Monthly Archives: August 2016

Sernovitz WOM

  • What’s in it for me: get your customers to do your marketing for you.
  • The internet means consumers have a powerful say in the image of a product.
  • Bad products get found out nowadays – the only way to make sure a product is successful is to make a valuable product.
  • The internet has made all complaints permanent, so you need to respond to them proactively.
  • Only honest marketing works in the word-of-mouth age.
  • Companies need to account for the power of good customer service in overturning the effects of negative word of mouth.
  • Instead of traditional marketing using adverts, companies should look towards more profitable word-of-mouth marketing.
  • For effective word-of-mouth marketing, first identify talkers – the people who will talk about you.
  • Once you have your talkers, give them topics: reasons to talk about your message.
  • Help your message spread faster and further by using “tools” that grab the customers’ attention.
  • Once people are talking, take part in the conversation.
  • Monitor and measure what people are saying about you to understand its effect on your bottom line.
  • Final Summary

Marketer’s Curse

I was having a passionate argument with my colleagues about the intricacies of our landing page. What inspires a click more, a picture of people smiling and laughing, or a picture of a graph?

Here’s the cruel joke: You become a marketer, or are drawn to marketing in some shape or form, because you love ideas.

We’re going to test this. My instinct tells me that “people smiling and laughing” is actually always going to perform the worst. There are a couple of good ol’ David Ogilvy quotes that confirm my suspicions about this:

“What do work are photographs which arouse the reader’s curiosity. He glances at the photograph and says to himself, “What goes on here?” Then he reads your copy to find out. This is the trap to set.

Harold Rudolph called this magic element “story appeal,”and demonstrated that the more of it you inject into your photographs, the more people will look at your advertisements. […]

Knowing from Rudolph that a strong dose of “story appeal” would make readers stop and take notice, I concocted eighteen different ways to inject this magic ingredient. The eighteenth was the eye patch. At first we rejected it in favor of a more obvious idea, but on the way to the studio I ducked into a drugstore and bought an eye patch for $1.50. Exactly why it turned out to be so successful, I shall never know. It put Hathaway on the map after 116 years of relative obscurity. Seldom, if ever, has a national brand been created so fast, or at such low cost. Articles were written about it in newspapers and magazines all over the world. Scores of other manufacturers stole it for their own advertising–I have seen five copies from Denmark alone. What struck me as a moderate good idea for a wet Tuesday morning made me famous. I could have wished for fame to come for a more serious achievement.”

Ira Glass has talked about something similar– he called it The Gap.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

That’s the curse, in essence. That you get into marketing because you have a refined taste about what good marketing is, but then struggle to relate to the ‘average consumer’- because you care about things that others don’t.

There seem to be a few different approaches to this. One is to be Steve Jobs and say that you know better. Another is to eat humble pie and reconfigure your tastes.

Social Media

I’m a pretty heavy social media user, and I’m very curious about what’s up.

Nathan Jurgenson has done some very interesting work.


I enjoyed this slideshare by Paul Adams – The Real Life Social Network

I’ve written quite extensively about my thoughts on social media on the ReferralCandy blog: Social Media. I wonder if these thoughts are a little dated, or if I could summarize them succinctly.

Social media is what happens when everybody gets the ability to publish information in a publicly accessible domain. It’s interesting to think about how Twitter started out as a microblog service, and Facebook started out as a social networking service. Neither could’ve foreseen that they would’ve become global nervous systems of information – that only came once the adoption was widespread.

