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How to Find Your Strategic Beachhead with Philip Morgan

April 30, 2021
Episode 7
The Recognized Authority Podcast Cover

The podcast that helps experts & consultants on the journey to becoming a recognized authority in your field, so you can increase your impact, command premium fees, work less hours, and never have to suffer a bad-fit client again!.

Deciding how to specialize your business, and then actually implementing that decision are the two phases of specialization.

In this episode, Philip Morgan and Alastair McDermott discuss the transition from generalist to specialized, and when specialization is less important. They also discuss when to use brand marketing rather than direct response marketing techniques.

Explicit Language Warning: note there are two very brief instances of explicit language – actually the title of a book – at 6m25s and 8m43s.

Show Notes

There was a lot of gold in Philip’s comments today, and he tends to go deep too, so let me pull out a few take-aways for you.

  1. Firstly, the value of shipping flawed and imperfect work. We referenced books from Amy Hoy and Seth Godin about just this topic. There is huge value in taking risks like this – it can generate momentum and act as a very quick feedback loop and help you refine your thinking. And I know how hard this is – it took me 3 months longer than intended to ship this podcast, so I know how difficult this is to do, but I think it’s worth trying.
  2. The second point is regarding the fear of specialization, to realize that in part this is because of an asymmetry of information that makes it easy to focus on the potential on the loss, whereas the up-side, the positive is much more difficult to visualize and feel at that visceral level. So if you are feeling THE FEAR about the concept of specializing and niching down, one that’s normal and to be expected, and two, try to push through it anyway. Listen to Episode 5 with Sara Dunn and Episode 6 with Wolfram Moritz if you want to hear more of the massive up sides of specializing to help conquer that fear.
  3. And finally, on brand marketing, we used the phrase “gift with a logo on it” – Philip describes it as giving away your thinking with the logic that it is memorable, it is valuable and it is part of you serving this market over the long term. And you trust that people who get value from this now will be more likely to do business with you in the future. The spirit of it is this is “this is useful, this is valuable, it’s relevant, and it’s free”. We’re not desperate for your business right now, we’re here for the long term to serve you over the long term. That sends a different psychological signal than “please fill out this form and give us information about yourself”.

Links & resources mentioned in the episode:

Guest Bio

Philip has helped thousands of indie consultants use specialization to find a beachhead that leads to greater visibility, profitability, expertise, and success.

He is also fascinated by those who cultivate valuable self-made expertise outside the narrow confines of the licensed professions, and he constructs group challenges and experiential learning experiences that help his clients cultivate this kind of expertise.


Philip Morgan  00:00

It’s really kind of flawed and imperfect. And you’re looking at it and saying I would never put this in front of a client. But if you can be willing to put it in front of a group of people, which is you know, it’s a subset of the market that you have access to, it can generate momentum, or it can give me feedback or I can help you refine your thinking. And doing that, I think has been really helpful for me.


Alastair McDermott  00:33

Hello, and welcome to Marketing for Consultants. This is the podcast that helps independent consultants and subject matter experts to get more clients without having to beg for referrals or make soul-destroying cold calls. I’m your host, Alastair McDermott. And today I’m delighted to say that my guest is Philip Morgan. And Philip is somebody who I’ve been listening to speaking with getting help from getting coaching from and generally just trying to absorb everything that he says Philip has helped thousands of independent consultants to use specialisation, he helps them to find a beachhead that leads to greater visibility, profitability, expertise and success. My first question for Philip was Philip, how did you end up becoming a specialist in specialisation?


Philip Morgan  01:19

I think you and I started out in roughly the same sort of place in in the sort of the IT world. For me, that was in the late 90s. That was right where I went straight out of college. And from there, I kind of fell into those those who who can do do it. And those who can’t teach maybe was sort of like failing upwards. Anyway, I got it, I got into teaching and adult education. And then I was doing some marketing writing for this agency that worked for Microsoft. And that kind of pulled me out of the pure IT world into doing sort of IT adjacent marketing stuff. And then from there 2008 happened and I got laid off, and it was like, and I could do a better job running a business and the company I got laid off from and that turned out to be the case. But that was my entry into self-employment. And from there, it was a sort of painful struggle as a generalist to realising that, you know, if you choose a focus, really, you’re choosing a beachhead. And that makes everything easier to have that kind of narrow focus. But did that and wrote a short book about it called “The Positioning Manual” self-published that and people started asking questions about this process of specialising and I was like, well, I could help. I wrote a book on it, kind of the book for small services providers. And from there, I just got addicted to trying to help people who look something like an independent consultant. Make their business better specialisation is one of the tools that does that not the only one. So that is sort of the short capsule version.


Alastair McDermott  03:20

Right? Right.


Philip Morgan  03:21

Yeah, I got to where I am today.


Alastair McDermott  03:23

Okay. So at some point, you had this realisation that being a generalist is not working or wasn’t working for you. What was that point you realised? I mean, how did you come to the realisation that specialisation and niching down was was the thing to do?


