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Supporting image for Episode 500 | Pulling from the Digital Marketing Mailbag
Rich Brooks Pulling from the Digital Marketing Mailbag
The Agents

The “secrets” of AI that no one is telling us. B2B strategies for small businesses. Website alternatives. And things to do in Portland, Maine, when you attend the Agents of Change Digital Marketing Conference. 

This one has it all. 

Yes. This is it. Episode 500. We’re finally here.  

As I mentioned several weeks ago, I planned on doing a mailbag episode for episode 500, and I got a number of great questions from many of you. And because I’m all in on AI these days, I asked ChatGPT and Claude for a few, too.  

But let’s start with the humans.  

Suzan Czajkowski: What’s a “secret” about AI that no one’s telling us? 

I’m not sure there’s a “secret” about AI that no one is telling us. Well, actually, I’m sure there’s a bunch, but they’re not telling me, either! But if I can shift your question a bit to talk about some myths or misunderstandings around AI, I’ve got a few. 

  • If you’re not sure how to do something in AI, ask it. Here’s one simple example: I wasn’t getting the results in Midjourney– a generative AI image creation tool–that I wanted. I went to Claude 2–a ChatGPT competitor that’s also an LLM (large language model)–and asked it to help me craft one. Which it did. Although it wasn’t perfect, it got me closer and ultimately I figured it out. 

I also watched a friend develop out a business plan with ChatGPT. At specific times within the thread she asked it questions like, “where does this Python code–which you just wrote for me–go?” “How will this connect with the database?” “What software already exists that might compete with this product?” “What am I not thinking about that I should consider?” “How can I craft this into a RFP to send out to developers?” and so on.   

  • You’ve heard two brains are better than one? Well, two AIs can be better than one. I mean, I already like using LLMs like ChatGPT or Claude as sounding boards or ideation machines. But I saw this trick on a Slack group I belong to, so I had to try it out myself. For a recent blog post, I asked Claude to help me work up a framework for my idea. When it was complete (you know, 5 seconds later), I copied and pasted it into ChatGPT and asked it to make improvements based on my objectives and audience. It added a few ideas Claude hadn’t included. I brought that version back to Claude and asked if it could make any further improvements. It made some suggestions, and then I asked it to synthesize the best ideas into a final framework.  
  • Finally, stop thinking of AI as a replacement for personnel. At this stage of the AI game you should be looking at AI to relieve you of repetitive, boring tasks. You should be thinking of it as a productivity tool. Can you use it to create a framework for a blog post, saving you an hour of prep time? Can you have it write the first draft of your social posts and email to promote that blog post? Can you have it identify 10 thought leaders or influencers that you can reach out to for a quote, an interview, or a potential collaboration, saving you that research time?  

I’d worry less about the “secrets” of AI, and just start trying to work it into your day, with the idea of helping you save time and free you up to do your best work.   

Don: With all the post-COVID changes, new social landscape, etc., what do you think is the best B2B strategy/approach for a small biz

With a national customer base (in our case we sell database access to University and Libraries of Historic Maps and antiquities). We tried a round on LinkedIn for several months and it was a dud … thought that with LinkedIn job title/role targeting this would be a hit.  We are just starting a Facebook round as FB has added more role type targeting of ads.  

Don, great question. My gut check when I received your question was optimizing your website for search and leveraging LinkedIn for prospecting. 

I’m sure you already have clients in the university and library market; do a 30 minute interview with some of your best clients and make sure you understand what their pain points were when they went searching for a solution, how they found you, and why they chose you. I’ve got an episode coming up in the next few weeks on how to develop personas that you’ll definitely want to check out.  

Once you have a sense of that, make sure that all your service pages speak to that persona, addressing their needs and concerns. Make sure you’re writing blog posts that also help those type of customers in the early stages of their customer journey: the awareness and consideration stages.  

Share those blog posts through an opt-in email newsletter to stay front of mind with your audience, and talk about those posts on LinkedIn, becoming a thought leader in the space. 

On LinkedIn, make sure you or your sales team spends some time each week building out your network of prospects through searching job titles and identifying key decision makers at different libraries and universities you want to do business with. Make sure the sales team and the company leaders are posting interesting content at least twice a week to build awareness and engagement. 

