3. 3A LITTLE HISTORY
Now, prepare yourself. You’re about to
dive deeper into nerddom than ever
Before I dig into the marketing stuﬀ, it
helps to get a 1-minute lesson in
Dungeons and Dragons.
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D, or DnD) is a
role-playing game. Players assume the
identity of characters and participate in a
Think of it as Choose Your Own Adventure
5. A typical interaction might go like this:
Dungeon Master: You hear a sound down
Player: I charge towards it!!!!
Dungeon Master: A swarm of spiders
Then the‘combat’is resolved using dice.
Here’s a great D&D gaming table, set up
with all manner of neat stuﬀ.
You can easily play, though, with your
characters written down, a few dice, and a
Of course, there’s one essential
9. A bit about me. Don’t worry, this is going
somewhere marketing-related, I promise.
I got my first D&D set when I was 12. My
aunt bought it for me. My mom didn’t
speak to her for 2 months.
Now, this was kind of a new thing. In my
innocence, I invited some friends to try it
out. We played, but they blabbed. Word
got out around the middle school…
You can imagine what happened…
10. I became social roadkill. Now, it wasn’t all
because I played D&D. I was pretty far into
the nerd vortex by then. But D&D didn’t
help. I’ll spare you the details. I stopped
gaming for about 3 years.
But now, I’m going to indulge a bit: I have a
message I need to send to all the
neandrethals who spent their days knocking
books out of my arms, slapping me around
and other fun stuﬀ, then peaked in high
school and and are now making a living
screwing caps onto toothpaste…
12. PEOPLE ARE
In a futile attempt to survive, I brought the
start of my gaming career ground to an
inaupsicious halt. But when I was 15, we
moved from NJ to Los Angeles.
First few weeks at my new school, one of my
new friends says,“Hey, you look like you play
D&D. Want to join our game this Friday?”
14. WOMEN Here’s another story from my youth. I’m sure
this comes as a shock: On the high school
dating scene, I had a bit of a hard time. The
audience is really small.
Face it: When you’re a teenager, you’re not all
At the age of 27, I finally met my wife.
Before I proposed, I figured I’d better come out of
the gaming closet. When I did, she didn’t leave.
She didn’t even look at me like I was a cuttlefish.
What she did do was tell all of her friends, who
asked me“So, what’s D&D like?”
I’d found the perfect audience.
23. No, I won’t demonstrate. Actually, the
entire state of Washington has a
restraining order against me every
trying to do anything other than slow
Psy found his audience – his‘weird.’It’s
people who like his style of music but
can’t dance. The response was
completely oﬀ the charts.
I’m only slightly tongue-in-cheek here.
It really worked whether he meant it to
24. You can be more scientific about it. This
is Google Analytics data from the
Portent web site. People who find us
after a search for our Title Maker tool or
the acronym‘PPC’may be more likely
to sign up for our e-mail series.
The sample here is tiny, but a longer
study bears this out.
…but other times, they don’t. To find
those‘other times,’take a look at
Amazon.com. Find a book related to
your core product.
For example, pretend you’re writing a
travel book that will compete with
Lonely Planet’s Europe guide.
I search for their book…
…and then take a look at the
‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also
There are several items that appear
pretty much random.
I call stuﬀ like this a random aﬃnity.
I’ll go with smoothies. If I want to sell to a niche
audience, I might include a section in my book
about the best smoothies around Europe (I’m
Or, if I’m the marketer in charge of selling the
book, I’ll test ads on smoothie-related sites,
and write a“Guide to Smoothies in Europe.”
I can check the results and see if this random
29. FOLLOWERWONK SEARCH BIOS
One easy way to find random aﬃnities
is to find an audience‘center’– the
person who dominates the topic – and
then move outward 1-2 degrees of
separation, and see what that broader
It doesn’t always work perfectly. Here I
searched for‘puppies,’because I want
to sell a puppy-related product that
drugs them so they’ll sleep at night
I find Dara O Briaian. OK. So now, I need
to look at his followers and see what
34. 34A LITTLE HISTORY
Sure enough: Business apparel.
How can I use this data? Pay per click
marketing key phrases, obviously. But I
can also use it to guide copy, imagery,
message and the sites I use to buy ads.
Two little words can change a whole
DON’T FIND 10000 PEOPLE
FIND 10 AUDIENCES OF 1000
So, the rule is: Don’t find one audience
of 10,000. Find 10 audiences of 1,000
and sell to each, precisely.
Focus on the weird. If you’re a gamer, it
might just save your life.
