Business wisdom from Waterworld
By Robert W. Bly

Waterworld is one of my favorite movies - and Kevin Kostner one of my favorite actors.

Everyone laughs when I say I like Waterworld ... but I love the movie and cannot understand why others do not.

The premise of Waterworld is that the polar ice caps have melted, virtually covering the entire planet with water.

I especially love the final scene, which appeared on the original release but is now not shown when it airs.

In the original final closing scene, the two female characters Helen and Enola reach the last remaining bit of dry land on Earth. They climb to the top of the seemingly small island they have landed on.

There they find a plaque commemorating the first men to reach the spot.

It is dedicated to "the first men to climb Mount Everest." And you realize that the top of Everest is the only land on the planet still above water.

Chills up my spine, cut to credits.

But my point - and I do have one - is that the global flooding of Waterworld symbolizes (for me) how much the business world has and will continue to change right in front of us, in ways we could never have imagined.

If you are older - my age - this sea change has already happened to you, with some consequences you may like and others you may not.

If you are young, trust me - it will happen. As sure as the sun rises and sets every day.

And you better learn to adapt to change, or you will gradually become unhappy, less successful, and more obsolete.

For instance, I am 56. A lot of guys my age went into IT decades ago when the pay was high and the job security enormous.

But now, many IT professionals who are in their 50s or early 60s are unemployed -- and unable to find jobs even at a fraction of their old salaries.

The reason: IT outsourcing to India, which very few of us saw coming.

When I started my career decades ago, I worked in B2B marketing, and within a few years thought I had pretty much learned all the B2B marketing methods available.

And I had, because there were so few channels to choose from.

To market a B2B product, we ran a trade journal ad to get inquiries. When we got leads, we sent them a brochure and turned the lead over to sales.

We also wrote articles for the trade journals and published some case studies. Exhibited at trade shows. And that was about it.

Today, thanks to the unanticipated (at least by me and most marketers I know) and rapid rise to marketing prominence of the Internet, the whole game has changed.

B2B has become a complex multichannel marketing discipline, with dozens of new tactics - from e-mail marketing, banner ads, and web sites to social media, online video, and blogging -- where before we had only three or four at our disposal.

In addition, now my skill - copywriting - can be outsourced to competitor writers overseas who work for pennies on the dollar of what I charge. My colleague SS forwarded to me an online ad offering overseas copywriters willing to work for $9 an hour.

Fortunately for me, as of now these overseas copywriters are with rare exception no competition for experienced U.S. copywriters, for two reasons.

First, they do not know my market, which is primarily North America, a fraction as well as I do.

Second, for many English is a second language, and it is obvious in their writing, which lacks the natural, conversational tone that is necessary for marketing success when selling to native English speakers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, England, and Ireland, the countries where I have clients.

But here's the thing. Another "next big thing" is coming. And this change might be one that is disastrous for your particular business or profession.

My suggestions for surviving and thriving in this business "Waterworld":

1 - Have multiple streams of income. Mine include copywriting, consulting, speaking, information marketing, and book writing.

2 - As you age, concentrate on accumulating enough wealth so that, if your industry disappears overnight or you get tired of dealing with it all, you can retire and live off your savings. My recommendation: amass a liquid net worth of $2 million minimum by age 50.

To do that, choose a profession or business that pays you $200,000 or more a year.

3 - Never stop learning. Be a student of your profession. Rather than waking up one morning and find out that X has made you obsolete, become aware of X years before it becomes a factor - so you can either join it or beat it.

I have never been a pioneer in marketing, but when the Internet became impossible to ignore, I realized early on that e-mail marketing could either offer stiff competition for direct mail or largely replace it.

I immediately wrote with mailing list guru Steve Roberts "Internet Direct Mail" (NTC Business Books), which I believe was the first or second book published on the new channel of e-mail marketing - thereby getting my foot in the door sooner rather than later.

We thought the industry would adopt our term "Internet direct mail," but turns out "e-mail marketing" became the accepted description.

Also as it turns out, the web has not made direct mail obsolete, and direct mail in the Internet age is a topic for a future essay....


Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter with 20 years experience in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has written direct mail packages for Phillips Publishing, Agora Publishing, KCI Communications, McGraw-Hill, Medical Economics, Reed Reference Publishing, A.F. Lewis, and numerous other publishers.