Doug Lawson Interview — lesser-known tips and tricks in content marketing. Both will serve you well.
You’re in a 30-minute read.
Doug Lawson. Email maverick. Deadline hitter. Funnel cleaner. Lean, lead generation machine. Old school guy with a slew of modern tricks under his sleeve. The guy who makes your content shine. Bookworm. Comic lover. Bodybuilder. A father of two (doesn’t use ‘em as weights). He was funky enough, so we decided to interview the guy.
In this post, he’ll talk. A lot. About what made him go into marketing. How he started his own business. The challenges and problems he faced. Overcomed. What makes his emails shine and how he generates leads. Whether you should be on Twitter or LinkedIn. He’ll share quite a few marketing tips, a couple of advice, and an occasional secret. So, make sure you read until the end. Or else.
Who Is Doug Lawson? What Can You Tell Us About Your Childhood?
Doug is just a regular dude looking to find a way to survive on the 3rd rock from the sun, but not just survive, to thrive, and make a mark before my time is up.
My childhood was a lonely one, but not in a sad way. I was on my own a lot. I had spinal meningitis when I was 18 months old, which left me without much hearing. I lived in 7 different states (in the US) before graduating high school. And I was the only child.
So, I spent a lot of time reading comics and books. Studying people. I’d ride my bike to the center of town just to watch people (what a creep!). Just off in my imagination most of the time. I was also good at sports, so I played football (American), basketball, and water polo. I never really connected with anyone on a deeper level.
We Already Know You Like to Read Fiction. What Are Your Favorite Books? Any Good Marketing Lessons There?
I have so many favorite books. And they all hold significant meaning to my life. To pick one would be to pick one of my children over the other. I can’t do that. Each has its place, and its role in my life. But, the more epic the book is (whole new worlds like Malazan and Dune), the more I’m just sucked into it.
Looking back, it was comics that helped me understand marketing better. A good comic can drive you insane waiting till the next issue comes out.
Or you read other storylines from other comics to get the full story.
You have to nail the story, the copy, the character development, the artwork, the suspense, the flow well to keep the readers going back to their local store every month (I’m a child of the 80s, before digital comics). There was also a sense of tribalism with the comics.
I laugh when people talk about building your tribe as if that’s a new thing. Comics could build a tribe, unlike any other form of print media I can think of. And they’ve been doing it before I was born. They use emotions, heroes vs. villains, tight plotlines, and speak to things greater than ourselves.
What Made You Start a Career in Marketing? What Was Going Through Your Mind at That Moment?
Ten years ago, I was a broke teacher with my wife. Teaching in America is a vow of poverty. We were living in bad conditions. We had our first child, and I was like… “oh, shit… I’ve got to do something”. So, I was wracking my brain on how to work full-time, help with the baby, and make some extra money.
So, I tried 2nd jobs, and I nearly burnt out doing that. Then we had our 2nd child… And I was desperate to find a way to support us all without having to trade time for money (i.e. work night shift jobs for minimal pay).
I was messing around on Twitter, and I saw some people selling info products. Selling these poorly written PDFs for 50 bucks or more. To help people with anything: make more money, get laid, get jacked, lose weight, etc. And they were all so bad!
I was like… I can do that!
So, I just followed their processes. I didn’t even know the words “funnel,” “landing page,” “email marketing,” “conversions,” “upsell,” “lead magnet.”
I just signed up and followed their process to the end.
Then I would see another dude doing the same thing, using the same way of scaring you to buy something (scarcity tactics), the exact same script, etc.
I copied their funnel, came up with my own documents, signed up for crude landing pages, ran emails out of my personal account without an email automation platform, and I taught men how to lose weight (I didn’t know… I researched the hell out of it, cited my sources, and just gave them a program and some guides).
I learned how to craft Tweets that got good engagements, Tweets that got you to go to the landing page to sign up for the lead magnet, and then from the lead magnet I upsold you several things.
It wasn’t until a year later (after making about $18,000 from these weight loss guides) that I learned that I was using Direct Marketing tactics and that there were actual terms to define some of the tactics I was using.
I read Dan Kennedy, I read Gary Halbert, I read a bunch of old-time direct marketing stuff. It started to click and I expanded to other types of info products and physical products, trying out all of these tactics and creating new promotions nearly every two weeks. It was exhausting!
Dealing with all the chargebacks, chasing email subscribers every month, creating new promotions over and over again, handling inventory… It was a hamster wheel that I couldn’t get off of. It was not sustainable, but I was making more than my teacher’s salary… by far.
So, I went into the freelance world.
How Hard Was It to Start a Business? When You First Opened Your Agency, What Was the Biggest Challenge You Faced? How Did You Handle It?
It’s harder than anybody could ever write about. You hear all the time on LinkedIn, Twitter, and the books… hustle culture. It’s worse than that. The pressure not to fuck up is really high, especially since you’ve got to support your family. You wake up with a permanent knot in your stomach, the nerves, every day trying to make it all work. Trying to juggle everything.
