Can I get your number?

We all know the game. You see this enticing ebook or whitepaper, but to access it… you’re going to have to trade off your contact information.

It might be days, it might be a matter of seconds, but you know sooner or later you’re getting the call.

“Hey, I saw you were checking out our [INSERT GUIDE] and was wondering if you’d be interested in setting up a demo of our product.”

That’sNOTwhat you wanted! You just wanted the guide, but because you traded your contact information you’re now bombarded with marketing email and solicitation calls.

Confession time: How many of you have given a fake email? How many of you have a second email account you save just for these gates?

If we as marketers feel this way and do this, why do we assume our prospects don’t?

I get it. We want it to validate CRM data and know how to continue the conversation, but is this the right information we should be collecting to actually speed prospects through our funnel?

What if we stopped asking for contact information and starting asking for context information?

We assume that because someone accessed the guide they (1) read it (2) liked it (3) are interested in a product that is somewhat related to it. That’s a lot of assumptions.

Wouldn’t it be more valuable to your sales team if you learned what problem the prospect is actually dealing with?

Wouldn’t it be more valuable to your marketing team if you knew what pieces of content your prospects were actively seeking?

Wouldn’t it be more valuable to your product team if you know what needs were driving your prospects to shop for tools?

Understanding your prospects needs will tell you if this person is a good fit. Understanding their need will tell your salespeople what conversation to have.

But what about continuing the conversation?

The comparison is so common that it has become a cliche to compare marketing to dating. Daters don’t start with all the information… they maybe start with a Facebook message. Once trust and interest are established, maybe they exchange emails. Then phone numbers. After some texting, maybe they have a call.

Contact information is earned step by step but only if the process is fueled by genuine interest.

If you’re relevant, all you need is that first piece of contact information. Provide value and your prospects will want that second date.

So, how do we ask better context questions?

I asked some of the most successful content marketers a question. What is the one question you would ask to get the most in-depth understanding of someone in your target audience? Here are their answers:

Andrew Davis: “What inspired you to take this journey?”

Carla Johnson: What’s your typical day like?

Ann Handley: “What inspired this journey?” And “what did you hope to learn here?”

Joel Klettke: “What sent you looking for a solution like ours?”

Andy Crestodina: “What was happening in your life that sent you looking for this webpage?”

Michael Brenner: “What do you personally struggle with at your job?”

Kristina Halvorson: “What keeps you up at night?”

Aaron Orendorff: “What is your greatest professional struggle?”

Notice any trends? All these questions are designed to hone in on what problem or situation motivated the immediate action. What would happen if you changed your landing page gates to ask two questions?

What’s your email? What problem do you want to fix with this guide?

The Worst Part of my 165-mile Commute

Every week I drive from Houston to Austin. It’s not bad. 3-hours of scenic (enough) countryside and a chance to catch up on podcasts, but there is one part of the trip that I can’t stand.

I can’t stand it because it sends me down a marketing wormhole. It’s a freaking billboard. One you’ve probably seen before.

The first time I saw it I thought “Hah, you got me! Brilliant. Guess it does work.” I imagine that’s the desired impact and, ideally, in that “gotcha” moment I would call and reserve the billboard.

But did it work?

I didn’t buy the spot. In fact, no one has for the past year. It’s just sat there for sale, catching motorists off guard with its gotcha marketing.

Of course, after thinking about this, I had to pay attention to every single billboard I passed on the 165-mile trip… and the 165 miles back. I saw billboards for radio stations, for dentists, for lawn equipment, for churches, for fast food.

Did I change radio stations? No. I liked what I had.

Did I pull over for a teeth cleaning? No. I didn’t have the time.

Did I buy a weed eater? No. I don’t have a yard.

I also didn’t make a pitstop to pray or buy a combo meal. I did stop once. It’s the only place I ever stop on that route and, admittedly, the stop is always prompted by a billboard. I stop at Buc-ee’s… and the billboard?

They aren’t just putting a message in my face. They are matching my need with their service at the right time through the most effective channel.

Picking on billboards is the easy example, but the lesson here can be applied to every marketing channel. Facebook ads for the cleanest bathrooms wouldn’t work. Nor would T.V., newspaper, or even radio. Radio seems like a good choice but there are no guarantees of matching the timing of my intent.

The lesson here is that awareness is not interest. You can justify any ad spend with the argument of awareness, but awareness only has value if it is matched with interest. Interest exists paired with a specific goal, at a specific time, and in a specific place.

This seems like the most obvious marketing lesson in the world. It might be marketing 101. But how often do we go against this lesson and race to the next “big thing” or adopt channels because everyone else is there?

