This is a pseudo- continuation from my story on Why I Stopped Listening to Gurus. If you’re a guru, hey, nothing personal huh?
Last night, I went out to eat with my mom. A mom-son date since we haven’t had a good talk in a long time.
She wanted to eat Thai food, so I took her to hell’s kitchen area in NYC where there’s tons of awesome Thai food. (Yeah I miss Thailand once in a while.)
When we go there, there were literally 3 Thai restaurants next to each other. (I knew about them before).
Funny thing is.. they are ALL “Yum Yum” – Yum Yum, Yum Yum Too, and Yum Yum 3. (Of course, owned by the same person.)
At that moment, I wanted to see what she would choose (she has this habit of never looking at the name of restaurant she walks into), so I let her.
She chose the the one in the middle.
Why? The other two weren’t as “crowded”, hence they must be not as good.
What is this? Social “proof”.
We are genetically wired to choose the “wisdom” of the crowd over our initial gut instinct (even though the crowd is wrong or dumb as a rock, and often it is).
I’m sure you’ve seen informercials and sales pages where people use testimonials (videos, quotes, etc.), number of customers they serve (ex. McDonalds – over a billion served), Facebook like buttons that show number of people that like that website/business, etc.
All social proof to indicate that you can’t go wrong since all these other people can’t be wrong.
When one has no idea what to do in a situation (such as determining if you should part with your money in exchange for a product or service from a company), they often look for people that have been there and done that, or at least seem like it.
Suppose you’re in an isolated community where no one has any idea and information flow is limited, who do you listen to?
The guy who’s most confident about what needs to be done. Also known as “gurus”.
(Ever hear of a “social media expert”? What is that? Is there a school for those things? What do you need to get into that school? A pen and paper?)
I hate bringing this up as an example, but Jim Jones, a cult leader and his cult of 900+ members committed suicide with poison pills in Guyana in 1978.
Simply put: Jim Jones was the guy who knew for certain that the way out of their trouble was “honorable” death.
That wasn’t the only time in history where (negative) social proof had disastrous effects on a group of people: Heaven’s Gate, Japanese kamikaze pilots, Order of the Solar Temple, Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, etc. (There are LOTS.)
So how does this relate to business & marketing?
Online marketing (and growth hacking) is hard. Often times, when we encounter things that are difficult to understand, and so we start seeking answers.
When we do, we often encounter people who do understand more than us. Why? Because they blog, they speak in public, they teach you… i.e. more certain than you.
BUT.. this is where you have to fight your genetic disposition to social proof.
Especially in emotionally charged verticals (business, finance, making money, marketing, sales, health/diet, dating, etc.), there are many wolves in sheep clothing waiting to exploit your desire to learn.
Here’s pseudo-scientific reasons why you should stop listening to them.
1) Their Stuff Most Likely Will Not Work for You (exactly)
I bought into a stupid vending machine dream because of a marketing guru who claimed that vending business was the key to financial freedom.
Maybe this vending guru actually DID make the kind of money that he promised (highly highly unlikely, but maybe he did).
Will this business or strategy work for you exactly the way it did for him (if he ever did any of the stuff that he claimed that he has done?)
Most likely not.
Different skills, different personality, different set of resources,.. so many factors that come into play.
Even if somehow brain transfer surgery was possible, you cannot and will not replicate his stuff exactly the way he described or did it. Simply because the market will react differently to the information presented by the person presenting it.
Imitation Rarely Trumps Innovation
I had one customer that I was doing some work for. His product sold like hot cakes and he was the envy of his industry.
I went on a marketing interview and I was basically telling the host (the “guru”) about it, and he went onto tell his followers (who happened to be in the same industry) that they should be doing what my customer was doing.
So one of them DID.
He basically took that hot product, and straight up RIPPED it, including the design, the bottle, packaging design, and even the color schema.
The only differences? The name was off by 3 letters and the girl (which by the way, was the SAME girl) holding the bottle but in reverse direction.
(Notice the same color pattern – purple, green, similar lame theme, etc.)
He managed to find me (smart guy… did reverse IP lookup) and asked me to do the same.
Did it work? Nope. It tanked and he ended up losing over $50k of his intial investment money.
99.99% was the same – demographic targeting, PPC bids, landing pages, sales funnel… same everything.
Why? I have NO idea.
Different domain name, different product name, different people, different market conditions, different who knows what.
In fact, this happens in pretty much every industry: one guy innovates, the some guru tells them what’s working, and the rest copies.
What happens? The market gets flooded and you get brand dilution & confusion.
PPC Copycats = Dead cats
IN fact, I highly advocate AGAINST people using competitive intelligence (“spy”) tools to “get an idea” *cough cough steal…* other people’s campaign.
