2 min read

The Dangers of Projection (Or Never Bet Against Rob Walling)

projection pro·jec·tion (prə-jěk’shən) n. – the attribution of one’s own attitudes, feelings, or suppositions to others.

Projection is a dangerous thing in business, especially when it comes to marketing.

Marketing is all about conducting experiments. The only way you can truly know whether a tactic will work is to test it and measure the results. In my experience, if you try 10 things, 2 will work.

My brain knows this is the best way to do marketing, but I still have to fight my emotional instinct to kill ideas before trying them. This instinct, more often than not, is due to projection.

Some classic examples of projection in marketing:

  • We shouldn’t bother with ads—I never click on ads.
  • We shouldn’t build a product for developers—I’m a developer and I never buy things.

Now, about Rob Walling.

I was a marketing n00b sitting in the Boston Seaport amphitheater at Business of Software 2010, having just listened to Dharmesh Shah and Jason Cohen drop enough startup wisdom to pay for the entire conference, when a speaker I didn’t recognize took to the podium.

Rob Walling’s claim to fame, as far as I could tell, was selling beach towels online. Umm, okay.

The thesis of Rob’s talk was that you shouldn’t ask for a sale as the primary call-to-action on your website. Instead, ask for an email address and sell to them over time.

Rob argued that people rarely make a purchase decision on their very first visit to your site and, worse yet, the vast majority of people will bounce and never come back. To combat this, you should offer something of value (e.g., an ebook or email course) in exchange for their email address.

That sounds…scammy.

Maybe this works for beach towels, but any SaaS business that tries this tactic is surely going to repel their prospects. They’d repel me.

Boy was I wrong.

My projection was so strong that I discredited Rob’s years of experience and overlooked the abundance of empirical evidence he had to support his claim.

I’m glad I took notes during Rob’s talk, despite being incredulous at the time, because his advice on capturing email addresses is integral to every marketing plan I build. It has never failed me.

Unsurprisingly, Rob now has a SaaS product that makes it dead simple for companies to collect email addresses and nurture leads through drip marketing. Will it succeed? I can’t say—but I’m never betting against Rob Walling.