The 2,000 Year Old Marketer

HOST – About ten days ago, a plane landed at Denver International Airport. The plane came from the cradle of civilization, the Middle East, bearing a marketer who claims to be over 2,000 years old. He’s spent the last six days in a marketing hospital. He’s here with us today to discuss the past, the present, and the future of marketing.

Direct Response

2,000 Year Old Marketer – Most marketers are ashamed to admit that a ton of “direct response advertising” in the past, was done with swords. Conversion rates go up when you pull a sword out.

HOST – I would imagine so. Any other ancient advice about direct response for the modern audience?

2kM – If you really want to study hard selling conversion tactics, take a look at the Spanish Inquisition….(stunned silence in audience)

HOST – That is considered a human rights atrocity now, you realize?

2kM – Sure, even back then it was atrocious, but the conversion rates were un-Godly.

HOST – That’s barbaric, we aren’t like that anymore, conversions are figurative, not religious or forced through violence.

2kM – So do marketers do any blood sacrifices?

HOST – No.

2kM – Blood letting?

HOST – Definitely not.

2kM – Alchemy, magic?

HOST – No, no, there’s no magic at all in marketing today.

2kM – Well, maybe that’s the problem?

Organic Social

HOST – How do we know you’re a 2,000 years old marketer?

2kM – Because I’ve been waiting that long to make a sale off organic social.

Account Based Marketing

HOST – What is your thoughts on account based marketing

2kM – I think every marketer should be able to count.

HOST – No, no, account, like a –

2kM – Like a duke or a lord, right? A count.

HOST – No, listen – account based marketing is a type of marketing that deals only with certain accounts or groupings of prospective customers.

2kM – What makes one group more special than others?

HOST – High value accounts, well, these are men of means, they are prepared to do business, they wear a certain type of clothing, drive a certain type of…horse.

2kM – Why wouldn’t you sell to everyone?

HOST – To save resources, you only want to be visible to and directly engage with those that have the most means. Not everyone in the market is prepared to buy, so why bother shouting at everyone all day?

2kM – That day. But what about the next, and the days and weeks after that?

HOST – Only the worthy accounts need to hear our message; they will see us as the right choice for qualified buyers, and respond to our calls when we make them.

2kM – How will they recognize your message or anticipate the worth of your offerings, if they’ve never heard of you?


HOST – So what was marketing like 2,000 years ago?

2kM – It was a lot more in your face.

HOST – How?

2kM – Attention. In the ancient marketplaces, the art of grabbing and holding attention was a respected part of the trade. Marketers today are struggling with this.

HOST – Well naturally, there is too much content out there, attention is fractured across channels. Pinning down the audience is a mess. 

2kM – Isn’t this where all your data lakes and warehouses kick in?

HOST – I suppose they should, but it’s not that easy.

2kM – Don’t you have performance data on what types of messages absolutely work? Your computers should have the formula for grabbing and holding attention?

HOST – We use data for different purposes. Marketers don’t have to be in your face, bold and brash; in fact, this is a waste of time if you aren’t selling to people who will buy today. We use data to respect the larger audience, make rational promises only to engaged personas with targeted messaging that speaks to the sensible parts of people and causes a direct response we can measure. Data increases our chances of success.

2kM – No, over-interpretation of data increases self-awareness and limits attention grabbing potential. Because of all the “performance data” modern marketers are too shrewd and keen to avoid scrutiny and a spotlight, so attention becomes unachievable and unfortunately seen as a liability really smart people avoid. So marketers mint less copper into the clang of the bell, thin the fonts on the sign, mumble in the corner, and “hate to be a bother, oh by the way” until sundown….

HOST – Marketers today don’t need to get everyone’s attention. We don’t need to be appealing to anyone else other than the people that match our in-market target profile. Data again increases our chance of success. We reach them with rational messaging that gets a response. 

2kM – Marketers today want to be rationalized, more than they want to be remembered. Maybe data is to blame, but that’s a strawman argument, which was originally called a scarecrow argument, but we changed it in the 200’s because of Pope Zephrinyus, who was woke AF. 

HOST – So is the secret to getting attention shamelessness? You just wear loud colors, clang a bell, and use large type and active language on your signs? People prefer not to do business with clowns.

