Monday, January 31, 2011

Tim Ferriss on Marketing, Self-Promotion, and Productivity

It's not every day that you get to sit only a few feet away from a celebrity and listen to his tales. I suppose here, in the Silicon Valley, there is a higher per capita ratio of self-made millionaires and other persons of note than in some other places. (No disrespect intended to any other places.) But it is still an experience that I seek out and savor. And not because I am a groupie. :) But because, even if success isn't transmitted virally--unfortunately, if someone sneezes on you, you don't get rich--then perhaps, at least in part, it can be transmitted orally, or, more precisely, verbally, by way of educating us.

And so it was with great interest that I listened to Tim Ferriss's story and his advice to young entrepreneurs that he shared at ZURB's soapbox in Campbell last week. (Video and podcast from the meeting are available on ZURB's blog.)


The first step, says Tim, is to identify customers who would be able to evangelize on your behalf. Once you identify this group, you must design your product for these customers.

When he was starting his nutritional supplement company, BrainQUICKEN, Tim identified his ideal initial customer demographic as computer-savvy, health-conscious males, 18 to 35 years old. The group of initial supporters and evangelists must believe the messenger before it believes the message, says Tim. Groups which identify you as a member, whether alumni associations or just groups with the same demographic to which you belong, will find it easier to trust you as the messenger.

Once you identify the group of initial customers, putting money into the product they will love is where you are best-served.

As I was listening to Tim, I was impressed with how similar his approach was to that identified by Jeff Smith at his presentation just the day before. For all the different opinions that there exist about running a business and succeeding, it was refreshing to see some uniformity.

So once you have designed a product for that initial group of customers, how do you get the word out? When Tim's first book, 4 Hour Work Week was about to be published, Tim identified some 15 blogs that were frequented by his target demographic, and he set himself a goal to have at least half of them cover his book. Then it was about meeting these bloggers at conferences, having drinks with them, and getting them excited about the book. You can't "sell" to these people, advises Tim. There has to be genuine interest.

It is also very difficult to have a blogger or a journalist write about your product in a vacuum. It sounds like an endorsement and makes the piece look "bought." To get the attention of bloggers and journalists, you need to show something newsworthy, like a trend. Sometimes, to be able to show a trend, you might even go so far as helping competitors get on the radar.

From blogs, you can build up to print. From print to radio. And if you can do well on the radio, you might be invited on TV. But you wouldn't be well served to be covered by any of these media too early, before you are ready. Also important to remember is that brand name media is not necessarily the most effective marketing. The effectiveness depends on the strength of the endorsement and the duration.

You should maintain a primary social media tool, where your community of fans and supporters can feel connected. For Tim, it's his blog. He uses Facebook and Twitter solely for directing traffic to the blog. Whatever your social media tool of choice may be, however, you need to police the community to make sure that people feel comfortable sharing. "I treat it like my living room," says Tim, "and there is nothing I enjoy more than deleting a 5-hour message of hate in one stroke." A policy of no tolerance for abusive behavior is extremely important.


What's the secret to being productive?

A lot of us start the day with email. It's easy. Chris Sacca once said, "Email is a task list created for you by someone else." How very true! Email is a reactive workspace, and that's not productive.

Tim suggests, finding that one thing on your to-do list for the day that is most important, the one thing that, if it was the only thing you did that day, it wouldn't be a bad day, and probably the one thing that you least want to do, and then doing that one thing for the first hour of the day, before you ever open your email.

Beyond that, here are a few other tips to being more productive:
  • Try to minimize the number of decisions that you need make on a day-to-day basis.

  • For repeatable situations, set policies.

  • Allow employees to think for themselves. Don't make simple decisions for other people.
Reading List

During his presentation, Tim referenced many books that he enjoyed and recommended. Among them were:

  • Letters from a Stoic by Seneca

  • 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout, and

  • Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup by Brad Feld and David Cohen
Tim is especially influenced by Seneca, and says he rereads Letters from a Stoic a few times a year. Most importantly, Tim tries to follow Seneca's admonition (1) not to overreact to things outside your own control, and (2) not to get attached to things that can be taken away from you. Good lessons for all of us to remember.

Thank you, Tim Ferriss, for an interesting discussion, and thank you, ZURB team, for your soapbox series.

Inna Efimchik

Emergence Law Group  Emergence Law Group, specializing in assisting emerging technology companies in Silicon Valley and beyond, provides incorporation, financing, and licensing services as well as general corporate counseling.

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