Why I believe in silver bullets

Why I believe in silver bullets
Photo by Samuele Giglio / Unsplash

I believe in silver bullets.

We’re warned to avoid silver bullets, to stop looking for shortcuts. Focus on the fundamentals and just keep grinding.

This is useful: many marketers fall prey to shiny object syndrome, jumping on every new medium and message thinking it will turn everything around.

The first rule of silver bullets: if someone labels it a silver bullet, he’s probably never met a wolf.

The silver bullets others share with us, generally, are no longer silver at all. Marketing hooks only succeed when our audience lacks the vaccine, but with the current speed of adoption, most hooks lose value by the time they arrive at our door.

So you’re right to be skeptical, to conclude there are no silver bullets.

Your skepticism is my opportunity.

Here’s what modern marketers missed: the history of marketing and advertising is the history of silver bullets.

When Edward Bernays convinced feminists to smoke cigarettes, he found the silver bullet.

When Wheaties created the first jingle, they found their silver bullet.

When AirBnB integrated with Craigslist to steal their community, they found their silver bullet.

When Dropbox offered free storage if you referred others, they found their silver bullet.

Bernays found the right message; Wheaties and AirBnB found the right medium; Dropbox found the right mechanism.

Earlier this month I attended a Startup Weekend, and half of the pitches were new communities.

Nearly everyone wants to join a community; nearly every entrepreneur wants to create a community; nearly every community will eventually fail.

The upside: within each community is a new medium where your customers might exist. Searching for new mediums is one key facet of effective marketing, because most mediums start out as a place full of high trust early adopters with zero advertising.

The other facet is mechanisms. A year ago Instagram was a medium where you had to manually post every photo and could not directly sell. Now you can autopost from your desktop and offer buy now options.

On average, each day yields three new APIs. Every API has potential to be a new medium, or mechanism, or both.

When Zappos started, they thrashed while attempting to dropship product, and only took off when they brought inventory in-house.

Now their acquirer, Amazon, makes it possible for anyone to launch a product business and grow to six figures revenue in a few months. Meanwhile the collapse of container shipping makes the cost of importing from China move toward zero.

When mechanisms change, companies poised to adapt can make millions.

So silver bullets exist, but not for you.

Your marketing is probably following the principles of a software company founded last decade. You think you’ll win if you can just publish enough blog posts, cover the three major social media channels, and send automated follow up emails to cold prospects.

This can work in a permanently fragmented market: you need only move a bit faster than everyone else. Execution becomes the constraint.

In software, winners tend to dominate the market, because their margins combined with a larger market share enable far higher investments in more marketing.

It turns out brand advertising actually works, if you can spend 10x more than your competitors.

So you can focus on grinding it out, but if you don’t have 10x budget, if you want to grow faster, you need an unfair advantage. You need silver bullets.