Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie is the best-selling author of Email Persuasion and creator of Unsnooze Your Inbox - *the* guide to crafting engaging emails and newsletters that captivate your audience, build authority and generate more sales.

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John Stuart Mill’s advice…and my night last night

Posted on 22nd July 2022.

Last night I was out on that very British of institutions – the stag night. (hence the late post today, ahem).

One thing that always strikes me at events like these is just how much talent, intelligence and capability there is in “normal people”. And how it comes in all shapes and sizes and from all backgrounds.

It's easy to surround yourself with people like you. People with similar educations, similar professions, similar points of view.

It's comfortable. But it's a surefire way to kill off new ideas.

John Stuart Mill said “It's hardly possible to overstate the value, in the present state of human improvement, of placing human beings in contact with other persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar. Such communication has always been one of the primary sources of progress.”

He was spot on, in my experience. You learn more from people who are different to you than people who are the same. So it's worthwhile making sure you have that variety in your life.

It could be you get it from a mastermind group you're in. Or a course you take with a lot of diversity in members. Or you might seek out people who are different with interesting ideas and interview them for your podcast.

Whatever method you use, you'll find it's well worth it.


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Being brilliant at marketing is overrated

Posted on 17th July 2022.

When I first started in business it seemed like about 90% of all the advice I got said “you've got to get good at marketing – it's the number one skill”.

Become a brilliant copywriter. Master SEO and content marketing. Excel at conversions. 

I lapped it up.

Perhaps I should have noticed that the people giving the advice all sold marketing training :)

But it seemed to make sense. When you start a business your biggest challenge is getting customers. So surely marketing is the big thing you need to get good at? 

Not necessarily. At least not in my experience.

You reed great results from your marketing. But you don't need to be all that great at marketing to get great results.

If you've got a great product or service and you don’t play in a super-competitive market then frankly, half-decent marketing is all you need.

You don't need the higher-level skills that could squeeze an extra percentage point of conversion from an already hyper-optimised landing page. You just need the basics that your competitors probably haven't got.

Improving from 90% to 95% is really hard and needs world-class skills. It's worth it for a business doing millions in a competitive market.

Improving from 20% (where most small businesses are likely to be if they're lucky) to 60% is way easier. But relatively speaking it has a much bigger impact on your business.

And often you can do it based on simple principles and using templates and examples that have worked time and time again.

Templates and examples alone will never get you to 95%. But they'll get you to 60% or 70% which is all you need.

People trying to sell you marketing training are biased – and usually they can't see it.  They live in the ultra-competitive world of marketing services so they tend to assume that all markets need the same level of sophistication and skill.

They don't.

Whenever you're looking to get better results from your marketing, sanity check the advice you're getting. Does it apply to your particular market? Or is it calling for you to reach a level of mastery that just isn't needed (and would take far too long anyway)


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The Greeks knew this truth about persuasion

Posted on 3rd July 2022.

These days our idea of persuasion is to ramp up scarcity, throw in a deadline and a bunch of testimonialy social proof.

But the ancient Greeks had very different ideas.

In Aristotle's Rhetoric, he identified the three cornerstones of persuasion: logos, pathos and ethos.

Logos is persuasion through rational argument. In our case that primarily means demonstrating the benefits our potential clients will get if they buy our products or services. But it can also be the “logical” answer to objections they might have or other reasons why this makes sense for them.

Pathos is persuasion through the emotions of the hearer. For example, tying the benefits they'll get to a deep seated desire or inciting pride in the improvements they'll see. Or perhaps anger that they're not getting what they deserve, or envy that others are.

Ethos is persuasion through the character of the speaker. In our world it's about whether they trust you to deliver for them and whether they have confidence in your capabilities.

I'm going to suggest that the Greeks were on to something.

Psychological nudges can get people off the fence. They can even drive the whole decision for low-cost products where the stakes aren't all that high.

But for something big and important it's different.

Unless someone sees the benefit they'll get from your product, really feels what a difference it will make to them, and trusts you to deliver: all the deadlines, scarcity and social proof in the world aren't going to get them to stump up a small fortune to buy.

Psychological nudges are great and can make a real difference. But get your logos, ethos and pathos right first.


