August 1, 2021

While I am not endorsing gun violence with this subject line, my recent “surgical adventure” got me thinking about this phrase…since after my recent surgery, my abdomen looks like I got into a knife fight…and lost.

However, under any metric–the process leading up to surgery, the surgery itself, the recovery period so far, and the post-surgical pathology (the tumor is benign! Yay!) –I won that “knife/scalpel fight” at every level.

And I realized I did it with “non-violent guns”—three in particular.

Then as I thought about marketing lessons from this experience (which I always seem to do with every experience…John Carlton teaches that everything around us is a writing opportunity if we are always mindful what’s going on around us), the same three pacifist guns applied to how I’ve won so many “marketing knife fights,”

Here is a 16 second video clip that is a visual representation of why bringing a gun to a knife fight is sometimes helpful…but it is not the theme of this post.

Spoiler alert: You might have seen it before if you are an Indiana Jones fan (and I laugh every time I watch it):

I couldn’t resist sending that because I haven’t been able to get that particular image out of my mind since my surgery, staring down at my naval (and abdomen), and coming up with today’s subject line.

So…shoot me. 🙂

You may have noticed in that clip that it only takes one gun to win a knife fight…but I have three “guns” I use in similar situations–not as violent but more powerful–and never deadly.

And then there was this cartoon sent to me from a good friend (and superb marketer), Michelle Falzon, from Australia (more from Michelle later too):

Birthmark or not, you never have to be a victim in the operating room…OR on the marketing battlefield.

A quote I’ve used before from Winston Churchill applies here:

“Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result”

And to make sure that happens, I want to share the three “weapons” I suggest you take with you into any battle.

In addition to this post not being violent, it is also not intended to dwell in the past.

It is actually a look forward with lessons learned from my latest health adventure and projecting them on all of the marketing knife fights I’ve been in over the past 40 years.

Interestingly, the same three (figurative) guns emerged as critical to all of those marketing wins as well as this latest surgical win.

If you want to read about what led to the surgery—old news now—you can read “A fourth life (of nine)”

But it is not required reading in order to absorb the marketing lessons below.

GUN #1: Knowledge

The preparation to do battle…whether as a patient or as a marketer…requires laying the groundwork for success…and as you might expect, knowledge (and research) is power.

With the surgery, for example, I researched doctors (rather than hospitals or techniques) under the premise that a surgeon who has performed hundreds—even thousands—of my particular surgery, is a much better doctor to put a life bet on… rather than someone who has performed dozens.

The litmus test: When the surgeon opens me up, no matter what might be going on with my situation, he or she has seen it before.

The same is true when planning a marketing project or product launch of any kind.

Marketing done wrong is “death by a thousand cuts” which happens when you jump in too soon…then you “overstay your welcome” in the project…with the wrong players executing.

But it doesn’t have to be that way when you plan your entrance with your exit at the same time.

One of my mentors, Gordon Grossman (the architect at The Reader’s Digest in the 1960’s and 1970’s), said it best about testing something new:

“Your only mission is to find out if you have a business”

What that means: Test only what you need to test to determine if there is something viable or not; and do it slowly going in…and don’t keep reinvesting in it if you can prove it’s a dog.

And with the right planning in advance you can control how much blood you want to leave behind.

You will shed a lot less blood this way since wishy washy marketing projects with no clear objectives (and no sense of the key metrics you need to meet on your way in) is a knife fight you never want to be in.

And the longer you keep saying, “I’ve already invested so much I can’t give up despite lackluster results” the closer you will get to death by a thousand cuts—rather than cutting your losses and consider the project as a sunk cost (rather than turning it into part of a sinking ship).

You also need to run scenarios as part of this “knowledge creation”—at least three (low/average/high) with everything you test—and determine what your “go/no go” decisions will be going forward based on actual vs. projected results.

The analogy in hiring is: “Hire slow/fire fast” and this search for knowledge in marketing up front includes personnel in addition to the nuts and bolts of the project itself.

Despite being more of a “hire slow/fire slow” kind of guy when I staffed and ran Boardroom’s marketing department, when it came to marketing projects, I was (and still am) laser focused on hiring a la carte for specialists…only the gold standard in every area of marketing.

Just like I would never leave elaborate surgery to less than an expert surgeon, leaving your list segmentation, media buying, offer creation, design and copy to anyone but the best of the best for each area for that particular project will lead you down a long road of misery.

In fact, when you look at a marketing project as having “multiple expert surgeons” (I hate one stop shopping), you will get your best possible result up front and scale the project further and faster…or get out faster because you know you gave it your best shot out of the box.

GUN #2: Peacefulness

If you have ever researched anything about “preparing for surgery,” many of the “tips” coincide with things like eating a low sugar, plant-based diet with no smoking and regular exercise…you know, things that work for you all the time.

Another thing that works for you all the time—and I believe it is one of the “big guns” you can take into surgery and marketing—is to always be peaceful.