2kM – How is Ronald McDonald doing, anyway?

HOST – Ha! I suppose pretty well. But most of us don’t sell hamburgers. We sell extremely complicated things that require a ton of content creation and consumer research.

2kM – Can you put all that complicated stuff into a jingle? Something peppy?

HOST – I’m afraid the marketplace has changed. People don’t pay proper attention like they used to.

2kM – These are the same researchers you just spoke of? Maybe marketers stopped valuing the audience’s attention properly?

HOST – I think many folks just want to skip the nonsense and get to the point of things. A lot of old advertising trickery is just creative flim flam and easily dismissable. People want to know what’s in it for them, nothing more. 

2kM – Think about it this way – there are only a few ways to rationalize the benefits of a product, but there are a million ways to irrationalize the benefits. If the marketplace is as competitive as you say it is, and consumers are as distracted as you say they are, wouldn’t rational promises be the LAST thing a marketer would choose to shout out? It’s obvious what software or soap is supposed to do; but what does it make you feel like, what associations does it conjur, what invisible magic can you bring out of the irrational, illogical realms – that’s the sticking point. That’s your differentiation, distinction, the memorable way you grab and hold attention. 


HOST – Let’s talk about influencers.

2kM – Guzuntight!

HOST – No, influential people, celebrities, well known people

2kM – Oh, sure sure – Typhoid Mary, Caligula, Machiavelli, Genghis Khan

HOST – Well, not so much those types of figures, less menacing…

2kM – Caligula was a great entertainer. That barge. If you remember being on Caligula’s party barge, you weren’t on Caligula’s party barge. 

HOST – Ah, so were there any local merchants during Caligula’s time, that made it their goal to get their wine, honey, plain cake on the boat? To be seen on Caligula’s boat must be a noteworthy achievement?

2kM – Buddy, when you’re five papyrus’ to the wind, taking a ram’s horn up the back in a public orgy, you’re not really taking notes.

HOST – Point…taken.

2kM – Literally. For me, the problem with influencers, is the imbalance of interest. Caligula’s influence and interest matters more than any product or brand on his Pleasure Boat. It’s never “what’s the product?” it’s always, “what does Caligula think?” There is almost an influential force field emanating from Caligula that blocks a clear recognition of the products.

HOST – So then what about celebrity endorsements?

2kM – An advertisement featuring a celebrity endorsement is better than using an influencer.

HOST – Aren’t these just the same thing as influencers, only less effective because the addressable audience is so large because everyone knows them?

2kM – That’s the exact reason celebrity endorsement may be more effective than influencers. There’s less distraction.

HOST – Less brands to compete with?

2kM – No, less dildos flying about – remember, this is Caligula’s Party Boat – the influence may cut deep, but anything that happens on that orgy boat is not shareable or useful outside the orgy boat.

HOST – Surely there is some overlap – what we do in private can influence our public behavior.

2kM – For you maybe, for everyone else it’s a matter of signaling that they are keeping up with The Jones, which, having been alive this long, I met the original Jones’, lovely people.

HOST – Back to influencers and the orgy boat, I mean pleasure craft.

2kM – With influencers, the addressable audience is comparing itself to desires and decisions made by, in this case, one horny dude on a pleasure craft that is literally cut off from land, from reality. There is so much emphasis put on the influencer’s opinion and thoughts, that there is no room for anyone else to think for themselves, let alone think intently about a brand or product.

HOST – The audience is waiting to like something, or hate something, because of Caligula’s outsized influence on their reality. 

2kM – Exactly. Endorsement is effective not because we see a vaunted figure behave one way, or use one product, it’s because we see an audience of “other people like us” engage in a particular way in society and shared spaces. This is culture. This is how influence in a marketplace works.


HOST – Let’s talk about personalization. 

2kM – I don’t like to monogram anything, feels too Henry the 8th, you know? You really want to keep your head about that stuff.

HOST –  Not you personally, but other people’s, persons – making marketing personalized to individuals, this is possible now with computers, you know?

2kM – Really?

HOST – Oh sure – You can track who buys a product, you can find out where they live, you can gain access to their habits, net worth, and daily routines.

2kM – Ok?

HOST – You can send thousands of people personalized communication wherever and whenever you want.

