of human behavior and psychology, but he doesn’t call it that way. He’s insufferable. This guy’s such an ass, and so you’re laughing the whole time. It’s really funny. It’s nerdy, so if you’re not ready to nerd on marketing, you won’t enjoy it. But if you are, get ready.
I would say the last thing, it’s funny you mentioned Joanna because I was going to say anything by Joanna Wiebe. She’s just golden. But Copy Hackers, anything she writes, any courses she does, I’m a huge fan of hers. I think everything she does is brilliant.
Louis: I can introduce you to her if you want.
Margo: Oh no, I know her. We’re friends. Thank you though.
Louis: That was a joke, that was a joke. No, she’s one of the best marketers out there, for sure. The episode with her was really good as well. I will link that in the show notes of this episode as usual. But you forgot to mention one resource, I think, ThatSeemsImportant.com is your website.
Louis: I would encourage any listeners to really go there, and even if you’re not necessarily interested in what Margo does, just read the copy. It’s just this nice blend of witty, funny, interesting, a bit sales-y, but not the wrong way of saying sales-y. It just sells you something in a nice, funny way. It’s really nice. I did enjoy reading your website. I mentioned that a few times, but I genuinely did. Thanks for doing that.
Besides this website, where can listeners connect with you and learn more from you?
Margo: Yes, my email list is where most of the activity happens which you can get to through my website. You can also reach me on Twitter, @MargoAaron. I am not that good at Twitter, but I’m working really hard to get better because it’s fun. I want to put myself out of my comfort zone. Say hi to me on Twitter, I’ll say it back.
Louis: Alright, Margo, you’ve been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for spending the time to talk to me today.
Margo: Thank you so much, Louis.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.