Philip Morgan  03:40

So I got interested in productized services, Nick disalvo, was doing a lot of that I was on his email list. He runs a company called a design company called Draft.


Alastair McDermott  03:54



Philip Morgan  03:54

And at some point, I reached out to Nick and I was like, you know, this productize services stuff is really interesting. But it’s kind of hard. And, you know, I think everybody is doing it feels disconnected or unsupported. So Nick, and I and some other folks started a small mastermind called the Productized Consulting Roundtable. And from that, I met this guy, Jonathan Stark. Jonathan was like, you need to specialise. I mean, that was a thing that he would tell anybody yet. But I was one of those anybody’s and, and I thought about it, and it wasn’t like, this sort of lightbulb aha moment, but he kept kind of kept pressing the issue. And eventually I said, Okay, well, you know, here’s what I do. Here’s my specialisation. I just kind of made it up. It’s like, trying to help this kind of company with this thing. And it had I won’t say like an immediate overnight positive effect, but it just had it It just started to make sense and was one of those things where you start seeing the world differently after you are introduced to this idea. And you start saying, Oh, these are companies that have done the work. I mean, this, this is Blair Enns terminology of like, it’s, it’s work that you have to do at some point. And once you’ve done it, things change, and if you leave that work undone, and that’s how Blair phrases it, and I think in a particularly beautiful way, if you leave that work undone, you’re just kicking the can down the road, you have to get to it at some point.  So Jonathan encouraged it. And that was around the time that I had read “The Wind Without Pitching Manifesto.” So the idea was not totally foreign. Blair Enns kind of, you know, soften the the soil, and Jonathan planted the seed.


Alastair McDermott  05:52



Philip Morgan  05:52

And those two things led to me trying it and getting positive enough results. It wasn’t again, a miracle cure. It wasn’t. This changes everything overnight. But it was a positive enough result quickly enough that I embraced the idea and kept going with it. And at some point was like, well, I want to share this with others. And I thought I’ll write a series of blog posts that explain how to do this. And then I read a book from Amy Hoy called “Just Fucking Ship” is the title of the book.


Alastair McDermott  06:27



Philip Morgan  06:28

Sorry, if you have to bleep that out for your audience. But that’s the title of the book. And something about it made me look at that, that idea for that series of blog posts and say, “Well, this could be a book.” So why don’t I write it and put it in self-publish it as a book. And so I did that. And that’s what created “The Positioning Manual,” the first version of that book.


Alastair McDermott  06:50

Right. Okay. So you have “The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms” was the original title of that. Yeah.


Philip Morgan  06:57

Yes, that’s right.


Alastair McDermott  06:59

And then, at some point, you wrote a second book, “Specialising with that Failure.”


Philip Morgan  07:04

I did. I don’t sell that one anymore, because sorry if I’m jumping the gun here, Alastair. But that one kind of got absorbed back into,


Alastair McDermott  07:15



Philip Morgan  07:16

“The Positioning Manual” anyway, I interrupted there.


Alastair McDermott  07:19

Yeah, no, no, that’s fine. I’m, I’m just interested in kind of the process because, like, I think it’s important to people see the polished, final, final version of things. And there’s this big long backstory, it’s the thing of never being an overnight success, you know, so I’m really interested in that you have that separate you wrote, he wrote it back in. I, I typically Miss remember the title of that book, by the way, that second book every time as “Specialising Without Fear”? Because fear is, is this fear is this thing that to me is so wrapped up with specialisation because there’s some there’s so many fears about basically turning away opportunity. I think that’s, that’s what I felt when I was trying to specialise. And I think that’s what a lot of people feel. I mean, it’s the first reaction is is instinctively know, I can specialise that, whenever I talk to any anybody about it. The first reaction is, is that negative? Is that what you found?


Philip Morgan  08:19

It is? So there’s a couple things I want to comment on there. One is one of the biases I have that I think has been very helpful is a willingness to ship work that is flawed in multiple ways. And so what looking ship, but yeah, I mean, Amy Hoy’s sort of manifesto about shipping that’s captured by that book. It’s more than a manifesto it’s, it’s, it’s also a sort of hell to manual of like, how to approach shipping, but the larger orientation towards, you know, get it out in the world, even if it’s flawed in a lot of different ways, has, I think, been very helpful. At some point, I think you have to kind of shift. And, well, I’m gonna interrupt myself here and say a lot of us are trained via client work, to deliver to our clients stuff that is really complete, really perfect, really, you know, maybe not flawless, but just to a very high level of quality. And if you take that same attitude into your own marketing, in the early days, I think it can be counterproductive, that focus on quality can deprive you I think of other opportunities to get rapid feedback or get that feeling of traction of like, okay, the market is responding to this because there’s this point where, you know, you have something, it’s really kind of flawed and imperfect. And you’re looking at it and saying, I would never put this in front of a client. But if you can be willing to put it in front of a group of people, which is, you know, it’s a subset of the market that you have access to, it can, it can generate momentum, or it can give you feedback, or it can help you refine your thinking. And doing that, I think has been really helpful for me. So that’s, you know, that’s resulted in little self-published books, like, you know, “Specialising Without Failure” that were not super long lived, because and not like big sellers, either. Because they were, they were really almost a transitional state, or a way of putting thinking out in a packaged form, but then that thinking really, that wasn’t the right package for it, the thinking needed to be someplace else. So that, you know, that willingness to just ship a lot of stuff that’s not perfect. I’m not gonna say it’s right, for every beginning, self-employed person, but I think it was a really productive practice for me. So you brought up the fear, and I want to get to that, but also don’t want to, just to be a big long monologue, either.