- They might be doing A/B testing and you have NO idea which version you’re seeing. Most smart marketers are constantly A/B testing their stuff so don’t be so sure that you’re seeing is the winning version.
- You have NO idea what his negative keywords are (negative keywords can make or break your search PPC campaign). For example, in solar lead gen business, one keyword literally made the campaigns TRIPLE my ROAS over night. Yes, 1 stinkin’ keyword.
- You have no idea what his bid is, nor his ROAS. Even if you have the same product with similar margins, your business is your business and in no way a copy of theirs, so why would you copy his marketing campaign?
- Did you know large volume buyers get preferential treatment on ad networks, including payment terms? That means whoever you’re trying to copy might have easier cashflow management than you and hence can bid higher. You copy his bidding model and ad costs alone can sink your business
2) Their Stuff is Probably Outdated
Sometimes guru tells you old information because
- he/she doesn’t know anything about the stuff the industry
- he/she doesn’t want to give away the secret that’s working for him/her
In either case, sometimes you get delayed information
Suppose a PPC guru told you to bid by device on Adwords because different devices have different ROI.
Great idea, right?
Except, Adwords removed that feature a LONG time ago (well, internet time wise)
Maybe when this vending guru did it in his days (*rolling eyes*), maybe there was no market saturation and hence no competition. (yea, in 1800′s maybe).
Sometimes, the best marketing tactics are never shared because if too many people exploit them, it becomes useless.
For example, AirBNB used HTML exploit to cross post their content onto Craigslist.
That news was posted only AFTER craigslist plugged the hole. Then they used that information to get some free PR and backlinks from marketing and tech sites that give them fanfare as being marketing geniuses (and hence boost to their search rankings).
Imagine if every AirBNB competitor knew about it, that exploit would’ve bee gone in a second.
Now there are tons of other exploits that you can read about…
- Blackhat techniques – uhh yeah, try that now and see how far you get
- Facebook page/app marketing – Facebook is clamping down on free traffic (if you waste time devoting all your time & money onto digital sharecropping, expect to be disappointed very soon)
- Advertising arbitrage – commonly known as CPC to CPA arbitrage.. uhh yeah, good luck with that too.
These were all tactics that some gurus STILL teach, yet they were popular months if not years ago (remember internet 1 month is like real life 1 year).
3) They Might Have Ulterior Motives
The only way (most of) these gurus really know about “making money” is by selling you products of tactics they’ve never tried.
If you ever watch late night infomercials, there are dudes willing to teach you how to be rich.. only price? $XXX.
I went to this real estate seminar where this guy claimed he bought an apartment building for NO money down.. and ended up making him $3k per month in passive income.
He can teach you too.. only if you take his $5k seminar.
Of course, the sucker that I am.. i went (but luckily i didn’t pay this time because I tagged along with my friend who did pay.. SUCKER)
He had 100 people show up.. do the math.. that’s $500,000.
When I asked him, what kind of properties and where he invests in, he said “oh i don’t reveal that because I don’t want unnecessary legal exposures on my assets”.
Is that why BILLIONAIRE real estate investor Donald Trump has his name plastered all over his properties in the most visible cities on earth in the country with the most lawsuit-trigger-happy people?
The only “investing” he does is in his crappy re-packaged info products full of information you can get from a at a local library book for free.
(One of his 1 inch thick binder he gave us as the learning material had about 50 pages of “material”, triple line spacing, 16 point font, and 1.5 inch margins. The rest were BLANK pages with lines for us to write our own notes.)
Here’s the kicker – During one of the seminars, one of these “gurus” upsold his students on some real estate development projects in 2008 in some remote part of North Carolina. The project flopped and the investors (i.e. his students) lost millions.
Last time I heard, the developer of the project and this “guru” is under investigation by the FBI and SEC for possible mortgage fraud and SEC violations (i.e. asking money from people who don’t qualify). My real estate investor friend lost and still owes over $200k on that ridiculous piece of land that nobody wants.
I’m sure there are some good “gurus” out there with good intentions, but I just haven’t found any that happens to advertise him/herself.
In online marketing, this is no different, if not worse. Affiliate marketing, being the poster child, of course.
Make thousands daily at home, pushing buttons… right?
Wrong. Ask any successful affiliate marketer. It’s hard as hell work. Offers going up and down, lead shaves, landing page thefts, advertisers not paying on time… it’s almost much a nightmare as any other business.
The only way to LEARN is by doing it, via trial & error, asking, reading, and yes, using your own money and time. If you want to be spoon fed, you will get fed information that serves someone else, not you.
If you truly do need more information before you can pull the trigger, i recommend you listen to people who have been there and done that, like entrepreneurs who are doing it or have done it like me , and marketers/agencies/growth hackers that are doing this every day.