This is the recording of a talk I gave at the DMO Virtual Summit Series 2020.

Note that the introduction (first 15 seconds or so) is choppy, but it gets better once it flips over to my presentation.

I think it serves as a very good overview of the concepts that I share here.

The full talk title was: Stop Being a Dumb Marketer (Principles, Strategies, and Tactics).

Expand the transcript

Thank you first and foremost Joe and team for for having me here. I’m not gonna make anybody look stupid I’m gonna try to make you look really smart actually! This is gonna be a different kind of presentation – I’m not gonna be talking about the tactical what works now kind of stuff, I’m going to be talking about the things that I’ve seen over my career.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with or observing a ton of great marketers– Joe was one – and this presentation is kind of a summary of the things that I saw that they do differently and what being really great at marketing really means.

I am Terry Godier. I am a marketer and a developer which means that I’m twice as annoying at dinner parties. I’ve got about 20 years of experience in digital marketing. I started out as a wee young lad – this is the only thing that I’ve ever done. In fact, I spent the first few months doing SEO without realizing that it even had a name. I went on to spend seven years in-house at CBS which is now ViacomCBS doing SEO and earning hundreds of millions of organic visits.

I co-founded Intellifluence with Joe, which by the way is absolutely the best influencer marketing network on the entire internet (I’m not biased at all), and then I co-founded something called User Insights which is a remote user testing platform. As part of user insights I watched tens of thousands of videos of real people doing real things on websites and I took those experiences and and those insights and I started writing about them at my new project which is called Panoply. It’s a website, it’s a newsletter, it’s all kinds of stuff. There’s a podcast with Annie Duke, who’s a former poker player – I really think about thinking a lot and I talk about thinking and I’m just sharing everything I learned about marketing over there and I’ll bug you about that again here in a little while so let’s get into it.

What we’re going to cover we’re going to talk about how you can make better decisions we’re going to talk about how you can build better websites and we’re going to talk about how you can improve your marketing.

At high level repeated success with marketing happens through having a mature set of principles strategies and tactics. Principles are fundamental assumptions or beliefs and they’re better if they’re gained through experience or backed up with data. Strategies are the application of principles for a desired outcome and tactics are the practical means by which strategies are executed.

So why the top-down focus?

First, because I think it makes sense to put the most thought into the things that don’t change often and principles are also where the strategy begins and the tactics come from the strategies and so on – it kind of cascades.

These are the ground rules and these are the high level concepts that we’ll build on. An example of a principle is that links help websites rank, for all the seos watching this, and that changes rarely. Strategies change sometimes, so guest posting is one strategy of getting links that can help websites rank.

Tactics change often – you know there’s a whole list of things you can do to to get guest posts.

