This review first ran in the Aug. 28 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts
By Ryan Holiday
Portfolio / Penguin
I’ve got a lot of time for anyone who sacrifices a steady paycheque and a pension to build a business and create jobs.
So I was happy to spend a morning last month talking media relations with entrepreneurs who were vying for the final top 10 spots in this year’s Lion’s Lair competition.
We covered a couple caveats before getting into how to pitch stories and talk with reporters.
Media coverage is a good thing. But there are just 24 hours in a day. Time spent talking with reporters could be time spent meeting one-on-one and face-to-face with prospective investors and customers. That’s job one for aspiring entrepreneurs.
The second caveat: good media coverage won’t save a bad product that’s all hat and no cattle.
Media strategist Ryan Holiday would agree. Whether you’re building a new product, launching a new service or writing the next great Canadian novel, invest the majority of your time creating something great before promoting it.
“Crappy products don’t survive,” says the author of Perennial Seller. “Promotion is not how things are made great – only how they’re heard about.”
We’ll hear rave reviews about your product if you’ve nailed the answers to two questions.
Who’s your product for?
And what do they get for their money?
“If you don’t know – if the answer isn’t overwhelming – then keep thinking,” says Holiday. “It’s not that hard to make something we want, or something we think is cool or impressive. It’s much harder to create something other people not only want, but need.”
We’ll ignore your product if it’s merely a marginal improvement over whatever we’re already using.
To get our attention and our money, create something that’s bold, brash and brave. The alternative, says Holiday, is to try selling us something that’s derivative, imitative, banal and trivial. This leaves you with a boring product that’s liable to get crushed by relentless competition.
Using outside feedback to test, tweak, polish and perfect your product is also one of the keys to creating a perennial seller that stands the test of time. “Nobody creates flawless first drafts. And nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention or someone else. Nobody.”
When you’re ready to promote your product, don’t outsource the job and walk away. No agency or consultant will care as much as you, says Holiday.
You need to apply the same amount of creativity and energy into marketing that you put into making your product.
“We have to take this thing that means so much to us and make sure that is primed to mean something to other people too for generations to come. And the best person in the world to accomplish this difficult task? You.”
The harsh reality is that none of us actually care what you’ve made. We don’t care because we have no idea what it is. We didn’t dedicate years of our life to creating it. And even when we know what you’ve done thanks to your marketing efforts, we’re going to care far less than you’d like.
“Accepting your own insignificance might not seem like an inspiring mantra to kick off a marketing campaign but it makes a big difference,” says Holiday. “Humility is clearer-eyed than ego – and that’s important because humility always works harder than ego.”
Holiday’s worked hard to offer up clear-eyed advice to anyone who’s dreaming about creating something truly great. Success isn’t guaranteed but Holiday will put the odds more in your favour.
@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.