For two and a half years, every two weeks I sifted through over 140 blog posts and podcasts that talk about how to build successful online businesses. I found the best content, summarized it, added a bit of my commentary, and delivered it to the inboxes of entrepreneurs around the world…for free. I’m no longer writing Signals in the Noise issues (because my business partners and I are focusing on other parts of Clarity Lab), but please enjoy these archived issues. There’s a ton of useful information in them!
1. Unicorn on the cob.
“Well, the reason I’m here is to remind you that maybe, just maybe, you too have a nagging, gagging sense that the current atmosphere of disrupt-o-mania isn’t the only air a startup can breathe. That perhaps this zeal for disruption is not only crowding out other motives for doing a startup, but also can be downright poisonous for everyone here and the rest of the world.” That’s David Heinemeier Hansson, on why you should think twice about drinking the venture capitalist startup scene cool aid.
His post is one of the best reality popping pieces I’ve read in a long time. David is the creator of Ruby on Rails (a popular programming language for web apps), and co-founder of Basecamp (project management software that I’ve been using for years.) He holds no punches in this article, exposing the current reality of startup land and it’s near hysterical and anxious quest for world domination while riding a white unicorn (a.k.a., a startup valued at more than $1 billion.)
If you’re thinking of entering the startup game by getting investment money, read his article first. Then, take a nap. If you have a dream with a unicorn in it, take a cold shower and read it again. That should scare off the unicorns.
“Mostly what I want to stress is that you can do this. Prior to creating courses, I didn’t know how to create a course. But I worked at it, tested things, and measured what worked. It’s not rocket science (which doesn’t technically exist—it’s aerospace engineering), it’s just starting small, launching quickly and iterating. If I can do it, so can you.” Paul Jarvis, on exactly what it took to make $294,000 from an online program in one year. I love Paul’s authenticity and transparency, and after reading his work over the last year, I have a feeling that his course on how to become a successful freelancer has amazing content inside it. Plus, he goes barefoot in his marketing videos…and shows off his sweet tattoos. I tried taking my shirt off for a marketing video once, and for some reason, it didn’t convert very well. Must be the dad bod.
3. How to optimize your sticks.
I think we’re squarely in the content marketing age now. There are still those who are trying to market with outward bound, push marketing (otherwise known as interruption marketing via traditional ads), but more and more people are getting on the content marketing train. And if you watch this great, new documentary about content marketing (yes, there’s actually now a documentary about content marketing!), you’ll hear that humans have been using content marketing for a very long time. From the movie:
“Since cavemen were drawing on walls to sell sticks, content has been fundamentally transforming business. But now more than ever content is disrupting the traditional marketing approach. Why? Because consumers are in complete control of what they want to engage in. Twenty-five years ago, big brands controlled the message through advertising and big media companies controlled the airwaves and printing factories. Technology has changed the game. Consumers can ignore advertising and irrelevant content at will. To break through the clutter, brands need to tell remarkable stories that are worth listening to…and they are becoming the media in the process.” I think the deeper question is: did cavemen really sell sticks?
Run a business online long enough and you’ll start seeing your fair share of unfriendly internet trolls with nothing better to do with their time than hurl mean, half-witted comments at you in social media email. If you’re a kind person who actually cares about helping people, such trolls will test you, and they’ll give you a great place to practice your compassion. But sometimes? One dreams of responding to them in the way that Mike Melgaard, vigilante troll fighter, responded to the trolls hurling insults at Campbell’s soup for running ads with gay parents in it. Where’s the sign-up form to become a member of the vigilante troll fighter club, cause I’m in. And do I get a beret if I join?
5. Re: I love you.
Google’s whipping out a can of artificial intelligence on your inbox. Google said recently that “its Inbox e-mail service is getting a free tool named Smart Reply, which uses artificial intelligence to scan the contents of messages, pick three of a possible 20,000 common responses and suggest them to you.” That’s Bloomberg’s Jack Clark, reporting on the new Smart Reply feature, which, in its earlier versions “had an overwhelming tendency to suggest the response ‘I love you’ to seemingly anything.” Apparently, Google’s AI was modeled after a golden retriever’s brain.
6. Law of the brand.
Rule #3: “Run everything through a generosity filter. Ask yourself if your tactics are customer-serving or self-serving. Check that you’re not justifying a deluge of emails (that will generate more sales), by rationalizing about disappointed customers missing out. Make giving before getting your goal.” Bernadette Jiwa, on the new rules of email marketing. There are seven other rules in her post, and they’re worth a quick read. I’d add an important one though: keep your free, useful content to sales pitch content ratio at 95/5: 95% useful content and 5% selling your offers. My son is a fan of the 95/5 rule: he wants me to give him 95% treats and 5% healthy food.