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Ditch the tricks…do this instead

Posted on 26th June 2022.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what makes for successful email marketing over the long term.

Not the “hustle a bunch of sales from new subscribers” type of success that a lot of experts and courses seem to focus on. But instead, how do you build the long-term trust and credibility needed for someone to be ready to buy something big and important.

And it’s struck me just how much advice in marketing these days is based on “tricks”. Psychological techniques borrowed from Cialdini, Kahneman, Sherman, Ariely and others.

There’s no doubt that reciprocity, scarcity, urgency, social proof and all those other persuasion techniques do work. But they tend to amplify motivations, not generate them out of thin air.

If someone is seriously considering buying your product then a little deadline can push them over the edge.

But if they think your product is worthless, no amount of social proof, scarcity or urgency is going to get them to buy. In fact, it’s more likely to annoy them and push them further away from you.

So when it comes to writing interesting and engaging emails, for example, the answer isn’t to start with a boring topic and sprinkle on clever writing techniques.

It’s to start with a topic your audience is actually interested in.

Tricks and techniques can help amplify that and make it even more interesting. But the key is to start by understanding what your audience actually cares about and to write about that.

Similarly, the key to persuasion is to start by understanding what your audience actually wants and to show them how your offer gives it to them.

Start with the fundamentals, then add on the cleverness (if it’s needed at all).

But tricks and techniques with no substance behind them just don’t last.


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The “build up play” you need to win clients

Posted on 12th June 2022.

Apologies to those of you who aren't football (soccer) fans, but I'm going to overuse an analogy that's been front of mind for me all week.

When most people talk about marketing, they tend to focus on the very last step.

The sexy bits. The sales page that gets people to buy. The email they click on to go to the checkout. The social media post that leads to a sale.

But I think that focus is a bit misplaced.

In football we're (usually) a bit more sophisticated. We know the objective at any point in time is to score a goal. And we know we can only score if we take a shot.

But that doesn't mean we should shoot every time we get the ball. Far from it.

Instead, we know we have to get the ball up the pitch and into a danger zone where a shot is much more likely to result in a goal. And that's where coaches put most of their attention.

Get the ball into a dangerous position in the opponents' penalty area often enough and you will score. Even if you don't have the greatest strikers in the world. 

I believe the same thing applies in marketing. In other words, rather than focusing only on the final step that leads to a sale, we should focus primarily on the steps beforehand that get your clients ready to buy.

Nurture your relationships so that clients understand their problems and impact. Show you understand them and have a unique solution that will work for them. Give them confidence they will succeed with you.

Do that often enough and you will win clients, even if you're not the greatest marketer in the world or your sales pages and emails are a bit basic.

Winning clients is 80% about the build-up play.


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3 things I (re-)learned this week

Posted on 5th June 2022.

I've started my Maven Course Accelerator program this week alongside a bunch of talented and very interesting people. From startup founders to singing coaches.

3 things I learned (or in some cases, I'd forgotten and re-learned) you might find useful:

  • Having an external drumbeat to push you to make progress is really helpful – always more so than you realise

    Of course, I know this to be true from experience and from running my own programs. But yet again I was surprised by it :)

    There were steps I took this week to progress my cohort course, exercises I did and things I thought about that I could easily have done myself weeks ago – but didn't.

    The drumbeat of a program with a fixed schedule where we're expected to complete tasks on time made it happen.
  • No matter how different people seem on a course there's always a lot to learn from them

    I had a brilliant idea in one of the working sessions that only I could possibly have thought of. 3 other people had the same idea :)

    More importantly, I got 2 other good ideas I wouldn't have thought of myself just by listening and paying attention to what others were doing.
  • Restrictions set you free

    I'm the kind of person who takes pride in having the absolute best version of everything: landing pages, email formats, the right font size for readability, everything…

    As a result, I'll spend way too much time researching and tweaking things that make very little difference in the grand scheme of things.

    Maven is very templated. You just don't get those options. In this early beta version you can't even change the font.

    And while in some ways that drives me crazy, it also saves me a ton of time. Time I can focus on more important things that have a bigger impact.