2kM – Wow. 

HOST – Even better, once you can keep tabs on every customer you have, you can make them happy and address their needs at an individual level.

2kM – This sounds crazy.

HOST – Craziest part – Once you know them, they know you know them, so they never leave, and will always repurchase and buy more from you. You don’t have to spend money finding new customers. You can surprise and delight them at every unique turn in their life long journey.

2kM – So no more advertising needed?

HOST – Well, not really, but essentially…yeah! It’s exciting. 

2kM – And how do you keep track of all the information and preferences of these customers?

HOST – That’s called data, and it’s all kept in something called a CRM tool – Customer Relationship Management – it’s a computer.

2kM – A computer? Some kinda astrolabe?

HOST – Yes, no. A high powered piece of software and probably some people to run it.

2kM – Sounds like it involves elves. Right? So – Imagine traveling back to a busy ancient marketplace in Mesopotamia…

HOST – I can smell the spices!

2kM – Right – and in order to sell effectively to people, we’d have to track them, put stickers on everyone who buys,

HOST – A great idea!

2kM – Sure. We also have to know where they live, what they do, what they like, and surprise and delight them whenever they show up at my stall, and, even at their house, unwanted, especially on Black Friday?

HOST – Yes. It sounds like a ton of intrusive work, but if you had the information, there would be no other competitor, they would always choose you.

2kM – What if someone rolls into the market with my product, but at a crazy lower price?

HOST – You can offer incentives and discounts to match for certain customers that seem like they might try the competitor, but the real loyal ones will stay with you.

2kM – Why is that?

HOST – Because of the personal touch, you are at the top of their mind and your product is deemed superior.

2kM – If we followed everyone around with stickers and specials and monogrammed sweaters, did we spend all our time and energy on making our product better for every customer, and even future customers? 

HOST – Well, I suppose it doesn’t really matter what future customers think, as long as the customers you currently have love you, that’s all you need. 

2kM – I dated Cleopatra for a while, and believe me – Just because they love you and they let you call them by their first name, doesn’t mean you’re irreplaceable. Incidentally, Cleopatra’s first name was Patty. Patty Cleopatra. 
HOST – That’s odd. 

2kM – What’s weirder is this – I told this same personalization scheme to Jesus while he was writing the Bible!

HOST – Oh, sure!

2kM – I’m serious. Back when Jesus had the first draft done he handed it to me and said, “take a look, tell me what you think?” And I read it and, my God does he talk about himself a ton! It’s just his name everywhere. So I asked Jesus, “what’s the point of this book?” And he says, “I wanna start a religion.” So I tell him, “if you want people to pay attention and be loyal, you gotta put their name in this book.“

HOST – Well, actually, I don’t think that’s how that would work.

2kM – What do you mean? I told Jesus, “Hey man, you’re the hero here, but listen – Rather than share a single version of the Bible, you personalize the story for the congregation, replace your name with every congregation member, and hand out individualized Bibles! There would be no way to secure more loyalty and faith.”

HOST – Besides this idea feeling sacrilegious, what you’re describing is just not how people get inspired by stories or any kind of content.

2kM – What do you mean?

HOST – The personal connection people make with loyalty inspiring content, doesn’t come from a story that features us directly; it’s much more powerful to craft an impersonal story with indirect features the audience can see themselves in.

2kM – Oh…that makes sense….so what were you saying about personalization?


HOST – How do we know you’re really a 2,000 year old marketer?

2kM – I’m still waiting for Hubspot to turn a profit. 

USP (Unique Selling Proposition)

HOST – Yessir, a lot has changed in marketing in the last 2,000 years. ROI, USP, LTV

2kM – OMG, LOL, love the abbreviations. 

HOST – No, no, no – those are acronyms, Return on Investment, Unique Selling Proposition –

2kM – Now there is a silly idea.

HOST – Which one?

2kM – You see – you had to ask! Unique Selling Proposition. What is it?

HOST – It’s a widely accepted theory, made famous by Rosser Reeves building off Claude Hopkins, that in order to command a marketplace of common goods, a competitive brand should establish a unique selling proposition in the minds of the consumers, something distinct.

2kM – We tell people what to think?

HOST – Indirectly. People are precious about their individual routines, prefer unique things, handcrafted for them particularly.

