Debbie Jenkins is a marketer by heart and engineer by training. She loves creating assets that help businesses grow. She works with founders, coaches and consultants in small groups to get their business assets published. For expert-based business owners aiming to distinguish themselves from the crowd of imposters and the background noise of AI, the foundation is published ‘atomic ideas’. These are your disruptive insights, fortified through deep relationships with your audience, that are continuously tested and validated. Debbie helps clients turn their atomic ideas into reality. She is the author of 16 books and lives on a mountain in the south of Spain.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Debbie shared her professional trajectory, insights on the most critical skills required by marketers to be successful in today’s rapidly changing business environment, the key trends shaping the marketing industry in 2024, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Hi Debbie, have you always wanted to be a Marketer? Please tell us a little bit about your marketing journey and specific roles where you gained meaningful experiences.
The idea of becoming a marketer was never on my radar. My first love was writing, but a run in with a careers advisor in the 1980s dissuaded me that I could ever make a living from writing. Of course, she was completely wrong, but what did I know as a teenager? I ended up taking an apprenticeship to become a technician at British Telecom in the UK. Then I did an engineering degree, one of very few girls at the time. I chose engineering out of curiosity, a desire to understand the mechanics behind things and to spite that careers advisor who also told me girls couldn’t become engineers. It was a fun journey, one that unexpectedly steered me towards digital marketing with the launch of my own company in 1997.
The late 90s was a pivotal moment in digital marketing, and being part of it from the beginning was both challenging and exhilarating. I didn’t have a formal education in marketing; instead, I learned everything through hands-on experience. This approach involved a lot of experimentation, facing failures head-on, and constantly refining strategies, all skills I learnt as an engineer. I read extensively, sought advice from mentors, and embraced each mistake as a learning opportunity.
This iterative process of learning, applying, failing, and succeeding gradually built my expertise in marketing.
For the last couple of years, you have been experimenting with cohorts to help them create their assets. Can you shed light on your new role as a Founder & Publisher at The Asset Path?
In my role as Founder and Publisher at The Asset Path, I’ve been able to combine my passion for writing with the practical application of using books as business assets and marketing tools.
It all began back in 2003, when I wrote and published my first book: The Gorillas Want Bananas: The lean marketing handbook for small expert businesses.
Running the digital marketing agency, I was the key person, speaking on stages around the UK. My book helped elevate my position as a speaker, increased the price I could charge for keynotes, and got me onto more stages. Those events lead to more clients and more business. It was amazing how a business book became such a valuable marketing asset. I wanted to help other expert business owners, founders, consultants and coaches get that same experience.
Over the intervening years I started a publishing company and sold my stake in it. More recently I realized how challenging it is to get that first book under your belt (I’ve since written 16 more books). Now, I focus on helping smart business owners create valuable assets in the form of their first book. These books aren’t just publications; they’re strategic tools for business growth and personal branding so they can share expertise, establish credibility, and connect with a wider audience.
The cohort methodology brings small groups of expert business owners together to go through the whole writing, publishing and book marketing journey. The cohort means they are never alone with the worries and questions that arise, they have peers to provide feedback and help, and they get my expert guidance and publishing team behind them. They are guaranteed to get their first book out there and work for them.
Did you have a mentor or a person you learnt the most from? What was a key lesson?
Throughout my journey, I’ve had the privilege of learning from various mentors, each contributing unique lessons that shaped my approach to business and marketing.
The person who most influenced me in those early days, when I was contemplating starting a business, was an author called Geoff Burch. His books were so funny and down to earth they gave me the confidence to try.
From all my mentors, one key lesson that stands out is the importance of resilience and adaptability. My mentors emphasized the ability to quickly adapt to new trends, technologies, and market demands is crucial. This lesson has guided my decisions and strategies, particularly in using books as marketing assets and helping others to create impactful written works. This field has changed massively over the last twenty years and will change even more rapidly in the next five. It’s an exciting time to be a publisher.
What do you think are the most critical skills that a marketer needs to have to be successful in today’s rapidly changing business environment?
This is something I’m addressing in my new book The Credibility Crisis. It’s easy to be seduced by new marketing techniques and tactics, but some fundamentals remain the same. I’ve condensed it to three main skills:
- Disruption: Embracing and leading change, rather than just adapting to it, to stay ahead. This requires a big dose of curiosity coupled with the courage to take action. It also needs discernment to make decisions quickly.
- Creation: Innovatively producing content, products and strategies that stand out, addressing the ‘Bleeding Neck’ problems of the target audience along with elevating the importance of the ‘Weeping Wound’ issues that most of us put aside.
- Connection: Building genuine relationships with real people, establishing trust and credibility, especially important in an era where consumers are increasingly skeptical of marketing and worried that everything is generated by AI or they’re speaking to a bot.
Handling the balance of these three dials, tuning them, will be the key skills that create credibility, increase desire for your products and get you trusted in a skeptical marketplace.
In your opinion, what are some of the most important trends currently shaping the marketing industry in 2024?
In 2024, the marketing industry trends that I think will be particularly influential in the world of publishing and using books as marketing tools are:
- Personalization at Scale: Tailoring book content to specific niches or individual reader preferences using data analytics and AI.
- Voice and Visual Search: Optimizing books for voice search and incorporating visual elements that align with augmented reality experiences.
- Ethical Marketing: Publishing books that align with ethical values and transparency, appealing to readers’ growing demand for authenticity and connection.
- Interactive Content: Creating books with interactive elements, such as embedded multimedia or interactive digital companions, to enhance reader engagement. I’m calling these “live” books, that grow with you.
- Sustainability: Emphasizing eco-friendly publishing practices and themes in book content, resonating with the increasing environmental consciousness of readers.