37. ARMOR + DEX = ARMOR CLASS
THAC0 D&D is surprisingly mathematical. Other,
similar games even more so.
I used D&D to improve my kids’math skills.
I’m sneaky that way.
There are all manner of calculations that
can change at any time depending on
38. ARMOR + DEX = ARMOR CLASS
you are so puny. I just got 1500
experience points! I leveled up.
The player has to do the math. It’s not so
much that the calculations are hard as the
fact that you must have those calculations
at your fingertips. In many confrontations,
math determines success or failure.
39. ARMOR + DEX = ARMOR CLASS
Sorry. Couldn’t resist. Won’t
Horrible jokes aside, marketing is shockingly similar to
D&D in that math can come up and bite you in the ass at
40. LTV = VALUE/CUSTOMER
LEAD TO CUSTOMER
VISIT TO LEAD
CLICKS TO SITE
B2B I don’t care if you’re selling to 10 people or 10,000,000.
You need to do the math. Know the essential numbers,
Sell Business-to-Business (B2B)? Figure out the average
value of a visit like so (LTV = LifeTime Value).
41. LTV * VISIT TO LEAD * LEAD TO CUSTOMER
$$/VISIT= MAXIMUM VISITOR VALUE
Now you know the value of a visitor. Apply
desired margin and you also know exactly
how much you want to spend to acquire
that visitor. There is no more important
number for you, the marketer.
43. LTV * VISIT TO CUSTOMER
$$/VISIT= MAXIMUM VISITOR VALUE
There you go.
Note that you’re not even considering attribution
yet. Nor are you considering all the stuﬀ you can
learn by analyzing reams of data.
My motto: Before you do big data, get the small
DON’T KNOW LTV?
If you can’t figure out lifetime customer value, find an alternative. Do not simply throw up your hands.
If you don’t know this number, you cannot do smart marketing!
That doesn’t mean you should give up. Start figuring out LTV. If you have customers, and you know when
they start and stop buying in any broad sense, you can eventually figure out LTV. Go do it.
Here’s the other half of the‘math’equation. Once
you know your basic numbers, use measurement to
better target, find the‘weird’and apply
segmentation, improve user experience and so on.
I did this all the time in D&D. If my character had X
‘hit points’(your health – if you lose them all, you’re
kind of comatose), and the first 10 times we played
every opponent had 2X hit points, and finally killed
me, it’s time to adjust. Zarth the Destroyer may be
dead, but at least I know how to build my next
FORM BAILOUTONSITE SEARCH DATA
CALLS TO CALL CENTERSITE SPEED
SOCIAL MEDIA SHARESCONTENT
WRITING GRADE LEVEL
All manner of stuﬀ to measure. Don’t make yourself crazy. Pick what you can handle and start there.
However, certain things have a very broad impact:
Conversion rate – If you improve it, every channel improves
Site speed – Everything improves, including conversion rate.
Content performance – Helps you build the‘house list.’
47. Click location tools like CrazyEgg will show you
where folks click, including things that aren’t links.
Use that to improve the user interface.
48. Scroll distance measurement can tell you whether
content performs or not. This page isn’t bad, but we
need to either improve scroll distance, or reduce
49. Keep stats on content performance. This is a tool we
use in-house at Portent.
We’re maintaining an ongoing set of performance
numbers for every site page. We’re also maintaining
stats regarding words per page, social shares, topic,
That lets us start to consider and test hypotheses,
like“Pages at a 10th grade reading level perform
This data is not the answer. It’s the first questions.
50. No need to start with a custom tool, though.
You can start with custom reports in a tool like
Google Analytics. You can import this using the link
in the link bundle.
51. BUT YOU CANNOT
Great! Measure!!!! Measure!!!! Measure more!!!!
Don’t even go out to lunch without measuring!!!
Yeah. No. You have to be willing to try stuﬀ you can’t
measure. And be prepared to be wrong sometimes,
even if you do the math.
You can measure your way right into paralysis,
53. PEOPLE ARE
In D&D, there are at least two things that introduce utter randomness.
First, there are these pesky dice.
If you get into any kind of confrontation – say an argument with a troll, or a fight
with said troll – or try to do something very specific – say, pick the pocket of the
same troll, if you’re really a slow learner – you’ll probably roll dice to figure out if it
Yes, there are things about your character that modify that die roll. A veteran thief
has a better chance to successfully pick a pocket than, say, a fully-armored fighter
dude. But the dice are there, and everyone fails if they roll a 1.