2kM – Lemme ask you a question about cowboys – what was their favorite drink?

HOST – Well, I suppose it would be whiskey, some kind of hard liquor. 

2kM – You’d be right. And now, think back to the late 1880s, Dodge City, Kansas – a chaotic atmosphere, literally the Wild West. Now, how many saloons serving whiskey do you think they had in this small town, of less than a thousand people?

HOST – Probably one or two?

2kM – There were six. And each of them had the same whiskey on tap. Why were there so many saloons selling the same whiskey?

HOST – Well here is an example of a failure to develop a USP – if one of these establishments sought to corner the whiskey, and be the best in town, the competitors would have to scramble for different spirits, try to establish their own USP. It’s a good thing really. Diversifies the marketplace.

2kM – But these cowboys aren’t developing a taste for Moscow Mules or pina coladas – they want whiskey. They want the whiskey the other cowboys are drinking. And there are six saloons because of the natural churn rate of customers – saloons lose and gain bar flies from each other, they are 86’d and then welcomed back in a cycle across the establishments, and the fact that they can get the same whiskey here, as over there, keeps them in the town, and in the seat, and in market.

HOST – So what is the lesson?

2kM – Thinking a USP is the key to a successful product that customers love, misses the reality of why customers are in a marketplace to begin with. There can be MANY of the same types of establishments, and the fact that they are COMMON is the reason why they are FREQUENTED – Consumers, people, everyone loves to NOT THINK and would rather make decisions accordingly. What if a Common Selling Proposition is more appealing than a Unique one?

Fame / The Crowd Is In Control

2kM – It’s amazing hearing about the future, but I’m glad that certain fundamentals don’t change. 

HOST – Like what?

2kM – Like fame. Marketers still think being famous is important…right?

HOST – I think it’s become more scientific, thankfully because of all the information we have access to – marketers and consumers behave differently now, they do the research on which product or brand to choose. Consumers are more savvy than ever.

2kM – Ok then – If everyone does their own research, then there should be hundreds of distinct brands in the top of every category, based on the fact that one consumer’s research and experience is not homogeneous with another, and people seek to have their individual needs addressed. Right?

HOST – Kind of. The marketplace is much bigger, but there are still dominant brands.

2kM – Why is that?

HOST – Because a conglomerate or a huge brand can outspend, outadvertise, and outshelf competing brands.

2kM – Then why don’t they buy up ALL the shelf space? Why leave any room?

HOST – I suppose to leave room for options?

2kM – Do you think that’s a choice they make?

HOST – Then it’s a question of stamina.

2kM – A functioning marketplace has consumer-side dynamics that can’t be 100% dominated by conglomerates. Consumers may be in control, not as savvy researchers, but as an easily distractible force unto themselves, looking for what others are looking for – the human is a social animal, when in crowds or communities, we have a logic that inspires individuals to make choices that align with peripheral vision, not direct line of sight. We gravitate towards things we recognize, not things we rationalize.

HOST – In a way I suppose that’s true, but it still doesn’t explain fame, or category domination by one brand.

2kM – Then reverse the question – does everyone choose a dominant brand because they rationalize it and research it?

HOST – No. They choose it because it’s there.

2kM – And, they choose it because they don’t have to rationalize it. They’ve seen it before, it’s recognizable in their mind. We parse the present moment’s decisions through our memories, not via an actuary table that calculates the odds of an improved future version of ourselves.

HOST – I think I get it – if the marketplace was a brain, the goal is to be in easy-recall memory, not in their analytical brain?

2kM – Precisely. This is why fame and recognition amongst crowds can cut into conglomerations. This is something marketers were taught 2,000 years ago, because some of the first really effective advertising came out of China, from a guy that played the hell out of the bamboo flute, sold a ton of candy because of it. Great jingles. And this was 3,000 years ago.

HOST – This is all well and good, but marketers today have to do a lot more than stand up and play a flute to be noticed. 

2kM – But didn’t we agree that the goal is to be recognized, not noticed. 

HOST – Yeah, what’s the difference? The crowd is distracted either way.