I’d do that before I spent any more money on LinkedIn ads, although once you’ve nailed down your personas, I might consider rolling out ads again. Remember: LI Ads tend to be more expensive than other social platforms for customer acquisition, so make sure you’ve got a budget to support it. I’d say 1.5K – 2K per campaign per month is a good starting point. 

I probably wouldn’t spend my energy on Meta ads right now; if anything Meta’s ability to target customers has gone down, not up. You’ll definitely need to invest more time up front in just generating 1st person data for Meta before you can expect to get any results from it. In other words, a month or two of ads targeting people you think are interested just to engage them, not to sell to them, just to help Facebook get trained up on who’s likely to ultimately buy from you. 

You could try retargeting ads, but here’s my concern: the people you want to get in front of probably have a work email and a business email, just like they have a work computer at their library or university and a home computer. That’s going to make retargeting so much harder, as it’s often based on your email or your browsing habits. If they visit your website at work but Facebook at home, it’s almost like that’s two different people, and hard to connect them.  

Not saying it’s impossible, just saying I don’t feel that’s the low hanging fruit.  

OK, all of that is best practices and relatively generic advice. Not bad advice, mind you. But that’s what I’d say to anyone who came to me with a similar issue. 

Now, then I tracked down your website, and I have some updated advice: get a new website.  

OK, that’s a little harsh, but if I’m at the website I believe to be yours, it doesn’t speak at all to your ideal customer. Even if you sell to both consumers and the audience working in universities and libraries, I don’t see any content for that latter group at all. 

Also, your website isn’t mobile friendly. It feels like it’s from another Internet age. And you’re heavily promoting your activity on FB and Insta there. That’s not the role of your website. The role of your social media (beyond branding and awareness) is to drive traffic to your website, not the other way around. 

If someone from a university or library looking for important database access came to your website, I’m concerned that the dated look and feel of the website would send the wrong message. A sophisticated service like yours needs a sophisticated brand. 

Now, if the site I visited isn’t the one where you sell to your ideal client you can ignore all the previous advice (more or less.) But in visiting your LinkedIn profile, you posted 4 months ago, and before that 4 years ago. I’d love to see you posting at least once a week, focusing on this business. You seem to have a lot of interests and are involved in multiple businesses, but if your main goal is to build up this database business, you need to give that 95% of your attention on LinkedIn.  

I hope that helps.  

Next up, I have a couple of questions that have a similar theme.  

Jeff Pearl: What is the best site to use for business in place of a website? LinkedIn, Medium, facebook,blogger, etc? 

Joanna Free, author of Buttkickers: Each time [my website] got to a place where it seemed dated/stale, or the tech was glitching and I didn’t know how to fix it/stay on top of it, or I was second-guessing every single line of copy in it. Eventually I just pulled the plug and took it down. Sadly, I lost blog posts and history each time I did this, but I just couldn’t seem to get out of my own way. Do you – or do other listeners – relate to this at all? What are your thoughts? And, do we still really need a website? I have a friend who has never had one, is not even on social media, and she always runs with a wait list for her services (but maybe we each know someone like this.) 

So, of course you’re asking a guy who started a web design company 26 years ago, so I’m a little biased, but here goes: 

There is no substitute for a website, Jeff! Joanna, your friend is an outlier. Good for her, but she’s the exception that proves the rule. 

Actually, I hate that saying: the exception that proves the rule. It’s a terrible excuse to dismiss real evidence that doesn’t fit in with your world view. So, let me try again: 

Joanna, many of us know that person who has survived and even thrived seemingly without marketing or advertising. Without website or storefront. It happens. I have clients who really don’t need much marketing or advertising help from us. They just like working with us, or really like the branding and design we do for them to help them share their message.   

They have the right product for the right audience and have very little in the way of competition.  

Or, they’ve been doing it for so long–pre-Internet–that they can continue with their current clients and strong WOM.   

Or, they only need a few clients, and it’s the type of business that keeps clients for years.  

Or, they’re able to charge such a premium that they don’t need additional business. 

Or, they have an incredible network or networking ability and that’s how they land new business. 

Or, they’re doing something so new and different and unrepeatable and remarkable, that they naturally attract all the business they’ll ever need. 

Yes, there are people and businesses like that. But for us mere mortals, we need a website.  

