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3 Life and Marketing Success Resolutions for 2019

This text and the accompanying 30-minute video comes from my Content Marketing World 2018 keynote presentation. On Dec. 31, 2017, I “retired” from marketing and took a sabbatical for 2018 (which, as of this publishing, I’m still happily on).

I’ve given over 400 keynote speeches in 18 countries, but this one was the most personal. The team at CMI is nice enough to publish this so the entire CMI audience can watch and read it. I hope there is something here that will help you in your life or your marketing (hopefully both).

Yours in Content,  


Hello Cleveland. It’s fantastic to be back here at Content Marketing World. Some of you may not know this, but I’ve been on a sabbatical for the last nine glorious months since leaving CMI.

In January, I spent 30 days electronics free. In February, I took my father to Sicily to see 60 cousins we’ve never met before, and the last six months, I’ve literally spent more time with my two boys than in the previous six years.


The Pulizzi family is notorious for using disclaimers. So for this speech, here’s my disclaimer. I’ll cover some marketing, but this is much more about you and your success. I care about each of you way too much to just give you marketing advice … I want to give you more. That said, you may not like it. I’m willing to live with that. So here goes.

Tabula rasa

I first came across the term “tabula rasa” in 1995 while studying rhetoric at Penn State University. Tabula rasa or “clean slate” is found in the writings of Aristotle, and is the belief that we are each born with a blank slate and everything we learn … our habits … our behaviors … comes from our experiences.

What if, right here and now, you had a clean slate? You could do or be anything you wanted. Nothing in this world could hold you back from your accomplishments.

Now I want you to fast forward exactly one year to this time in 2019. What’s different? What did you accomplish in the last 365 days?

What about five years from now?

  • Are you rich?
  • Did you get the guy or the girl you wanted?
  • Did you have another child?
  • Did you travel the world?
  • Did you prevent your kids from growing up to be idiots?

Would you consider yourself a success? Have you made a positive impact on the world?

I’ve been studying success and successful people as long as I can remember … easily 30 years. As a young adult I kept a journal with me of all the things I wanted to do and accomplish, and listened to success audio tapes from Brian Tracy and Zig Zigler.

Even as I’ve been on this year-long sabbatical, I’ve kept this obsession about success.

Here’s the question: Why are some people successful and others are not? Is there a formula for success that put the odds in your favor?

What I’ve found is that most of us have conditioned our brains and have formed habits that preclude us from success. That means if we don’t change what we are doing, right now, the things you want to accomplish in 2019 or 2023 and beyond, both marketing and personal goals, will never happen.

Most of us have conditioned our brains & formed habits that preclude us from success, says @JoePulizzi. Share on X

Three Re’s

  • Record
  • Repeat
  • Remove

Not just me, but the most successful people in the world use this formula as well … which is, sadly, a very small percentage of people.

Record. Repeat. Remove. That’s the success formula for personal & professional success, says @JoePulizzi. Share on X

And here’s the bonus … the same actions and behaviors that will make your personal dreams come true, will also define your success in marketing.


What does record mean? This means you document your desire. Depending on what research study you look at, less than 10% of all people write down and record their goals. And, those that do, accomplish more in their lives than the other 90% combined.

Let’s say you were going to build a house. If we treated building this house like we do building our lives, we would just call the contractors, the electrician, the plumber, the concrete guy, the drywall team, the roofers … have them get in a huddle and figure it out.

Can you imagine the chaos to building a house without a plan? But that’s what we do. We don’t plan for our desires to come true.

Our mental houses are falling down. Over the past 20 years I’ve asked hundreds of people what their success plan is. How they are going to get what they want out of life? Most people do not have any idea what they really want. And if they do, they certainly don’t write it down or believe they can achieve it.

Bruce Lee case study

In January of 1969, very few people ever heard of a man named Bruce Lee. Today, Bruce Lee is probably the most famous martial arts movie star who ever existed. Bruce had some major ambitions … and he penned this letter to himself:

My Definite Chief Aim

I, Bruce Lee, will be the first highest paid Oriental super star in the United States. In return I will give the most exciting performances and render the best of quality in the capacity of an actor. Starting 1970 I will achieve world fame and from then onward till the end of 1980 I will have in my possession $10,000,000. I will live the way I please and achieve inner harmony and happiness.

