Empathy, Marketing & The Power of Association
Become a better marketer by connecting deeper with yourself, your customers & your peers
One of my goals for 2023 is to get good at marketing.
I’ve learned a lot about the principles and elements of good marketing over the past fifteen months. I learned on the job through freelance roles I did with companies like Maven and Actionworks, and I invested in a course by Demand Curve (Julian Shapiro’s company) and buyer psychology expert Katelyn Bourgoin.
Earlier this week, I also dug into a marketing framework called The Five Lightbulbs. (Creator Billy Broas is largely credited for helping premier online courses like Write of Passage and Building a Second Brain scale to 300+ cohort sizes and millions in annual revenue.) Billy’s framework is a messaging framework that speaks to the five lightbulbs that need to be illuminated in a customer for them to go from “I’m in the right place” to “I’m ready to buy.”
I’ll dig into the framework below. But first, I want to set the scene for how to make frameworks like this practical.
Putting Theory Into Practice
Studying has become an underrated form of learning because many people mistakenly think of “studying” as interchangeable with rote memorization.
“Rote memory generally entails memory for material without much reference to the meaning, emotions, or to the context to which it is associated. The major practice in rote memorization is learning by repetition or routine, without full comprehension or attention to what is being memorized.”—Springer Link
By contrast, authentic studying is conducted from a place of inquisition, in which you look closely at your subject(s) and deduce what’s worth knowing and acting upon based on the context of your goals. It’s also less about blindly applying the same formula over and over again and more about assessing circumstances and identifying the best courses of action.
The Five Lightbulbs Framework
Here’s a high-level overview of The Five Lightbulbs messaging framework I mentioned earlier:
Here’s what I love about how The Five Lightbulbs framework is presented on Billy’s website: it facilitates studying marketing through the lens of the framework versus just telling you to commit a bunch of steps to memory. This begins with an exercise you can do to apply the framework. Here’s what I appreciate about the before, during, and after stages of the exercise from a learning standpoint:
Before: Choose a product or service to run through the exercise.
Rationale: You need an example to apply the framework.
During: Use the worksheet as a guide.
Rationale: Instructions and constraints help you converge on outputs.
After: Download the framework graphic to keep it handy for the future.
Rationale: You need to review and reflect on the framework to master it.
Bonus: Play the Game: Spot the Lightbulb.
Rationale: You’ll train your eye to spot the five lightbulbs out in the wild.
The elements above facilitate learning along the lines of the famous quote “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
The way The Five Lightbulbs framework is presented sets you up to fish. And while you may not “catch” anything straight away, you’re on track to feed yourself for a lifetime if you create a virtuous cycle of studying the application of the framework in the marketing content around you, and applying the framework to marketing content of your own. (That’s my plan, anyway.)
📌 Learning tip: start a “Marketing gold” swipe file in Notion, a Google doc, etc. and build a habit of populating it with screenshots of great marketing you come across. If you want to be extra structured, you can categorize your examples based on the lightbulbs they illuminate. Billy even has a Notion template you can duplicate to get started. You can access it here in exchange for your name and email.
A Tip From Startupland
If you’re creating your first product or service, the first barrier you’re likely to encounter with The Five Lightbulbs framework is defining lightbulbs one and two (your customer’s status quo and things they’ve tried, respectively). Because in the same vein most new startup founders make the mistake of jumping into solution mode before validating the problem they’re trying to solve, most creators do the same.
Don’t assume you know your customer’s pain points, what they’ve tried to resolve them and why they’ve failed. Ask them. Capture outputs and look for patterns. Do this through customer discovery interviews, the same way founders do (here’s a previous post I wrote about customer discovery interviews if you need more context).
As a former colleague at a startup hub once said to me about customer acquisition, the most compelling marketing comes down to this:
“Put their words in your mouth.”
In other words, speak to your customers in their language. Because ironically, people new to marketing—and I’m guilty of this myself—think they need to use formal language or buzzworthy terms to sound competent and compelling.
But in reality, sounding stiff or salesy can be as ineffective as pitching to an Italian in Dutch. If the person doesn’t recognize the language you’re using, they won’t be interested in your pitch, no matter how great it is.
This is where The Five Lightbulbs illuminates a pathway to creating marketing content from a place of empathy so you can maximize conversions.
Notice how I said I’ve been learning about marketing for the past fifteen months but I’m only now making it a priority to get good at it?
Funnily enough, a lot of new course creators become hyper-focused on marketing at the expense of learning design, and as a result, their courses aren't nearly as impactful as they promote them to be (which can have devastating consequences on word of mouth).
This is something I want to change.
I hate to see people's credibility sink when they fall down on the learning aspects because ultimately, learning drives outcomes. And students buy courses to achieve outcomes.
So join me on March 21 at 1pm ET for a session on What most cohort-based courses get wrong about learning design. I’m excited to be teaming up with the Butter Community for this session as part of their Learning Labs event series in March.
In 60 minutes, I'll run through three pillars of good learning design:
Use Backward Design to build an outcome-driven course
Address knowledge gaps and misunderstandings students have about your topic
Make workshops hands-on so students apply what they’re learning
The session will be a mix of presenting and breakout rooms. It won’t be a full-on workshop since I won’t be guiding you through an activity but you’ll have a couple of breakout sessions with conversation prompts so you can meet other creators interested in course creation.
You can register here. Hope to see you there.
📌 Marketing tip: partnering with other creators, startups, and organizations is a great way to build credibility through association and promote your product or service. So my challenge to you is to pitch someone on a collaboration (ex. newsletter feature, workshop, Twitter space, podcast appearance, etc.) within the next month.
Here are two tips to make it a win-win dynamic:
Pick someone who has a complementary audience to yours. Make sure they’re not a competitor who will perceive you as incompetent for trying to “steal” their audience. They should have a different offering that would appeal to your audience and vice-versa.
Propose an idea. People are busy and they don’t want to play table tennis going back and forth on details. So propose what, how, and when you could collaborate as a starting point. Tell them you’re open to their suggestions in return.
Think about what would be easy, fun, and beneficial to you both (ex. cross-posting each other’s newsletter or doing a creator spotlight on each other, doing a workshop, etc.).
I hope these tips are helpful in initiating a new collaboration. I can’t emphasize the power of association enough. This principle is at work everywhere you look. For instance, when you consider following someone on Twitter or accepting a LinkedIn connection, I’m sure you check who your mutual contacts are. And when someone you like and respect is connected to a person, you’re more likely to connect with them as well.
The principle of association is amplified massively when someone makes the effort to collaborate with you. So start by pitching less-intimidating people to get your collaborative sea legs. Then, you’ll have the confidence to be bold and pitch people you admire who are further ahead of you. Granted these people are more intimidating, they have bigger audiences for you to get in front of (this is as much of a “note to self” as it is to you).
Thanks for reading and have a wonder-full week,
P.S. As a testament to practicing what I preach, I have another cool collaboration coming up later this month. Stay tuned for details next week.
P.P.S. Comment below with any wins you have around collaborating with other creators—even if it’s simply pitching an idea. That’s worth celebrating.
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