Alastair McDermott  11:22

Yeah, no, no, I’m talking about the fear a little bit, because I think it’s something that people it really, it really kind of grabs them, almost physically, when I when I talk to people about specialising and potentially specialising their business and niching down, like I can see a physical reaction, if I’m looking at them, you know,


Philip Morgan  11:41

The other eyes kind of widen it, or they physically lean back in their chair or something that gives you that kind of body language cue, right, that you’ve said something that has affected them? Is that what you see?


Alastair McDermott  11:56

Yeah, and almost like, almost like I’ve reached into their body and grab their heart and things like, it’s like, oh, I can’t, I can’t possibly, you know, it’s this, I think it’s the turning away of opportunity, which is a part of like, it’s, it’s a required part of specialisation is to turn down, you know, 90 or 95% of opportunity.


Philip Morgan  12:19

Yeah. Yeah, it’s, it’s a really big deal. And you’ve put your finger on one of the things, that’s probably one of the bigger aspects of it. So in the original version of “The Positioning Manual,” or maybe it was the like this, have rewritten this books, not not I’ve evolved. And finally, tos completely rewritten this book recently. So somewhere along the way, there was a chapter called the fear. And it was my best effort to try to inform people, readers of the book about what it looks like so that you can see it coming, and realise that it’s not unique to you. And over the past few months, I have taken on the task of rewriting essentially, from scratch, “The Positioning Manual,” it will be called “The Positioning Manual for Trendy Consultants” instead of “The Positioning Manual for Technical Firms.” And both the old version and the new version may be for sale. But as a part of rewriting this chapter, or as a part of, I didn’t really rewrite the chapter, I think I kind of folded it into another chapter. But coming back to this topic and saying, what have I learned, that could be helpful I’ve realised, there are seven components to this basket of fears, and I won’t remember all of them.  One of them is what you’re talking about, which is it’s similar to loss aversion, which is an idea that Daniel Kahneman and some other researchers and writers have popularised, which is, when people are comparing a potential loss with a potential gain, they’re likely to focus more on the loss. Subsequent research has refined that idea and distinguished it from what’s called loss attention, which is probably what’s actually going on, which is that we just, here’s my colloquial way of describing it. When you’re thinking about specialising, you’re pondering a different future. And the different future is one where you’re specialised in some way you’ve picked an audience to serve or a market vertical to focus on or a particular problem that you’re going to solve for a horizontal swot of companies, whatever it is, like that’s the future you’re pondering. And the thing is, you know, in complete with complete clarity what you would be giving up, because what you would be giving up is a subset, at least of your current client base. And you’re not going to give it up overnight, you’re not going to make a dramatic proclamation to the world that I will no longer work with clients that don’t look like this. It’s going to be a more subtle gradual transition. But you can picture what it is you’re giving up, you can imagine it, you can feel it viscerally. Because you know what you’ve been, we’ve been living in that world, what what is more vague and fuzzy and hard for you to relate to is what you are gaining. So there’s an asymmetry of information that makes it easy to focus on the potential on the loss, which is not a loss, it’s not happening to you, it is a conscious choice that you’re making to give something up so you can have more something else. That’s one of the seven components.  One of the other really notable ones is you can separate this process of specialising into two phases. One is making the decision. And then the second phase is implementing the decision. And the decision is important. I think the implementation is more important. Because if you just decide, but don’t do anything about it, if you decide without implementing, then that’s ineffective, that doesn’t do anything. And so there’s this real sense in which the implementation matters a lot. And the thing is, you don’t really feel this fear, until you start. I mean, you do feel it, as you’ve seen, when you just raise the idea with people. But then, you know, a lot of folks, they kind of get comfortable with the idea, or they see some examples of those who have specialised and they’re like, I want that. So they they overcome that initial wave of the fear. And then they get into the decision making process. Think about all the options. Okay, I think I’m gonna do this. And then it comes back again. And it’s worse, because you think that the reason you’re feeling this fear right before you start to implement is because you’ve made a substandard decision. And in most cases, that’s not the case. In most cases, you’re just feeling the fear of making that decision real. It doesn’t mean that the quality of the decision was bad. It just means you’re doing something that pushes a lot of emotional buttons, which is the implementation work.


Alastair McDermott  17:33

Yeah, it feels like you’re locking the decision into place.


