One of the first skills new sailors need to learn is basic knot tying. 

Most start by learning how to use a cleat to secure a boat to the dock. (That’s a cleat in the picture above.) It’s a simple skill, but if not done correctly, the boat can come loose and drift away with the current. 

Need a loop at the end of a line? Use a bowline. 

Tying two lines together? The double fisherman’s knot is what you need. What if the lines are different thicknesses? A sheet bend will work best. 

Reef knot, anchor knot, figure eight, half hitch — they all have their specific uses. 

When used properly, each one is a helpful tool. But any one of them is also useless when used for the wrong purpose. 

It’s the same with the media you use. 

I often have business owners ask me if social media really works, or email marketing, or some other marketing tool. 

Yes. All media can work. 

But just like sailing knots, they only work when used in the right way and at the right time. 


Tip #1: Don’t assume the cleat (platform) is the problem. 

 When tying a boat to the dock, it’s critical to be aware of the size of your line relative to the size of the cleat. 

 (Warning: boating math ahead… but there’s no test. Well, I guess there is if you’re actually using a cleat!)

The rule of thumb is to take the length of the cleat in inches and multiply that by 1/16th to determine the ideal thickness of the line. So, if you’re tying up to a standard 8” cleat, you’ll want a ½” line. 

You can still use the cleat if your line is thinner but you need to wrap the line around the bottom of the cleat a few times first, then tie it off. Otherwise, the line is likely to loosen as the boat rocks, eventually allowing the boat to go on an adventure without you.

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Even the most embarrassed sailor would agree the cleat itself wasn’t the problem — it was how it was used. 

A similar situation often happens with marketing platforms.  

I remember a conversation with an agency owner who complained that the canned posts they had purchased to use on their Facebook page weren’t generating new business which was proof the social media platform was useless. 

A quick check of the page showed that they had less than two dozen followers consisting of friends, family, and a couple of clients. When coupled with the fact that only a fraction of page followers ever even see posts on the page, it wasn’t an unexpected result.

No, there was no one out there!

They needed to build up the page following before it could be used as an effective communication tool. 

Was the problem really the platform? Or how it was being used?


Tip #2 Identify the job to be done

Here’s the thing… when sailing, you don’t decide you want to tie a bowline and then go looking for places to use it. The job to be done dictates the knot you use, not the other way around. 

In marketing, first consider the goal and then use the medium and message that accomplishes the goal. 

For example, if your goal is awareness of your company, you wouldn’t choose email as your medium. That’s spam. And no healthy business relationship starts with the prospect seeing spam emails and saying, “You know, I really like this company.” 

But email could be used to send a message to your top customers to let them know you’re giving them a special benefit as a thanks for their business. 

Where your prospect or customer is in the buying process will dictate how you communicate with them. 

Good communication is saying the right thing, at the right time, in the right way.  It always builds and strengthens the relationship you have with your buyer.

And that is your ultimate goal in all advertising, marketing, and sales. 


Tip #3 Choose the right knot

You’ve identified the job to be done, now it’s time to craft your message and choose the best way to deliver it. 

When writing your message, consider the goal of your contact with your prospect or customer, and ask, “What do they need to learn or hear to create the desire to take the next step?”

When you know who you are talking to and what they want to know, creating the message is relatively straightforward. 

The bigger question is usually how to deliver the message. 

It’s at this point when you’re at risk of making one of two common fatal marketing mistakes. 

The first is using whatever medium is being hawked by the last person you talked to, without consideration of your goal and where your prospect is in the buying process. 

“Use video!”  “Use a podcast!”  “Use Google Ads!” is no different than a handyman coming to your house and claiming everything can be fixed with a hammer. 

The second mistake is trying to use all of the potential media options, or even trying to consider them all.

There are over a hundred knots a sailor could potentially learn and use. But knowing just 10 of them will handle nearly every situation a sailor will encounter.   

Likewise, there are countless media options, most of which you’ll never need to use. Identify the few you really need now, and learn to use them well. 

Besides, no one is handing out trophies for using the most media or having the most complicated marketing campaign. And even if they were, trophies don’t pay the bills. 

If there’s a simple solution that works, making it complicated only increases the time and money it takes to get the same result.  

Instead, select the minimum choices of media you’ll need in each stage of your customer’s journey and focus on using that media well, paired with the appropriate message.

Once you’ve maximized the results, then — and only then — should you consider adding additional media. 

Marketing doesn’t have to be frantic, complicated, or expensive. But all too often, it is, because it fails to connect with the prospect. 

If you have marketing that isn’t producing results, make sure you’re using the right knot. When you do, you’ll form the strong bonds with your prospects and customers that result in long-term relationships.

“To be successful at sea we must keep things simple.” – Pete Culler

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