Best marketing campaigns


  • How Warby Parker hijacked New York Fashion Week
  • How Red Bull completely sponsors entire sporting events and does crazy stunts like the Stratos jump
  • How Tesla pretends it doesn’t do any marketing while actually facilitating a massive word-of-mouth campaign, encouraging user-generated content and doing lots of interviews and such (big fan here both as a consumer and a marketer)
  • Steve Jobs’ epic product launches, of course. “One more thing…”
  • Victoria’s Secret’s annual fashion show– they managed to grow it into such an epic event, they actually make huge profits from tickets and advertising WITHOUT selling any product
  • Dropbox’s and PayPal’s referral programs. Ridiculously successful, and effectively launched both of those scrappy startups into billion dollar co’s.
  • TOMS, for the way they bake the social/storytelling aspect into their business model: “buy a pair, give a pair”. People are instantly willing to spend more because they get to feel good doing it
  • GoPro – “Be A Hero”. Creating user-generated content and framing it as something aspirational. (Their competitor Contour had arguably a better product when they were starting out, but the marketing wasn’t as powerful. Contour’s founder actually said so!)
  • Tinder – they had a chicken or egg problem when they were starting out, like all matching/marketplace type services do. The founders would go to sororities to give talks, and then get all the girls to sign up. Then they’d go to the boys and show them all these girls… bingo. Also they’d host parties where you had to download the app to get in.
  • CrossFit – the genius is in how it’s franchised out, allowing people to form their own little cults and clans all around the world. And there are all these little details that add to it– the workout of the day, which makes people feel like they have to keep up, and the annual games, which adds a competitive/aspirational streak
  • Gmail, Facebook – it’s easy to forget that both of these services were actually pretty hard to get into in the early days– they were exclusive and you had to get invites or have the right email address
  • BlendTec – have you seen the videos? You’ve seen the videos.
  • PornHub – PornHub just keeps churning out one genius marketing campaign after another. They’ve mastered the art of making newsworthy announcements (ie “Give America Wood” – for every X amount of views on a certain category, they’ll plant 100 trees, etc)

Different scales of marketing

  • There are several scales of marketing, so it’s actually pretty disingenuous and unfair to talk about marketing as if it’s one big homogenous thing.
  • Marketing a startup is different from marketing a publicly-listed company. It’s literally a completely different game.
  • Ants have to worry about surface tension, elephants have to worry about gravity. Similarly, a startup marketer on day 1 has very different concerns and limitations compared to the CMO of a Fortune 500 company.

It all begins with product-market fit


  1. If you ask successful people why they’re successful, they might not actually know the truth. (Spray Tan Fallacy.) They’ll tell you what they did that felt good and right. But others might do the same things and fail. When you evaluate the difference, it’s typically product/market fit.
  2. Identify a fundamental human behavior and remove steps.

As I’ve spent time reading and writing about ecommerce (and other things), I’ve come to feel that the concept of “product/market fit” is an incredibly useful one.

Product/market fit is a term used in talking about startups, but I think it’s useful in many different circumstances. Product/market fit is the foundation upon which your business is built. There are no customers if there is no product/market fit. Growth is vacuous and futile if there is no product/market fit.

What is product/market fit exactly?

I first encountered it when reading a blogpost by Netscape founder and serial investor Marc Andreessen.

Some people tie the idea of product quality to market fit- meaning that a product is good if people like it, and it’s bad if people don’t like it. This is a somewhat after-the-fact assessment, and it can be problematic, because it implies that anything that’s widely used is necessarily a good thing, and that anything that isn’t is a bad thing. The counter-example Andreessen gives is “The world’s best software application for an operating system nobody runs.”

Andreessen’s point is that in a great market- a market with lots of real potential customers- the market pulls the product out of the startup (or company).

I have some experience with this in much more primitive settings. I started selling t-shirts for laughs, but it grew into an actual business because people liked it and wanted it. I happened to write about local sociopolitical stuff on my personal blog, and it turns out there was quite an audience for it, so I wrote more.

In all cases, a good market pulls the product out of whoever it resides in. (More examples: In Ask Better Questions, I talked about how Oliver Emberton had a Quora question pull an answer out of him, and how Reddit did the same for Rome Sweet Rome.)

Marc argues very compellingly that startups (and by extension, businesses, blogs, etc) die when they don’t reach product/market fit. They die because they don’t have product/market fit. So the goal for any startup (and business, and blog) is to do absolutely anything it takes to get to product/market fit.

