A better definition of marketing

Behind every great fortune

Honoré de Balzac, seeing crimes everywhere he looked.

The winners write the histories

There’s a reason we need to look beyond the oral histories of startup giants to understand how to win, and it’s called Survivorship Bias.

Bomber bullet hole data — by McGeddon — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53081927

We only look at the survivors

It’s tempting to look at the career of an actor like Brad Pitt (for example) and extrapolate from what he did to what makes someone successful in Hollywood. But it’s more informative to look at the thousands of actors who don’t make it, and see what they failed to do. There are more losers than winners, and we have better data to analyze. We learn more.

The story is often covered up

Hubris often means the winners don’t want to admit how they got where they are. In my experience, every winning company has a dirty secret in its past. Some secrets only emerge after a few beers, or through the rantings of disgruntled employees. But they’re all there.

The losers have the lessons

To mitigate survivorship bias, talk to the people who didn’t succeed, and see what they have in common. You’ll start to see patterns emerge. You’ll figure out what was missing. I’ve been lucky enough to have spoken with hundreds — maybe thousands — of startups in the past decade or so. As a startup mentor, board member, author, lecturer, pitch judge, and founder in my own right, I’ve pressed each them for how they plan to win.

Just evil enough

Every one of these companies is proud of what it makes. But almost none of them has any idea how it will capture the attention of a fickle market. Go-to-market strategy is an afterthought, when it should be intrinsic. Perhaps over-emphasizing Minimum Viable Product has made us ignore how we generate attention.

Photo by Hidde Rensink on Unsplash

Return on Attention Investment

The winners find a way to get a better return on their attention investment. To do this, they subvert a platform, making it behave in an unintended way that gives them advantage. They find the marketing equivalent of a Zero-Day exploit, and ride it to growth and profit.

Want more of this?

Spoiler alert: This is what my next book’s going to be about. You should sign up for updates and to find out when it’s out.

How evil is evil enough?



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Alistair Croll

Alistair Croll

Writer, speaker, accelerant. Intersection of tech & society. Strata, Startupfest, Bitnorth, FWD50. Lean Analytics, Tilt the Windmill, HBS, Just Evil Enough.