Philip Morgan  17:36

Right. And so that what we normally do, I think what is easiest to do is to say there’s something wrong with the decision, I need to revisit the decision.


Alastair McDermott  17:47



Philip Morgan  17:47

And I think in most cases, well, especially with less specialisation, that’s not the case, maybe the decision wasn’t perfect, but I think you’re better off over the long term, implementing your mediocre decision, learning from it, and then refining the decision over time, which you can do specialisation as I write in the book is not Mike Tyson going into a monastery. It is not someone getting a face tattoo, and committing to a sort of monastic life of renunciation. It is far more interesting than that, and far less permanent. That,


Alastair McDermott  18:25



Philip Morgan  18:25

So anyway, we could talk a long time about this. But the fear is that there’s a lot going on everybody, almost everybody feels it. And, and at the timing at which you feel certain parts of it is really unfortunate, because for a lot of folks that can kind of lock you into this spiral of revisiting the decision saying, “Okay, I need to tweak the decision in order for this implementation to feel better.” And the reality is, the implementation is never gonna feel good. Even if you make a perfect decision, it’s just hard to make this kind of transition in your business.


Alastair McDermott  19:06

Yeah. I mean, just speaking about time, I decided I think I committed wholeheartedly to turning the ship probably about two years ago. And it’s only it’s only now two years later that I find them I’m like, I’m now on the new course. There’s there’s a big kind of that now maybe that was longer because I’d been in business with my other kind of branding and my other on my other course for a long time. And maybe if somebody hasn’t, hasn’t built up that head of steam in one direction, maybe it’ll be quicker for them. But I certainly found that it took time for me to specialise and to kind of to complete the process.


Philip Morgan  19:49

Yeah, and you’re not not doing things wrong. If that the transition is incremental or gradual, or it just takes time. I mean, I assume that I’m speaking to folks like us soloists who don’t have a big marketing team who can make stuff happen really quickly. So it just, it just takes time. And that’s natural. And that’s not an indication that you’re doing anything wrong.


Alastair McDermott  20:18



Philip Morgan  20:19

you know, one business that has a bunch of, like a lot of clients, where it’s really a high throughput of clients, and the projects are pretty small and pretty well defined, they might be able to make a change a lot quicker than someone who has, you know, two year long contracts, etc. So this, these contextual factors matter a lot, and I hope that listeners bear that in mind, as we’re talking about how long it takes to execute a significant change like this.


Alastair McDermott  20:48

There’s, there’s a couple things I want to come back to, I want to come back to. So first of all, the idea that you used the word beachhead earlier on, and that this is a transitional state, and you can experiment, it’s not permanent. And I think that’s a really important concept in all of marketing, and, well, pretty much in everything you do in business.


Philip Morgan  21:11



Alastair McDermott  21:11

You know, nothing is actually permanent, you can always shift. Go again, you know. And then the other thing is, I just want to talk briefly about the positives of specialisation. Because, like, I know, we kind of jump straight into some of the negatives. I think both, both you and based on your background on your books, you’re very much a fan of specialisation and me, obviously, because I’m, I’m doing it right now, I’m obviously a big fan as well. So I just want to talk about some of the positives of specialisation. Why play? It’s such a huge, I mean, you talked about it being a tool, I think it’s probably maybe the most important tool in your armoury of marketing. Would you agree with that?


Philip Morgan  21:54

I think so. It’s taken years for me to start thinking about specialisation, I think for what it really is, which is it’s a beachhead, and a lever. So it’s a beachhead in that you pick a place where you can actually have impact. And if your businesses in a pretty good status quo, that’s not going to sound very appealing. But if you’re, if your experience of your businesses, it’s hard to get attention for what you do, it’s hard to get clients in the right sort of power dynamic, where they see you as having something they need or can’t live without. Or if it’s just hard to like realise the promise of digital marketing, which is, you know, getting attention on the internet for your work, then you’re a lot more receptive to the idea of like the value of a beachhead, because you can sort of like, I don’t know, I think most people have some sort of fuzzy idea of the Omaha Beach invasion. And the Allied forces picking a beachhead in around Normandy, France and, and just concentrating this immense amount of firepower on a very small area in order to break through enemy defences.  So that idea, I think, is resonated enough that we can start to imagine what that looks like for us. And I mean, just that, that first time that you do something that looks like creating a beachhead, and someone on the internet cares, someone that you don’t know, who isn’t predisposed to like you and, you know, be happy to support what you’re doing, like a stranger. I think that’s that pivotal moment. And from that, you start to approach everything differently. So I think, you know, thinking in terms of beachheads and minimum viable markets, minimum viable everything, it’s a really transformational change. So, I would argue for specialisation, both on the basis of what can help you get clients that you wouldn’t have access to. And also on the basis of I think it it kind of changes how you think about making progress in your business and you start to think of not just a specialisation beachhead but okay, how can I do other things that aren’t related to specialisation that use the same dynamics of concentrating a lot of force and a little area and that can really, you know, that can be a sort of broad mindset shift that I think makes us more effective. And the you know, to lever also, if you can get over the fear of life is going to be monotonous which is not true at all. I think you would attest to that if I can remain as interesting as you’re able to make it, because that’s more or less based on how you approach life as a person, but life remains really interesting or gets more interesting, I think, once you, you get deeper into a specialisation, but it’s a lever for helping your market to see you differently, and trust you and in new ways, so instead of them trusting you to build something to spec. And that’s, that’s a point that Seth Godin really brings out really well is, you know, a lot of work is just building something to spec. And the world needs that. I don’t want to dismiss it. But I think that you might, a lot of folks start to aspire to something more than that in their business and, and they’re like, well, I want to be the person who writes the specs, or I want to be the person who, you know, operates at a layer or two above that. And when you start thinking in that, in those terms, then the market needs to trust you to do that stuff. And specialisation is a lever that helps you earn that kind of trust.