Let’s jump straight into how you can make better decisions throughout your career as a marketer 3:59 you’re going to spend most of your time making decisions and it’s the quality of these decisions 4:04 that will determine your success rate so the fundamental truth that i arrived 4:10 at when thinking about how people do good marketing and how i can get better at marketing is that marketing is actually just 4:17 decision making here’s an actual picture of someone getting better at marketing 4:23 so anybody that’s tried to do this right try to become a good marketer and try to be successful 4:28 you realize quickly that you don’t get better at marketing by trying harder it’s not like you can run more miles or 4:34 you can lift heavier weight and you get better at it you get better by learning how to make better decisions you get better by 4:40 thinking more clearly and i think it’s interesting that the harder we 4:45 we think very hard as marketers we put a lot of work into thinking and we do a lot of thinking so that our 4:51 customers can do very little thinking and make things much easier for them 4:57 i’m going to tell a story now this is one of my favorite stories i hope you haven’t heard it it’s called the banana story so in the 5:05 early 1900s fruit was kind of a big deal there were two american fruit companies 5:11 that wanted to buy this 5 000 acre parcel of land down in honduras okay but there was a problem two 5:19 different locals claim to hold a deed to the land so the first company was called united fruit and they 5:25 were one of the most powerful corporations in the entire world they did what big corporations do and 5:31 they dispatched a team of well-paid lawyers to go down to honduras and search and analyze every document related to this 5:38 piece of land to figure out who actually owned this thing because two people can’t own the same piece of land so the second company was a tiny 5:45 little startup tiny little upstart uh owned by a guy named samuel zumari 5:50 and he obviously couldn’t match the resources of united fruit right so while united fruits expensive legal 5:57 team went down there and poured over documents zimmering just met with both the locals and paid them both 6:03 right so the moral of this story is that united fruit was way too focused on the 6:08 wrong outcome they did things the way they were supposed to be done because that’s the way they’d always been done 6:15 and that was the outcome that they had optimized for zamori just optimized for being the owner of the land 6:20 paintable twice paid twice and was done with it right so without great decision-making prowess 6:25 this result would not have been possible so i say it again better decision-making 6:33 is the same thing it’s equal to better marketing so how do we make better decisions first 6:40 way is by having better data you can’t excavate truth from misleading data 6:47 any story that you try to tell based on a lie is probably not going to be true right 6:54 the next way that we can do this is through having fewer assumptions so anytime that i start doing something 6:59 i try to get some clarity on what exactly it is that i’m doing 7:04 what do i expect to happen and let’s take that one step further and you should actually think about what 7:11 are the potential outcomes and which one is the most likely and why next you need to pick an outcome what do 7:17 i actually want to happen you would be surprised how many people sit down and say i’m doing seo and that’s it that’s the 7:24 outcome that they have is that they’re actively doing seo not that they have this page type that 7:29 now ranks much better in google not that they make these many sales they’re just doing seo to do seo they’re sending people to honduras 7:35 to figure out who owned a piece of land not to buy the land the final thing i think you should do for fewer assumptions is you need to 7:42 figure out how you’re going to know if you’re right or you’re wrong so evolution 7:48 has made our brains lazy anybody that’s ever built a website and watched what users do on it know that many people 7:54 don’t even have a brain right so it’s good though because if we had to wake up every day 8:00 and deliberate over every decision we’ve ever made we’d never get past breakfast right so 8:06 instead our brain uses a set of shortcuts called heuristics heuristics are also what google uses to make decisions about 8:13 where to rank a website so mental models are ways to break out of the existing patterns of thinking and 8:20 to see things more clearly we should strive for objectivity and we 8:25 should stop doing things the way that they’ve always been done simply because they’ve always been done that way and a good example of this type 8:32 of thinking is elon musk so he was his background’s in physics 8:37 and one of the first things that you’re taught as a budding physicist is how to reason from first principles 8:43 so someone someday said to elon that humans are not a multi-planetary species because 8:49 rockets are not reusable but his reaction was like well why not and so on we have spacex so if you start 8:57 reasoning from first principles i’m certain that you and elon can have the same things 9:04 so let’s talk about how to build better websites 9:09 rule number one if