Marketing Insights From a Day at the Races with Dan Kennedy

Pacer and Sulky at Northfield Park, OH
Spending ad money without a good marketing plan is about as sure a thing as playing the horses at the racetrack.

Are You Gambling with Your Marketing Budget?

“Go, GO,  GOOOO! C’mon buddy, you can do it!  Go Number 6!  Pass ’em! Yes – YES YES!!!”

Have you ever seen a bunch of normally sane and controlled (at least on the outside) professionals suddenly leap up from the table they were seated at, jump up and down and start yelling their lungs out?  Then you’ve probably never witnessed the goings-on inside a harness racing clubhouse.

Or, at the very least, you weren’t there at Northfield Park outside of Cleveland, OH last Saturday night when three fellow copywriters and I each threw in two or three bucks and pooled our bets on a horse named Category Six.

Category Six belongs to a man named Dan Kennedy.  Dan is a harness racing

Dan and me at the Business of Copywriting Academy in Cleveland, May 2010. You can't tell from the picture, but this was taken during one of the most exciting moments of the conference - the fire alarm went off accidentally and no one could figure out how to turn it off for ten minutes! (Almost as if on cue, it happened right after Dan had remarked on the absence so far of technical glitches!) It drove me nuts, but Dan stayed cool as a cuke.

driver.  He also happens to be one of the most outstanding and results-driven copywriters and marketing gurus in the world.

The four of us, along with several dozen other copywriters from as far away as Korea and Australia, had not actually converged on Cleveland in order to bet on Category Six.  (Although for some of us the barn tour and races were the final incentive we needed to get us there.)  Rather, we were there to suffer through three brutal but enormously illuminating and productive days attending Dan’s Business of Copywriting Academy – a one-of a kind workshop in which Dan revealed a brickload (at least that’s what it felt like in my luggage and brain on the way home) of information on how to run a more effective and profitable copywriting business – not only for us but for our clients as well.

Now, I could go on and on about what I learned at Dan’s workshop.  But if I had only one thing to take away from it, that would be the importance of setting up systems in your business and your marketing.

And that’s why I started this piece with a horse race.  Because without systems, the odds are against you.

You can (and should) systematize everything in your business, from the way you answer your phone to how you track your numbers.  But the system I’d like to focus on today is your marketing plan.

How to Stack the Odds in Your Favor

Marketing, like horse racing, is always a gamble.  Even the best bet can throw a shoe and end up costing you money.  But it is possible to stack the odds in your favor.

Seasoned gamblers do this by developing a strategy.  Now, my experience with betting is limited to the two dollars I threw in on Category Six, so I can’t tell you what strategies might lead to better results at the track (sorry!)  But one thing I did pick up while hanging around the clubhouse is that it’s important to understand the whole picture.  Just looking at the odds isn’t enough.

Dan Kennedy's horse Category Six at the barn tour after the Business of Copywriting Academy
We all got to meet the Category Six and the other stars of the track during the pre-race barn tour.

One suggestion I heard was to get to know the stable insiders.  A grizzled stable hand can fill you in on the whole picture of life at the track.  Which driver had a fight with his wife the night before.  Whether the favorite in this race likes a muddy track.  Who the promising unknowns are.  These insights provide a framework that, while it may not guarantee you’ll win, at least gets you in the money far more often than not.   And it sure as heck is a lot better than simply choosing your bets based on how well you like the name of the horse.

(Or in marketing terms, how warm and fuzzy your Yellow Pages ad rep makes you feel.)

An intelligent plan can keep you focused on the moneymakers, prevent you from shelling out for a loser, and present you with the best chance for making it big.

That’s what your marketing plan does for you, too.  It provides a framework that allows you to choose your bets based on strategy and reason rather than wild-ass guesses.

Now let’s clarify a little.  When I say “marketing plan,” I don’t just mean a budget.

Sure, a budget is a very good idea.  It’s like ONLY taking to the track what you can afford to lose.  But what good is it if all you’re doing is picking your horses based on the color of the driver’s silks?

Here’s where the analogy breaks down.  You can still have fun at the track if you lose.  But losing in business is no fun at all.  (Trust me – I’ve been there.)

Your Fast Track to Profits

A marketing plan is so much more than just knowing your limits.  A good marketing plan…

  • Is a system that forces you to use your head and think strategically.
  • Makes you set realistic goals.
  • Helps you focus on results.
  • Keeps you on track and prevents unprofitable distractions.
  • Provides a great excuse (if you’re the type who needs one) to say NO! when pressured to spend money on ads and other marketing that don’t meet your needs.
  • Is your fast track to a profitable business.

Of course, there are marketing plans and marketing plans.  Just like there are stable grunts and real insiders.

But if you’ve got a good one, I’d bet my money on your marketing plan’s taking you straight to the winner’s circle.



Green Ink Copywriting

P.S.  In case you’re wondering, Category Six placed third in that race.  Which, the way we pooled our bets, resulted in us getting back a whopping $9 (exactly what we put in), for the most exciting free thrill most of us have had in a long time!

P.S.  If you’ve already got a marketing plan in place that’s working for you, good for you!  Go, go GO!  But if you don’t (or aren’t sure it’s working as well as it might), and would like someone to guide your bets, you can reach me at, or 715-218-1373.  (I promise to leave the manure rake in the barn!)

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer who helps Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

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