Michele Falzon, my buddy from Australia who sent me (now us!) the Gary Larson cartoon above, said it so well in reference to this concept of peacefulness through surgery and marketing:

I think there is a link between “attitude” in both scenarios. The positive attitude and open, relaxed posture when applied to marketing is all about wanting to know and understand others and being empathetic and connected… all the things that lead to wanting to do the research and, ultimately, increase your “survival” rate 🙂

I will add that there is data on surgical patients, who move themselves towards a more peaceful state before surgery, connecting their mind and body without letting stress and anxiety ruin the party in their brain, have significantly better outcomes than folks who are all worry with no peace.

And supposedly surgeons can tell when they are working on a more “relaxed” (i.e., peaceful) body than one that is more stressed…with makes their jobs easier. I’ve always found this fascinating…and it kind of makes sense.

This is easier said than done. And I confess that I was not as much in this state for my surgery as I would have liked…but do as I say and not as I did on this one. I certainly tried to be as peaceful as I could.

My goal was to “present my body” to the surgeon in the most relaxed posture possible, to do whatever he needed to do with it-without my help or interference.

My singular role was to surrender to his expertise. Frankly I wish I could have done it even more.

In marketing and business I always submit to a more peaceful business with superstars executing on everything.

That isn’t the same thing as being totally hands off…just confident you have the right marketing surgeons executing your plan so you don’t have to micromanage in areas where you are not the expert.

For example, having a business that is launch on top of launch or one constant fire drill is not only not fun it’s not built to last either.

There isn’t any one way to make launch-to-launch, fire drill businesses, into peaceful businesses that are built to last…but I have some suggestions:

  • You can’t rush peace in marketing…every project/launch needs a longer runway (Stu McLaren, a launch expert has this nailed…because he’s not only about the runway for his launches but he’s all about runways in every aspect of his business). Whatever your current runway is today, extend it…not to procrastinate but prioritizing speed over effectiveness is never a good idea.
  • Think multi-channel and you will always have choices in media…which will always allow you to choose a different kind of “piece” … of mind.
  • Dare to Prepare: How You Win Before You Begin, is not only a wonderful book written by 40-year baseball executive Ron Shapiro but the title sums up what it means to have a truly peaceful business. And it’s a good read and game plan not just from a sports angle but from a business angle–Ron interviews folks such as wine guru Robert Parker, investment legend Bill Miller, pianist Leon Fleisher, Goldman Sachs partner Lisa Fontenelli, firefighter Ann Marie Tierney, in addition to sports legends who dare to prepare like broadcaster Bob Costas and player/manager Willie Randolph.
  • And again, hire a la carte, and hire the best in each specific area.

This “peaceful gun” has some legs.

Gun #3: Capital

While having money is always a good thing in any endeavor in health or business—and for major surgery that also means solid health insurance—the capital I am referring to here is “relationship capital.”

I’ve spoken about it incessantly over the years and in Overdeliver.

I got the phrase from my legendary mentor ay Abraham…and it’s the “capital account” that has no relevance to the stock market or investing.

It’s about investing in contributing to others in order to connect deeply with them.

And when done correctly, it compounds exponentially.

Frankly, if you put a gun to my head (pun intended) and forced me to choose which of the three guns to bring to a knife fight of surgery or marketing, I would have to choose this one…I guess that’s why I listed it third?

It’s #3 that is actually #1 because it envelops #1 and # 2.

If you make regular, deep and sincere deposits into your relationship capital account over many years, the knowledge you need for anything is somewhere in it…as are all the clues to being more peaceful.

That’s why I see little difference between “major laparoscopic surgery” and “full contact marketing” in terms of how you use this heavily diversified account.

It’s all about having access to the deepest thoughts, prayers, support, resources, ideas, partners, vendors, referrals…and the beauty part is that no one helped you build it because it is all your unique construction.

But remember to make many more deposits than withdrawals…which makes the withdrawals so much more valuable.

And by deposit, I’m not talking about adding friends from Facebook or Linkedin to your account.

You make deposits by contributing to your assets first. Deeply.

That’s a new twist on investing I guess.

In closing, I’d like to make one more “withdrawal” from my relationship capital account from Michelle Falzon, who summed up this post simply and succinctly:

This message from you is, in it’s very DNA, exactly what you are talking about… you are finding content and ideas and wisdom in an experience you could have done without – but you’re here – so you may as well make it good 🙂

It’s another flavor of Carlton’s advice to pay attention to everything going on around you as a lesson to write about…and another flavor of Jay Abraham’s “getting everything you can out of all you’ve got.”

It’s not a way to exploit my health issues for anything but lessons learned, lessons I love sharing with my online family.

Hopefully you find some of it useful or insightful in some way…and no pity party please.

Consider it a deposit in my relationship capital of which you are a big part as well.

Over the last month you gave me so much knowledge and peace based on what you knew about what I was experiencing…and I accepted and acknowledged any thoughts and prayers you sent (and will continue to send me) …which led to (and will continue to lead to) marketing applications…of course.

I received another summary from my good friend, top online/social media expert Kim Walsh-Phillips.

Her take was even more succinct than Michelle’s…well, Kim is a social media expert so that makes sense:

I am so flipping happy you are on the other side and leveraging your illness for writing content. All is right in the world.



About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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