We need SEO, or paid search, or social, or paid social, or webinars, or email marketing, or a podcast or a YouTube channel or SOMETHING to put us in front of the people who need us most.  

For your issue specifically, taking down your website every time because you’re second guessing every single line of copy, my advice to you is…stop. Stop doing that.  

Perfection is the enemy of progress, according to Winston Churchill, and I tend to agree with him.  

Here’s a story that has a few different variations on the web, but since the first time I heard it it was about a photography class, and since this version seems to have the most detail, let’s go with this one: 

A professor at the University of Florida, according to author James Clear, divided his film photography class into two groups. One group would be graded on the quantity or amount of work they produced. The professor would simply add up photographs submitted to him with students turning in 100 receiving an A, 90 photos earning a B, etc. The other group would be graded on the quality or excellence of their work. They could submit if they wanted as little as one image but it would need to be nearly perfect. Which group in this limited experiment produced the best photos? The quantity or quality group?  

 In this case, the group focusing on quantity produced the best photos. The photography students in the quantity group took lots of pictures, experimented with lighting, tried different compositions, and improved their skills. They were indeed learning, creating their own feedback loops, and ultimately producing great work.  

Early blog posts (or videos or podcasts) are like when your bring your date home to meet your mom and she brings out your baby pics. It’s embarrassing. I’m sure my first few blog posts were crap, my first dozen podcasts were garbage, and my first few videos–as handsome as my mom tells me I am–are unwatchable. 

That’s fantastic! Nowhere to go but up, right? I tell my kids all the time that if you don’t suck at something at first, it’s probably not worth doing. Sucking at something is part of the process. 

So, go finish that website, start writing, and suck at it. You have my permission to suck at it. And by trying to write every day and not getting caught up in perfection, you will progress towards greatness. 

Don’t let your friend’s magical ability to attract clients without an online presence distract you from your journey. If it makes you feel any better, few people will see your early attempts at blogs, emails, and what have you. You build an audience as you get better at sharing your unique perspectives and helping your ideal customers. 

And Jeff, I’m sure you’ve realized this already: IMO there IS NO replacement for your website. LinkedIn, Medium, Facebook, TikTok…these are outposts, not your property. You wouldn’t build your house on someone else’s property, would you?   

This is because even though these platforms can be helpful, they are in their own business. They are happy to help you succeed as long as what you’re doing is in alignment with what they’re doing. Businesses used to thrive on FB, reaching hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of fans with every post. Now, they’re lucky if they reach 1%. Because FB decided that FB’s interest was in selling ads, not in giving free adverting to businesses. 

I also turned to both Claude and ChatGPT for some questions to ask me on my 500th episode. Specifically: What are some unusual questions to ask a podcast host of a digital marketing show that’s celebrating its 500th episode? 

Let’s turn this into a lightening round. First the five best questions from Claude:  

  • Who has been your most unusual or memorable guest? – ChatGPT 
  • What’s the strangest fan interaction you’ve had? – guy with an AOC spray painted shirt 
  • Have you ever fallen asleep while recording an episode? – no 
  • What topic could you talk about for 500 more episodes and never get bored? – AI, probably 
  • Can you share any funny outtakes that were accidentally recorded? – Amy Porterfield helping a woman who fell outside of her car 

Claude included a post-script after the questions: The key is to ask lighthearted, fun questions that touch on memorable moments over 500 episodes rather than just focusing on the digital marketing topics themselves. Questions that reveal funny stories or behind-the-scenes insights from the long run of the show are likely to engage both the host and listeners. 

And now my five favorite from ChatGPT: 

