Joe Cardillo

Three Keys to Become a Disruptive Marketer

By: Joe Cardillo | May 21, 2014 | 
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3 Keys to Becoming a Disruptive MarketerBy Joe Cardillo

I recently became a marketer.

Technically my title is digital evangelist/marketer, and this means I get to create content and education, talk about design/collaboration, and of course, do some Rolodexing.

It’s something of a dream job, but the switch also makes me nervous.

There are a bunch of reasons for this. One is that after five+ years in operations/product, I no longer get to be the gal/guy behind the scenes.

This is unnerving because I’m pretty comfortable back there, and not half bad at it, either.

Another thing I’ve been processing is, although I’ve been hanging out with marketers for a couple years, moving fully into that world means a change in culture.

I have believed for a long time that we can and should care deeply about the quality and usefulness of our ideas to actual people. There are tricksters in any discipline to be sure, but in marketing/social media in particular it can be difficult to know if brands are who they say they are.

I worry about losing my way by osmosis.

Become a Disruptive Marketer

I’m a bit of a podcast nut, and on a recent episode of This Old Marketing (The  weekly podcast from Content Marketing Institute with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose) one quote in particular tweaked my brain:

Disrupt yourselves before you’re disrupted.

Rose was talking about agile marketing and how marketers are coping with the rapidly changing landscape. But he wasn’t just talking about what you do when you run into a discrete problem, he was talking about building a framework as a professional to constantly disrupt your own thinking and actions.

The problem, as I see it, is not the need for more tactics and tools – there are dozens and dozens to sift through already – but instead the need for inspiration and a set of practices that promote sustainable and disruptive marketing.

Or, as uber-talented designer Frank Chimero recently put it:

I don’t want a new app to help me do work; I want different ways to think about work so I can get more done.

While listening to the podcast, I quickly jotted down several ideas. After some reflection, the ones below are what stuck.

  1. Think Like a Journalist. On the podcast, Pulizzi and Rose likened modern marketing to building a newsroom or media organization – essentially, describing marketers as publishers who marshall different content areas/beats. I love this idea because the focus becomes telling better stories, ones that matter to people and that communicate the core of human experience. This can be difficult, especially if you’re a B2B marketer, but I don’t think it’s because there are fewer stories out there.A good journalist asks questions about the relationships between people and things, and is a master of narrative. In fact, some of the best marketers out there are more like journalists – in temperament and in practice.
  2. Act Like a Product Manager. When you work for a startup, you see firsthand how product makes or breaks everything. This is true in any company, and I remember it from my previous jobs, but the relationship between marketing and product has become so intimate that a good marketer is akin to a product manager. If you’re a marketer, every day is a focus group, and in that context having an understanding of things like UX/UI and customer development is crucial. As users/clients become more and more comfortable talking back to and collaborating with brands, the underlying stories and ideas that were always there are being revealed, and marketing is the vehicle for that conversation.
  3. Test Like a Chemist. One of the things most marketers are under the gun for is to be data-driven. I think this is something of a misnomer, because it suggests that if you crunch numbers, suddenly a halo of light will appear above you, and voila, you’ll see the absolute truth. This is silly. Any marketer who’s been responsible for even a moderately robust series of marketing channels knows there’s a lot of intuition involved.

And it’s not intuition that’s the problem, it’s the next step: Applying clear, replicable testing to validate or invalidate what you think is happening. Until you have a direct way to test something, it doesn’t matter what you think about it.

Get Your Learn On

For content marketers, especially, there is no better guide than Andy Crestodina’s Content Chemistry: An Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing.

He generously gifted me a couple of copies when I was in Chicago last year, and I’ve found it to be a practical and thorough how-to any marketer can use.

Even if you don’t go the lengths he does, you can still create a basic framework for testing.

One good and fairly easy way to do this is to steal from lean analytics/lean startup methodology.

Alaistar Croll has an excellent presentation from last year’s Lean Startup Conference. It’s a bit long, but well worth looking at. In particular, slide 24 describes what a good metric looks like, and slides 76-82 feature AirBnB as an example.

I suspect that being a disruptive marketer is largely about building culture, both the kind that involves shared experiences and the culture we keep in our heads and that informs us as to how we should work and live.

It’s a key component of strategic over tactical thinking, and something any full-stack marketer needs to prioritize.

About Joe Cardillo


Joe Cardillo is a product/ops guy turned marketer and digital evangelist for San Francisco based design marketplace Visually. He digs writing, journalism, media, PR, design, rocanroll, startups, anything science-y, and thinking about how to become a better human.