Lessons From the 8 Greatest Marketers of All Time

Steal some of these genius marketing techniques to use in your own marketing strategy.
February 12, 2013

Although the greatest marketers of all time bring us different lessons, approaches and philosophies, they all achieve the same results: conversions and loyalty. Create your own small-business marketing strategy using one, or a combination of all, of the most famous marketing techniques of all time:

Tim Ferriss: Make the huge promise

Modern marketing genius Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, has taught us that we love to consume huge, hyped up promises, even when we know they’re insanely unrealistic. Admit it: The big promise of having anything in four hours is darn appealing. Join the “new rich” by only working four hours a week. Have the perfect body in four hours. Anything is yours in four hours. We know it's impossible, yet we keep eating it up. But here's the thing: You may still be working 60 hours a week, but you're getting twice as much work done thanks to Tim. Tim taught us that you can promise the stars and still make people happy if you can help them hit the moon.

Mary Kay Ash: Multilevel marketing opens doors

Mary Kay Ash quit her job as a salesperson in Dallas when the man she trained was promoted above her for twice the pay. She became a pioneer of multilevel marketing so women could have just as much success as men. Her marketing innovations included: giving expensive gifts (remember the pink Cadillacs?), offering incentives for recruiting others and an emphasis on direct sales through friends and family.                                                         


David Ogilvy: Never stop testing

David Ogilvy is considered the "Father of Advertising.” Packing out the grand opening of a hotel on a $500 budget was his first challenge. Ogilvy pulled it off with a direct postcard campaign and fell in love with the process. He was the master of the “split test,” where two versions of an ad were published at the same time, but “keyed” with a unique way for consumers to respond, so the winning ad could be identified, then rolled out nationally. One of his most famous quotes: “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”

Michael Phelps: Be the best at one thing

Michael Phelps a marketer? Maybe not in the classic sense, but he has taught us if we’re the world's best at one thing, the world will open its doors to you. His incredible swimming skills made him the most medaled Olympian of all time as well as one of the richest. Phelps has spoken to a U.S. President, gotten sponsors including Rosetta Stone, Subway and Visa, and received more than $100 million in endorsements in 2012 alone. Lesson: Don’t try to be good at everything; commit to being the world’s best at one thing.

Conrad Gessner: Word of mouth matters

Conrad Gessner was the “inventor” of word-of-mouth marketing. More accurately, you don’t really invent word of mouth, but you can manipulate it, and that is exactly what Gessner did. By creating an easy to repeat poem about tulips, he was able to familiarize Europeans with a flower they had not heard of before. In the mid-1600s, his poem helped spawn “Tulipmania," where people were paying up to $1 million (in today’s standards) for a single tulip bulb.

Walt Disney: Have the people making it, use it

To create a truly remarkable Disney World that could literally market itself, Walt Disney had both corporate and park employees ride the rides before they opened to the public. In 1967, one employee rode The Pirates of The Caribbean and told Disney that something just wasn’t right. Disney had him ride the ride again and again and again until he could pinpoint the problem. The employee, who was from the south, pointed out that nights on a bayou were usually filled with fireflies. Walt added simulated fireflies to the attraction days before it opened. The ride continues to be one of the most popular rides in the park to this day.

Seth Godin: Be remarkable

Seth Godin taught us that people are attracted to the remarkable. In order to appeal to the market, you’ve got to stand out to the market. You do that by being the best, being different, being unique, being cutting edge, being retro, being anything that’s not what the crowd is—in other words, being the purple cow in a field of black and white Jersey cattle. It’s not just enough to get someone’s attention; you can run naked down Main Street to get attention. Godin is remarkable enough to get—and keep—people’s attention.


Steve Jobs: Design matters

While Steve Jobs may not have been the first to merge design and technology, he brought it to levels of success never seen before. Customers don’t just want their technology to function. They want it to be cool too. Jobs taught us while design isn’t everything, it’s still pretty darn important.

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