7. Houston, we have a cookie problem.
Anyone who uses affiliate marketing as part of their business model, listen up: Firefox has broken the technology that makes affiliate marketing possible, and I have a feeling the other browsers will follow suit eventually. With the latest release of their browser, they have introduced more powerful private browsing features that block the setting of cookies in people’s browsers. From the Mozilla Firefox blog: “Private Browsing with Tracking Protection in Firefox for Windows, Mac, Android and Linux actively blocks content like ads, analytics trackers and social share buttons that may record your behavior without your knowledge across sites.”
That’s great for protecting people’s privacy, and I’m all for that, but, this has serious ramifications for you if you have affiliates that promote your products, programs, or services with affiliate links. If you don’t know how affiliate marketing works, here’s a quick rundown:
Let’s say you have an online program. You find people with (hopefully) big email lists of folks who are in your target market and invite them to promote your program to their audience. In return, you give them 50% of each sale (or 40%, or whatever commission rate you decide on.) Your affiliates post something on Facebook, or send out an email to their list about your program, and they paste in their unique affiliate link to your program’s sales page. Their people click on that link to get to your sales page, and, (here’s the critical part of the process), a tracking cookie is set in their browser. As long as that cookie is there, if the person who clicked on their affiliate link buys your program at some point in the future, they (the affiliate) will get credited with the sale, and earn the commissions for the sale.
That’s the basics of the affiliate marketing model. It’s an approach that’s used to make many online marketers millions and millions of dollars every year. (Almost all of my online businesses have used some degree of affiliate sales to boost revenue and growth, though I’m moving away from this model more and more lately.)
So, here’s the thing: Firefox is now blocking tracking cookies, which means that your affiliates won’t get credited for making sales when their people are using Firefox. No cookies, no commissions. And that, my friends, breaks the affiliate marketing system. If Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer do the same, either we’ll need someone to invent new affiliate sale tracking technology that privacy features of browsers can’t block (not a likely scenario), or affiliate marketing will no longer be part of a viable business model. Uh oh.
8. Giving is the new getting.
“”When we started, nobody was talking about business and giving together. Then we started to see more and more companies add the one-for-one model, and I thought that the impact that TOMS could have 50 or 100 years from now won’t be measured in shoes or eyesight we’ve improved, but actually the people we’ve influenced to incorporate giving into their businesses.” Blake Mycoskie, speaking on stage at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival, about a new investment fund he’s started that will focus on funding companies that incorporate doing social good into their DNA.
Blake is an amazing, inspiring guy. I read his book Start Something That Matters last year, and the soul of his message still echoes in me, urging me to incorporate some form of social entrepreneurship into one of my businesses. One of these days, I’m going figure out how to crack that nut.
9. Toss the tool salad.
Here’s a great collection of 204 online marketing tools, all right on one page. Compared to even just four years ago, the amount of high-quality tools that allow you to build an online business these days is stunning. We are definitely not short on web tools…except for the one with really good artificial intelligence that will write compelling, emotionally driven marketing copy and emails for you.
10. Buddha, Carl Jung, and an online marketer walk into a bar…
“Allow me to make one point very clear: It is not appropriate to take advantage of people, especially by targeting something as crippling as the scarcity mindset. Scarcity has profound negative psychological results, and we do not want to compound this negativity. What do we do instead? The chief method of implementing scarcity as a conversion technique is through the power of limitation.” Marketing Land’s Jeremy Smith, on the tricky territory of engaging with prospects on your website and triggering their scarcity mindset.
Online marketing directly overlaps, and integrates with, human psychology. That’s what makes marketing both so fascinating and powerful. If you have a desire to market with respect and compassion for the people you’re marketing to, the game gets more challenging, and makes it even more important for you to become not only a student of marketing, but also of psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and even spirituality. I highly recommend to read and study and learn knowledge in all those areas. It’s been my experience that the combined knowledge culled from each of those areas is vital to creating a profitable online business that actually helps people with problems they’re having in life.
Thank you, sincerely, for reading all the way down here to the bottom. Why do I always thank you for reading my newsletters? Because I work hard to curate and create things in these newsletters that will help you in some way, and if you actually read all the way down here, it usually means that you liked it and actually got something good out of it, which feels great to me, so…I’m thanking you.
If you’re feeling some reciprocal gratitude, it would help me a lot if you clicked on one of the links below and share something about this issue with your friends. More folks reading my newsletters means more gratefulness happening all over the place.
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Until next time, keep learning, my friend. Keep learning…it will pay off in multiple ways.
Signals in the Noise
p.s. You can find the archive of past issues right here.