everything is important nothing is so imagine that we were at a 9:15 used car lot and you were trying to sell me a car and you wanted to tell me about the 9:21 price the mileage the warranty the previous owner safety ratings 9:26 all these different things but you can’t say them all at once and you can’t do that online either you 9:32 physically can’t say 10 different things at the same time i’ve tried 9:37 so you have to prioritize and really there are three ways that you 9:42 can do this if we talk about information hierarchy there are three different ways that you can control an experience 9:50 number one is size so size is one of the strongest indicators of importance that we have 9:56 um the brain recognizes it you don’t have to trick it on anything it just believes it that is true 10:01 so this is very simple but it’s important so if you want more people to see it you make it bigger but note that bigger 10:09 is always in relation to what else is around it you can’t just make everything bigger and expect this to work so this is 10:15 very much a relative kind of thing if you take a look at this slide the 10:20 next tool that you have is color so the eye is attracted to that blue green color right in the center there 10:26 like a magnet nothing else really matters forget this f shape that they say we browse and 10:31 forget you know running down the right sidebar this is what you get you see you see the color i promise so i will say that 10:39 most websites use far too much color if you use too much color things begin 10:44 to compete with itself right they compete with each other and it gets really messy that’s why you should isolate your cta colors and 10:50 things like that so this is definitely one of those less is more scenarios and uh you know through through my 10:56 experience i i really think just answer a question quickly is that you need three or four colors that most 11:02 like not much more than that i don’t have any good examples and i haven’t seen any good examples 11:07 of websites that perform well that have you know far in excess of them 11:12 so location is the next thing that we have and location heavily impacts your experience 11:18 so above the fold everybody knows how important that is that’s really just a location it’s a 11:24 location of a document it’s first and you can be certain that in most cases 11:29 yeah every user is going to see it so that’s why you put your most important stuff there but now if we take 11:35 a look at this mock-up that’s here it’s you know just a web page that i have here right so i got a logo i got a hero section 11:40 got a call to action there’s an image but also on the top right we have a navigation bar with a couple 11:46 of side quests what i really care about is cta what happens if we remove this 11:53 navigation bar uh completely because i mean i can i could see some users actually using this 11:58 and circumventing my cta what do you think happens to the click-through rate 12:03 on that cta now that’s the only thing that you can do it’s skyrockets so yeah location matters 12:11 the next thing location does is um implies groupings so the brain uses 12:16 location and proximity to understand how information relates to other pieces of information 12:23 so this gets really important when designing complex pages or ui elements particularly on mobile 12:30 on desktop you have all this space and on mobile things are much more constrained 12:35 and often responsive sites they collapse the content and stack the content which leaves all 12:41 these really weird implied groupings that you didn’t really intend for so pay close attention to that i’ve seen 12:47 that become an issue very often to repeat it these are kind of the first 12:53 principles of building better websites you have these three tools to establish hierarchy 12:59 it’s really all you have fundamentally what you’re thinking about these are the first principles of this 13:05 size color and location rule number two you should build 13:10 websites for users and not for the business so this is the sum of 13:16 all the things that i’ve learned from watching all those user testing videos 13:21 when you sit down and you build a website according to what the business wants or what you need to happen on your 13:27 website you pretty much always going to miss the mark instead if you build your websites for 13:34 the people that are going to use them in the way that they want to use them 13:39 you can’t miss so on the right here i have an example 13:44 of a piece of news content and believe me i spent seven years doing news seo and i 13:50 it’s unbelievable that they did this but they did bloomberg is a real news outlet and a 13:55 couple years ago they put out an article that looked like this because they wanted to be cool and they wanted to get into 14:01 brutalist design can you imagine if every piece of content that bloomberg made 14:07 looked like this you would find a different news outlet if every news outlet looked like this on the 14:13 internet we’d probably i don’t know watch tv or something so if you make your website easier to use 14:20 more people will be able to use it and more people will want to use it 14:26 i have two screenshots here shopping for a laptop on the left we have apple what we have here is a 