54. Start here
And then there are those pesky players. As a dungeon master, I’ve often spent
time carefully preparing a detailed adventure with nifty twists and turns. Maybe I
designed it to last 4 or 5 gaming sessions. Maybe only 1.
But I created story, and with it people they’ll meet, monsters they’ll fight and
treasure they’ll collect. It’s a lot of work.
55. Start here
So it’s really aggravating when the players evade
everything and head straight to the conclusion in 2
But that’s the way it goes. And you’re better oﬀ not
forcing the players into a predetermined course. You
can say“Hey, go this way, it’s better,”but eventually
the players find you out and lose trust in your game.
It’s a bit like, I dunno, deceptive advertising saying
“Hey, buy this, it’s better.”Eventually, consumers find
you out and lose trust in your brand.
Part of random is people’s never-ending ability to do
crazy things, like flush four days of work preparing a
D&D game down the toilet.
You can do research until your pupils weld themselves
shut. You still won’t be able to say“I am 100% certain
this will work.”
57. HAVE A PLANBUT KNOW IT’LL CHANGE
AND BE READY WHEN IT DOES
So yes, have a plan. But understand that no matter
what you do, it’s going to change. And be ready when
Clients and bosses hate this. They hate it. There’s
always someone out there who will guarantee it.
There’s a simple question you can ask:
“Doesn’t that seem too good to be true?”
Because it probably is.
Also, the flip side of this is that people do really cool
things. Probably more often than crazy things,
I published a blog post thinking,“Hey, folks might like
It went ballistic. I know some people will look at these
numbers and say“yawn,”but I was really flattered.
59. RANDOM CAN BE GOOD
So random can also be really good. Don’t fear it.
It’s part of what makes D&D fun – if nothing was
random, and you knew every outcome ahead of time,
it’d be pretty boring.
It’s what can make marketing fun, too. It’s certainly
what makes us valuable. Without random, no one
would need marketers.
61. SOMETIMES, RANDOM MEANS
TURNING A FRIEND INTO A FROG
this was Not
Remember random? Sometimes,
in D&D, random means you turn a
fellow player into a frog, or
accidentally pitch them oﬀ a cliﬀ.
I’ve had one fellow player blow me
But you do not fear it. It happens.
With good players, it’s part of the
story. Things go wrong. Move on.
If you know me, you know how ridiculous it is that I’m making this statement.
I’m a neurosis, wrapped in a phobia, inside a personality disorder.
But, I’ve come to accept this. You can’t be an entrepreneur for 20 years
without accepting it. So there.
63. FEAR LEAVING
LIKE THEY GOT
You should have that kind of fear when it comes to
screwing customers, or deliberately bumping oﬀ
fellow players in your D&D game.
These are things that you can foresee 80% of the
time. If you have a healthy fear of them, you can
There’s the other 20%, when random causes the
worst kind of screw-ups (or things that appear to
For those times, avoid the cranial-rectal inversion
(a term learned from my brother).
That leads to you ignoring trends, ignoring
mistakes, ignoring your audience and instead
running in circles gabbling like an idiot.
65. DON’T FREAK OUT
How you deal with these mistakes may just
make or break your career, or your brand.
66. In 1982, someone poisoned random bottles of Tylenol
capsules. People died. The first case occurred September 29,
Many corporations would have had the crainial-rectal
inversion, hired an army of lawyers and hunkered down.
In less than a week, Johnson & Johnson had distributed
warnings to all hospitals and distributors, stopped production,
issued a nationwide recall (the deaths all happened in and
around Chicago) of 31 million bottles and bought advertising
warning consumers not to take the capsules.
They also oﬀered to exchange the capsules for safe tablets,
I can’t even guess how much that all cost.
That is a company responding well to a huge mistake.
Because no matter where the tampering happened, J&J was
going to wear this for decades. It was a mistake for which
they’d be blamed.
Instead, they’re a case study of how to respond to a crisis.
67. 100 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
In less fatal circumstances, maybe you tweak a marketing
campaign and sales plunge. You could panic and turn back the
Or, you can dig into the numbers and realize that a power
outtage aﬀecting ¼ of the United States population might be
hindering online sales just a tad.
69. DON’TGET PARALYZED
Most important, don’t let fear completely
Back to D&D for a second: If you’re fighting a
horrific monster, and it’s kicking your butt,
yeah, you’re in trouble.
I don’t know if you’ll survive. I guarantee you
won’t survive if you just stand there.
71. HE WHO
AND THEN WHAT HAPPENS?