So, I had to get out of the game. I closed up my accounts, deleted every piece of content I ever wrote, dumped my physical inventory.
I went into the freelance world. I only wanted to write content and nothing else.
So, I cold emailed everyone I knew (in the Twitter world) to work with me. And I slowly started to get projects to write blogs, landing pages, email sequences. The pressure was off. I just focused on getting retainers and delivering the content by the deadlines.
Did that for a few years and the projects just kept getting bigger and bigger again, that’s when I started my agency – to delegate the work.
We Know That You Run Your Own Company. Can You Tell Us More About the Lawson Agency?
My agency is basically a bunch of subcontractors and me. I work on most of the projects myself, and when the tasks get rather large, I turn to my cache of friends that I’ve made on LinkedIn and Twitter to subcontract the work to them (the copy, the market research, the graphics, video production, and landing page designs).
I review every piece they do and send it back for corrections. I only work with 3-4 clients per month.
B2B, or B2C? And Why?
I’ve done it all. B2B or B2C. I’ve never niched in a niche. I’ve only niched my skill set.
To me, the foundations of marketing don’t change. In B2B, we’re still dealing with humans. We’re still building relationships. We’re still dealing with the buyer journey and how to put the right content in front of them at the right stage in their journey. The only difference is the complexity of the sales process (size of the contract, terms of a contract, different features agreed upon).
In B2C, you rarely have to collaborate with sales teams. You may have to cooperate with the in-house customer service teams, as they can tell you what the feedback of the customers is.
I find that B2C business owners understand my work a lot more than B2B business owners (this is a generalisation across the board). B2B owners want to know if you are getting leads. They don’t care about the TYPE of lead. A lead is a lead. B2C is all about the sale.
They don’t care if a FB ad got a ton of clicks if it didn’t produce a sale or the metric of sale they had in mind. They don’t care if the email got above 30 percent click-through rate if the sale goal wasn’t met. What you do has to produce a sale. So, I have to educate them on how a piece of content can’t be measured in DIRECT sales, as the foundation of my content is not DIRECT marketing, but creating a demand, creating life-long customers…
I always say the toughest part of my job is trying to convince clients that direct marketing should be done sparingly and that people want to make their own decisions. They want to know WHO they are working with and WHY you do what you do. They want to feel like they have choices. Let’s help them make the best choice.
Do You Prefer Working With Small or Big Companies? And Why?
I’ve worked with solopreneurs to medium-sized companies. The big companies go with more established agencies. Part of my appeal is that I scale with them. So, I’ve had clients that started super small, it was them and their partner.
They were living in the danger zone daily. As they got bigger, I’d start hiring people to help me scale with them. That’s always the most fun. It’s always exciting to see a business owner/entrepreneur work their magic. You can see how they think about systems, how they feel about delivering quality, how they think about branding.
And when it works, it is something to behold. I’ve been on the flip-side of that, too – they totally flopped. And you can trace back to why they dropped. It usually has to do with the message and the service itself.
Why Email? Why Content Marketing?
Emails, the way I use emails, are stories. I love reading and writing. And I know people, by and large, are addicted to stories. Stories that help. That has a point. Emails are the most direct way to your clients.
Think about the process they have to go through before they read a single email. They have to WANT to hear from you. You have to get the first and second touch (in most cases, it’s your social media content, to your website content THEN hop on the email list) right.
By the time they get on the list, they are ready. It’s pure freedom to express the brand in multiple ways. Long content. Video content. Short content. Case studies. Etc.
How Do You Generate Leads for Your Clients? If It’s Not a Secret.
There are no “secrets” in marketing. The principals are the same. Who is your real target? What is their REAL problem? What do they need to help make the decision? Where are they in the buying process? What type of content do they consume to reach their decisions? What is OUR unique mechanism for solving this problem? Do we have the right offer in place?
Once you have all of these sorts of questions answered, then you think of the correct strategy, then you think of the messaging you are going to use, then you think of the distribution channel strategy, and then the copy comes into play in the late stages.
You a/b test your copy as you go along. Adjust. Test. Adjust. Test again.
Anyone who says there’s a secret to this is hustling marketing courses or full of shit.
So, I try to generate leads, or more preferably, demand for the clients by getting the first part of the process right. Lot’s of time devoted to trying to understand the people within the market. Understanding their true need.
Clients who want results within a few weeks will be sorely disappointed. It could happen, but creating demand requires a bit of time to get the systems fleshed out and the copy adjusted accordingly.
Can You Tell Us a Bit More About How You Run Content Marketing for Your Clients? Can You Share an Example?
It’s essential to not be locked in on what worked for another client, even in the same niche. Their audience is not going to be the same (some overlaps, yes). They are not going to respond to your brand the same way they responded to your other clients’ brand.
You have to begin again. Start new. Begin from square 1 and build it from there. And I don’t take orders from clients. They will say things like “We need more blogs” and I will go, what makes you say that? How do you know blogs are what you need? “Because other people are doing it!” is usually the response I get. So, I have to start from zero (research) and then move up as I go along (as quickly as I can).