Bruce Lee – Jan. 1969

Unfortunately, Bruce passed away just four years later, but not before accomplishing everything and more from this letter. Every day Bruce got out of his bed and had a crystal image of what success was to him, and what he needed to do that day to move the needle forward.

Think and Grow Rich case study

When I was in college, I read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. In the 1930s, Mr. Hill interviewed 500 high achievers like Ford, Roosevelt, and Carnegie to find out why they were so successful. He found, actually, that the key similarity for these high achievers was incredibly simple. They wrote down their desires.

The common thread among high achievers? They write down their desires, says Napoleon Hill & @JoePulizzi. Share on X

But what kind of goals and desires?

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett says, “If you are going to try to bat 1,000%, you won’t accomplish many things of importance. If you’re willing to strike out a few times, you can change the world.”

So I’m not talking about small goals here … we are talking about I’m Gonna Change the World goals.

We do this remembering three components. Let’s look at Bruce Lee’s desire. First, it’s totally unreasonable. This is a Big Big Goal. No person had ever brought martial arts to the mainstream.

Second, we need specifics. He wants to make $10 million by 1980. He had a specific amount and a specific year.

And the best goals ALSO serve others. He wanted to thrill audiences with his performances. And in exchange for delivering this value, he became a superstar.

Well, would you know that the exact same things hold true for your content marketing plan?

  • Big – If you take your content marketing plan into your CMO and they approve it the first time around … guest what? It’s not big enough. You need to go in there and make their heads spin. It needs to be big!
  • Unreasonable – No other company should have this goal. This is what I call your content tilt or differentiation point. Are you building something for your audience that has never been done like this before?
  • Other-serving – What’s in it for the audience? Are you first and foremost helping them get better jobs and live better lives or is your goal about you getting more leads or money?
If your CMO approves your #contentmarketing plan the first time, it’s not big enough, says @JoePulizzi. Share on X


What do we mean by repeat?

Every day in the morning, and every night in the evening, we are going to review this goal. We are going to take about 1% of our day – less than 15 minutes a day – to review our desires. The plan for our mental house.

In a 2009 study published by Dr. Phillipa Lally in the European Journal of Psychology, 96 people over a 12-week period were analyzed about changing behavior and habits. Each chose one new habit and reported each day on whether or not they did the behavior … and … when the behavior became automatic.

Some people chose simple habits like “drinking three bottles of water a day” or “no desserts.” Others chose more difficult tasks like “exercising for 15 minutes before dinner.” At the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers analyzed the data to determine how long it took each person to go from starting a new behavior to automatically doing it.

On average, it took 66 days before a new behavior became automatic. The range was 18 to 254 days.

This is exactly why you have to review your success goal every day over a long period of time. You have to condition your mind to believe that the goal is attainable. Remember … tabula rasa, clean slate … we have to reprogram our mind to accept that our goal is possible.

And here’s the big idea most people just don’t get: The MOST important thing to accomplishing your goal is to BELIEVE that it is possible. You don’t need more money, or skills, or abilities, or a better job or Robert Rose. The most important thing – as George Michael knew so well – is having faith.

The MOST important thing to accomplishing your goal is to BELIEVE that it is possible, says @JoePulizzi. Share on X

Once you can condition the mind to your goal, your day starts to shape itself.

Let me give you an example … email. How many people checked email this morning? Most people do. But if you had a totally unreasonable success goal that you reviewed this morning, the same goal you reviewed the night before, you might start to believe that digging into email first thing in the morning won’t at all help you accomplish your goal.

Now let’s go back to our marketing fundamentals again.

There are two main reasons why content marketing programs fail. The first, is that the goal isn’t truly big enough … it doesn’t really affect the lives of the audience in a unique way.

The second comes down to this idea of repetition. If it takes 66 days to change a personal behavior, how many times are you going to need to consistently deliver your content to your audience to change their behavior?

In researching for my book Content Inc., we found that minimum time from start to driving revenue for content marketing was nine months. The average was 18 months of consistent delivery. Why? Because it takes time to build an audience.

