Creating feels easy, marketing seems hard
In this chapter of my upcoming book "Get Out Of Marketing Debt", we explore why marketing can seem so hard for introverts, and what to do about it.
I don't know where you come from, my "home skill" is software engineering. I know how to code, how to make it work in the Internet, and how to release it to the world so everyone can use it.
Building systems was my comfort zone. Sometimes it was difficult, but I could always find a solution for a technical problem.
Until I couldn't.
What happens without marketing
There is a typical flow of events when a creative person makes a product and does not market it. Been there, done that. This is what happened to me:
Status quo: Building is easy
A few years ago, I decided to become a solopreneur, in the form of a one-person software development company. I created one startup after another: When one didn't work, I stopped and started the next one.
The common pattern was: I build, I tell people about it, and I hope people will be excited and will buy my stuff. That was an easy job for me.
Shock: Nobody buys my stuff
After the 5th startup, I had to admit: "Hey, this is not going to work. Nobody (well, almost nobody) buys my stuff."
At least, the startups I built didn't grow. Word of mouth didn't kick in, I had to spend my entire day on Twitter to get more eyeballs, but each one of my startups was "default dead", not "default alive" (as Paul Graham would say).
Chaos: Resistance, followed by a lot of ideas
Well, it was not that I was stupid: I knew that "If you build it, they will come" was a myth from a movie.
The next step was: I bought a lot of online courses that would "make me sell more". Words like "lead magnet", "autoresponder", "tripwire offer", "indoctrination sequence", "sales page", "ascension sequence" and other silver bullet ideas filled up my head.
I thought: If I only follow the frameworks of established marketers, I will have as much success as they have.
What I didn't realize were these things:
- I was merely imitating what the "masters" did.
- What the masters do works for them, but not for everyone.
- I had zero mental model about what marketing truly was.
Taking action: Making marketing work for an introvert
The "nobody buys my stuff" effect forced me to stop and change my mind.
Before I went on, I wanted to know answers to the same questions that you might have on your mind:
- What exactly is marketing?
- How can marketing work for an introverted solopreneur like me?
- Are there sustainable practices that I would be able to use without losing energy?
- Can anything stop me from switching mindlessly from one tactic to the next?
Fortunately, I have a mathematical background and strong analytical skills. I decided to break the "black magic" down into first principles that are easy to understand. I wanted to have building blocks where I could say: "Ah, now I know how and why each of them works (or does not)!"
The advantage of going back to first principles thinking is: Once you understand a principle, you can apply it in different situations, and to different people, e.g. to yourself instead of a "master marketer".
It's like playing an instrument: If you can play "Let it be" on the guitar, that is already something. But it doesn't mean you can play another song as well, let alone compose your own song!
You need to understand the major and minor scales, chord progressions, rhythm, and so on. Suddenly, you're able to make your first own song!
So I decided to learn the basics of marketing so that I can rearrange and reapply them. I will show them to you so you can save time and avoid the obvious mistakes that I made.
Why marketing seems so hard
First of all, let's find out why marketing feels hard. The problem is caused by a combination of mindset, an unfamiliar reward mechanism, and a limiting belief:
- Introverts think that marketing means being loud about your product towards a large number of people, which scares them away or makes them scoff at it.
- Creating a product causes a quick feeling of reward, whereas marketing can take weeks or months until customers trust the brand and buy.
- Writing good marketing copy is hard because it needs to make people take action. Introverts often believe they can't do that.
The wrong mindset about marketing
The way I thought about marketing was: You have to make a lot of noise to be heard: Pounding the drum and tooting the horn. Sending a lot of "buy my stuff" messages into the world. But: This kind of self-promotion felt odd and awkward, because I am a modest and fact-based person.
One day, I came across Corey Haines' article "Marketing is Earning Trust at Scale". And this phrase "earning trust at scale" opened my eyes:
It's not about what I have to sell, it's about what problems people need to solve, and about the transformation they are seeking: From "now" to "better".
So, if I can find such people, understand what they need, create something that helps them, and earn their trust by "good marketing" then a sale would become totally natural.
At first, that sounds more complicated than blasting out "Buy my stuff", right?But actually, it made everything much easier for me. Writing marketing messages no longer felt like bragging or "tooting my own horn".
Marketing suddenly felt natural, like ... helping people to see that I understand their problems and that I got a solution for them. In essence:
It's not me who is great. It's them who will become great when using my stuff.
I don't need to brag or make noise to be successful. Doesn't that feel totally different? It suddenly made it possible for me (as an introvert) to do marketing because it began to feel like actually helping people instead of persuading them.
