A lord of fish sauce.
During the time of the first century AD, citizens of Pompeii became very familiar with three simple words inscribed on terracotta bottles throughout the city.
The writing didn’t describe the contents of the bottles themselves. Nor did they suggest a date by which the product inside should be used, as one might expect. Instead, the three words heralded the name of the maker of the amber liquor held within.
Ex Officina Scaurus the bottles read—“from the shop of Scaurus.”
The man whose name was featured on the bottles was one Aulus Umbricius Scaurus. A member of the family Umbricii, who according to evidence, was most likely in the business of fabricating ceramics. But Scaurus saw an opportunity in using the clay vessels his family produced for an entirely different purpose altogether.
Scaurus’ bottles were most famous for containing garum, otherwise known as liquamen; a fermented fish sauce that was extremely popular in ancient Rome. Garum was the ketchup of its time, a sour and pungent liquid usually made by fermenting mackerel. It was enjoyed by rich and poor alike, and was often used as a seasoning in lieu of salt, which was a much more expensive and luxurious commodity.
By selling garum, Scaurus became an incredibly wealthy man—but not necessarily because he sold the best product. Instead, it was his cunning as a master of promotion that made him successful.
Over 1500 years before the first global corporation would exist, Scaurus was able to build a brand known throughout the Mediterranean region. His products could be found as far from Pompeii as Byzantium, Carthage, and Phoenicia, and his name was likely recognised by in excess of a million people living in the region at the time.
By putting his name on the bottles themselves, he provided the assurance of a consistent product people could trust. And the addition of poetic prose in advertising his product, for example describing it as the “flower of garum”, made them more desirable than any of his run-of-the-mill competitors.
Scaurus became so successful, and his products so well known, that it’s estimated nearly a third of all garum sold at the time was his.
All of this, because he learned to set himself apart from everyone else who was in the same business.
To us modern humans who live alongside the likes of Nike, KFC, and Toyota, Scaurus’ branding and creative taglines might seem mundane. But two thousand years ago, at a time of village markets, street vendors, and hyper-local production of goods, these were revolutionary concepts.
Since the age of 23—around fifteen years ago as I write this—I’ve personally achieved what many would call a level of “success”, which most people usually define in a financial sense. And sure, statistically, that definition would be correct, as my assets put me squarely in the frequently maligned category of the “one percent” group of our planet’s population.
As you can probably imagine, this means I’ve been at the receiving end of a lot of questions over the last decade and a half, regarding any insight I might have into what helped me get to where I am today.
Sometimes, people expect some drawn-out rags-to-riches story of an Australian kid from the bush who grew up with solar power and rainwater, and who ended up as some kind of internet tycoon. Sometimes, that’s the story I do share.
But in reality, I can distil my entire formula for success down to one simple word.
That word is marketing.
In my early twenties, I spent the best part of two years with my head in just about every marketing book I could find. My time was spent inhaling the philosophies of industry greats like Jay Conrad Levinson, Seth Godin, Dr. Joe Vitale, and PT Barnum. Before I’d even started my first company, I estimate I had read somewhere in the realm of fifty books covering the topics of public relations, branding, advertising, and sales.
This turned me into a marketing machine, and quickly led me to success. And although I would recommend this strategy to just about anyone who is trying to earn an independent income, or grow a business, I still constantly meet people who have an aversion to learning this skill set.
You see, a lot of people hate marketing.
To many of us, marketing is a word that’s about as distasteful as a mouthful of rancid yak milk. Marketing evokes images of sleazy TV salespeople selling vacuums or kitchen knives, or online product sellers who offer thousands of dollars in value, for the unbelievably low price of only $29—usually, complete with a fake countdown timer that resets every time you reload the page.
I totally understand why people have objections to this stuff.
But I look at marketing the way most of us might look at an axe. An axe can be a weapon to do murder with, or it can be a tool used to shape logs to build a home—the axe hasn’t changed, only the intention of the wielder has.
Take this newsletter that you’re reading right now, as a perfect example. This is an integral part of the Abundantia business, and forms one of the two core channels of its marketing. But unlike most other boring corporate emails, I don’t spend most of my time telling you about the fantastic new widget we’ve just created that will solve all your life’s problems, or try to pressure you into buying that thing.
Instead, I tell stories that people want to read. I offer insights into what’s happening in the world around us. And I share my experiences of becoming a free human. My main goal is to provide value, and for people to want to read what I have to say. I spend most of my time making sure that the words I write are providing the highest benefit possible to my audience, without selling a damn thing—the only usual exception to this is the occasional sponsorship message, like the one at the footer of this email.
There’s no trick, no manipulation, no brute force. I’m just trying to get people to love what I write.
This is a great example of how no matter how you earn your cheddar today, or what you aspire to do on your own journey of success or financial fulfilment, your marketing doesn’t have to be sleazy. You don’t have to push people to the brink of sanity by begging them to buy your stuff, or to notice you.
Your message and marketing can be as blunt and forceful as hitting people in the face with a rusty shovel. Or alternatively, it can be as welcoming as the arrival of the first green buds of spring. Personally, I prefer the latter.
And my preferred method of doing things works—I stand out from the crowd, and my business continues to grow by way of being unique.
Scaurus offered people a consistent product, and brand recognition. I offer people interest, entertainment, and value. Both are very distinct methodologies, but are designed to achieve the same end.
If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this email, it’s this: if you’re attempting to achieve the kind of freedom Sorelle and I constantly talk about, I personally believe that no skill will allow you to unlock this faster than learning the skill of marketing.
It can be applied to any industry, product, or person. And it’s been a proven tool in the arsenal of business for literally thousands of years.
You can have the best product on the planet, or be the most special human being in your field. But if you’re not able to get attention, have your products noticed, or reach who you want to reach, you’re about as likely to succeed as a toddler in a battle to the death against Godzilla.
For Scaurus, marketing was the special sauce that made his sauce special almost two thousand years ago. And l can promise you that by learning this skill yourself, you’ll be putting yourself on an almost guaranteed path to whatever freedom you are chasing.
Make marketing your special sauce.
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Nicely done Leon
Another good article that my intellect agrees with. The other big factor that repels people from marketing is "getting attention" when that has been punished in one's past. In adulthood, it may be memorable experiences of tall poppy syndrome. But it can also be that wordless ugh that indicates childhood experience, like an experimental rat who doesn't know why it's being electroshocked, but does know to avoid that part of the cage.
When a child asking for attention is repeatedly met with punishment for being a nuisance or a show-off, when asking for what you want is punished for ingratitude or greed, it sets up a deep fear that becomes harder to identify with every passing year. The child who is dependent on their parents for their very survival must learn quickly not to do whatever is punished and the lesson is very sticky.
The adult may look back and know it was unreasonable then and the results are counterproductive now, but the aversion conditioning remains. Even if one is dimly aware of it (like knowing invisible Sirius B exists because of the gravitational disruption of Sirius A), undoing the operant conditioning is a whole other ballgame. In the face of such a daunting task, it's far easier to make a don't-like-it excuse than re-experience painful powerlessness.
Professional psychologists have little clue about how to undo deep-rooted threat-induced aversion either, so those dealing with a very difficult situation single-handed deserve some compassion. What appeard to be foolishness or laziness may well run far deeper and darker.