Why marketing formulas don't work And what you can do about it

Brad Hussey 4 minute read
June 24, 2020

I recently tripped into the digital pisspot most folks refer to as “Twitter,” and immediately regretted having wasted 9 minutes of a precious morning when my best work happens.

That said, before shutting it down and reclaiming the remainder of my morning, I stumbled upon a thread that inspired this thought. I want to share my opinion on why following marketing formulas for your online courses, digital products and services are not as effective as you are led to believe.

Here’s the kickoff to the Twitter thread:

“The funny thing about marketing best practices is that if you follow them perfectly, it’s very obvious and you look like you’re mindlessly imitating others So you have to implement marketing tips kind of imperfectly for them to work”

— @fortelabs on Twitter

Why everyone wants a marketing formula

People are lazy, don’t like hard work, and are scared to fail. That’s why people want shortcuts, hacks, and formulas, in a nutshell.

And that’s why so many people who understand this are very successful in selling shortcuts, hacks and formulas; there is a lot of money to be made in selling outdated information that (maybe) worked yesterday — or never worked at all.

Think about it, why would somebody just hand over the secrets to the treasure — even if you offered them money for the map? It’s because they have already found the treasure.

Or perhaps the treasure was never there in the first place. And the real treasure is selling you, and everyone else who wants a shortcut, the map for $1997.

Why formulas don’t work

The wealthiest people during the Klondike Gold Rush were never the miners — they were the people selling shovels and pickaxes.

(And perhaps a clever charlatan selling 97¢ pamphlets about how to get rich as a miner with no skills, experience or time.) 

Listen, I love a shortcut as much as the next guy, and working “smart” rather than unnecessarily busting my back (which already has a herniated disc).

But I’ve spent enough time and money on marketing formulas to realize that there is no getting around the hard work, finding your unique voice, and being authentic.


What formulas are really for

Marketing formulas help you discover underlying principles that you must then try to apply authentically to your marketing efforts.

A treasure map will show you approximately where to find the treasure, but it will not dig for you.

Your best and most effective marketing efforts will utilize formulas to get you in the general vicinity.

Still, you must apply the personality, tell the stories, add the colour, and connect with your people.

And sometimes that means doing the exact opposite of what the formula tells you to do.

For example, if your Sales Letter Headline is the same as everyone else’s, how will you capture the attention of your audience? But to do the opposite of what the formula says, you must first master it.

Now what?

So, as marketers, must we completely abandon frameworks, best practices, rules, and formulas to be effective?

No, that’s foolish.

These formulas are in place to help you discover the underlying principles of effective marketing.

If we were hunting for a treasure, and upon looking at a map, we mustn’t stop when we find the X that marks the spot; we must start digging until we find the true riches.

The only way your marketing efforts will be truly effective is first to understand the formulas and then start digging to uncover the underlying principles. 

If you are reading a book, blog or taking an online course that is handing you a copy-and-paste formula for a successful marketing campaign, you’re too late.

At best, it is an indication that the formula is overused, less effective, and based on somebody else’s past success. And at worst, it’s a lie.

Perhaps it worked for somebody else yesterday, but will it work for you tomorrow?

Probably not.

Master the formulas and use them as a framework for making a mess and trying something different.

As Pablo Picasso once said,

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”