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What Brazilian jiu-jitsu has taught me about marketing

So, recently I've taken up jiu-jitsu. You know, that sport that's kind of like wrestling except that there are joint locks and chokes? Maybe you've seen it used in MMA:

So far, I'm pretty bad. But, it's a lot of fun -- and a huge learning experience.

Because I'm pretty obsessed with marketing, I filter pretty much all my life experiences through that lens, so I've put together a handful of things I've learned in BJJ class and how they apply to the marketing that we do:

1) You can be dangerous from any position

One of the hallmarks of jiu-jitsu is that you can beat your opponent from your back just as easily as you can on top. You can be in a position that looks (to the untrained eye) really bad but still be in a prime position to end the match if you know what you're doing.

Marketing is the same way. Just starting with a few low-cost things and knowing what you're doing can really supercharge a small business. Just because you think your budget is small and that you don't have much time to spend doesn't mean you can't do something successfully.

2) If you're trying everything, you're accomplishing nothing

Early on, I tried to learn EVERY move possible from all angles and all positions. Quickly I realized that there was no possible way that I could absorb all of that information with the level of detail needed to do it successfully in a live match situation.

It's a million times more useful to learn a handful of techniques that you're good at and that link up together nicely, get competent at them, and then slowly build off of them. There's a Bruce Lee quote about this that applies:

In marketing, this couldn't be more true. I have conversations like this all the time with clients. They have a moderate budget and want to dabble in everything.

This approach is almost always a mistake. When you can only devote a little bit of attention to several different things, it becomes a huge challenge to get traction with any one of those things.

It's much better to focus on a small number of key areas that form a single strategy and develop success with them. Then, if you have the budget, build on top of that.

3) Refine through failure

Often times, I learn something in class and then can't quite pull it off when we're doing open mat and freely competing against one another. Sometimes, I'll ask my more experienced training partner why I'm messing it up. Usually, it's something pretty fixable, often times minor.

By exposing oneself to live practice against people better than yourself, you can easily expose your weaknesses. But this is actually a great thing. That thing that you thought you 100% knew, you learn that you only 75% know it, and failing at it helps show you that remaining 25%

This is essentially our agency's approach to any of our advertising campaigns. We are great at what we do, but anytime you're launching a new ad campaign, you're going to be slightly off with your targeting or timing or content.

Holding yourself accountable for those misses and seeing exactly what isn't quite working yet is the surest way to adapt. Because as we often find, we're usually pretty close the first time and only need a few small adjustments to make something that truly thrives.

4) Always be a white belt at something

I saved this one for last because it has been the most profound lesson for me. I've been great at marketing for a while now, and since that takes up so much of my day, I spend most of my day doing something I'm already very good at.

When I go to jiu-jitsu class, I'm objectively one of the worst people in class, and I have the least amount of experience. It's amazing how much your brain lights up when that is the case. You want to quickly produce better results. You want to soak up new information quickly. There is a sense of urgency to get better.

When you're new to something in your life, you see everything differently. It makes you more humble about everything in your life, and it makes you look at everything with a fresh perspective. When you're spending a part of your life thinking about improving and getting better, it's contagious and affects the rest of your life.

I'm always trying to learn and get better at marketing, but since training jiu-jitsu, I've been even more focused on improving. That's what happens when you're mind is focused on improving at a new skill. It begins to see places to improve everywhere.

So, no matter how amazing you get at something, always make sure you're a white belt at SOMETHING in your life at any given time. You'll be thankful for the way it makes you think and the levels to which it pushes you to be better.

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