2kM – I thought you said they were savvy? Why don’t we throw some research on them? Surely, they’ll notice a really good webinar? Look, the point isn’t fame – fame has it’s roots in rumor and report, reputation & recognition among the commoners. This is where creativity is a distinction, in messaging, in price, in product, in placement. If you focus on generating fame and memorability, you may find doors opening more easily and more often. If you focus on generating a ton of convincing research, you may find your doors closing sooner than you’d like.

Efficiency VS Effectiveness

2kM– Things are so different these days, but marketers still have to deal with werewolves, right?

HOST – Well, not really, werewolves aren’t real – one of the benefits of science and history is that we can gather facts and so we’ve proven werewolves are just a myth.

2kM – So marketers don’t believe in myths anymore?

HOST – No – we have to report on things with metrics, strategize and be data-driven. Marketing is too expensive to rely on myths, so we have tactics to focus energy for consistent outcomes. Channel specific campaigns, targeted audiences, personalized cadences, keyword content; none of these are silver bullets, but they might help you kill a werewolf or two, figuratively speaking.

2kM – Why would you want to kill a paying customer?

HOST – It’s just a figure of speech. We quest for silver bullet fixes to make sure and fast work of execution, it’s about optimization, efficiency is the goal.

2kM – But what about effectiveness? What if a marketer’s goal was understanding larger forces at work, how to be effective, not just efficient, on the chosen channels?

HOST – What are you saying? 

2kM – Marketers seem to be always searching for silver bullets, but they’re never interested in the full moon. 


HOST – I assume you’ve noticed how fast things move in the marketplaces of today, I wonder how that compares to the pace of ancient marketplaces?

2kM – About the same.

HOST – *pfft* Come on now! The internet, telecommunications, peer-2-peer networks, credit and banking, there have been massive improvements to the speed of business. 

2kM – But there hasn’t been improvements in effectiveness, just efficiency.

HOST – Again, I’d disagree. A/B testing technology, for example.

2kM – You have to test the differences between letters now?

HOST – No, between two things, concepts – When you come up with ideas for an ad or a tagline, you used to have to commit to one, and ignore the potential of the unused ideas. With A/B testing you can separate audiences so one group sees tagline A, and another sees tagline B.

2kM – So you say two different things to people at the same time?

HOST – You can test thousands of different iterations. And what’s best is test groups don’t know they are being tested, nor would they ever compare thousands of different messages.

2kM – So the total group lacks a shared experience, on purpose?

HOST – Yes. It’s brilliant, because you take the results and use the winning idea on the next campaign or iteration.

2kM – Why not test it again? Forever?

HOST – You certainly can, but there is a point where you should aim for consistency.

2kM – When is that point? When should you retest the A/B and C D results?

HOST – Well I guess around 6 months?

2kM – So every 6 months, what you say or sell might change appearance and be slightly unrecognizable, and that’s the point?

HOST – In a way, but there still needs to be consistency – testable, iterations, endless optimizations, that’s what is possible these days.

2kM – Right – I knew a lady once, in a marketplace near Cairo, had one sign, one tagline, and never changed it for all of the 50 years. 

HOST – With A/B testing she could’ve improved her performance significantly.

2kM – She was a massive success because she figured out what worked and left things alone. She owned her corner, she commanded her spot, and her presence became a tradition.

HOST – Traditions change, they have to be challenged.

2kM – Says who? The community? Everyday people that perform the rituals and are held together by tradition? They want to change things every 6 months?

HOST – People are drawn to what is new, they ignore things they’ve seen a bunch of times.

2kM – I’d say people are drawn to things they don’t have to consider, tradition establishes this in daily life. Tradition is just a series of unchanged behaviors; the goal of a marketer is to tap into, understand, and become a part of these behaviors. By flip-flopping the messaging and packaging and brand, there is no ACTUAL consistency being perceived by the marketplace, and there is no commitment from the marketer.

HOST – So testing things is bad?

2kM – Not necessarily. Experience and time are their own laboratories, everything gets tested in the end. I think your A/B testing leads to homogeneity, not distinct harmony. There is no style in a lab environment, because the germs aren’t left to marinate on the petri dish; everything is sterile, testable, fungible, uncommitted to and up for debate. If modern marketers practiced patience and consistency as much as they practiced on their campaigns like patients, then patterns and data sets which reveal natural style, strength, and stamina would be easily evident.