Contentions: Less marketing, more teaching

David Heinemeier Hansson’s latest on earning attention, and out-teaching the competition, is really great. Basecamp is one of the rare examples of organizations that publish really great writing—books like Rework, magazines like Signal v. Noise, etc. Anyone who wants to study them, take notes: It’s not content marketing.

At least, not in the conventional sense. Instead, DHH describes it, “Just you put good stuff into the universe and most of the time the universe will return good stuff to you.” I love that, and it feels honest. It’s the type of thing that Gary Vaynerchuk might say; this type of teaching is more like giving a gift, than it is a strategic marketing exchange of tit-for-tat. 

It’s the classroom parable all over again; a small business owner teaches immigrant workers electrical skills, one of the students eventually gets a job in the government and becomes a decision maker for a seven-figure contract. The student ends up selecting their teacher, the small business owner, for the project. None of that was strategic; the small business owner did it out of the kindness of their heart. It was the right thing to do. There’s no attribution model, no expectation of ROI, and yet it all happened.

For years, I’ve tried pretzelling my explanations to decision makers, but it’s just more honest to show it like it is. This is really the essence of organic marketing: do your best to give people gifts, to teach people the things you’re learning, and trust that a few of them will reciprocate. Trust that little portion of reciprocation will be more than what you need. Trust that when you do the right thing, you get rewarded. 

You don’t need a call to action. You don’t need a logo. You don’t need all of that stuff. Just trust them, and give them a reason to trust you every time you write.

Jean-Noël Kapferer and Vincent Bastien write in The Luxury Strategy, “Can you compare a Porsche and a Ferrari? They are not the same thing, the aficionados will reply; they are two different worlds. To compare them would be to show the degree to which you are uncultured, in the sense that you are incapable of understanding the basis of another’s cult. Do you compare religions in terms of the number of daily prayers, the length of religious services, etc?

This is the same when marketers try benchmarking against so-called industry standards or best in class examples; they do so at the cost of missing the most important parts of the experience. In their myopic focus on numbers, they overlook what makes what they’re seeing so good, so valuable, and so important to the people reading. 

My editorial studio only works with companies and teams who want to put out really good stuff. That intention has to be there; not saying everything will be perfect, but everything will be good. To me, engineering blogs are a great place to start because engineers are so allergic to any whiff of content marketing.

Trust yourself, too. Trust that you have something worth giving away to people, trust that your lessons are worth their time, and trust that you don’t need to be perfect. Just do your best, consistently, and with generosity—all elements well within your control.

Here are three ways to out-teach. See also the myth of “with zero marketing.”

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