Year in Review – valuable lessons I learnt in the lost year (part 1)

This year is strange. It’s the nicest description I could come up with at least for myself. I lost my job in marketing and am now working in logistic and operations. Strategy is still my passion. And I survive in the new area because of my strategy background. I learned so far that businesses – big or small – need strong sales, marketing, and operations to succeed. When I look back, there are lessons I want to share with everyone. These are thoughts, ideas, and knowledge I picked up in the most difficult year in my life. 

Don’t be everything to everyone

The one principle in marketing that I learn in my career is that we cannot be everything to everyone. It’s a formula for mediocrity which will turn you to complacency. It is not possible to have a product or a marketing campaign that works or suits everyone. It’s like you try to cook a Thai dish for all nationalities. The result? A mediocre Thai dish that is not tasty or spicy enough for Thais and is not a truly traditional dish for Westerners.

What you need to think about is what type of audience would benefit from your offer, solution or product. You then design a product to suit your selected audience. It will increase your focus, maximise your marketing spend and have a relevant message to that particular group.

Seth Godin calls this concept Minimum Viable Audience – the big enough audience for you to be profitable. Find them, create an ecosystem for them, and nurture them with valuable content and solution.

Are you selling your brand or your product?

If you are selling a product, you would likely have to approach new customers all the time. Your cost of customer acquisition would be high. If you are in a very competitive industry or market (e.g. hotels or beds), you cannot avoid giving discounts. 

If you are selling a brand, your focus would be a long term relationship with customers. Your key-driven thought would be how you can solve customer’s problems. You would provide solutions and experiences around customer problems rather than around the product. You may not end up with a big customer base but only the loyal ones. Your goal is not to acquire new customers. New customers would come from referrals. 

Selling a brand is more time-consuming. But, it would last much longer. The margin would be higher. Life would be simpler. 

The myth about the 8 second attention span

I used to tell my team that people these days have a very short attention span. Creating a long blog post is useless because people don’t read anymore. People have a shorter attention span – about 8 second – than goldfish. 

I was so wrong. 

I gave the wrong direction to the team. It’s not about speed or content length. It’s not about losing attention. It’s all about earning attention

Based on neuroscience, human attention is about a prediction of errors. Our brain is trained to sift through mountains of data looking for anomalies. Once the brain notices an anomaly, the next step is to lock it down with a memory. And to do that, we need one more essential element – emotion

In summary, the successful formula for earning attention is to find an anomaly that emotionally charged. It’s not about speed and content length. It’s all about your content quality. 

Tips from David Ogilvy

I believe most marketers know David Ogilvy and his ad agency. He is a legendary, no doubt. What made him so great was how he saw things differently from others. Not only that, he could execute his thoughts flawlessly. 

More often than not, we still need to create ads in some shape and form. And, here are quick tips I got from reading his story. 

  • Focus on one big idea. It’s easy to understand but hard to do. We always want to give people options. Or, we are not clear about what makes our product different from others. Go with one idea – what differentiates your brand from the crowd. 
  • Communication is about clarity. Always talk like your customer does. Your ads must be easy to read and understand. I made many mistakes in the past. When an ad is complicated, people just ignore it completely. 
  • Be interesting. I love this – Good ads, all facts, no adjective, all specific. Tell the truth but make the truth fascinating. 

More homework to do for us, marketers. 

The differences between reach VS impression

I don’t usually look at the reach and the impression data. I always jump to the conversions. As it turns out, reach and impression indicate how good content is (I view ads as an annoying thing that marketers do, but I also buy lots of ads!). 

So, what is the difference between reach and impression? 

The content that you look at counts as reach. In simple terms, reach refers to the total number of users who choose to see a brand’s content. Reach focuses on getting people to click on your content.

On the other hand, impressions refer to the total number of times users were exposed to your content on social media. Impressions do not measure whether or not people actually clicked on a link. And they do not measure whether or not a viewer engaged with a post.

They are both important in the following ways:

  • Impression gives you a basis to justify if users engage with your content or not. If your content shows up a zillion times, but the reach is very low, you have to rework on your content. 
  • But, if you have very high reach with very small conversions, your content may be good, but you probably offer it to the wrong target groups. 

At the end of the day, you don’t need a large number of everything. You better have a small number from the right groups of people. 

The science of physical arousal

I found this book that I recommend every marketer to read. It’s called “Contagious – How to build word of mouth in the digital age”. You can use everything in this book to improve your work. 

One of the aspects the book touch on is how physical arousal make things get shared. There are two types of arousals, namely high arousal and low arousal. 

  • High arousal states, such as anger, anxiety, awe and excitement, make us want to take actions. Take awe, for example, when we inspired by awe, we can’t help wanting to tell people what happened. 
  • Low arousal, on the contrary, stifles action. Take sadness; sad people tend to power down. They want to sit still close to the window watching rain. 

The key point here is high arousals lead people to share because they kindle the fire, activate people, and drive them to take action—low arousal emotions (e.g. sadness or contentment) decrease sharing. 

Looking forward

Do I think next year will be better than this year? I hope so! However, it wouldn’t equally be good or bad for all people. The only thing that could protect ourselves is learning and development. This series has at least two episodes. I cannot end this weird year with only three or four pieces of knowledge. I will share the second part of my learning next week. 

4 thoughts on “Year in Review – valuable lessons I learnt in the lost year (part 1)

  1. Hey Api,

    I’ve been busy with work, so haven’t had time to catch up.

    I just wanted to wish you and family the best for Christmas, hopefully next year is a better year for you all.

    BTW, Wyndham seems to be in a real mess, they are probably wishing they still had you.

    Take care,


  2. My name is Herbert, but I prefer my middle name Charles (or the less formal Chucky), it keeps me clear of all the herb garden jokes

Leave a Reply