These trends suggest a shift towards more technologically integrated, ethically responsible, and interactive approaches in book marketing and publishing. I think these trends will impact all marketing.
You have been a part of the marketing landscape for many years. What do you feel are some of the biggest mistakes companies make regarding their marketing efforts?
Over the years, I’ve noticed several common mistakes in company marketing strategies (and my own). The most significant error is a lack of authenticity, where brands fail to forge real, meaningful connections with their audience. This requires a person up front, to be visible and available. As I grew my business I fell back into the strategic and operations role. I needed to push myself to become “the face” again so I could make real connections.
Companies often focus on producing a high quantity of content at the expense of quality, which can dilute their message and impact – this is getting worse with the mass use of AI software. When I started out writing and publishing articles and books was still a skill, content was thoughtful and rare, we actually looked forward to reading it. Now content is abundant – so focus on brilliant content, that makes a difference. For books, I encourage my authors to create short, valuable books, that focus on one atomic idea.
This is why I wrote my two recent books: Stop Writing Books Nobody Reads and Stop Selling Books Nobody Buys. It doesn’t matter who you wrote your book for or who you target your marketing campaign at if they don’t read it and it doesn’t resonate. You must understand what your reader wants and needs, solve their most important problem first.
Ignoring customer feedback is another major oversight. Listening to feedback is crucial for adapting and refining marketing strategies. Lastly, inflexibility in adapting to market changes can leave companies using outdated methods, missing out on new opportunities and failing to stay relevant in a dynamic market.
There’s a balance to be found in disrupting ourselves (or being disrupted) with new technology and keeping a hold of the intimate relationships with clients and customers that allow us to make better decisions, quickly.
What has been your marketing superpower, the most important skill that makes you a great marketer?
My marketing superpower combines addressing both ‘Bleeding Neck’ and ‘Weeping Wound’ problems. For the urgent, dire needs (Bleeding Neck), I create direct and impactful strategies. For deeper, long-term issues (Weeping Wound), my approach involves nurturing desire and building trust over time. This dual focus ensures my marketing resonates on multiple levels, offering immediate solutions while fostering a deeper, lasting connection with the audience. This balanced strategy is key to effective, holistic marketing that not only solves immediate problems but also builds enduring relationships and credibility.
I’d also like to say my high energy approach and sense of humor helps a lot! I did a standup comedy course in 2002, to help me with my public speaking, to give me a little edge to handle unexpected interruptions (heckling in stand up) and to respond with humor and fun. I hope I bring fun to all my business encounters.
What new, modern tactics, tools, or aspects of marketing should marketers pay more attention to?
The last couple of years has felt like we’re in a tech arms race, with AI and machine learning leading the charge. They promise personalization at an unprecedented scale, but there’s a hint of Big Brother in there. Chatbots and AI-driven conversations are all the rage for real-time engagement, but sometimes it feels like talking to a well-programmed parrot. I know I don’t enjoy those encounters. We have to pay attention to these massive technological and societal changes, but I don’t think we should be usurped by them. We have to ask ourselves if we would want to be on the sharp end of these bots we’re creating.
Video content, especially the short and snappy kind, is taking over. I’m trying to bring this desire for fast, short solutions into book publishing. Traditionally books are 50,000 words, but readers are demanding faster solutions, which means fewer words. I strongly encourage my authors to add massive value per page, and solve one problem per book, keeping their books under 20,000 words.
Lastly, voice search optimization is key with the rise of digital assistants. We’re optimizing for machines that talk back, a modern twist on an old conversation. These trends are reshaping marketing, for better or worse, but we must tread carefully to avoid getting lost in the tech labyrinth.
At the heart of effective marketing is the simple, yet powerful concept of connecting with real people, understanding their real problems, and offering them real solutions. Modern tactics and tools can help, but it’s crucial not to lose sight of this fundamental principle. Successful marketing boils down to this core idea: identify the genuine needs of your audience and address them with straightforward, effective solutions.
Or as one of my mentors frequently says. “What are you selling and how do I buy it?”
What does the term “authentic leadership” mean to you?
Authentic leadership is about embracing the full spectrum of experiences – the groundbreaking firsts, the humbling failures, the unavoidable f**k-ups, and the resilient fightbacks. This is my 4F model – Firsts, Failures, F**k-ups, Fightbacks – that I get authors to use to help them be more relatable and authentic in their writing.
The same approach can be valuable for authentic leadership. It’s about stepping into new territory, leading the way with innovation and courage, while also openly acknowledging and learning from the missteps along the way. Authentic leaders own their errors, sharing them not as weaknesses but as powerful lessons. And when faced with challenges, they demonstrate remarkable resilience, fighting back with determination. This style of leadership is about being human, relatable, and genuinely committed to growth and improvement.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
In the next five years, I envision myself leading a thriving community of writers, where the focus is on harnessing new technologies to enhance our connection with readers, not replace it. This community will be a hub for innovation in publishing, blending the latest tech with the timeless art of storytelling. My aim is to stay at the forefront of change, but always with an eye on fostering genuine human connections. In this journey, I’ll be continually fine-tuning the three dials of the ‘Credibility Crisis’ – disruption, creation, connection – ensuring that everything we do not only resonates with our audience but also provides real value and solutions.
And I’ll probably still be surrounded by cats, dogs, chickens, goats and horses here in the Spanish sunshine.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in marketing?
For someone starting out in marketing, think of it not just as marketing, but as a journey of adding value. Focus on truly understanding the needs and desires of your audience. Build strategies that don’t just sell a product or service but provide genuine solutions and enhancements to people’s lives. It’s less about persuasion and more about meaningful engagement and creating value that resonates with your audience. This mindset will guide you in building impactful, ethical, and successful marketing campaigns.