‘…OF MAKING AND MARKETING WORK THAT LASTS’ part five
by Ryan Holiday
Published by Portfolio
eBook ISBN: 9781101992142
Copyright (c) 2017 by Ryan Holiday
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
From the Mindset to the Making to the Magic
The more books we read, the clearer it becomes that the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of any consequence.
A few years ago I got into an argument with a friend. This person—whose company I enjoy and whose work I respect—had declared the following to aspiring creatives on Twitter: “You should spend 20 percent of your time creating content and 80 percent of your time promoting it.”
This kind of thinking sounds right. Lines like that are easy to repeat at conferences and cocktail parties. It styles the speaker as part of some bold new breed of creator, not one of the old, stodgy dinosaurs. In its own way, it is inspiring too, saying: Don’t overthink it; just get out there and hustle!
There’s only one problem: It’s terrible advice.
So terrible that I know the successful entrepreneur who said it could never have gotten to where he is if he’d actually followed his own advice. He didn’t have a large audience just because he was good at marketing—his successful marketing was dependent on the fact that he had a great product. Not only was he a counterexample of that very line of thinking, I can’t say I know too many people whose success was built by spending one fifth of their time creating and four fifths loudly hawking the work they’ve just thrown together.
While there are many different types of success in this world, and prioritizing marketing and sales over the product may lead to some of them, that is not how perennial success is created. The kind of important, lasting work we are striving for is different—we’re talking about making something that doesn’t rely on hype or manipulative sales tactics. Because those methods aren’t sustainable. And they do an injustice to great work.
Even as someone who loves the challenge and creativity and rigor of marketing, I’m alarmed at how many creators gloss over creating. They fritter away their time on Twitter and Facebook—not killing time, but believing that they are building up followers to be the recipients of their unremarkable work. They have meticulously crafted brands and impeccable personae crafted through media training. They spend money on courses and read books on marketing to develop sales strategies for products they haven’t even made yet. All this churn may feel productive, but to what end?
To make something that will, eventually, disappear with the wind?
Even the best admen will admit that, over the long term, all the marketing in the world won’t matter if the product hasn’t been made right. In fact, it’s a classic “measure twice, cut once” scenario, in that the better your product is, the better your marketing will be. The worse it is, the more time you will have to spend marketing and the less effective every minute of that marketing will be. You can count on that.
Promotion is not how things are made great—only how they’re heard about. Which is why this book will not start with marketing, but with the mindset and effort that must go into the creative process—the most important part of creating a perennial seller.
The Work Is What Matters
The first step of any creator hoping for lasting success—whether for ten years or ten centuries—is to accept that hope has nothing to do with it. To be great, one must make great work, and making great work is incredibly hard. It must be our primary focus. We must set out, from the beginning, with complete and total commitment to
the idea that our best chance of success starts during the creative process.
The decisions and behaviors that bring you to creating the product—everything you do before you sit down to build whatever it is you’re building—trump any individual marketing decisions, no matter how attention-grabbing they turn out to be. And, as we’ll see later, those creative decisions can be critical marketing decisions in themselves.
Crappy products don’t survive. If you have phoned in the creative process, disrespected it, built a mediocre product, compromised, told yourself, “Hey, we’ll figure the rest out later,” then the project is likely doomed before it’s even finished. The battle will be futile—and expensive. Look at basically everything Microsoft has made in the last decade—from the Zune to Bing. That poor company seems resigned to spending billions on marketing products that inevitably lose money. Meanwhile, Microsoft Office is still a cash cow after two and a half decades. I’m editing this book with it.
It’s why all the pre-work matters so much. The conceptualization. The motivations. The product’s fit with the market. The execution. These intangible factors matter a great deal. They cannot be skipped. They can’t be bolted on later.”
This excerpt ends on page 20 of the hardcover edition.
How did the movie The Shawshank Redemption fail at the box office but go on to gross more than $100 million as a cult classic?
How did The 48 Laws of Power miss the bestseller lists for more than a decade and still sell more than a million copies?
How is Iron Maiden still filling stadiums worldwide without radio or TV exposure forty years after the band was founded?
Bestselling author and marketer Ryan Holiday calls such works and artists perennial sellers. How do they endure and thrive while most books, movies, songs, video games, and pieces of art disappear quickly after initial success? How can we create and market creative works that achieve longevity?
Holiday explores this mystery by drawing on his extensive experience working with businesses and creators such as Google, American Apparel, and the author John Grisham, as well as his interviews with the minds behind some of the greatest perennial sellers of our time. His fascinating examples include:
” Rick Rubin, producer for Adele, Jay-Z, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who teaches his artists to push past short-term thinking and root their work in long-term inspiration.
” Tim Ferriss, whose books have sold millions of copies, in part because he rigorously tests every element of his work to see what generates the strongest response.
” Seinfeld, which managed to capture both the essence of the nineties and timeless themes to become a modern classic.
” Harper Lee, who transformed a muddled manuscript into To Kill a Mockingbirdwith the help of the right editor and feedback.
” Winston Churchill, Stefan Zweig, and Lady Gaga, who each learned the essential tenets of building a platform of loyal, dedicated supporters.
Holiday reveals that the key to success for many perennial sellers is that their creators dont distinguish between the making and the marketing. The products purpose and audience are in the creators mind from day one. By thinking holistically about the relationship between their audience and their work, creators of all kinds improve the chances that their offerings will stand the test of time.
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, Im Lying; The Obstacle Is the Way; Ego Is the Enemy; and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into twenty-eight languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as multi-platinum musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.