Creating a product causes a quick feeling of reward, whereas marketing can take weeks or months until customers trust the brand and buy.
If you create something and you like it, your brain gets a dopamine hit. You feel great because you're proud of what you created – be it a computer program, a book, a photo, or a piece of music. This dopamine hit comes almost instantly after you get the Eureka moment: "Wow, I did it!".
In marketing, the same happens when a customer buys from you. However, there are two problems that make marketing different:
- Message-to-purchase delay: A customer typically buys only after seeing your marketing messages six or more times. They buy because they need their problem solved, and they built up enough trust in you so that they can take the risk and part with their money. The time when you wrote the marketing message, and the moment when the customer buys – they can be months apart!
- Unclear attribution: There is no clear cause-and-effect relationship between your marketing efforts and the thought that makes the customer buy. It might be that your message got into the mind of someone, and this person recommended your brand when their friend talked about a problem they had. This is almost untraceable, so you won't know why someone does or does not buy (except when you ask them later).
For me as a software developer, this makes marketing look frustratingly hard: Too much time passes until I get a reward – and when something finally works, I don't get to know why!
There is a way to get out of this mess: Relax, and let go of the idea that you have to "convince" or otherwise "make" someone buy. Help them solve their problems, and they will want buy from you, naturally! No need for coercion.
Seth Godin, the marketing expert, explains it:
Marketing doesn't have to be selfish. In fact, the best marketing never is. Marketing is the generous act of helping others become who they seek to become. It involves creating honest stories—stories that resonate and spread. Marketers offer solutions, opportunities for humans to solve their problems and move forward.
And when our ideas spread, we change the culture. We build something that people would miss if it were gone, something that gives them meaning, connection, and possibility.1
Okay, that's out of the way, and we can put our message out there, right? Not so fast. First, there is one more barrier that an introverted solopreneur needs to break through.
Limiting belief: "I can't write engaging copy"
One thing was still holding me back:
As an engineer, I was trained to write with a boring, factual style. Almost as in mathematics where you write like this:
- Let's define what X means
- Make a statement or claim about X
- Prove that statement
Definition, theorem, proof. That's dry, isn't it?
Same thing in computer science. Either a program works or it doesn't. And if it doesn't, you fix it. Then it works.
Marketing seems to be the opposite of this: If marketing means "earning the trust of a lot of people" then what can be more difficult for an engineer? Humans are so unpredictable! And: You can't "fix" people. (Nope, people are not "code running on a machine called brain".) When some marketing copy doesn't work, you need to write new copy and test it again.
"Wait, Matthias" (I hear you say), "are you going to tell me there is no root cause why some copy doesn't work and some other copy does?"
Well, there are some kind of general laws that define what convincing copy looks like, and we'll get to them later. But, for a given piece of content, it is totally hard to predict whether it will resonate with people in the market or not.
So the question is: If it is all more or less a matter of experimentation and experience, do you really have to learn copywriting from the ground up (something that scared me, totally)?
Now came a real biggie for me.
First, I learned copywriting, to some extent. But I wasn't good at it. Again: No mental model behind it, I had no idea why some copy works and some does not.
So just when I thought I had to study Eugene Schwartz and other masters of copywriting, and thought I had to go down another rabbit hole and spend half a year in it, something totally different happened: ChatGPT came out.
Suddenly, I had a "junior assistant copywriter". I only needed to write in my usual dry, factual, bland style. Then, hand it over to ChatGPT and ask it to give it one or two of these properties:
- shorter, more concise
- longer, more elaborate
See the rephrased copy I got from ChatGPT, after I threw some software feature descriptions into it that I wrote. Now THIS is copywriter's paradise, isn't it?
Suddenly, my other skill as an introvert could take over and solve the problem of bad marketing copy:
- As an introvert, I can smell "sleazy", "salesy" or other forms of bad content from a mile away. Nothing could be easier.
So, to write good marketing copy, now I simply do this:
- write boring, factual copy
- put it into ChatGPT to make it engaging
- read it while listening to my emotions
- when it comes out wrong, feels bad or incorrect, I fix it
- then, send it to my audience and see what happens
- get feedback to improve the copy and my writing skills
Suddenly, this makes total sense, right? It's even fun because when I don't like what I see, I simply ask for more and different copy. ChatGPT never ever gets tired. And it never ever loses confidence, as a human assistant would do.
Caveat: Even if you use AI, you still have to write a convincing story so the reader can see the value of your product or solution! You just need not be an expert in choosing the right "marketing words" anymore. The AI can take care of that. But don't let an AI create the entire piece for you. Make sure that the argument is truly yours!
1Godin, Seth. 2018. This is Marketing (p. 6). New York:Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.