Advice is free and everywhere — so what makes it valuable?
OK, so I’ll be up front: You might not get seven tips out of this. But these days on the Web, overpromising seems to be par for the course.
We’re living in a Golden Age of Advice. Or perhaps it’s the Dirt Age, since dirt is much more plentiful and cheaper than gold. Blogs, Twitter, e-newsletters, and all sorts of other tactics have turned people into instant experts, ready to broadcast their wisdom to the world. Marketing, advertising, and career advice is particularly prevalent since we’re all (myself included) falling into the occupational hazard of promoting ourselves and our insight in order to become more known, more professionally valuable, or establish some sort of unctuous “personal brand.”
So if everyone’s an expert these days, is any of their advice truly valuable?
I’ll readily admit, I’m a sucker for these types of postings, because I’m always seeking to expand my knowledge, and many posts have enticing titles. But I’m beginning to detect some patterns that help me determine what’s really insightful and what sounds like BS. So as you navigate through the world of advice, tips, tricks, and general blather, I’ll share what I’ve figured out, having read way too many blog posts and tips:
Watch out for titles that promise too much. An enticing title might seem like it would lead to a cure-all for what ails you or your business. SEO and analytics experts will tell you that a column with a title of, say, “7 Ways to Generate New Business Leads Through Optimized Twitter Content Curation” will generate more clicks than a more cleverly titled column. However, you’re bound to be disappointed when you click through and realize you’re not reading the Rosetta Stone of marketing advice.
Beware of any point of view that’s simply too definitive to allow for a contrarian view. Sorry, the world simply isn’t black and white. There are a million shades of gray. For example, anyone telling you that something (print advertising, TV commercials, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign) is dead simply wants a little shock value. Nothing inherently wrong with going for a little shock value once in a while, but if it’s a constant pattern we get desensitized to all the shocking. And watch out for anyone who admits, “Yeah, I was just trying to be provocative with this post.” I don’t know about you, but I tire pretty quickly people who shout “Fire” in a crowded Internet. More significantly, I stop paying attention to them.
Don’t put much stock in people who use very common brands as case studies to prove their point. Apple, Zappos, Starbucks, JetBlue, and BK’s “Subservient Chicken” have been used incessantly to prove one thing or another. All too often, it’s done by people who weren't involved with these brands but draw any conclusion they like when it happens to fit their own narrative. Trust the people who make references to work they actually were part of. Because they’re the ones with a unique and valuable perspective.
Finally, consider the source. Everyone has a point of view — and an agenda. You’ll likely hear about the rise of crowdsourcing, gaming, or QR codes from someone who stands to benefit. So I always check out someone’s bio and their other postings to see if I can detect a pattern in their opinions. We’re all marketers these days, whether we’re marketing on behalf of our clients, our business, or ourselves. Again, nothing wrong with it, but beware of parachute makers telling you to jump off a cliff.
The good news is that there’s a wealth of real knowledge and advice out there that’s valuable, particularly for people just starting out in marketing and advertising. I’ve never seen so many ways to learn what creative directors want to see in junior books, or tips on how to learn new skills, than I’m seeing online right now. And frankly, I wish I'd had this kind of instant access to all that information when I was starting out.
But advice is plentiful, and its usefulness is often fleeting. In this business, and in this life, we’re all learning as we go. And as a wise TV theme once said, “What might be right for you may not be right for some.” So be vigilant as you snack on all the information out there. You don’t want an upset stomach or a confused mind.
And those are the best tips I can offer you at this point. And if you found just one of them worthwhile, I’d say that’s about right, and ahead of many others.
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
Visit his copywriting website, see his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.
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