It’s a long story. Suﬃce it to say that no D&D
player appreciates being left to get chopped
into fist-sized chunks simply because the
other players stood around watching.
And yes, it happens.
74. No bashing here, but the Republican Party really failed to adjust
in the 2012 presidential campaign.
More and more data showed their audience wasn’t on land lines.
They forged ahead, looking at poll numbers.
They got stomped.
They needed to do something. They didn’t. Would that have won
the election? I have no idea. But it would’ve helped.
75. COMPUSA responded to lower in-store performance by doing
nothing. Unless you include reducing in-store salaries, of course.
Conde Nast flew Gourmet Magazine right into the ground by
ignoring everything from site speed and user experience to
organic search and social media. Thud.
Sometimes someone else is refusing to budge. There are a few ways to get them unstuck.
First, appeal to their competitive nature. Here, I’m comparing the load speed of two sites.
78. Next, show really easy wins. If a phrase costs 4.2% of your budget and generates .6% of your traﬃc,
it had better generate serious revenue. Otherwise, cutting that could save a lot of money.
In this case, the phrase only generated .3% of sales, and lost money. We yanked it.
79. you're not doing a
right now. you should.
Also, start with stuﬀ you can predict reasonably
accurately. Here, e-mail sure seems like a powerful
80. Work within the client (internal or external) systems.
Deliver recommendations and data the way they want
83. PEOPLE INVEST
The first thing most people invest in any
activity is time.
If you want to keep their attention, you need
to generate a good return on time invested
84. IF I’M GOING TO BE A SOCIAL OUTCAST,
Playing D&D requires sacrifices: Staying up
until 3 AM. Eating crappy food. Becoming a
total social outcast.
If I’m going to do those things, it had better be
worth my while from hour 1.
Luckily, every gamer gets a little rush of happy
juice when they introduce a cool character or
hears the Dungeon Master say“You open the
chest and find…”
86. 86A LITTLE HISTORY
330,000 gold pieces
110,000 ounces of gold
A quick aside: I did some math. I figure in a 33-
year gaming career, I’ve collected about
330,000 imaginary pieces of gold.
That comes to 110,000 ounces of gold (yes,
someone figured out the size of a D&D gold
piece. No, it wasn’t me.
That comes to $143,000,000
But here’s the thing: I collected all that fake gold
days or weeks into a particular D&D game. It wasn’t
there, sitting on the imaginary ground, for my
character to collect on day 1.
So, why’d I stick around?
89. BUT FIRST
A GOOD STORY
A GOOD SETTING
Something else got me my Return on Time Invested.
Maybe my fellow players brought good snacks. Maybe I had a
crush on a girl in the group (yes, girls do play D&D). Or maybe
we’re just all really good friends.
Regardless, there’s a great ROTI, and I’ll stick around because
91. CONTENT IS YOUR
Whether they’re reading a blog post, watching a video,
looking at a product or reading about your Board of Directors,
content is the first product they sample.
Content generates ROTI. There is no escaping this.
That means you have to look to many factors:
Site speed – the speed at which a page appears in
a visitor’s browser – may be the single most
important factor in internet marketing.
OK, that’s a bit much.
But think about it: The speed of your site aﬀects all
channel performance, conversion rates, customer
satisfaction, user experience…
It’s a big deal.
I could do a whole other talk about this. Go run
Yslow on your site.
But at least, please, don’t have a 75kb, 4 pixel wide
image designed as a background. OK?
How easy is your copy to read, or images to
view, or videos to watch? Reading online is
hard. You need to make it easier.
95. This is not so great. Maybe the writing is
great (cough I wrote it cough cough). Maybe
it isn’t. But the spacing makes me feel like
I’m in a very small room.
97. But I’m not a design pro. I can’t just pull great
typography from one nostril.
So I go by the numbers. Use Pearsonified’s
awesome Golden Ratio Typography Calculator
and you’ll get a great starting point for font
size, line spacing, etc.
Or, maybe you’re better at this than I am.
98. The way you write matters, too. Don’t use 11
words when 1 will do.
I love Nozbe. They’re awesome. So I can gently
poke fun at their home page copy. That’s one
sentence. I nearly passed out reading it. Not
99. I used a metric called Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease
to gauge the Nozbe copy’s diﬃculty.
Yikes. FKRE isn’t the be-all end-all. But it does
provide a basic measure to verify gut feelings.
I’ve got a link to this tool in the link bundle.
WELLBelieve it or not, customers do care whether they can
actually understand your writing.
No, I don’t have test data. No, you don’t need to test it.