Alastair McDermott  26:08

Right. And I’m gonna just pull back a level for a minute, because I just want to frame the conversation. And I just want to see if you agree with with, with the way that I’m framing it here, for for independent consultants, I see these three big major buckets of referral based marketing, or referral based business development. So So businesses who were dependent on referrals, and then these other two options, which are outbound, which is cold calling, emailing, sending messages on LinkedIn, and then inbound, which is where effectively you do something in order to get people to come to you to reach out to you. And so those are the three major buckets. And so the one that I’m most interested in is the inbound one. I think a lot of people are, are referral based. And and I think you said to me one time, I would be terrified if my business was dependent on referrals. And the conversation we had a couple of months ago. And I think a lot of people are in that situation where they are dependent on referrals, and they’re trying to do something about that. So assuming that they don’t want to do cold calls are sending messages on LinkedIn, then inbound is this other option? So would you agree with that framing in general?


Philip Morgan  27:32

Yeah, in general, I probably have some, like, I, as I am doing this more, I start to see really interesting exceptions. You know, like, I’m, I’m acquainted with a guy who is roughly in the same market that that I am, who makes, you know, like way more money than I do, and doesn’t do the attraction inbound thing at all. And normally, you would associate that form of marketing with higher earning potential or whatever. He’s built a, you know, business system that harmonises really well with the market using other means. So I’m careful to avoid like dismissing out of hand, well, you’re just going to be, you know, really, I don’t want to make sweeping over generalisations. So there really are interesting exceptions, but I think you’re going somewhere with this. I don’t want to delay that. And just the general structure of those sort of three forms of marketing. Absolutely.


Alastair McDermott  28:41

Yeah, absolutely. And so for me, what’s interesting is, I think your positioning and specialisation are less important. If you’re, if you are dependent on referrals, because you’re getting introductions from usually from clients and your network, your extended network. And your positioning. specialisation is not really all that important. If you’re making cold calls or sending messages. So I think it’s really most important when you’re doing inbound.


Philip Morgan  29:12

Yeah, I think you’re right about that. Yeah.


Alastair McDermott  29:17

And so I think this is where you can see people who are generalists and being very successful, without any kind of specialisation. And I think that is part of what I’m when I’m talking to people about specialisation. I think that that there, they can turn around and point at somebody who is, you know, has a very, very large extended network who’s very good at asking referral for referrals, and says, Yeah, but you know, look at Mike, Mike doesn’t do Mike doesn’t specialise, and he has a great business. And, yeah, that’s, that’s, I think that’s something that I encountered just wondering, you know, if you’ve encountered that and what you think about that


Philip Morgan  29:59

Well I have encountered it. I mean, the example I gave just a moment ago is not exactly that, like this, this guy runs a firm that is specialised, like they have a clear vertical focus. And they have some of the beginnings of, there’s somewhere along the journey to having like a clearly well thought out approach to serving that vertical market that is differentiated. So they’re not just like, Well, you know, we do anything for this vertical. So they’re, they’re quite specialised is, is my point. And, but yet, you know, the same dynamic prevails. So referrals, and that networking, that category of things I grew up under the umbrella of being present with a market, like showing up interacting, right, maybe you know, if it’s a digital manifestation is, like our mutual acquaintance Luka who’s in an ungodly number of slack channels, and just his presence with the market, he’s trying to reach, generates opportunity. And that doesn’t, like diminish the value of the other things, he’s doing specialised focus and, and his expertise, but that method of just being present with people can generate a lot of business. And you can, you can do it as a specialist, but you can also do it successfully as a generalist, where your saying, it just, I want to be present with you, I want to, I want to be connected with you, you being the market, and that’s gonna lead me to understand what you need. And I’m, you know, pretty versatile and whatever. And my strength is, you know, pretty widely distributed. So I can do a lot of stuff for the market. And so my point is that can work, it can, it can create a system, where you know, the integration between what the market needs and how you’re present with the market, and all the pieces fit together. And you can make good money doing that. I think my, my sort of personal discomfort or outright terror, with that configuration of things, is that we’ll be playing to all my weaknesses, which are that you know, the stuff that my friend does, to generate opportunity, very, that those activities are super enjoyable for him. And he’s very good at them. And, and they kind and I’m not talking about Luca here, although I think the same is true of him. To me, I’m like, that’s a waste of time, I don’t want to do to these people, it’s just enjoyable, and the byproduct is it spins off business, and they can monetize it well. To me, it’s just this tedious waste of time, I just, I don’t want to be bothered with it. And and I don’t say that to dismiss what they’re doing. I’m just saying it’s a bad fit for my personality. In businesses like ours. For better or worse, our personality plays this outside role, because we can’t, we have a limited ability to delegate away stuff that is not a good fit for us. And if it’s strategic stuff like business development, I don’t think you can delegate it.