What do you think?

You Can’t Motivate Anyone

Before my career switch to marketing, I spent many years teaching private French Horn lessons. I can with some degree of authority that there is no more painful hell than the sixth-hour teaching when an 11-year-old boy walks into the room with the universal sheepish smile of “I didn’t practice.”

Not once. In an entire week.

The next 30-minutes would usually be spent like this:

Minutes 0 – 10: Listen to why he didn’t practice. Usual suspects included sports, family activities, and “forgot.”

Minutes 10 – 12: Look through the music folder for the copy of music I assigned.

Minutes 12 – 13: Uncrumple said music.

Minutes 14 – 20: Give an honest attempt at faking way through the piece.

Minutes 21 – 29: Practice the music.

Minute 30: Swear next week will be different.

Repeat next week.

This was unbearable and it felt horrible. I was a teacher. I was accepting good money to make a student better. I knew I could teach French horn, but it wasn’t worth anything if I couldn’t teach the desire to improve.

Fast forward to January of 2012 when, like many Americans, I decided I should start the new year with a resolution to be in better shape and signed up for a gym membership.

The gym is a research lab for motivation. Everyone who is there chose to be there. They are busy adults who could have found endless excuses to be anywhere else, but the didn’t. At least for the month of January.

Observing from my treadmill, I felt that there were only three types of people at the gym.

Attainers: These were people who had a goal they wanted to see through: Lose a couple pounds, lift X weight, get a six-pack.

Avoiders: This audience has an anti-goal. I don’t want to die young. I don’t want to be fat. The goal is equally as real as it is for attainers, but it is one of avoidance.

Enjoyers: People who fall into this group are there because they like it. Maybe it is the runners high or the culture of the gym, but they find it therapeutic to put in their time.

Not all motivation is created equally. Attainers (depending on the strength of their goal) will be motivated through the completion of their goal. Then they will need a new one.

Avoiders motivation is directly related to how real the threat is and how long the habit that put them in the negative state is. For example, one person might have had a car injury and is working on getting mobility back. They are avoiding the inability to walk, and there is no habit to overcome to get to the gym — their motivation will be much higher than someone who is at the gym to lose weight. Not only does the latter person have to tap into their motivation reserves to practice the new habit, but they also have to tap into their reserves to avoid the habits that got them in that situation in the first place.

Enjoyers have found unlimited motivation. For them, going to the gym has transcended a reason and it has become part of their identity. They are likely known as “runners” or “athletes.” Their social circles include other enjoyers.

But one thing is true for all these groups. They own the reason.

You can’t motivate anyone, you can only help them find their own motivation.

This is true for any environment, be it the practice room at a middle school of the cubicle of a Fortune 500 company. Motivation is owned by the individual and it is the role of the teacher/manager to help build an environment that keeps that motivation alive.

Now, we are all of these groups. We move fluidly between them. Ideally, we nurture an avoider to an achiever and finally to an enjoyer. Progress is the fuel. But it’s important to identify where someone is initially so you can create the environment that begins their journey.

So, while resolutions are top of mind, I’m curious to hear — what is your resolution and what bucket of motivation do you think you fit into?

Hate Thy Neighbor

Unless you work in the financial industry you might not be aware that there is a debate raging: Should credit unions pay taxes?

Credit Unions are tax-exempt thanks to the 1934 Federal Credit Unions Act, largely due to the fact that they are not for profit. Or at least that’s the short answer. The more accurate answer is tied to why Credit Unions existed in the first place. They provided small loans to the community and didn’t advertise. They filled a distinct and separate niche from banks. You can read the entire history here.

However, Credit Unions have changed a lot since 1934 and now they look and act a lot like a Community Bank… and Community Banks have to pay taxes.

I get it.

It’s not fair to see your hometown rival given the advantage of not having to pay taxes. They can use those funds to buy the billboard for the hometown high school baseball stadium or to open a new branch, or any other tactic that directly hurts your business.

The rules should apply to everyone. That’s worth fighting for, right?

Wrong. And not for the reasons you think. Yes, there is countless minutia that explains how that argument is fundamentally flawed, but the real reason you should shrug off this battle is that there is only one group who is benefiting from it…

Who’s Really Eating the Pie?

This argument would only matter if you could prove that the tax-exempt status was allowing Credit Unions to gobble up market share away from Community Banks. Is that the case?

From this chart, you can see it’s certainly true that Community Banks have experienced a dramatic decline since 1984.

As recently as 1995, medium and small banks controlled 42% of market share.