Trying something new and pushing yourself a little bit (in my case with the pace of doing this while I have so much other stuff on) always results in learning.

I don't do it often enough, but just reflecting on that learning every week helps to consolidate it and make sure you take action on it.

What have you learned this week?


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Story prompts to speed up content

Posted on 31st May 2022.

One of the biggest killers of productivity in marketing, for me at least, is struggling for ideas.

It's difficult to be prolific if most of your time is spent staring at a blank screen.

I've mentioned before I started using the “zettelkasten” method of note-taking to make sure I always have a good base of ideas to write about. But sometimes I get stuck knowing how to illustrate those ideas in a non-boring way.

In other words, what story am I going to use?

Here's where story-prompts come in helpful. Little triggers to stimulate your creativity.

The ones that work best for me are often time based. I've used similar ones when I've run “writing challenges” for Momentum club members.

All I do is ask myself about an interesting thing that happened at various times in my life.

For example, a story my parents told about me as a very young child (with a lesson for today).

Or something painful/fun/weird that happened to me as a teenager (with a lesson for today).

Or when I hit a problem early on in my career and what I learned from it.

Or when I was riding high later in my career but found out I wasn't brilliant at everything.

Or a piece of wisdom I've learned through the benefit of age and experience.

Or something that happened yesterday that made me angry/happy/confused.

Or something that's just happened right now.

For example, a very good friend of mine told me that yesterday he'd just written an article for marketing purposes when the tool he was using blew up and lost it.

Undaunted he got his head down and wrote an article about how his system had blown up and lost his work – and how a stoic mindset helped him get refocused quickly rather than wallowing in anger and self-pity.

Your long term past and your immediate experiences are rich seams for mining stories. You can go through the list of timeframes I've just shared almost like a checklist and use it to trigger ideas for stories to illustrate a business point.

Or if you've got a particular topic in mind (e.g. that you've been exploring in your Zettelkasten) then you can run through them thinking “is there a story from my early work years that illustrates this topic? etc”

It doesn't work 100% of the time. Nothing does.

But I'd say at least 80% of the time it triggers ideas for a good, interesting piece of content. Often more than one, so you can “bank” the idea to use later.

It gets you productive fast rather than being stuck staring at that white screen of frustration.

– Ian

PS as you can probably guess, today's post was inspired by the last of the timeframes. Me being short of ideas and thinking “what can I say about what's happening to me right now?”


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Marketing you hate just doesn’t work

Posted on 22nd May 2022.

One of the things I really enjoy doing is exploring research and ideas that are a little outside mainstream marketing – and then seeing if they can be applied back in my world.

It was through that exploration I bumped into the work of Michelle Segar – a researcher into sustainable behaviour change in the areas of health and exercise.

Segar's contention – backed by a ton of research and experience over the last 30 years – is that trying to motivate people to lose weight and exercise to improve their health just doesn't work.

It's too focused on a potential future benefit rather than immediate gratification. And too often it gives people yet another thing to try to cram into their busy lives.

It sounds a lot like trying to motivate people to do regular marketing like writing emails or following up with contacts.

The benefit of more clients happens in the future, and is far from certain. And it's yet another thing that you have to cram into a busy workday.

Segar's work has shown that it's better to get people to focus on the immediate gratification they'll get from exercise – for example feeling better and less stressed – rather than the long-term gains.

And if you can show them how exercise gives them more energy which makes all the other things they've got to do much easier, you're on to a winner.

But I think most importantly when it comes to marketing, Segar's research showed that it's much better to allow people to do the imperfect exercise they enjoy rather than the perfect one they hate. And to allow them to find that exercise they enjoy themselves.

In marketing (and business generally) there's way too much “this is the best way to do things” advice.

Often it's done with the best of intentions. Sometimes it's done to sell you a shiny new toy or course.

But none of it is done with the realisation that the only marketing that works is marketing you actually do, and do regularly.

So if you enjoy the third best or the seventh best or second worst way of marketing and you'll keep at it – that could well be the “best” marketing for you.

At least for now.

Segar's research has also shown that starting with a small good habit you can do often leads to taking on something bigger and enjoying that too.

And if you don't enjoy any marketing?

