07 June 2017

What to Do When Your Tool Isn’t Right for the Job

A few weeks ago, my colleague Sydney Katona and I got to attend the Inbounder Conference in NYC.

Really, we just wanted to hear one of our Marketing Superheroes Rand Fishkin speak.

Rand is the kind of person you want as a friend. He’s done some incredible work in SEO that has changed the industry for the better. And he’s also a heartfelt, open person who has been truly vulnerable about the challenges he’s faced including burnout and depression.  He represents a new kind of leader, one who is as human as they are professional, as much friend as they are senior leadership.

And his talk held those same kinds of values.

Rand’s presentation addressed a common blind spot: to try to fix every marketing problem with your skill set. In other words, it’s easy to think everything is a nail once you’ve got a hammer.

But this is false. To prove this, Rand shared the story of helping his wife market her new book. As he researched book marketing, he discovered that SEO has nothing to do with selling books. Instead, almost everything he’d learned about SEO and content wouldn’t work for this new marketing challenge. But SEO is what he knew. Was he going to continue with a tool he knew wouldn’t work?

This process revealed to Rand that he’d gotten into a mindset where he had begun to assume that his expertise would solve everything—and that was not serving the client. Instead, he needed to know his tool thoroughly and then become a “generalist,” almost a dirty word in marketing when the position and niche mean everything. Yet the opposite extreme isn’t the answer—no one can be an expert in everything. How then, does one find a way through?

Strategy is what’s important and lifts niched marketers above simple tool wielders. Strategy is the way out of execution. It gives you your special sauce that makes you different AND elevates your importance with the client and your organization.

I think that’s one of the things that makes us Rowland Creative. In the past, our special sauce was design but we aren’t a design agency anymore—we’re marketing. And that’s because we offer the strategy behind the design we make. We can offer the thinking behind all the marketing options even while we might have a specialty that will show up in all the work we do.

I think it comes back to honesty. Be great at what you do—and know where the limits are. Be great at what you do—and raise the flag when it’s time to try something else. This doesn’t just apply to marketers but to anyone out there trying to share something with the world. You might have a beautiful, useful thing to share, but it isn’t always what someone needs. Know the difference and know where and why your work will matter—and tell the client. You’ll earn trust, reputation, and clarity. You won’t sit in the chaos of convincing someone to need you who never needed you in the first place. The work you can trust as being the most impactful is the work you need to be doing.