As the founder of a marketing agency, I'm always on the lookout for great new advice about how to attract attention. I'm usually disappointed. The bulk of articles, blog posts, podcast episodes, books, and webinars on the subject preach the gospel of funnel building, value adding, and elevator pitching. Unfortunately, most buyers of this material continue to struggle with translating their newfound knowledge into new business.
What's going on here?
Self-proclaimed marketing gurus tend to look to other marketing professionals as the main source of their information. What they miss, however, (or willfully ignore) is that if you want to get attention, the best people to model are those who don't tend to think of themselves as marketers at all.
I believe in stealing what works, wherever it comes from. I've spent years studying the strategies and tactics of the most effective attention-getters in history--a list that includes everyone from P.T. Barnum to Richard Branson to Donald Trump.
Regardless of how you feel about the people who have used these techniques, they are remarkably effective. My greatest hope is that you take what works and apply it to getting the word out about ideas and initiatives that make people's lives better.
1st Commandment: Thou Shalt Never Show Doubt - There may be two sides to every story, but the most effective self-promoters never let you know it. When Gary Vaynerchuk talks, he leaves no room for anyone to doubt his stance that around-the-clock work is the key to all success. Tim Ferriss does the same with the exact opposite point of view. People want to be told what to believe. If you can be the one who tells them, you'll control their attention.
2nd Commandment: Thou Shalt Make Enemies - Human beings are, by nature, tribal creatures. The best self-promoters understand this and use it. Whatever your opinion of our current President, this tactic is how he got to the White House. It's not enough to talk about why your viewpoint, idea, or product is great; you must also loudly proclaim that it is vastly superior to the alternatives.
3rd Commandment: Thou Shalt Wrap the New In the Familiar - It is no secret that most people are afraid of change. So if you want them to accept something new, you must first wrap it in concepts they have regularly encountered before. When Wallace Fard, founder of the Nation of Islam, wanted to persuade African Americans to convert to what was then an entirely alien religion, he began with stories from Christian Bible. No matter how "disruptive" you think your new idea is, no one will accept it unless you make it easy for them to digest by smuggling it into their heads in a casing of familiarity.
4th Commandment: Thou Shalt Make Them Mad - If you can manage to work people into a frenzy, your ideas will spread fast. When Ryan Holiday wanted to promote Tucker Max's book, I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, he snuck out at night to spray paint feminist graffiti on his own advertisements and then anonymously leaked it to the press. The result was lots of hate mail for Max and millions of books sold. Overcome your need to be liked by everyone, and the amount of attention you get will soar.
5th Commandment: Thou Shalt Make Them Laugh- Next to anger, humor is the best way to get your ideas to take hold. (If you can combine laughter with anger, that's even better.) The notorious Sixties radical Abbie Hoffman was a master at this. In one of his most notorious stunts, he took a bunch of hippies to Washington D.C. to "levitate the Pentagon". A double shot of absurdity and disrespect ensured nonstop coverage. No matter how seriously you take your work, it's time to lighten up about it if you want to get people to pay attention.
6th Commandment: Thou Shalt Draw Contrasts - It is not enough to have a stand out idea. Your idea must stand out in contrast to something else. Human brains are wired to draw distinctions, and the more you can help them do so, the farther and faster your ideas will spread. A small Parisian theater called the Grand Guignol shot to success in the early 20th century by alternating cute romantic dramas with gruesome horror shows. Pinpoint your polar opposite and make sure you appear next to it as often as possible.
7th Commandment: Thou Shalt Perfect the Package - Mass persuasion experts Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson said it best: "The essence of propaganda is a well-designed package." Successful promoters pay serious attention to surfaces. Andy Warhol never left the house without his silver wig and a striking, meticulously chosen outfit to go with it. Steve Jobs paid as much attention to his products' outer casings as he did to how they worked. Follow their example. It's not enough to have great stuff, you must present it flawlessly. When it comes to promotion, beauty is skin deep.
8th Commandment: Thou Shalt Repeat Thine Self - The brain's hippocampus imprints information through repetition. It is never enough to put your message out there once, or even a few times. Your products will never sell themselves - you must burn them into people's minds. Boil down your central idea into a pithy, memorable phrase--preferably one that draws on some of the principles discussed above--and repeat it ad nauseam in as many forms and through as many media as you can get access to. When people can't escape your rallying cry, they will come to adopt it as their own.
9th Commandment: Thou Shalt Find the Pressure Points -- The best self-promoters know when to work hard and when to let others do the hard work for them. While skilled attention-getters always make it appear that they are building a grassroots following, they unfailingly align themselves with the real power brokers in their sphere and get them to spread the word on their behalf. Just like great acupuncturists know which pressure points to press to relieve pain quickly, you must find the pressure points in your space and manipulate them to your advantage.
10th Commandment: Thou Shalt Take Action - No matter how interesting, thought provoking, funny, or infuriating your ideas are, they are simply not inherently newsworthy. You must find a way to translate what you are selling into events--especially if you want press coverage. Journalists never want to feel they are doing your advertising for you. Give them something to report on. Pull a prank. Provoke something into doing something outrageous with your product. Incite someone into publicly ranting about why you're a menace to society. Whatever it takes. Because without action, your work is just another piece of plastic tossed into a vast and punishing sea.