Which Harrison Ford movie do you remember? Witness or
So write well, or hire someone who does.
Test it! Build a landing page and iterate the
heck out of it, using diﬀerent wording.
Unbounce and Optimizely are great tools for
108. LOOK AT ONSITE SEARCH
Look at your onsite search numbers. Or at
Adwords keywords data. Or Twitter bios.
Use that data to show what gets more
attention. That’s your target phrase.
No Gazebos. No denim.
110. NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE COWS
MOO. I HAVE 3 HIT POINTS
AND AN ARMOR CLASS OF
One of the best dungeon masters I know has one terrible
habit: He etches out every detail of the imaginary setting.
Down to the number of cows each farmer owns, and the
total hit points of each cow.
I do the same thing with my company. When writing a
proposal, I feel like I have to show every detail of how we do
what we do.
Does anyone care? Probably not. My trouble starts with my
ego. It’s usually small, damp and badly shredded, but get
me talking about my company and it swells into a football
XTake ego out of the equation. Maybe we’re right. But the
audience won’t appreciate our brilliance. Remember ROTI!
Your audience will appreciate it if you use their language
and cut to the chase.
113. FOCUS ON THE END
Focus on the end – how you’ll get a customer what they
want – instead of the means.
114. ANSWER ‘SO WHAT?’
- STEVE GAHLER
As Portent’s CEO likes to ask:“So what?”
If you don’t answer that, no amount of detail will help.
you slay me. Uh,
Part of D&D is doing extraordinary things. The worst games are
the ones where you have to attend to every detail of buying
supplies, negotiating a night at an inn or experience mile by
grinding mile of travel. The cows thing, again.
I don’t know about you, but I get plenty of that in real life.
D&D – and most games like it – is about being heroic.
i am stuffed
You Beat The Bad Guy. You beat the odds and come out in one
piece. Or maybe two…
This is not a D&D mini. I got so much hate
mail the first time I used this guy, I have to
point that out. It’s from a diﬀerent game. I
painted it. I’m using it. So there.
OH Boy. golly gee. i found
another +12 sword of slaying.
i am excited.
But you can ruin a great game by making it too easy.
Campaigns where great stuﬀ falls from the sky are just boring.
They ruin the story arc we all love.
124. EXPOSITION COMPLICATION CLIMAX
The classic story arc:
First, you get familiar with stuﬀ in the exposition.
Then, something happens that sets up a challenge of some kind.
Then, you resolve it.
Then you get your cool stuﬀ, or die, or fail, or whatever.
125. YOU’RE IN A BAR
IT ALL GOES HORRIBLY WRONG
YOU GET TREASURE
Here’s a typical D&D story arc. It’s pretty straightforward.
Here are the most likely actions at each
phase of the arc.
Before there’s a problem, the audience
may simply discover you, without
searching. Social media excels at this.
Once the problem pops up, they start
actively researching a solution.
Then they buy or not, which resolves the
130. WHAT DO I DO NOW?
I’m happy to bring new people into the cult of
Dungeons & Dragons. But at some point, you
gotta learn the rules.
There is nothing more maddening than
stopping the game for 25 minutes every time
one player needs to swing a freaking sword.
Tell me I’m wrong, fellow gamers. I dare you.
131. 131A LITTLE HISTORYSo you learn the rules. But you also learn the
setting. You watch movies. Read books. Take me
132. 132A LITTLE HISTORY
9900 hours played
I’ve put a ridiculous amount of time into
D&D and other games. I figured out it’s a
bit under 10,000 hours.
133. 133A LITTLE HISTORY
9900 hours played
7500 hours studying in law school
Which is more time than I dedicated to
Which probably explains a lot.
142. again?! wtf people???
…I don’t like playing the evil folks. It’s just not fun.
I want to be Captain Kirk, not Khan, no matter how
awesome the the bad guy seems.
143. LESSON 10
I SAW THAT!!!! YOU ROLLED
A 4, NOT A 14!
GAAAH! DUDE! LIGHTEN UP!
In D&D, you just won’t be invited back.
In marketing, it’s called‘lying,’‘scumbaggery,’and
In D&D terms, this is evil.
148. MARKETING IS
And what we do is a form of communiations. It’s important
because it makes other things important. It impacts
folks’perception of what’s important to them and what’s
149. That’s the last reason I love Dungeons & Dragons, too. It
lets you, for a few hours, completely change what’s
important from‘pay the bills’to‘save the world.’
Which may tag me as crazy, but I find it pretty fun.