  • If you could have a superhero’s power to enhance your digital marketing skills, which power would you choose and why? – Considered empathy, but likely super-human intelligence. Speed might be a good one, too, when I want to get out more blog posts. 
  • Choose a historical figure and imagine they were a digital marketer in today’s age. Who would they be and what kind of campaigns would they run? – I’d like to read Ben Franklin’s blog. Or maybe he’d have a YT channel like Mark Rober, the former NASA engineer, showing his experiments like tying a key to a kite string. 
  • You’re stranded on a desert island with one guest from your past episodes. Who would it be and why? – None. This sounds too much like Love Island to me. 
  • You’re given a mystery box and you have no idea what’s inside. How would you market it? – I think it would market itself. But maybe pitch the idea that only the person who buys it will know what’s inside. I could talk about scarcity, how there’s only one. Or perhaps I’d use it to build my email list; I’d give it away to one person who signed up.  
  • If you had to go on a year-long digital detox starting tomorrow, but could leave your audience with one final tip, what would it be? – Well, I did give up my smartphone (more or less) for a month as part of a stunt for my TV appearances to talk about what it was like to only use my phone as a phone. No internet, no social media, no games, no Google, no maps, etc. But what is that final piece of advice? Outside of your website, the platforms matter less than you think they do. Focus more on understanding your audience and creating content that serves them well on their journey.  

ChatGPT also had a post-script: These questions are not just entertaining but also give the podcast host a chance to think deeply and provide insights into their journey, beliefs, and the evolution of the digital marketing landscape. 

So, who do you think asked better questions? I think it was close, but ChatGPTs questions felt too much like a riff on Barbara Walters questions, so I’ll give the tip of my hat to Claude.  

Suzan, who asked the first question about AI secrets, had a few other questions as well. I appreciated this question of hers, as it allows me to be completely self-serving: I’m going to be in Portland for the Agents of Change conference. What’s THE don’t-miss thing that I need to make sure I do while I’m in town? 

Excellent question! Let’s assume that you’re going to be at AOC all day on Wednesday, as the doors open at 7:30am and the networking party afterward will go to at least 6 or 7.  

If you’re up for dinner or drinks after, here are a few of my favorite haunts, that feel very “Portland-esque”: 

  • Blythe and Burrows – a nautically themed bar with some of the most creative cocktails in town. There’s also an oyster bar up a little flight of stairs, and another “dive” bar that’s hidden behind a bookshelf at the back of the bar.  
  • If you want lobster while you’re in town, High Roller probably has the best lobster roll in town–plus some creative bloody marys–or you can have one at Portland Lobster Company where there’s often live music playing and you’re right on the water. 
  • There are literally a hundred amazing restaurants in Portland, so it hurts me to not name them all, but one of my favorites is Izakaya Minato on Washington Ave. Never had a bad meal there.  

Now, chances are, you’re also attending our Deep Dive Workshops on Thursday, 10/5. However, you’ll have time for an early breakfast beforehand, so you may want to check out Becky’s Diner, a fixture in town where lobstermen and tourists rub elbows of hearty breakfast meals. 

Other things you can do include just walking around the Old Port with great stores, restaurants, and bars. The Portland Museum of Art is a great couple of hours well spent. If you like cemeteries, and who doesn’t, check out the Eastern Cemetery or Evergreen Cemetery.  

I also like hopping a ferry and visiting some of the islands out in Casco Bay. You can rent a bike or a golf cart and check out Peaks Island, as one possibility.  

And since Portland is such a historic city, consider taking one of the tours–walking, bus, ship, or duck.  

And for a nice walk, just outside of Portland, go to Macworth Island–reachable by car–and walk the loop around the island.  

I hope that gives you a few ideas of what to do when you’re not learning from digital marketing experts from across the US and Canada. 

Well, that’s it for episode 500! It’s been a hell of a ride, and I see no signs of it slowing down. Being able to connect with so many smart and interesting people, who share a lot of the passions that I have, has been incredible.  

Although sometimes I feel that having a podcast is like speaking into a black hole–after all, I can’t see you–when I do have interactions with listeners, it’s always rewarding and enjoyable.  

I appreciate when you reach out to me on LinkedIn and tell me you listen to the show, or that you enjoyed a certain guest…I’d say it makes it all worthwhile, but honestly, it was already worthwhile. This just ads frosting on top. Or gravy. Depends what I’m eating.  

I hope to see you all at AOC this year in Portland, ME on 10/4 and 10/5. If you can’t make it, I hope you see the value in the speakers we’ve curated to speak, and grab a virtual ticket.  

Other than that, we’ve got some AMAZING guests coming your way. Experts in AI, personas, getting your company on wikipedia…the list goes on. We’ve got hundreds of more topics to cover, hundreds of more experts to meet, and I look forward to celebrate episode 1,000 with you all…in about 2033.  

Cheers, and thanks for making this all possible!