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Weekly 3: Magnetic Prestige, Successful Marketing & Your Heroes


Idea Journal Weekly 3

December 31 · Issue #15 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: The pull of prestige. How to run a successful marketing campaign. Comparing your heroes to yourself. ~5 min read
(Also, Happy New Year!)

#1. To help identify the kind of work you genuinely like, reduce the influence of fashion and prestige.
On the path to creating quality work in your field, you’ll likely end up imitating the work of those who are more experienced and whose work you admire.
The trick is to avoid copying the wrong things.
Entrepreneur and writer Paul Graham writes in his essay Copy What You Like that he himself fell into the trap of copying influential short stories and philosophy papers while in school – not because he was genuinely interested in them, but because they were admired by others.
He admits that “It can be hard to separate the things you like from the things you’re impressed with,” but offers two recommendations to help: 
1. Ignore presentation: The next time you see a painting “impressively hung in a museum,” Graham suggests asking yourself: “How much would I pay for this if I found it at a garage sale, dirty and frameless, and with no idea who painted it?”
2. Pay attention to your “guilty pleasures”: For many of the things we’re attracted to, there’s a feeling of virtue associated with liking them: “99% of people reading Ulysses are thinking ‘I’m reading Ulysses’ as they do it.” But what do you read when you don’t feel like being virtuous? What kind of book do you read and feel sad when only half of it is left, instead of being impressed that you’re halfway through?
At the root of all this is a concept that Graham writes about in another essay: “Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.”
#2. The 5 steps of a successful marketing campaign.
Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin argues that most marketing campaigns fail.
In his book All Marketers are Liars, he lays out the following 5 steps that a customer goes through when marketing works:
1. Worldview alignment: A consumer’s worldview affects how they notice and interpret things, and if a story fits with this frame of reference, they’re more likely to believe it.
2. Newness stands out: People notice something only when it changes.
3. First impressions matter: A consumer’s first impression of a story causes them to make a “quick, permanent judgement” about what they were just exposed to.
4. Successful stories are believable: It starts with the marketer telling a story that gets the consumer’s attention. That story changes how the consumer experiences the product or service. The consumer then makes a prediction about what will happen next, and rationalizes anything that doesn’t match that prediction.
5. Authenticity wins in the end: The test of the story’s ultimate success depends on “whether it will survive scrutiny long enough for the consumer to tell the story to other people.” At times, the story can even change the worldview of the consumer, “but no marketing succeeds if it can’t find an audience that already wants to believe the story being told.”
#3. Copy the work of your heroes to find your own voice.
Artist and writer Austin Kleon writes in his book Steal Like an Artist that we’re not born with a style or voice; instead, “We learn by copying.”
But copying is different than plagiarism. Plagiarism is “trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own.”
Copying, however, is about reverse-engineering, “like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.”
Kleon suggests answering the below two questions to copy effectively:
1. Who should you copy? Your heroes. He references the paradoxical phenomenon that if you’re seen as being influenced by one person, then you’re considered the next version of that person; but if you’re influenced by 100 people, then you’re considered original.
2. What should you copy? Kleon writes that you want to go beyond copying the style of your heroes, and get to the thinking behind their work: “You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.”
To make your own unique contribution to the world, as you’re copying your heroes, pay close attention to where you fall short, and ask yourself: What makes me different?
Quote of the Week
“Invention, using the term most broadly, and imitation, are the two legs, so to call them, on which the human race historically has walked.”
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