The right time to ignore popular marketing advice

popular marketing advice

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

The web is full of marketing advice that sounds good but is divorced from reality. Whether you find marketing tips in books, blog posts, webinars, or YouTube videos, there’s a lot of false assumptions and misleading tips that either waste your time, or worse, lead you astray.

Over the past 5 years of conducting my online business, I’ve learned to be more critical and practical about what really works for me. Below, I want to reveal the two majors marketing lessons I’ve learned from consuming ‘false’ advice.

1) Throw away one-liners (AKA test your assumptions)

In today’s content-shocked world, we want bite-sized, re-tweetable & catchy one-liners that sound good but maybe aren’t. Especially in the marketing world, it’s littered with buzz phrases that get shared without question.

Let’s question 2 popular ones:

“Just be authentic/just be yourself.”

The idea is that ‘being yourself’ will lead to customer/client attraction to your personal brand.

This marketing advice is often given to speakers, podcasters, Youtubers, bloggers, and solo-preneurs, to build rapport with the client/audience, but is being yourself really the way to go?

What if you’re an asocial twat with the emotional intelligence of an orc? What if you lack the very personal component that’s required for your job?

For example, I lacked e-mail etiquette in the beginning of my digital career. Coming from Berlin, Germany, where direct talking is valued, I often accidentally insulted or confused clients from overseas. Especially customers from the US who thought I was harsh and offensive.

Sure, I was being myself, authentically Berlin-style honest and direct, but I lost connections and business in the process. Only when I asked my suave international friends and US colleagues did I change my approach. Instead of ‘being myself’ I ‘changed myself’, which made me happier and more successful along the way.

“The customer is always right.”

One part of my illustration & design job is creating book covers. I know tropes and genre expectations pretty well at this stage. Different cover conventions apply for sub-genres like sci-fi space opera, YA romance, post-apocalyptic, and crime thrillers. If you create a cover that ignores the design principles of a genre, you can kill your sales. The customer will be confused and thus not buy your ‘product’.

Now the customer might say: “I want a funky, comic-styled pink-yellow figure for my post-apocalyptic book.’ But my experience tells me: “Post-apocalyptic has to be dark and mysterious with bold fonts. It has to feature earthy or cool colors but no neon-brightness.”

If you blindly listen to the “Customer is right” advice, you’d do exactly what the client wants from you, costing him potential sales because the funky approach fails to engage the target audience. But if you believe that it’s your design duty to provide the cover that A) looks stunning and B) will bring your client more sales, then you follow your expertise. The customer, in this case, is wrong and you’re right.

Those are just 2 examples that show how catchy but simplistic marketing principles often falter under scrutiny. The world is far too complex for 140 bite-sized sayings to work.

I rather focus on timeless truths, such as being reliable, over-delivering, punctual, approachable, etc. I then adapt my ‘marketing’ approach to each individual client.

Which brings us to the second major point.

2) Copying ‘proven’ methods doesn’t mean you’ll copy the results

If you do ‘A’ then ‘B’ happens, but does it?

In a unique interview with Tom Bilyeu, famed entrepreneur and online ‘celebrity’ Gary Vaynerchuk said that many start-up founders in Silicon Valley emulate Steve Job’s authoritarian leadership style to build a company as successful as Apple.

Following the logic: “Steve Jobs was a douche and built one of the most valuable technology companies in the world. Hence, I have to be a douche to make my biz as successful as his.”

Obviously, that can (and likely will) backfire. You can’t replicate Apple’s success by simply copying (negative) character traits of its co-founder.

For example, as a German entrepreneur, you can read about a successful Snapchat marketing method that resulted in massive sales. But then you copy the ‘trick’ and fall on your face. Why? Maybe because Snapchat is ultra-unpopular in Europe’s biggest economy where Facebook is still the social media king.

On top of that, your ‘proven’ marketing plans can yield different, if not opposite, results.

For example, the goal of my last sci-fi book was ‘only’ to make good sales, but it also leads me to clients that wanted to work with me on storytelling. Turns out some of the book readers loved the narrative and were aspiring writers themselves. They wanted to work with me to improve their commercial storytelling.

I have an even earlier example. Many internet cat memes ago, I saw an online friend of mine preparing to launch his new book. I looked at his cover and thought—damn, that design looks way too boring for his amazing content. Feeling the touch of the creative muse, I created an unsolicited cover and gave it to him. My friend was so pleasingly surprised, he took the cover and later hired me for his website rebranding. Two years later, he commissioned me to draw T-shirts and huge wallpapers portraying his speakers in LA.

Did I plan for any of that? Noooo way. I did A and expected B, but got C instead.

In the first example, I simply wanted to make sales from a book. In the second, I wanted my friend to have a better cover. Both creations lead to amazing projects that had nothing to do with my original offer.

The lesson? Reading about ‘If you do this, X happens’ and then copying it sounds good but often contradicts with reality. Timing, place, culture, colleagues/co-workers, and various other factors play a vital role in how a proven marketing technique applies to you.


Writing a marketing article on being critical of marketing advice is a long stretch, so take my personal experience with two shakers of salt. Don’t fall for simple and catchy solutions. Always test your assumptions and be critical of ‘common practices’. Get inspired by sound ones and adapt them to your unique problem to gather feedback.


Mars Dorian is an illustrating designer and storyteller. He crafts words and pictures that help clients stand out online and reach their customers. You can find his homebase at and connect with him on Twitter @marsdorian
Original illustration by the author.

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