Alastair McDermott  33:23

I know you like to talk to listen a lot on one of your other podcasts about the concept of brand marketing versus direct response marketing. Can you give me a quick summary of what that argument days or what that spectrum is?


Philip Morgan  33:39

I’ll do my best. This is a still sort of developing topic for me. So direct response marketing is the default form of marketing. It’s, it’s been made default, in large part by the internet, because the internet is a direct response medium to direct response marketing is a I like to say, hopefully, colourfully or interestingly, although I feel like this is kind of like a dad joke where not a lot of people are gonna laugh at it. But the direct response marketing is a funnel. It’s like it’s a form or a button with a digital marketing funnel behind it. And and I think a lot of folks hear something like that and say, Well, isn’t that just marketing? Like, isn’t that you know, having collecting data about people so that you can more efficiently like Target and segment an audience or more efficiently match them up with what their pain is and what you could sell them? Like, isn’t that just marketing? And it is, but it is the kind of marketing that comes with a cost I think downstream for folks like us, which is eventually it imposes a trust ceiling because direct response marketing is also a style of marketing that you will almost never see someone who does, like impact, truly important work using so brain surgeons don’t do this, like hopefully all of us will never have to interact with a brain surgeon, because they’re usually there to solve problems with the brain, and that’s something you would rather not have. Right. And so, maybe brain surgeons are not a great example.  But, you know, if you look at the world of like lawyers and attorneys, the ones who have billboards, you’re kind of like, yeah, I hope I never have to hire a personal injury lawyer. And it’s good that they exist, and they do good work, and they help people but also the associations that you feel with them. And not the greatest, I would argue. So, you know, experts who have expertise that is self-evidently valuable and relevant, don’t have to do direct response marketing, I am sure there are some exceptions. But generally, they just they don’t have to do direct response marketing, they can be present with a community, and it’s a little bit unfair, that I’m using the licenced professional services as my source of examples here, because they make use of referrals in a more sort of structured way that doesn’t have the problems that we were picking on earlier with referrals. I mean, we weren’t specifically naming those problems, but we just kind of like in our, in the world of unlicensed professional services, we think about referrals, and we mostly shutter and say, I can’t control them, etc. In the world of licenced professional services, it’s a bit more structured. So, you know, if you go see a general practitioner, doctor, and you have some sort of neurological problem, like they kind of know who to refer you to, or they have a shortlist of people to refer you to. So it’s more structured. My point is, those folks are oftentimes not doing any marketing at all, the profession that they’re in, just kind of has that built in or takes care of it for them.  But companies that use brand marketing are usually doing something different. If you look at the world of products, they’re doing something we can’t do, which is spending a lot of money to saturate their, their audience with, you know, advertising messages. And that’s not what I’m talking about what’s brand marketing. But there is a feeling in which there’s a sort of feeling to it, where what you’re really saying is, what I do is important, I don’t need to convince you of that. I don’t need to agitate some pain that you have to convince you to take action here. I don’t need to dramatise what it’s like if that pain goes away. This is not like a television infomercial. What I’m doing here is self evidently important, and it’s already profitable. So what I can do is give gifts to the market with no strings attached.  That is a little more what it’s like in the world of brand marketing, where you have a company, a business, I feel like like you know who Tom Miller is, when I say that name and and his work with this company, small batch standard. They do accounting work for the craft brewing industry. I don’t know if they have international clients or if their focus is mostly on the United States where they’re located, but they’re doing something that’s more like brand marketing, I think. So their founder, Chris, I forget Chris’s last name. Anyway. He’s a CPA. He’s focused on a particular market that he loves, and has built up intellectual property to serve them. Now, you know, at the highest levels, you have to pay to get access to that. But the electrical property is things like how much money should a craft brewery be spending on these, you know, however many different categories of expenses. A lot of craft breweries have a brew pub attached where they serve food. How much should they be spending on the cost of staffing that how much should they be spending on packaging? You know, there’s all these like line items in there, their profit and loss sheet. Well, Chris has really clear ideas about what that should look like. That’s the intellectual property that he’s built up and he can tell you, really, like a highly well performing version of this business is going to look like this in general, and then a less well performing version is going to look like this. So he has this intellectual property as a choice about what to do with it. One of the things that they did when the COVID viral pandemic broke out earlier in 2020, is they released a really useful, like, not useful to me, but useful to their market spreadsheet. That was a cash flow planner. And it sounds really kind of wonky, and like, oh, what’s the value in that, but what’s important here is that it was it was delivered as a gift. This is this, this thing, I’m speaking as if I’m Chris and, and Tom, who, who does a lot more than just marketing for them, but he’s sort of their head of marketing. This is a crystallisation of something we’ve learned over, you know, hundreds of clients. And this can help you. And this can help you make decisions. And there’s two ways we can deliver this one is we can make it behind, you know, form or someone asked to opt in. And we can then try to sell our services to people who fill out that form. Or we can just give it to you. And they went with the latter, because I hear I’m starting to assume a little bit about their thinking their thinking is this is memorable, it’s valuable. And it is part of us serving this market over the long term. And we trust that people who get value from this now will be more likely to do business with us in the future. So we can’t measure the effectiveness of this. It was distributed as a Google Sheet. And so there’s not even really good ways to know how many people like there’s no opt in mechanism. So they don’t even know how many people opted into, to view it or use it. But this the sort of the spirit of it is this is this is useful, this is valuable, it’s relevant, and it’s free. And here it is, we don’t, we don’t even need to know who’s seeing it. And there’s just something about that, that sends a signal of we we’re not desperate for your business. Now. We’re here for the long term to serve you over the long term. And that sends a I think, a different psychological signal than please fill out this form and give us this, you know, information about yourself. The assumption is, like everybody knows what’s gonna happen after that you’re going to get an email sequence, most likely. I mean, sometimes that doesn’t happen. And then you’re almost like, these people know what they’re doing.


Alastair McDermott  42:53

I have a few different follow ups. I want to I want to take you through so. So first of all, brand marketing gift with a logo. I’ve heard you say before, yeah, if one was to be cynical, and you might say that that direct response marketing tactics, you know, the use of Robert Cialdini, these techniques of scarcity and things like that countdown timers, they show an air of desperation, right.


Philip Morgan  43:20

Yeah, and and I think you’re right to, to colour that with the, the idea that the, it is a little cynical, and I realised I have that problem. Like, the more I help people with marketing, the more I sort of see the man behind the curtain. And yeah, it’s easy to become cynical. So I might be a little over cynical or a little over scrutinising what’s actually happened, but yes to what you said.


Alastair McDermott  43:46

Okay. On the flip side, brand marketing, to a cynic could also feel very field of dreams, build it, and they will come. And for a lot of people who were who, who have experimented with putting stuff out there as the phrase goes, and build it, and quite often they don’t come.


Philip Morgan  44:04



Alastair McDermott  44:05

So. So the question then is, is, and I think that we’re both agree this is a spectrum, rather than one or one or the other. It’s not a, you know, you can go very far down the direct response marketing end of the spectrum, you know, with Click Funnels and countdown timers, and one time offers and things like that, right?


Philip Morgan  44:27



Alastair McDermott  44:28

But you can also be closer to the middle and just have something where you’re giving something away. And it’s an opt in to get somebody onto an email list. But what there isn’t some kind of high pressure, direct response technique being used there, right?


Philip Morgan  44:43

Yes. And also you can think about this as an evolution over time. So that idea of it being a spectrum is really helpful there. And I’ll I’ll risk sounding like I’m contradicting myself by saying the following: When, when you’re specialising for the first time, a feeling that the market is responding to your decision and your implementation, let’s just bundle those together. Like a feeling that the market is responding to us specialising is so critical. There are people who are really disciplined, really confident, and can execute on a long term vision that involves specialisation without that feedback, but those folks are more rare. Most of us, we need some, like, we need some proof baby, that this thing we’re doing is going to work. And the best proof is, I mean, the best proof is like a client, like the date. And I actually I talked to a guy this happened to here’s the best proof, you specialise. And he said, like, send out an email or something to an email list that you already have. And then you get this immediate feedback of someone like throwing money at you actually did have that happen to a client. And I was, I was proud of myself, I was I was honest with him. And I was like, “Okay, I kind of wish that hadn’t happened to you, because you got off easy, like you didn’t have to exercise any faith, or you didn’t have to wait to move to like, be proven that this is the right decision, you just got this immediate validation, and that rarely happens.”  But that’s the thing is like, the sooner it happens, the better. Because it’s fuel for you to keep going with the decision. And, and maybe to get bolder with it as you go. Like that’s, that’s ideally what you want to see happen. There is no better tool set for helping that happen than direct response marketing. Because it’s, it tends to be fast acting and efficient. And that’s why it’s so popular. I mean, why wouldn’t it be? It’s like, I mean, it’s like anything, if if there actually was a miracle pill that made us all, you know, like have the body type we wanted and be better looking, then it would be very popular, I can assure you, but those things don’t exist. But direct response marketing, when it’s done well, is very fast acting and it’s it’s low cost. brand marketing is is less efficient in those ways. And so as a bootstrapping tool for getting connected with with clients who need a specialised solution to something, I’m actually all in favour of direct response marketing. What I want to see people do is hold on to it very lightly. As Immortan Joe said, “Do not be caught,” do not my friends become addicted to direct response marketing. Be ready to let it go. Because at some point, it’ll it’ll if you overuse it. It’ll it’ll do what you’re talking about Alastair. It’ll be this kind of achy, high pressure feeling, rather than,


Alastair McDermott  47:51

Does that present as diminishing returns? Or does that present as as you becoming, you know, the sleazy kind of low cost provider or seeming like that.


