2 min read

Do you think that's air you're breathing?

Do you think that's air you're breathing?

Mike Volpe, former CMO of HubSpot, sat down with the crew over at Seeking Wisdom to chat about startups and marketing. There was some highly insightful discussion about hiring, setting goals, tools-as-marketing, and more.

The part that really stuck with me is about marketing playbooks, and how everyone is looking for a repeatable formula.

Mike references the scene from THE MATRIX when Neo gets his ass kicked by Morpheus and comes to realize that all bets are off. The laws of physics no longer apply. “Do you think that’s air you’re breathing?” Morpheus asks.

I experienced this first hand when I went from selling a $100/month bug tracking software to seven-figure enterprise security software. Like Neo, I learned the hard way that my playbook didn’t work anymore. Not in its existing form.

Magic sells

Magic Formula Marketing™ is most prevalent in the “make money online” space. The way in which many of these products are positioned as secret playbooks sets dangerous expectations for beginners. For example:

The “$8,000 Strategy” you can use to quickly monetize a tiny list — even if you don’t have a product

It’s persuasive, right? You’ve been thinking about how to earn passive income online. You have a tiny list, no product, and $8,000 sounds amazing right about now.

It’s effective copywriting, but I just can’t get on board with it. That copy sits about as well with me as “14 Ways to Lose 40 Pounds in 7 Days.”

Another mythical unicorn:

How to generate 195,013 visitors a month without spending a dollar on ads

Do you know how monumentally difficult it is to get 195,013 visitors per month? It’s unspeakably hard, guys! It’s even harder to generate 195,013 targeted, non-bot visitors.

Everyone wants a step-by-step formula. Paint by numbers. Just do these THREE things in this EXACT order, and it’s all aboard the passive income yacht.

Look, do some of the products and services behind these infomercial-inspired pitches actually work? I’m sure some of them do…for the people who are smart enough to adapt these playbooks to fit their situations and shrewd enough to throw away the snake oil.

The problem is that these products are mostly targeted at beginners who are led to believe that they won’t have to think. Just follow the steps. Write your goal on a piece of paper, stick it your mirror, and it’ll happen. Even if you have a crappy product that nobody wants. Or no product at all. Or you don’t have any design, development, or marketing skills.

Just follow the goddamn steps.

Not working? Hire an accountability coach. Join a million-dollar mastermind.

I’m not mad at people for selling this way (maybe a little), but if the primary evidence supporting your “proven formula” is that you were able to sell said formula to other marketers then we need to audit that advice.

Marketers are ravenous, bloodthirsty creatures who will download, enroll, share, and buy almost anything online (I’m one of them). Show me how to plug-and-play those formulas into a SaaS for bookkeepers, or enterprise IT software, or an e-commerce furniture shop.

You can’t.

Watch the full episode of Seeking Wisdom with Mike Volpe: