By  Len Wilson


Marketing is a hassle.

I totally agree with you. You’ve got your idea produced, and it sure would be a heck of a lot easier if people would automatically flock to it like a nine year old boy to videogames. (In case you don’t know, videogames are complete crack to nine year old boys.)

Of course, this doesn’t happen.

You’ve got to get the word out. To some extent, other people can help you do this, but when it comes down to it, the number one champion for your big idea is you. So, the first step is to admit your ownership. Say to yourself: I am responsible for marketing my own big idea.

There, that wasn’t so bad. The rest is cake. Just follow my seven strategic approaches:


1. Tell a Story.

What It Is

Maybe you have heard the old journalism axiom to give people the “who, what, where, when and how.” The assumption was that good information was sufficient to create engagement and get people involved with your thing. That’s dead, my friend. Yet, many of us still unconsciously do this. We write up a few paragraphs, the equivalent of a press release, put it on through a few channels, and think we’ve done due diligence. Later, when we’ve already blown it, we discover this doesn’t work.

Here’s the first strategic principle:

Information is a poor substitute for a good story.

The audience will not tune in to watch information. You wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. No one would or will. The audience will only tune in and stay tuned in to watch drama. ~ David Mamet

The solution is to focus on the story rather than the data. Rather than provide information about an event or program, tell a story about a life changed by the event or program.

Advertise the fruit, not the seed.

Dig Deeper

Stories come from a variety of sources. I list five in a story post here.

What To Do

Find someone whose life was changed for the better as a result of your big idea. (If you can’t find a story, then you’ve got a bigger problem than just marketing.) Ask this person to write up a short summary about his or her experience – or write one for them. Use their story in print, or if appropriate, make a simple video of their story using a phone or camera. It doesn’t have to be professional – just get the story down. With it, you’ve acquired a powerful piece of marketing to put on social networks, blogs, and so on.

A great example of story-based marketing in action is Chick-Fil-A.


2. Ignore Somebody.

What It Is

My literary mentors talk about “ideal readers,” character profiles of people with whom I am speaking. Who are the people who would benefit the most from my big idea?

Here’s the catch. We want to reach everyone, but this is a mirage that will leave you starving for readers.

Ignore “people” and get specific with who you’re targeting.

Who is part of your core tribe of faithful readers?

If you do this well, you’ll find an interesting result. The irony about any great idea is that when it finds its target audience, it expands. In order to reach many, you must ignore many and focus on a few.

The story you tell depends on those to whom you tell it.

Dig Deeper

To better understand target audience, consider my short description of the very different targets of three famous space films.

What To Do

Write out three sentence profiles of five people that might benefit the most from your idea. How do these people think? What motivates them? In what social settings do they operate? Creating these sketches will inform your language and marketing approach.


3. Create an Experience.

What It Is

For years, marketing professionals discussed a product or service’s F&B, or “features and benefits.” Whatever the product did that was unique or better than the competition – its best feature – made for its best ad. The quintessential F&B campaign was Ivory Soap’s mid 20th century classic, “99 44/100% pure.”

Nike’s Just Do It campaign, in the early 1990s, overturned the F&B approach for experience. A video of a woman running up the mountain to a stirring rock soundtrack replaced information about the shoe. Cognitively, it can be baffling (anyone remember the EDS Herding Cats Super Bowl ad?), but experientially, it creates engagement and retention based on meaning, not a singular transaction.

Instead of just shoe data that creates a sales lead, the perception of the running woman brought meaning to the Nike shoe.

Now, 20 years later, experience is almost synonymous with participation. People want to interact, take surveys, play games, post comments, make ratings, navigate interactive features, and so on. This is all part of meaning making. Good marketing now understands that there’s a relationship in the exchange that goes beyond a simple transaction.

What kind of life change does your big idea create?

Marketing is the art of telling a story that moves people to act.
– Bernadette Jiwa

Dig Deeper

Expert marketer Bernd Schmidt captured the move from traditional to experiential marketing with a focus on five ways that we experience the message: Sense, Think, Act, Feel, Relate. I explore these five in more detail in this post.

What To Do

Make a list of ways to engage the five sensory modules. Use food, scents, striking images,  familiar music, or hand’s on activities. For example, serve free coffee with branded coffee cup sleeves. Consider applications for your message – for example, if promoting a parenting series, and talking about moderating screen use, promote a way for a mom or dad to create coupons for screens as a child’s reward rather than right. Give them something to “Act” on.


4. Find an Image.

What It Is

As stated, the old focus was on information. Sticking with soap, consider the difference in these two ads for Tide detergent:

Of course the one on the left is from the 1950s. The one on the right is from today. You’d think it goes without saying, but many people still write tons of ad copy and have yet to realize that a single image captures the essence of the message in a way that tons of copy can’t.

