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If You’re At Every Party, You’re The Coat Rack
Small-businesses and startups suffer a debilitating neuroses: they can’t help but seek attention on every channel.
When I was growing my business, I fell into the trap of acting bigger than I was — which is another form of fake it til’ you make it syndrome, and I’m not alone.
We look up to the Fortune 500 big-boy pants companies we wish to emulate, and start copying their methods. Those companies have a ‘presence’ on every channel they can tune into: Facebook, Twitter, newsletters, podcasts, Weibo, TikTok, and Trenndy; that last one doesn’t exist but they already have an intern posting on it.
If you’re like me, you’ve looked at that big marketing presence with envy and inferred the wrong causal conclusion: big marketing presence → big success. In reality, it’s the exact opposite.
These companies amass their marketing war-chests first, only then do they deploy an army of minions to communicate across an unwieldable channel count.
Not only are they committing the classic sin endemic of overfed marketing divisions, they inspire underfunded upstarts to follow in their cash-drunk footsteps.
How do I know I’m right? Let’s travel back to a humbler time.
In The Year 2000…
Prior to ubiquitous internet advertising, to appear everywhere you had to advertise in magazines, newspapers, on radio shows, billboards, and the mothership, television.
In terms of channels, you needed to be at trade shows, sponsor neighborhood organizations, attend conferences, social clubs, sporting events, and other gatherings only reachable in meatspace.
The price of that visibility was high. To get into those circles, you needed boots on the ground and a presence in town. The bottom-line was this: put up serious cash and you can ‘appear everywhere’ — the average business-owner would never achieve it.
That climate forced younger businesses to make bolder moves than their bloated adversaries; a concentrated effort was the only way to break through. Their best shot was to focus their attention on the channels that delivered results.
20-years later, the Internet disrupts the balance between physical and virtual media. Communities move online, ads catch more eyeballs on Facebook than they do on network television, and the barrier to entry shrivels to nothing.
We now have a million places to be, and the only thing standing between us and omni-’presence’ is time.
And who has limited money but a burning desire for eyeballs?
Money Became Time
As the attention market shifted from a money-commitment to a time-commitment, the cash cost plummeted. However, the price stayed the same.
On the bottom line, a great television campaign runs up about 3-million dollars on the old corporate credit card. To achieve the same impact online, can we really get away with spending less than $3-million of our time?
Without buying followers or piggy-backing off an existing and relevant online presence, reaching hundreds of thousands of people consistently through a newsletter or social media channel takes years of effort to achieve.
Yet many of us walk blindly into these spaces knowing they cost nothing to enter, ignorant of the price we must pay to win.
And so, we start an Instagram account and a newsletter like this one and a YouTube channel and ten other things at once hoping something sticks. Yet nothing sticks because we don’t take the time to learn the audience, master the quirks, familiarize ourselves with the community, and commit to platform excellence.
I challenge you to look at your channels and be honest with yourself: are you really trying to provide unique value to your audience un-gettable anywhere else, or are you just ‘there’?