14:33 great hero image front and center i know what the product looks like i know what the project is called i know 14:39 what the price is i know what i can do about it if i go over here on the right i start looking at this dell example 14:45 okay first of all i have to click that image and engage with the page to be able to get a good 14:51 look at what this thing actually looks like because it’s confusing next we have this processor information 14:57 at the bottom i7 101 ou 10 core generation intel 15:02 i don’t know what any of that stuff means then we have different models select from we’ve got a starting price 15:08 which is great and then we have we can’t even buy this thing we have to compare eight options 15:13 in order to even go any further and my favorite part about this okay pay attention what happens here dell knows this sucks 15:20 okay because they’ve interrupted my session with this obtrusive pop-up that says 15:26 do you need help finding a product yeah dell i think i do okay like this is bad they know this 15:32 sucks apple would never do this and i don’t think that you should do it either 15:38 so let’s talk about how you can improve your marketing as marketers it’s really easy to get 15:45 stuck and think okay i do seo i just wake up and i do that all day is this continuous effort that’s my job 15:52 it’s not true today you’re doing link building tomorrow you’re doing content stuff then you have a meeting you know you have different jobs right you have 15:58 different roles different jobs to be done it’s far more beneficial to adopt a 16:03 campaign-oriented flow with defined beginnings and ends this allows you to stop and learn 16:10 something and try again allows you to reflect on what you’re doing while you’re doing it it allows your marketing gets more smarter over time 16:18 the most uncomfortable thing about this and the reason why i think most people don’t do it 16:24 is that you’re gonna spend a lot of time figuring out what you were wrong about and then like getting into gruesome 16:31 detail about how you were wrong and how you were basically an idiot so 16:36 but the good news is that that’s how you excavate the truth from your assumptions it’s how 16:42 you do it all great marketers that i know are self-deprecating and are willing to go through this 16:48 process the next thing that i think you should do is you need to obsess about context 16:54 so what is the context of the user’s visit if i’m arriving at your site from an 17:00 email email newsletter that you’ve sent me does it make sense to show me a newsletter pop-up 17:06 as soon as i get there probably not how many sites do that a lot what is the context of the session 17:14 so far so what other pages has this user seen where are they at in their customer 17:20 journey what is the context of this content 17:26 so are we presenting the user with information that helps support the proper decision at the proper time it’s the right 17:33 sequence or are we offering information that sends people on side quests that it might never make it back from 17:40 so when a user visits your site from a desktop device you can make a few guesses as to what’s 17:46 going on like physically in that person’s space they’re probably sitting in front of a desk or a table maybe they’ve got their 17:52 laptop on their legs while they’re on the couch since desktop and laptop devices are so big 17:59 it’s difficult to imagine your customers using them while like driving a car or while cooking dinner in a house full 18:04 of screaming kids do i think i have done that actually for mobile devices though anything goes 18:10 like users on mobile devices could be doing almost anything while they’re trying to do something on your website 18:16 trying to understand your product and they’ve got kids climbing all over them i’ve done that so this means that you’re almost always 18:22 dealing with fragmented attention in a mobile context your site needs to be focused and simpler 18:28 to use in a mobile environment there needs to be in a desktop environment i think that’s true i think that’s something that responsive 18:34 designers get wrong some of the time in addition on mobile the distractions 18:40 are built into the device like how often are you trying to buy something and somebody texts you and you 18:45 got to respond to it and then you get a phone call and then your kid’s sister facetimes you from college well 18:51 that happens to me but like all this stuff going on right and then i’m checking the weather and then i’m like oh that’s right i was gonna go sign up for intel 18:57 influence right so it’s it’s it’s tough out there it’s hard out there so obsessed about the 19:03 context be aware um be empathetic to to what your customers are going through as they just try to get something done 19:09 on your site major key to success here as a marketer you should always have 19:15 a hypothesis and a process if you get one thing from what i’m talking about right now 19:20 please have a hypothesis in a process bring that with you 19:26 so the hypothesis let’s be clear about our assumptions and really the the goal here is to 19:31 figure out where am i personally injecting opinion bias crap that i made up 19:38 what is me and what is real right where do i where do i end and where’s