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Mike KaputNovember 4, 20143 min read

Advice For Marketers From PayPal’s Billionaire Founder

This article was originally published on the Marketing Agency Insider blog.


FuturePeter Thiel co-founded PayPal and provided Facebook with its first outside investment. He also just wrote a book on startups called Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.

Modern marketers have a lot to learn from Thiel’s entrepreneurship guide. Because really, this is a book about how to envision, shape and create the future, which is exactly what marketing technologists do. 

We strategize, activate and measure tech-driven campaigns to produce new, better futures for our clients, agencies and industry.

While aimed at founders, the book’s contrarian thinking about how to build the future offers all marketers some important lessons.

Hunt for Open Secrets

Thiel posits that transformative businesses are built on secrets others don’t see or understand—even if they’re hidden in plain sight. Consider companies like Google, Amazon or Tesla that have transformed industries by uncovering open secrets:

Google saw that people craved better ways to find information online. Amazon started selling books online, but knew that trend would soon apply to all goods. Tesla gambled that auto consumers wanted the sustainability of green tech paired with Apple-like product design.

Inbound marketing was built on the open secret that consumers shop differently in the Google age. PR 20/20’s pricing model is built on the open secret that traditional agency pricing doesn’t add value. HubSpot’s renowned company culture is built on the open secret that people have dramatically changed how they live and work.

Marketers must constantly hunt for open secrets to add value to their clients and agencies. Note Gary Vaynerchuk’s (@garyvee) stance on emerging platforms like Snapchat: just because he doesn’t “get” these platforms, he still uses and researches them. Just because they aren’t important to you, doesn’t mean they don’t deliver immense value to others. As Vaynerchuk would say, many of his experiments with emerging platforms, apps and technology come to nothing. But he’s always hunting for the secrets hidden in plain sight to gain an advantage before someone else.

Thiel would probably approve—and marketers should take note.

Go Big Or Go Home

“General and undifferentiated pitches don’t say anything about why a recruit should join your company instead of many others,” says Thiel. The same applies to agencies. No one attracts top talent, world-class clients or life-changing success without being remarkable.

What defines and drives your firm? How are you different? What gets you excited to wake up in the morning? If you’re sacrificing so much to be just a little better than the competition, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, Thiel would suggest, aim to be ten times better. That’s how transformative companies are born.

He presents an illuminating example from the online pet store wars (think of the dot-com bubble era:

“Amid all the tactical questions—Who could price chewy dog toys most aggressively? Who could create the best Super Bowl ads?—these companies totally lost sight of the wider question of whether the online pet supply market was the right space to be in.”

What is your agency really doing? Are you fundamentally transforming clients’ businesses? Are you on the bleeding edge of creating a new vision and a new standard for the industry? Or are you just aggressively pricing chewy toys?

Marketing Needs A Sales Education

“People who sell advertising are called ‘account executives.’ People who sell customers work in ‘business development.’ People who sell companies are ‘investment bankers.’ And people who sell themselves are called ‘politicians.’ There’s a reason for these redescriptions: none of us wants to be reminded when we’re being sold.”

Thiel’s right. That’s the principle behind inbound marketing—we want to interact with companies and their sales team on our terms.

But there’s a corollary to this rule, which Thiel quickly points out:

“If you’ve invented something new but you haven’t invented an effective way to sell it,” he says. “You have a bad business—no matter how good the product.”

Marketers forget that we need to respect—possibly even worship—the sale. Be human. Be authentic. And create value. But do not forget that without sales, your efforts don’t drive results.

It’s easy to chase the latest tech, tool or gimmick. Real success, however, comes from performance-driven marketing that delivers real ROI. And that is one way that marketers can start building the future of their clients and agencies starting today.

Have you read Zero to One? Do you have any additional takeaways for marketers? Let us know in the comments!

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Image Source: Flickr via krupp



Mike Kaput

Mike Kaput is Chief Content Officer at Marketing AI Institute.