The Myth of the Overnight Marketing Success

We’ve all heard the stories.

A video goes viral and floods a previously-unknown company with new sales. An agency strikes a home run for a client with an award-winning ad campaign. An SEO consultant shares her exact process for how she ranked on page one for a difficult keyword in just 30 days.

These stories sound like overnight successes, right? Well, usually, they’re not.

As John Cooper Clarke said, “It took me 30 years for people to consider me an overnight success.”

This holds true in the world of growth marketing just as much as it does in the entertainment world.

In fact, it’s often easier to give the appearance of overnight success as a marketer, because the media makes it appear that you can seemingly go from “nobody knows who we are” to “we just got acquired by Unilever” in 0.2 seconds.

The truth however, paints a different story.

Marketing involves a lot of learning, testing, and adapting. What works right now in 2020 won’t work in a few years. What worked in 2015 is considered stale and outdated today.

And marketers need to realize that.

Dollar Shave Club

Probably one of the best examples of this is from Dollar Shave Club. You may remember their viral video that took the direct-to-consumer world by storm in 2012 and ultimately lead to a $1 billion exit. The video is now an often-touted example of viral marketing gone right in many marketing courses.

But the founder of Dollar Shave Club—Michael Dubin—didn’t just wake up one morning, make a YouTube video, and sell his company for $1 billion. There’s a lot of hard work under the surface.

In this interview, Dubin explains some of that work:

If this is resonating with you so far, here are some tips that might not make you an overnight success, but will certainly help you have more success in less time with your marketing campaigns.

Document your learnings

Learning is key. The best marketers take note of what they learned from every campaign they run. And they adapt based on those findings.

That’s why the best marketers create swipe files.

A swipe file is a digital folder where you keep all the amazing marketing ideas and resources you’ve found over the years.

As your swipe file grows, you’ll be able to spot connections and see things in a new light. This will help you create new and exciting marketing campaign ideas that could lead to your next big success.

Here are just a few of the categories from my swipe file:

If you want to learn more about swipe files and related tips for becoming a better marketer, I write about it in more detail in this article.

Iterate faster

As Jim Huffman says in The Growth Marketer’s Playbook, “The most successful startups are the ones that can iterate the fastest.”

Being agile enough to test new ideas quickly can help you stand out from some of your competitors who might be slower at churning out new campaigns.

A now-classic example is OREO’s famous tweet during the 2012 Super Bowl, which capitalized on a power outage during the game.

The OREO marketing team certainly knew what they needed to do to monitor and react to events in real-time, and it paid off with what the Huffington Post called “one of the most buzz-worthy ads of the Super Bowl.”

Look for trends

Trends are all around us if we’re looking for them. And as growth marketers, there are two types specific of trends that we need to pay attention to.

First, you should look for trends in marketing tactics and strategy. A good example would be the popularity of TikTok at the moment. Whatever your personal views are regarding the platform, there’s no denying that it is capturing a lot of attention right now.

The brands that jumped on the TikTok trend early are seeing the benefits.

Source: SensorTower

Secondly, you should look for more general trends in society as a whole. While they might not be marketing-related, you can often adapt your marketing strategies based on what is changing in the world.

A good example of this type of trend would be the popularity of online streaming platforms like Netflix and Disney+ right now, vs. the decline of the traditional movie theater experience.

While not marketing-specific, this trend might help you adapt your marketing campaigns in a way that appeals to a larger audience.

If you want to spot trends, here are some resources to do it:

For the first type of trends that are marketing-specific, make sure you’re staying up on the latest marketing industry news and insights.

I have the a free newsletter that can help you do just that. Yes, this is a shameless plug. It’s called GrowthMarketer Weekly and each Thursday I share one short email with everything you need to know to become the smartest marketer in the room.

If that sounds useful, sign up for free below.


For the second type of trends that are more universal, here are some of my favorite resources to check out:

Exploding Topics — This newsless and website surfaces rapidly growing topics before they take off.

Trends.vc — This free and paid newsletter helps 20k+ founders discover new markets and ideas.

Glimpse — Discover trends before they’re trending with this newsletter.

This Week in Creative Technology — This free newsletter is one of my favorite ways to stay informed of what’s changing in the world of technology and design.

While many of these sources offer paid subscriptions, I get a ton of value just from their free offerings alone, and I think you will too.

Put in the work

As I wrap up this article, hopefully, you found some new ideas and resources that will help you have more consistent success with your marketing campaigns. It just might not happen overnight.

And what better way to end than with one of my favorite quotes on this subject:

There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.

Kevin Ashton

The bottom line is, you have to put in the work.

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