the truth begin next you 19:45 need to be able to clearly state what it is that you’re doing what you expect and how you’re going to know if you’re 19:50 wrong that’s a hypothesis here’s one for you i’m going to fill in 19:56 the blanks i’m going to go back into my old content and i’m going to add several paragraphs 20:01 of new text i believe that these pages will gain organic traffic because there’ll be more 20:08 keywords present and google loves fresh content i’ll know if i’m right when the pages 20:13 get recrawled and cached and traffic increases for these pages isolated 20:18 from the rest of the site that’s hypothesis i don’t know if it’s real but it’s a hypothesis it doesn’t have to 20:25 be real so here’s the process hypothesis in a process talk about the process 20:31 adopt a campaign-oriented approach know the past failed conditions 20:36 know how and when you’re going to reflect and iterate it’s the most important part it’s not a continuous process it’s a 20:43 campaign so you have to stop should know in advance when you’re going gonna stop do a post-mortem excavate 20:49 some truth feel bad because you were wrong and then do it again and do it better 20:54 fail better next time so let’s talk about data most marketers default to collecting 21:01 everything collect all the things because i can it’s easy and google analytics will do it for free i think that’s lazy i think that you 21:08 should define exactly what you want exactly what you’re going to instrument and what story you’re going to try to 21:14 tell so data is inert you have to give data you have to you have to give it action 21:19 like frankenstein like you gotta give it life to find your use case 21:24 figure out the story you wanna tell and then sit down and think about it if i was right what would the data look like 21:31 and envision it picture it in your mind if i was wrong what would the data look like picture that too because it’s probably 21:37 more likely given my experience anyway okay terry let’s get specific all this 21:44 stuff has been great first principles based approach i get it you think about thinking 21:50 but let’s let’s talk turkey there are four ways to grow a website it 21:55 took me 20 years to get here i’m gonna tell you what they are number 22:01 one you can improve the website you make it easier to use and more people are going 22:07 to use it i promise you do this by talking to the people who are going to use it you get bonus points if you make it 22:15 easier to use for the people who actually want to use the thing second thing you can do make your 22:21 products easier to understand and more people are going to understand them simple but these are first principles i leave 22:28 the strategy up to you just telling you what i learned next you can improve the message i 22:35 define the message as a story that you tell about your product i think that 22:42 you should make it easier to understand and i think that for most of us you get bonus points if 22:49 you make it easier for them to tell other people what it means 22:54 i also think that before we buy certain things we tell ourselves people like us buy things like this i think seth godin 23:01 said that and i love it so what that means is that you should be clear about who you’re selling to 23:06 and you should absolutely not be afraid to speak directly to them 23:11 i also believe that people do not buy the best product they buy the product that they understand 23:16 the fastest you can optimize for this by speeding up the time to the aha moment 23:22 for anybody that builds sas products in the audience here the aha moment is when you get the 23:27 fundamental utility of a new product so you go oh i get it this is useful and telefluence gets me 23:34 social shares telephones gets me influencers telephones makes joe my friend 23:42 so i think that you should also tell a story that people want to hear to 23:49 sell a product that people want to buy people get this wrong all the time to create a great business 23:56 you have to offer something that people want okay you’ll sell more of it if you can 24:02 help more people understand what it is what it does for them and how they can get it and that’s what the message is 24:11 next way to grow a website get more eyeballs if a tree falls in the forest and 24:17 there’s no one there to hear it doesn’t make a sound i don’t know but if you build the best 24:22 and most user-friendly website in the entire world with the best products and the best pricing but no qualified 24:28 visitor ever arrives you’re not going to sell anything that about that much i do know 24:34 people can’t buy what they don’t know exists there are a lot of reasons why someone 24:39 might be more likely to buy your product but in particular there are three that we can do something about number one 24:45 they are genuinely interested in what it is that you’re selling number two they know someone else who might be 24:51 interested i know some things that could still gel right now i promise number three they may not be 24:56 aware of it but they’re experiencing a problem that you solve these are the people that you need to go out there and find these are the 25:01 eyeballs that you want to capture having more of these people visit your website should mean that you