Their market share has indeed declined since then, now closer to 23%. But are Credit Unions to blame? If they were, surely you’d expect to see growth in the number of Credit Unions. Not the case.

But Credit Union market share, like that of Community Banks, has decreased. Who is taking it?

It’s the megabanks.

The data is clear – tax-exemption has not enabled Credit Unions to steal business from Community Banks.

Who is Really Playing Unfairly?

Recent media has shown us that there are plenty of sketchy ways that the mega-banks are unfairly hurting Community Banks. Here are a few examples:

  1. Their risky behavior was largely responsible for the 2008 economic crisis. They were bailed out, then bought up community banks who didn’t receive the same treatment. Bank of America and Citigroup received $45 Billion each.
  2. Mega-banks have a history of betting on risky “derivatives,” like when JP Morgan used consumer deposits to bet that American Airlines would go bankrupt and made $450 million in profit. It doesn’t always work out well, the “London Whale” for example, where JPMorgan lost $6 billion on bets.
  3. JPMorgan, Citigroup, and Bank of America all reached settlements with the U.S. government in response to the Department of Justice levying charges of misconduct. The penalties were in multi-billions, but no one went to jail.
  4. 2012 HSBC Inc. admitted to violating money-laundering laws covering $200 trillion worth of transactions. The penalty was $1.256 billion (one month’s profit) and no one went to jail.
  5. Wells Fargo illegally opened millions of fraudulent credit card and deposit accounts in its customers’ names without their knowledge or consent.

While these institutions have had to pay fines, it is usually a fraction of the profit they made from committing the crime.

Think about that.

The government responds by drafting regulation. This regulation typically becomes a burden that further strains the community financial institutions. Then, the megabanks complain about that legislation…

“These banks have long complained that the regulations are excessive and saddle them with extra compliance costs they don’t deserve.” – Washington Post

They absolutely deserve it.

The Game is Unfair

Community bankers are right to be outraged. The game they are playing is absolutely an unfair one, but it isn’t the credit unions that are cheating.

Community financial institutions too frequently look at the differences in business models or allow hometown rivalries to dominate their strategic thinking. Meanwhile, the megabanks are breaking all the rules and taking over the market.

Of course, this doesn’t even begin to describe the threats posed to community financial institutions from tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google…

Stop worrying about the bank across the street.

They aren’t going to be who puts you out of business.


Why do ideas spread?

What’s a good idea?

Sliced bread — pretty solid.

Cat Tunnel sofa — uh, okay.

The Segway — seemed good, but it flopped. So, why is it that some ideas capture people’s attention and inspire a movement, where others fall flat?

Rally Cries

I asked this question to my mentor, Andrew Davis, and he suggested that I start my search with rallying cries, as they are remembered specifically because they have inspired action. A rallying cry is:

Something such as a word or phrase, an event, or a belief which encourages people to unite and to act in support of a particular group or idea. – CollinsDictionary

Sounds right.

But what is it? What were tangible examples? Even Google seemed a little confused about what one was, and returned results that were close synonyms; Battle Cries, Tag Lines, Campaign Slogans, Catch Phrases, Sport’s Chants, etc.

Of course, these all inspire people to action. To make a purchase, to take a stance, to take some action, cast a vote. But how?

Political Slogans

Given the recent election, this seemed like an easy place to start. Wikipedia lists over 120 of the most notable political slogans from the 18th, 19th, and 20th century. Included were famous examples like; Come and Take It, Remember the Alamo, Make Love not War, and We Are the 99%. 

Some of those sound like battle cries to me… but whatever.

To this list, I added another 20 slogans — ones that I remembered from my own experience (Yes We Can, I’m With Her, Make America Great Again, to name a few). I ran an analysis to see, on a basic level, what did these slogans have in common?

It turns out, a majority (53%) of political slogans are comprised of only 3 or 4 words.

And those words are also pretty short. The average slogan was 24.352 characters long. 64% were under 25-characters long.

Okay, so slogans we remember are short. Take a second and consider what they represent; a candidate’s entire campaign stance and their moral character? Or for a battle cry; a reason justifiable enough to risk your life? Suddenly these seem really short.

Brand Taglines

Brand taglines are also designed to be memorable and inspire action. Granted, the action is usually just a purchase, but would the above hypotheses hold true? I took the same approach, using lists to source 100 of the “most memorable” brand taglines. Some examples were; Just do it (Nike), Challenge Everything (EA), and Good to the Last Drop (Maxwell House). I ran the same analysis, looking for word counts and character counts.