Marc’s essay is well-worth reading in its entirety.

So if you’re an ecommerce agent- you’re running a store, or thinking of running one, it’s still useful to think about product/market fit. What is the market that you’re in, and why will those folks buy your product? Testing a minimum viable product makes more sense than trying to reason it in your head. Once you’ve established this, you’ll find that people actually start coming to you with ideas, advice, etc.

Anyway, this is my roundabout way of saying- I think anybody who’s interested in making something for people- whether we’re talking about running an ecommerce store or writing a blog- should read the following set of essays.

  • – Sean Ellis interview
  • Ash Maurya – 10 steps to product/market fit
  • Dave Mclure – Marketing, Metrics & Meaning
  • Ash Maurya – Achieving Product/Market Fit
  • – The Startup Pyramid

If you’re a writer, think of “founder/market fit” as “writer/audience fit”. Naive, ignorant or inexperienced people often fall into the trap of thinking that their products or writings are “for everybody”- in which case they are for nobody. In the ecommerce world, for instance, think of how Tina Roth Eisenberg has founder/market fit as a designer making temporary tattoos for designers, etc.

Of course, don’t spend too much time reading, either. One of the lessons of product/market fit is that you have to let the market teach you what it wants, and that means building minimum viable products. So always work in a cycle of action and reflection, doing and learning.

Faster Horses


  • “if I asked ppl what they want, they say they want faster horses”- well- what they want is to go across the state as quickly as possible (reference the post)
    • why do they want to do that? maybe they’re speed demons. they want to feel powerful. maybe they’re explorers, they want to see more of the world. or maybe they’re hungry for connection, and they want to cover distances to connect with other people.



  • This is going to be fun. I’m Visa, I’m ReferralCandy’s blog design. And you might know Desmond as the design lead. Together we handle a a lot of ReferralCandy’s marketing, branding and design. We also run in our spare time, which is a surprisingly popular t-shirt label in Singapore. And we run it on Shopify.
  • Statement by the numbers
    • We started by investing less than a couple of hundred dollars of our own money. At the time, Desmond was a full-time designer and I was still a military conscript.
    • Started when I had a list of ideas for t-shirts that I wish I had. I was unhappy and unsatisfied with the options I had on the market to express myself, and so I thought I’d come up with a few ideas of my own, just for fun. I posted these ideas on Facebook in a really crappy bitmap form, using MS paint.
    • Got quite a few likes. Desmond reached out to me.
    • Lots of press. Why do we get so much press? Probably because the t-shirts are amusing and newsworthy, memorable.

A marketer’s frustrations


I never thought I’d actually become a marketer. At one point, my goal in life was to become a flight steward to pay the bills, and I thought I’d write essays and short stories in quaint little cafes in Europe.

And then I got hired to do marketing for a tech startup, and life has taken a turn for the interesting. Because people are weird.

I wrote my last post about Thought Leadership because I was frustrated with the idea that there was a guide on how to BRAND yourself as a thought leader, and that was being shared. Because then what happens if people follow that advice? We have a whole bunch of people who brand themselves as thought leaders. Why can’t we just focus on the thinking? Maybe because the thinking part is the hard part.

The same thing replicates itself all over the Internet. There are Tweet chats- #blogchat, #smchat and all sorts of chats- where people talk about things like, what sort of font size should you use on your blog? What sort of background, what sort of color? It’s really quite odd.

In a blogpost titled “How to Get 247% More People to Read Your Content”, Neil talks about how, according to Harvard Business Review, conversations produce oxytocin, encouraging people to feel more open, trust you more, and feel a personal connection with you.

“When you have a conversation with your readers, they release more oxytocin, which makes them feel more open, trust you more, and feel a personal connection with you. This encourages them to read your content and even participate by commenting.”

Does anybody else feel weirded out by that?