Success is Not a Commodity

Corey Northcutt    By under Digital Marketing.

Everybody wants to be "successful". Whatever that means to you.

As the owner of a marketing agency, people knock at my door demanding that I sell them some hot, guaranteed success probably a little more often than it happens to you.

So allow me to use this experience to dispense what I've learned about success- not just in business, but in life. Because there is a giant machine that profits from confusing people over what success is, and it's grown a little too effective.

But we'll get into that in a moment.


What Is Success?

I believe that the meaning of life is to answer this question and to live out that answer completely.

That's it. That's the only way to do it. If this article were just about how to be successful I'd cut it right there. But it's not.

We're here to talk about how you're getting it wrong.

In America, the mecca of capitalism and greed, our definitions are usually all about making money and the illusion that absolutely everything else will come from having more of it. Also, doing it faster than everybody else. Pretty base-level stuff.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - remember that pyramid you learned about in school? The one without the food all over it? Here it is.

Maslow's pyramid

A little bit of money gets the dopamine flowing doesn't it? That's because it feeds the bottom two levels: those things that you naturally tend to want before everything else.

But it's fleeting, because you only need so much cash for "excretion". Even if you bought one of those fancy Japanese toilets that plays music.

And the same goes for basically everything on the first 1-2 levels. It's only when we look at the higher levels of the pyramid that the hard shit starts.

But here's the thing: I bet you've never seen a hook in a banner ad that goes: Now is when the hard shit starts.

And that brings us to the problem:


What You Already Want

Repeatedly, I've heard professional marketers define their trade as "giving people what they already want".

That seems great, right? You like it when people give you what you want.

"Great" is probably the wrong word.

It's "effective". That's for sure. And it makes sense: why convince someone of anything new when you can just connect the dots between words, symbols, colors, and their deepest, simplest, pre-existing desires?

When it comes to online marketing for your business, what do you impulsively want? If you're like most, you want the largest promise that someone can manage to slap on a proposal with a straight face. With no risk at all. And you want it now.

In other words, you want the biggest lie that a worldwide collective of salesmen and marketers combined can dream up. You want success as a commodity.

Admit it. You do.

Don't feel bad. This is normal. Or common, anyway. Success as a commodity is one of the world's most-demanded products. Those "experts" selling ebooks and masterclasses look a lot like pro athletes when you get to know them: they're swimming in cash, living like rockstars, but retirement is going to be forced upon them sooner than most.

It lasts for only as long as they can stomach the shallow, soul-crushing existence of selling an imaginary product: success.

The only real salvation for the success salesman is to stop guaranteeing what they can't control, saying "no" to quick profits (and, you will, because telling someone that they're wrong makes for a really unprofitable first impression), and start actually helping people.

Turning Your Wants Against You

So here's the issue: if everyone always knew what the hell they were doing in life, and always wanted to take all the responsibility it required, the "sell them what they already want" system would be perfect.

What happens when that system gets applied to something that you don't totally understand yet? Or to things that genuinely take massive time and effort to get (and keep) right.. like, the overall success or failure of your business, and relationships with the people that keep it afloat?

From what I've seen, most start at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid and work their way up as high as they can achieve. The bottom of this pyramid is made of commoditize-able products and the top is not.

Therefore, the top of Maslow's pyramid is what most still lack and need. It's true in business and it's true in life. These just aren't things that you can go out and buy.


When we demonstrate these qualities in a brand's marketing, it serves a higher purpose. When we help guide others to a higher purpose, it's powerful. That's how you develop passionate brand advocates that will naturally drown out any ad campaign.

And as we've already established, achieving the top of the pyramid is hard. You can't buy it, directly. It requires endless time and effort.

Not what you like to hear?

I know.

To The Point

Success is not a commodity yet it sells as one constantly. And if everything I've written here seems blindingly obvious, that's probably because it should be.

But maybe it isn't, because I've watched so many of the brightest minds falling for it. That includes most that arrive at our agency looking for help.

If you show up to life wanting something that doesn't exist, there's still a line out the door made of people ready to sell it to you anyway. So long as it's not a quirk that's unique to you; and being the moist robots that we all are, that's not likely.

When it comes to online marketing, I refuse to play this game.

There is no "make me rich" button.

There is no magic formula that doesn't still involve out-working the competition.

This is true in developing a brand. Without a 'top of the pyramid' vision, your brand can do alright for a long while. But only until somebody comes along offering it $1 cheaper, one second faster, or you've managed to unnaturally keep out competition.

This is true in SEO. I've repeatedly helped businesses rank #1 for the most absurdly competitive phrases in Google ("magento hosting", "sapphire rings", etc.): but the honest truth is that I can't guarantee it for you. No one can. Think about what Google wants: what is the purpose of creating all of these signals to rank websites? The purpose is to model relevance and popularity as it exists offline.

There are thousands of fantastic tactics.

There are amazing strategies to fit every situation.

But there aren't any shortcuts that will get you around the basic rules of life.

The most-overlooked of which has to be this: the success that you want can't simply be bought.