Okay, so brand taglines are a little longer, favoring 4 or 5 words in length.

But the character count is pretty similar. This made me look at the kind of words being used in both cases. They were simple. Common words. Something that everyone would understand and be able to repeat — words that were already in the listener’s vocabulary (and sometimes dialect).

Anyone who has read about viral marketing can explain why this is so important. You want the message to continue without losing its meaning.

Why does short matter?

Okay, so it seems like being short matters. But why?

Consider what we, today, call “Viral Marketing.” It’s when an idea spreads because the product user or content consumer shares the message with their network. This definition sounds pretty similar to a more familiar, age-old, marketing term: Word-of-Mouth marketing.

For Word-of-Mouth to work, the message must be:

  1. Understood
  2. Repeatable
  3. Understood on repetition without decay

Now we see why being short is a critical component of a well-sold idea. Despite how complex a political candidate might be, they have managed to boil an idea (or feeling) down to its 3-word essence. In fact, that makes it harder to argue with. A complicated position or opinion can be dismantled. The concise nature of effective slogans allows you to fill in the gaps and create an interpretation that resonates with you.

Consider the less attractive version:

“You should really close the laptop, get off the sofa, and do something physical so that you don’t die of heart failure by your 40’s” v.s. “Just do it.”


“I’d rather die than suffer under the burden of these absurd taxes that are benefiting people who are already super freaking rich.” v.s. “Liberty or Death.”

My definition of liberty might not be congruent with yours, but who doesn’t want to strive for more liberty? Especially when there is a mass sentiment of oppression in society. What I need to “just do” might be different from yours, but we can all relate to the feeling of procrastination and needing to commit.

What’s more is that the subject in these rally cries is implied, as if you are saying it. Only five of the political slogans contain the word “You,” zero contain the word “I,” and six of the brand taglines contain some variant of you (Melts in your mouth, not in your hand).

This brings us to our next commonality of rally cries — they promise a better tomorrow.

A Better Tomorrow

Effective rally cries, taglines, or slogans are about what you will accomplish. Less effective ones are about what a product or person will do for you. Consider the lack of “I” or “You” in the most memorable phrases from history. The subject is an implied you — this is your rally cry and you are the one uttering the phrase.

This better tomorrow is a direct result of your action.

Consider these phrases:

  • Think Different – Who is thinking differently? You. What is the outcome? Smarter solutions. Innovation.
  • Stay the Course – Who is staying the course? You. What is the outcome? A victory.
  • Never Forget – Who? You. What is the outcome? Avoiding a repeat of the horrific acts of 9/11 or WWII or other genocides.

But what about phrases like Bread and Roses? Short and lacking the subject. Those sound like positive things — but would it cause you to join a riot?

Bread and Roses

Scene from the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike

Confession time: I had to look up a majority of political phrases. I could see how they might be inspiring, but I had no clue what they meant. Bread and Roses came from a poem but was cited in a speech given by Rose Schneiderman.

The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.

The phrase meant that workers needed quality pay and better working conditions. In the textile mills of Lawrence in 1912, the context was right to understand what this rallying cry meant. The workers went on strike.

Ooh Rah is another example. You’re probably familiar with it, but unless you are in the Marines it might not carry the same context. Being concise and short allows the listener to create the meaning, but the listener must be in the same context for the correct meaning to be applied.

Cultural context matters.

The Carrier

Have you ever had an idea and shared it at a meeting for it to fall on deaf ears, then later the same idea comes from the CEO and everyone lauds him?

Yea… the carrier matters, but it depends on the cause. The CEO couldn’t lead a rallying cry for fair pay — they just aren’t credible.

In fact, one of the most recognizable cries of Black Power was first documented in 1954, but it wouldn’t come to prominence until it was used by Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) in 1966. It had to be him (carrier), at the March Against Fear after the shooting of James Meredith (context.)

Short phrase with a promise of a better tomorrow that is only achievable if you take action.

That’s the recipe for an ignition of an idea.

Are Good Ideas just Well Sold?

Kinda. What is certain is that a good idea sold poorly goes nowhere. A bad idea… well… this sums it up for me.

“When good ideas get a bad reputation, they do what companies do, go underground and then come back with a new name.” – Daniel Gilbert

Another example is Freedom and Bread. It sounds like a great idea — who doesn’t like freedom, and sliced bread is what all ideas are compared to. That is, until you realize that this was the political slogan of Hitler.

Your Turn

What are your thoughts? Do you have a favorite rallying cry? Let me know how it stacks up in the comments. Next time, we’ll explore memes — the virus of the mind.