Typically, since my clients are small compared to the big B2B or B2C orgs, there are FEWER distribution channels. Less money to throw around. I need to find out where their customers are. If they have a specific problem, where do they go to get it solved? YouTube? Google search? Hop on Twitter?
I spend a lot of time trying to find them, in order of most use. So, let’s say most of them came by way of a Google search, well… your web design, web copy, and web page content need to be tight like Kobe on game night.
Your paid traffic should be your next step. But where? And how do you prove to yourself that your people are on IG and not FB? Or Twitter and not LI? I typically have a very small budget for paid traffic to spread it across several platforms to see which is giving us the most feedback. Once I know that I stop everything else and take that same budget and dump into the ONE.
I don’t go “fishing” where the fishes are not hanging out. I see too many people doing unnecessary things to put content in front of people. Not everyone needs a podcast (and yes, they are super useful for repurposing across your distribution channels) because not everyone wants a video or audio format.
You have to figure out what is the best way to come up with effective content, both in cost and in getting feedback.
Lately, LinkedIn has been a VERY good source of quality leads for clients. I’ve spent way more time on that platform (both for myself and clients) than I do with my own family. It’s the most frustrating experience of my career because you not only have to come up with the correct content strategy, you also have to game the distribution of that content.
And I fundamentally disagree with these folks that say “Deliver VALUE!” “Be authentic!” well… yea, that’s a matter of course. It doesn’t help if you’re doing that and getting 10 views and no DM conversations. It’s a total immersion for the client’s team and myself to get LinkedIn to distribute the content to their ideal network and STAY there.
LinkedIn paid ads don’t perform well. It’s as organic as possible over there. I’ve learned a lot working on that platform. It comes down to getting the right mix of entertainment, stories, and information just right and being ACTIVE on other content.
What’s Bad Marketing for You?
Bad marketing is obvious (like it’s pretty palpable that you’re angling for my wallet) or boring.
How Do You Mirror Your Clients’ Tone of Voice and Speech in Your Work? Do You Have Any Special Methods?
It helps that I have a writing background. I love to read. I love to write. And part of that is having my clients be characters in my head. They are not real to me.
I can see, in my head, how they talk, how they move, how they dress, how they write. It’s a natural part of loving literature, it’s the craft of building characters in your head.
Why LinkedIn and Twitter? What Do You Think About the Future LinkedIn? What Will It Be Like?
The future of LinkedIn will be like any other social media platform. It will have its peak (I don’t think we’re there yet), and it will also have its fall. FB, MySpace, even Twitter had their time under the sun.
The future is going to be an all in one space for everything. FB I think is going to make a comeback that way. You can cross-post to FB and IG, and now you can cross-message between FB and IG, and soon others will follow suit.
Twitter for me is my first love. I never loved FB, IG, MySpace, etc. I like words. I like the creativity it takes to get retweets. Right now, it’s sort of a cesspool of toxic crap.
But there are pockets of really good content writers and brands doing extraordinary things. Twitter is fantastic for B2C, especially coaches, and people selling courses that are under $1,000
What About Now? What Are the Biggest Challenges You’re Facing?
It’s always about not succumbing to the Shiny Object Syndrome. For both me and clients. To stick to what works. To not spread ourselves and the budget too thin.
To scale FROM what works. It’s tough because they (the clients) always see what other people are doing, without knowing what their true metrics are, and just want to hop from one train to the other… because it’s there.
That’s not a valid reason without knowing what’s going on.
What Keeps You Going During Your Toughest Days?
For me, it’s always about not letting down the clients. I wish I could say it’s some esoteric reason for pushing on, but most of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with turned out to be good people who are trying to achieve their dream and/or feed their families, so I take a great deal of responsibility in helping them, and marketing is a great way to accelerate your brand, your service, your product and etc.
When I’m going through a tough day I always think about the work the client put into getting where they are now, and it’s enough for me to shake it off and get back to work. I think that’s just how I was raised. You did an honest job, you got asked to do something, so you do it.
What Do You Do for Fun Outside of Work?
I’m sort of a hobbyist. I have so many hobbies that I forget which one I started or want to start. I love collecting and reading books. Nature hikes. Collecting tobacco pipes and smoking different blends and trying to blend my own.
I love going fishing. I love weightlifting and trying different systems (mostly powerlifting systems). I love watching soccer and supporting different teams from other countries so I can learn the culture and customs of that region. I love cats, I’ve had 9 of them in the last 12 years. I write fantasy stories at night. I’m interested in my kids’ hobbies.
Tell Us More About Your Family? Do They Support You, or Do They Want to See Their Father/Husband More?
Now with COVID and forced homeschooling, we see each other every day. They think I’m married to a woman named LinkedIn and I’m best friends with a man called Zoom. And I’m buddies with Google Docs.
I’m on all three of those things from sunup to sundown, five days a week. I force myself to get off on weekends, so I can be a part of my family and enjoy all my quirky hobbies. I think they are used to their friends’ fathers putting on suits and ties or working a labor job. Meanwhile, I’m glued to my phone and laptop.