This isn’t to say all text is bad. In some cases, such as the next item on my list, text can be good – but only if it’s used to create engagement through experience. But use sparingly, and consider: even in social media environments such as Facebook, images generate over 90% more clicks than text alone.

Dig Deeper

Ironically, I’ve been talking about this subject longer than anything on my list, but I don’t have a current blog post to help you dig deeper. This will come soon.

What To Do

Find a core image that expresses your big idea.

This is easier said than done. Learning to think visually can be difficult, especially for those trained in propositional and expository educational systems. Start with brainstorms about the fruit – the results of your message. A lot of people get hung up on visualizing the problem. Focus instead on your solution.

Mine your source material, such as a book or related text, for illustrations and concepts.


5. Assume People Don’t Care Yet.

What It is

You love your message. You champion it, you know it intimately, you expound on its virtues. With this insight, you have likely lost perspective – you no longer have any idea what it’s like to be an outsider.

Insider knowledge makes effective communication difficult.

Regardless of the focus of your message, it’s safe to assume that you’re at the bottom, and most of the people to whom you’re communicating are at the top. We forget what’s it like for the unengaged. You’ve got to figure out how outsiders talk about your topic, and use their language.

Dive Deeper

Cultivating disciples starts with shifting our thinking from our perspective – what our event, ministry, program or message is about – to the perspective of the storyreceiver.

Understanding your reader is strategic caring.

Learn more about strategic caring with my description of how communication and discipleship are connected on the funnel.

What To Do

To break out of your insider point of view, brainstorm popular conceptions – good and bad – about your message. What do people think about when they think of what you’re saying? This means acknowledging some things that might drive you crazy – persistently popular but uninformed caricatures of your idea, like the street corner fundamentalist for someone exploring new methods for authentic preaching.

What do other people say when they talk about your topic?


6. Grab a Hook.

What It Is

Most of us are secretly insecure about the ability of our message to work. We develop solid content but it’s often missing one key ingredient. It doesn’t really inspire. Typically, the missing ingredient is a good hook. The hook is the central metaphor that holds up your entire idea.

The hook is the key to making any big idea extraordinary.

Sometimes I hold on to a big idea, such as my current book, for months or even years while I wait for the perfect hook. Without it, my idea is rudderless. Once I have it, I can’t stop writing.

Dig Deeper

Creating compelling hooks is not a master skill. Anyone can learn to do it with practice. Here are a few tips to creating a good hook, from a guest post I wrote on Tony Morgan’s blog.

What To Do

This is one of my most practiced skills. Here are six tips I’ve learned over the years for finding a killer hook:

  • Go to the source for inspiration first. For sermon series and church-related branding and hooks, I go to the Bible first. Reading the biblical text opens up a variety of ideas and options.
  • Read a thesaurus. Different synonyms have different etymological locations and histories, and can reveal stories and metaphors.
  • Make a list of 20 keywords for your topic. Sometimes this will spark an association or core metaphor that embodies the concept.
  • Be patient. Sometimes it takes days or even weeks for the right idea to appear. If it’s brewing on low, unrelated readings can trigger a solution. For example, I looked for weeks for a good hook on the 10 Commandments, and found it one morning in a friend’s Twitter feed.
  • Sleep on it.
  • Keep a journal or tool like Evernote very, very close, and write down everything that pops in your head.


7. Use the Content Itself

What It Is

One of the latest marketing trends is “content marketing.” I love the term and the idea, but it kinda makes me laugh, because content marketing is sort of a more developed form of common sense communication. It’s really nothing more than just using your content as a marketing tool. Here’s how to think about content marketing (I didn’t invent this pithy phrase, but I can’t remember where I first read it):

Content Marketing is a move from hype to help.

Dig Deeper

I’ve learned a lot about content marketing from simple web research, but I’ll save you the trouble. One of the best sources is CopyBlogger.

What To Do

What are the tweetable moments of your post? Find them. I’ve highlighted and center justified 10 in this blog post. Use these as the teasers and kickers for your promotion. (A kicker is a single, punchy sentence – a “sound bite” that people can apply.)

Publish ten one sentence kickers that explain your big idea.

Create a social media posting schedule for publishing your kickers, each with a link back to your big idea. By doing this you’re providing real DIY content and help for your readers, and oh by the way, here’s where to learn more. It’s a common sense response to people’s Internet expectation for free.


What principles do you use to market your big idea?



Author: Len Wilson

I'm a storyteller and a strategist, which means I love to both tell stories and create an environment for telling stories. My day job is Creative | Communication Director at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. I also write, speak, and teach.