This post is part 2 of the Bootstrapping vs. Billionaires series for marketers who need to do more with less. Learn more.
“With every chance to set himself on fire
he just ends up doin’ the same thing”
– Jack White

I can see the future.
18 months from now you will have failed. You will have failed to achieve the goals you’ve set.
Those goals that are burning inside you – massive growth in lead flow, ever-increasing revenues, a large audience consuming your content – you will succeed at none of these things.
Looking back 18 months from now you’ll wonder why you failed. You’ll be able to think of many things you could have done differently, but the real reasons for your failure will elude you.
And you’ll be jealous. During those 18 months a new competitor will have emerged and kicked all manner of ass. They seemed to come out of nowhere at first, but you kept hearing their name. They started out in total obscurity but continually gained momentum and were talked about again and again. Eventually it happened: they started being mentioned alongside your biggest competitors.
They had arrived.
They’d made themselves relevant during those 18 months and their growth rocketed along with their lead flow.
Even worse, they did it with resources no larger than your own. They had none of the advantages your biggest competitors have – the huge teams and massive budgets – and yet they succeeded where you failed.

How the hell did they do that?

More importantly, how useful would that knowledge be today?


I was sitting in a restaurant not long ago having lunch with Michael Shearer, our new Director of Marketing. I laid out the exact scenario I’ve just described above: it’s 18 months in the future and we’ve not gotten what we were after. But some imaginary new competitor has emerged – and they’ve absolutely crushed it. They had no more resources than we did, but they made all the right moves.
What were those moves? I asked Michael what we could learn from this competitor.
We talked about how they grew from a place of obscurity. We discussed the strategies and tactics they used to make a name for themselves in a space filled with billion dollar giants.
We talked about their approach to content and just how important it was to their fast-growing market awareness.
We talked about their marketing automation platform (because that’s the industry we’re in) and how the best product doesn’t necessarily win (darnit).
We were able to look back on their (fictitious) growth curve and learn from their experiences.
We dissected the moves of a non-existent company in order to open our minds about how to best achieve the goals we’d set for ourselves.
The effect on our perspective was powerful and that’s what this device is all about: perspective.
Rather than always looking ahead at a big blank page called the future, sometimes it can be useful to look back. In our case there are no examples of bootstrapped marketing automation companies that have achieved what we’re after, so we simply made one up to have one that we could look back on.

Alice Asks Caterpillar's Advice on Growth
Alice looks to the Caterpillar for perspective on growth:
“I should like to be a LITTLE larger, sir, if you wouldn’t mind”

A blank page can be hard to fill in.

I think I’m pretty good at emulating attractive designs (in HTML and CSS), but ask me to come up with a novel design and I’ll be stuck all day. The inspiration that comes from others’ great work helps fire my motor.
Similarly, conjuring a non-existent, ass-kicking competitor and stealing from (ahem, being inspired by) their marketing playbook can help you see things from a different perspective .
If you’re a David competing against Goliaths, the sheer output of your competitors’ marketing machines can skew your perspective. Their overflowing social streams. All their SlideShare content. The carpet bombing email campaigns…
It’s easy to get caught up chasing competitors and playing by their rules. For many (most?) marketers this is a mistake. Your smaller size demands sharper focus – and can actually be an advantage (more on that in the future).
From our perspective, on any given day we could choose to look at the output from (Marketo, Pardot, Eloqua, HubSpot, Act-on) and feel overwhelmed – there’s no way we can keep up. It would be foolish to even try.

A quick glance at HubSpot’s blog just now shows me that they’ve published 10 blog posts today alone (January 6th, 2015). Damn. Shock and awe.

To help us see things from a more useful perspective we sometimes employ this simple device: a fabricated competitor, similar to us (in size and resources) who has killed it in an 18 month time frame.