Keep trying different approaches until you find one you do. Or think creatively about how to make something you do enjoy work from a marketing perspective.

Remember at the start I said “One of the things I really enjoy doing is exploring research and ideas that are a little outside mainstream marketing”?

Emails like this and similar content I create are my way of turning that thing I enjoy doing into something that works from a marketing perspective for me.

There will be something you can find for you too.


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The drumbeat of productivity

Posted on 8th May 2022.

One of the things I learnt when managing big engagements back when I worked in corporate consulting was the importance of establishing a “drumbeat” for the project.

A weekly progress meeting with each of my teams. A 5-minute daily “standup” to get focused and motivated for the day. A monthly or quarterly offsite to look at bigger issues and make sure everyone was headed in the same direction.

It's the same now I'm working on my own. I think everyone needs that sense of momentum and rhythm.

Personally, I do all my big plans in quarters. Building a new course. Trying out a new marketing method.

You can get a lot done in a quarter if you focus on it. Give yourself a year and you tend to put it off. Give yourself just a month and it's difficult to get anything big done.

A quarter is just right. For me at least.

Weekly is where the action really happens. Taking the big priorities for the quarter and planning what I'm actually going to get done this week. Then allocating out big tasks per day.

It's also where I reflect on what happened last week. Did I get all the big tasks done? Did I manage to exercise every weekday? Did I manage to learn something and create something every day?

I covered daily planning last week and how I use it to keep my big priorities front of mind to ward off distractions.

It's the weekly planning that makes sure I have those priorities right and everything is headed towards achieving the overall plans.

I suppose that all sounds very logical and structured. In practice it's not quite so organised.

I'm a late riser and a night owl, so “morning planning” tends to happen at some random time after 10am.

And some days I'll wake up with something big on my mind and start on that straight away rather than starting with planning the day. Not surprisingly on those days I tend to get less done overall. 

That urge to “jump in” and do something straight away is sometimes overwhelming even though I know I'll be less productive overall.

But the important thing is I manage to keep on track 80% of the time. And not only does that mean I tend to be quite productive, it also makes me feel good too. 

There's a real sense of forward momentum towards big achievements rather than just having “done some stuff” each day.

And that sense of progress makes it even more likely that the next day I'll make progress too. Then the next.

Sometimes that psychological side is the most important part of being productive.

– Ian

PS did you know that Top Cat was called Boss Cat when they showed it on the BBC in the 60s and 70s because we had a brand of cat food over here called Top Cat?

Only the title changed though – he was still TC in the show itself.


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How to slay the dragons of distraction

Posted on 1st May 2022.

I'm absolutely world-class when it comes to distracting myself.

Checking email, checking Linkedin, checking the football news. Checking out that “important” new piece of tech someone recommended.

Anything rather than focus, concentrate and push through any creative blocks I happen to have.

I mentioned last week that simply being aware of our tendency to distract ourselves has helped me a lot.

Another powerful but simple technique I use is just to write down what your big goals are for each day. And to list a couple of important tasks you could be doing if you get a few minutes of spare time.

Please don't write this off as too simplistic or “beneath you”.

It sounds ludicrous to suggest that we “forget” our big goals and important tasks. But we do.

Or more accurately, we don't keep them front of mind enough.

So when we get a few spare minutes during the day, instead of springing into action on an important task we umm and ahh a bit and the moment is lost.

Or when we're writing an article or email and it gets a bit hard to think of what comes next; we allow ourselves to get distracted because it doesn't feel like such a big deal.

What I find time and time again is that if I write down my big goals and tasks in the morning every day and keep them open next to me on my desk it tends to focus my mind and keep me on the straight and narrow.

If I get a few minutes spare I know exactly what useful things I can do with those few minutes and I do them. Or if not a quick glance reminds me.

If I'm struggling a bit and get tempted to check email or the news, I'm reminded that I've got a lot to get through during the day and I need to keep focused.

Most times, it's enough.

I also find that writing things by hand keeps them top of mind much more than typing them. So I get the best of both worlds by hand-writing them onto my iPad.

As I say, “writing down your big goals every day so you keep them top of mind” sounds way too simplistic to be effective. But I promise you it's not.