How to Use ‘First Principles’ to Create Disruption With Your Marketing

PHOTO: Jehyun Sung

Being first is a big deal. The first person to adopt a new strategy, idea or product will usually get the lion’s share of the result. This is known as the “first-mover advantage.”

So how do you become a first-mover in the world of marketing?

You need to approach your strategy from a “first principles” point of view. First principles is a term that’s commonly used in math, physics and even philosophy. But the core applications of first principles can also be used for marketing purposes.

The first principles concept is a way of thinking. When discussing this topic, Elon Musk said, “We get through life by reasoning by analogy, which essentially means copying what other people do with slight variations.”

In order to be effective and create disruptive marketing campaigns, your first principles need to make some noise and be louder than everyone else.

Do Something Unique

Take what works, and make it your own. Being unique and starting from scratch allows you to think through all of the details and principles of your business.

This is something that startup companies focus on when they’re pitching ideas to investors. For example, pretend Airbnb didn’t exist yet and you wanted to turn this concept into a new business, but you needed to secure funding from investors first. You wouldn’t approach an investor with the pitch, “We want to make Uber for houses.” That isn’t an effective way to develop your business.

For starters, you didn’t create Uber. You don’t know the fundamentals of what made it so successful. Instead, you would have to use the first principles way of thinking. You could explain how so many people have empty rooms in their houses. The economy isn’t great, and you’ve come up with a way for people to earn supplemental income by renting out that extra space in their homes. This service would also make it more affordable for people to travel.

That’s a first principles approach. It’s unique, and not just copying another business model and applying it to a different industry.

These same concepts can be applied to your marketing strategy. If you can come up with campaigns that are unique and never been done before, it’s going to make your brand stand out in a competitive space to meet the demands of your market.

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If It’s Not Original, It’s Still OK

In today’s day and age, it’s nearly impossible for something to be 100 percent unique. At least some components of any idea had to be borrowed or inspired from something else.

The final result of what you come up with won’t always be completely original. But by applying first principles, it forces you to look at your marketing strategy through a new lens. Even if your campaigns are similar to someone else’s, it will still work for you because you took the time to think about the context, audience and other related factors.

Copying others won’t always work. For example, there are many instances of people trying to copy someone else’s blogging style. They see the success that a particular style brought to another writer, and they think they’ll be able to generate the same results by writing the same way. Sometimes it works, but unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone.

There are unique audiences for certain types of content. For instance, you might refer to the writing style of your favorite blogger in the B2B marketing industry because their website or personal brand is extremely successful. But this style won’t necessarily be effective for brands in the B2C sector. You’d know this if you approach your content strategy from a first principles perspective, as opposed to just copying someone else.

Let’s say you have a fashion company. You want to write blogs that target niche consumers by giving them tips on what to wear. The B2B marketing style won’t work in this scenario. That’s because long-form content that’s over 3,000 words filled with lots of statistics, graphs and screenshots that have been marked up won’t appeal to that audience. Instead, this type of business would have more success if they created content from their base viewpoint. You’ll be much more likely to come up with a disruptive strategy if you use first principles.

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Keep Adapting

Once someone has had success with a strategy, other people will start to catch on and use it too. When this happens, it starts to become less effective for everyone, including the person who applied the method first. That’s why you need to be innovative and always come up with something new.

Years ago, used infographics on their website, but they only posted them around once per month. Taking this idea and expanding on it, for example, sharing a ton of long infographics to enhance site content, scales it to the next level. Now other websites use this same strategy, so the originators need to keep adapting by continuing to apply first principles to new ideas.

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Become a First-Mover in Marketing

You need to approach marketing the same way that you would approach a startup company or new product development. Innovation and differentiation will separate you from the crowd.

Use the first principles way of thinking when you come up with your marketing strategies. Don’t just copy what everyone else is doing.

You can’t stop after you’ve had success. Disruptive marketing loses its effectiveness over time, as other brands apply those concepts to their own strategy. So be innovative and keep coming up with new first principles.

Neil is the co-founder of Neil Patel Digital. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, Forbes says he is one of the top 10 marketers, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he created one of the 100 most brilliant companies.


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