So what have we learned by studying

the tactics of Company X?
Despite their mythical status we’ve been able to draw some solid conclusions about what worked for them and the mindset behind their success…

1. Content is the Under-Resourced Marketer’s Best Friend

Lacking a b’gillion dollar budget and facing off against deep-pocketed competitors, you need marketing tactics that can impact the hearts and minds of your prospects and reach them while at rest:

  • in their bed, reading on their phone
  • on the toilet, reading on their phone
  • at their desk, reading on their screen (when they should be working… unless you’re reading this, of course, which is working but doesn’t feel like it 🙂

Because content scales. While its costs don’t.

One piece of content can be consumed countless times (though I hope you’re counting) by any prospect in any country anywhere. Your pay-per-click ad can’t. Your live event can’t.

Because content lasts.

This blog post is an endurance athlete. It will keep on going while I sleep, while I write another post. While I build relationships with influencers to ensure a bigger audience for my next post… [Great] Content is the gift that keeps on giving.

2. Company X Isn’t Afraid to Have a Personality. Or to Put it Out There Online.

Bland is boring. Content without personality is bland. Same for a product or company. Nobody connects to bland. But bland is everywhere – including some old blog posts written by yours truly.
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about all the lame content that’s published these days. I’m cooking up a post that lays out what I’ve learned so far about how to avoid contributing to this scourge (and, not coincidentally, failing to achieve marketing goals as a result).
In the meantime I’d like to point you to a blog post that, among many others, was like a turning point for me. Minimum Viable Personality from @FredWilson (originally from the hilarious but prescient @FakeGrimlock) is an eye opener for any marketer – and particularly content marketers – who aren’t getting the results they want.
I don’t know you, but thanks Fred. And Mr. Fake Grimlock, whoever you are.

3. Company X is Consistent in their Content Output. And they Don’t Sacrifice on Quality.

As we reverse-engineered the success of our fabricated competitor, it became clear that they’re not outsourcing their content creation to freelancers. Their authors are true experts with in-depth knowledge of their industry and the challenges their customers are facing.
This has everything to do with quality (which is the first law of content). We all know the web is overflowing with crap content. Your prospects don’t want more of it. It’s a one-way ticket to mediocrity.
Content marketing’s not producing results for you? I have a guess as to why.
Yes, I know, you don’t have time to produce the content yourself. I thought the exact same thing.
Then I undertook an honest appraisal of the results we were getting from our content efforts – and juxtaposed that with the realization from point #1 above (that content is our scalable, workaholic, best friend) – and put myself in charge of our content strategy and became one of our primary content creators. Now here we are.

4. They Don’t Give a Darn What the Billion Dollar Marketing Automation Companies are Doing

A new subscriber to this blog recently asked me what I do to “learn more about what competitors are doing”.


I answered that “I do nothing to learn what competitors are doing. I avoid their press releases, blog posts and feature announcements. I end up absorbing plenty about their businesses and what they’re doing through the course of my days, but consciously stay away from their public projection thereof.”


When facing off with Goliath, it’s natural to worry about what he’s going to do next. But you don’t beat Goliath by preoccupying yourself with his strengths. Like David, you beat Goliath by recognizing your strengths and executing a strategy based on them.
Marketers competing against large competitors should keep these points in mind:

  • Your competitors can’t stop you from creating and publishing great content online
  • They can’t stop you from effectively promoting that content
  • They can’t stop you from building an audience that likes your content
  • They can’t stop you from having a compelling offering your audience decides to look into

They can’t stop you.

Maybe there’s some psychological trickery at work here that’s beyond me, but this purposeful changing of perspective – from looking forward at all that we could do to looking back at what we should do – is a simple technique that’s provided us with some unexpected clarity.

What do you do to gain perspective?

Inquiring minds want to know… What have you done in your marketing – strategically or tactically – that’s helped your perspective?
Set yourself on fire. In the comments. Bring it.
Thanks for reading,

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Michael Ward

I'm founder & CEO @NetResults, the 1st choice of people buying marketing automation for the 2nd time.