sell more 25:07 things i always think it’s a good idea to pay for context 25:13 so finding people who are looking for what you sell is pretty straightforward google ads is a great platform for doing 25:19 this as is seo google ads is typically not super complex of scale because you already 25:25 know what you’re buying more of you’re buying the context to the visit know what that person was looking for 25:31 right before they found you the tougher part of how to impact customers when they’re not looking 25:36 directly for you for what you sell and that’s like 99 of the time that they spend online most time people aren’t looking for what 25:42 you sell so these are the visits for which you have to bring the context bring your own context 25:49 so this can be as elementary as showing up on best of product category lists 25:55 and it can be as sophisticated as defining new problems that people didn’t realize they had and then solving them 26:03 the final way to grow a web business is to increase lifetime value it’s cheaper to keep the 26:10 customers you have than it is to go out and acquire new ones this means that you need to treat your customers well as marketers i think we 26:17 have a responsibility be nice to people please make sure that your products do what they’re supposed to do 26:23 and make sure that you hold up your end of the bargain deliver on your promises provide great customer service whatever 26:29 that looks like in your industry if you do these things getting repeat 26:34 business can often be as simple as telling your existing customers about that new thing that you do as long as it’s 26:40 relevant you know to what they bought in the first place for other businesses such as software as 26:45 a service or recurring billing sometimes it’s a matter of reminding your users why they pay you so 26:52 what value do they derive from your product what have you done for them lately remind them so i like to think of this 26:58 as a north star metric it’s the one number that i can point to to prove why i’m worth it 27:04 in sas products i put that front and center in the dashboard um you want your customers to see that as quickly and often as possible 27:11 there’s also a lot of value in removing friction so please don’t make it hard to continue being a customer um 27:18 one example of this is like offering dunning support especially if you sell subscriptions to something that 27:24 rebuild at a you know yearly cadence or something like that avoid the frustration and service 27:29 interruption by just reminding those users to update their card prior to the removal period 27:35 but wait there’s more so here’s some parting thoughts for you 27:41 the general idea is that we’re all competing in a detention economy so what this 27:47 means is that attention is a scarce resource it also means that attention is valuable 27:54 once an advertiser earns your initial attention he or she must quickly submit a claim for more continued attention 28:00 it’s what we do with websites it’s why people use pop-ups that’s why people ask to talk to you later 28:06 more attention requires focus and energy and the brain loves conserving energy as we talked about before heuristics and so on it’s hard to get 28:14 continued attention is earned i think it’s easy to get the visit it’s hard to get the purchase 28:22 so you’re in a race and the finish line is the aha moment it’s true in order to buy something we 28:28 have to understand first why we should so a short list enumerated here is like we 28:36 have to understand who the product is for is it for me do people like me buy things like this we have to understand 28:41 what the product is we have to understand how this product makes life less painful 28:49 we have to understand what i can do about it how can i get it what do you want me to do next 28:56 the next thing that i believe this is fundamental this is one of the last things i have to say 29:02 purchases are often emotional solutions to logical problems and when i mentioned that marketers have 29:09 kind of a responsibility this is what i’m talking about i think it’s easy to manipulate people into buying things 29:15 um and it’s easy to appeal to you know fear uncertainty and doubt and these types of things 29:21 and i mean it’s in general if we think about this it’s it’s certainly comforting to believe that when we buy a 29:26 product we do so logically and with this intellectual rigor right we want to believe that we define 29:33 our requirements and evaluate every potential solution with an objective and critical eye 29:39 but nobody builds a spreadsheet to pick out a pair of shoes the truth is that almost all of our 29:44 purchases are emotional nature and we buy things because it makes us feel a certain way 29:50 about ourselves as we are or more likely as we want to be many many many purchases are uh 29:56 aspirational in nature so with that in mind i have something to sell you not kidding 30:04 um yeah please do come over and check out my my thing it’s called panoply um and i know that’s hard to spell it’s a 30:11 weird word and i thought about this if you can’t spell it you can go to i can’t spell that dot com and you’ll 30:17 get there and if you can’t remember it right then you can go to what is it 30:22 and you’ll get there too