It had to happen eventually, I’m just surprised it took so long. The content guy at Buffer, a popular social media publishing app, has posted The Ideal Length of Everything Online. And yes, it is backed by research – lots and lots of research, studies, surveys … all sorts of data.
The post tells you exactly how long your tweets should be for maximum retweetability, not to mention the ideal length of Facebook posts, Google+ headlines, blog posts, email subject lines, presentations, even domain names.
I don’t have to tell you what a colossal breakthrough this is. Now social media marketers know exactly how to package and market all that mind-numbingly monotonous content. Welcome to the brand new homogenized version of the social snooze-fest also known as Web 2.0.
Look, there’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to come out with it. Folks, this is not the way to get rich, get to heaven, or get anything or anywhere else good, for that matter. Not only is all that data-driven stuff worthless, it’s worse than worthless. It’s bad marketing. It’s such bad marketing, it gives bad marketing a bad name.
The way to get to the finish line ahead of everyone else isn’t to follow what everyone else does, but to lead, to do things differently. The way to win online is the same way to win offline: with a differentiated product. Whether you’re selling a device, an app, a service, or content, that’s what you should focus on.
Take Apple (AAPL), for example. If that isn’t the gold standard for marketing a high-tech product, I don’t know what is. Now, Apple is meticulous about how it markets, packages, and sells its iconic products and services. It does everything in a way that’s consistent with its brand.
But trust me when I tell you, nobody at Apple gives a you-know-what about research, studies, or data. And they don’t use focus groups, either. Know why? Because that path leads to conformity and homogeneity, which is the exact opposite of differentiation. And that’s a losing strategy if there ever was one.
Look at WhatsApp. There must be hundreds of messaging services from the likes of Apple, Google (GOOG), Blackberry (BBRY) and every app developer on the planet. So, how did Jan Koum, Brian Acton and the rest of the company’s 55 employees end up with half a billion engaged users and a $19 billion (that’s billion, with a ‘b’) check from Facebook (FB)?
No ads, no games, no gimmicks, no storing of messages, and no collecting of user data. Just a simple app that works instantly anytime, anywhere. No data. No studies. No research. No surveys. Actually, barely any marketing at all. Now that’s differentiation.
Think that doesn’t apply to whatever it is that you’re doing? You’re wrong. It applies to everything. When you apply a data-driven approach to management, for example, you end up with groupthink, Six Sigma, EQ, and all sorts of other dopey fads.
When you apply research to leadership, as in Jim Collins’s “Good to Great,” you end up with Circuit City and Fannie Mae as two of the 11 supposedly great companies. Both are bankrupt, and deservedly so. And Pitney Bowes hasn’t turned out so well, either.
Want to know what happens to science when you just sort of bypass the scientific method and, instead, survey scientists to see what they think? You get the biggest environmental hoax in history: man-made global warming, climate change, or whatever spin Al Gore’s got on it these days.
Think of it as a dumbing down of society, a least-common-denominator type of effect. In music, you end up with pop. In TV, reality shows. In politics, the current version of Congress. I can on and on, but here’s a personal story that might hit close to home, especially for all you Internet entrepreneurs and social media marketers.
When I first started blogging seven ago, there was no shortage of common wisdom on what worked on the Internet. Posts had to be really short, say 300–500 words, tops. I was supposed to riff on and link to what popular people wrote, I guess to get noticed. There were plenty of other rules and guidelines. I ignored them all.
Instead, I followed the first rule of marketing: deliver a differentiated product that customers want. So I focused on writing insightful, informative, entertaining content. And since the medium was relatively new, I figured some experimenting was in order. So I tried different things and paid attention to what resonated with the audience.
Looking back over the years, I’ve watched all the researchers, the studiers, the surveyors, the data gatherers, and you know what I’ve observed? They didn’t win. Want to know who always won? Those who took risks and trusted their gut to put out the best product. Period.
Whether I’m developing and marketing a product, a service, or content for a blog or column, the one thing I’ll never do is what everyone else is doing. Conformity kills. Differentiate or die. That, my friends, is how high-tech marketing is done. It isn’t rocket science, but then, judging by all the crappy content out there, it apparently isn’t a no-brainer, either.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.