Philip Morgan  48:01

So I think what it actually does is it creates a ceiling on the kind of opportunities that you get access to, or said differently, the most desirable opportunities. There are available to folks who don’t need the opportunity. And there’s just this kind of odour I think that direct response marketing puts off that says, I do need this opportunity. That is a pretty general hand waving, sweeping claim that I’m making. Again, there’s always going to be exceptions to stuff like that. But that’s one of the problems with direct response marketing is I think it sends a signal that I don’t have enough opportunity, so I’m having to work at it. Using these really inexpensive, efficient ways to get access to it.


Alastair McDermott  48:54

It feels to me like I’m, I’m, I’m at the market. And I’ve got guys shouting at me from from different market stalls trying to get me to go and, you know, buy their wares.


Philip Morgan  49:05

Yeah, in a weird way. I think that this is me being really speculative here, but I can see a sort of arc for a lot of businesses where they start out with this in this kind of generalist you know, struggle, there’s not enough opportunity. They specialise, they use direct response marketing. And that lifts them out of that. And then actually, as they they sort of ascend towards these more desirable opportunities, they actually get back into the growth of referrals. And that becomes the source of the most desirable opportunities. Yeah, but they’re, there’s enough momentum in the business that they don’t need any one opportunity. And that kind of moves them into this world where they’re getting great options. pretended to use. They don’t need any one of them. And they’re not really doing any marketing, per se. But those opportunities come from the relationships that they have, which comes from their status as a leader in the business. So I can sort of imagine at least that sort of transition. But it’s kind of ironic that it ends up back in a world that looks a lot like referrals.


Alastair McDermott  50:30

Yeah, I mean, I think it goes back for me to the thing that everything is always in a transitional state. There’s, there’s no, there’s no permanency right, in anything. It’s it’s, you know, we should always be adapting to the environment.


Philip Morgan  50:43



Alastair McDermott  50:44

I think 2020 shows us that, if nothing else.


Philip Morgan  50:48

Yeah, and I think about schooling. schooling I think prepares it for these things that are more like Sprint’s. Even kind of low or medium uncertainty environment, and the business I operate. And I think the one you do, too, exists as a marathon. In a high uncertainty environment. We don’t really get prepared for this stuff with traditional schooling.


Alastair McDermott  51:18

I’m sorry, folks, but we’re gonna have to call it a hold there for now. And that’s because our original conversation was actually over two hours long. So I’m going to be turning that into another episode, possibly two more episodes. There’s a lot of gold in Philips comments today. And he really tends to go deep. So let me pull out a few takeaways for you. Firstly, the value of shipping flawed and imperfect work, we reference books from Amy Hoy on a booklet from Seth Godin, just about this topic, there’s huge value in taking risks like this, it can generate momentum, and act as a very quick feedback loop and help you to refine your thinking. And I know how hard this is to, because it took me three months longer than intended to ship this podcast. So I know how difficult this is to do. But I do think it’s worth trying.  The second point is regarding the fear of specialisation to realise that in part, it’s because of this asymmetry of information that makes it easy to focus on the potential on the loss. Whereas the upside the positive is much more difficult to visualise. And to feel at that visceral level. So if you’re feeling the fear, but the concept of specialising in niching down, or you’re feeling that fear, when you’ve started to do that, it is absolutely normal to be expected. And try to push through it anyway.  And finally, on brand marketing, we use the phrase gift with a logo on it. Philip describes it as giving away your thinking with the logic that is it is memorable, it is valuable. And it’s part of you serving this market over the long term. And you trust that the people who get value from it now will be more likely to do business with you in the future. The spirit is this is useful, it’s valuable. It’s relevant, it’s free. And we’re not desperate for your business right now. We’re here for the long term to serve you. And that sends a different psychological signal than please fill out this form and give us information about yourself. And so that’s the the differentiation between brand marketing and direct response marketing. I think this is something that we’re going to come back again to in the future. I think it’s a really interesting topic.  One other thing I want to mention here is that the latest iteration of Philip’s book, “The Positioning Manual for Indie Consultants” is out. And the subtitle of that is “Find the Strategic Beachhead that will Amplify your Visibility, Momentum, Impact and Profit.” And I highly recommend checking that out. And you can find that on Kindle and paperback. You can find the link in the show notes. Thanks for listening. Make sure you hit subscribe if you haven’t already. And I’d love to connect with you on LinkedIn send me a connection request. My LinkedIn profile is linked in the show notes.