If you aren’t delivering consistently to your audience, you are not content marketing.

If you aren’t delivering consistently to your audience, you are not #contentmarketing, says @JoePulizzi. Share on X


In high school I read the book Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, which still to this day is my favorite book. Toward the beginning of the book Valentine Michael Smith, who was born on Mars, is learning to understand humans. Three of his caretakers were women, and each was practicing kissing Mike. Every time any of them kissed Mike, they fainted, out cold.

Jubal Harshaw, Mike’s main caretaker, asked one of the women why she fainted. She said this to Jubal:

Mike gives a kiss his total attention. I’ve been kissed by men who did a very good job. But they can’t give kissing their whole attention. No matter how hard they try parts of their minds are on something else. Missing the last bus – or their chances of making the gal … maybe worry about a job, or money … but when Mike kisses you he isn’t doing anything else. You’re his whole universe … just kissing you. It’s overwhelming.

I must confess that as a young man in high school I tried this technique, but the results were inconclusive.

This is all about focus. Clearing away all the clutter and just being focused on accomplishing something.

In order for record and repeat to work, we have to clear away all the garbage that is stopping us from accomplishing our desires.

Clear away all the garbage that stops you from accomplishing your desires, says @JoePulizzi. Share on X

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett

Microsoft founder Bill Gates didn’t really want to meet Warren Buffett. He didn’t think they’d have anything in common. But at the urging of Meg Greenfield, Washington Post editor, they met on July 5, 1991. Gates was nervous and he was dreading the meeting.

Greenfield gave both men a sheet of paper and asked each to write down the one word that is their key to success. Both, as it happened, wrote down the same word: Focus.

From that day, the two became best friends.

To be successful … we need focus, we need discipline … and we need to remove the distractions around us.

Put away your phone

A few months ago, someone asked me to take a coffee meeting with them. He said he had some very important business model questions for me and thought I could help. We met at Panera Bread on the west side of Cleveland.

I sat down, put my coffee on the table. He sat down, put his coffee on the table, and his phone just on his left side face up. Throughout our chat, he kept looking at his phone. Instagram, Twitter, Messenger … all kinds of notifications. Clearly, he was not paying attention to me.

Obviously, what I was saying wasn’t very important to this person. Whenever I see someone with a phone face up or face down next to them during a meeting, I already know they have a focus problem.

After a bit of back and forth he asked me “What’s the first thing I should do?” I told him to take his smartphone and throw it in the garbage.

Lack of time?

“I don’t have time to accomplish my goals.” I hear this all the time.

Did you know that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American still watches three hours of television per day?

That’s 1,100 hours watching TV per year. Let’s say you’re blessed enough to reach 80 years old and that was you. That means almost 10 years of total time, nonstop, is dedicated to watching TV.

That’s like turning the TV on when you’re 30 and never moving until you are 40. A lost decade.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch TV or YouTube videos or surf Facebook. I personally enjoy watching the Cleveland Browns lose most Sundays. But to be successful, you have to change your behavior and make time to do the great things.

I have one friend that says she doesn’t have time to do anything, and yet she hasn’t missed an episode of Big Brother in 20 years. If you’re curious, that’s 550 hours of watching time.

Now let’s go back to our marketing fundamentals again.

When Robert Rose and I go into consulting engagements, besides not having the BIG goal and delivering consistently, do you know what else we find? Content run amok.

Content is being created everywhere … blogs and podcasts and videos with no discernable strategy.

Great media and product brands that have loyal audiences start by doing one thing amazingly well to one audience … a newspaper, a podcast, a blog, a video series, Instagram, an email newsletter.

So you most likely need to go back and start killing some things and just do one thing amazingly well before you diversify into other content types. In this case, less is more.

Do one thing amazingly well before you diversify into other #content types, says @JoePulizzi. Share on X

Record. Repeat. Remove – a simple formula that’s hard to execute. A marathon if you will … not a sprint.

This formula got me to this place, but I almost lost it all by not following it.

My story

In 2007 I left an executive job in media to start a business. I had this great vision of a content marketing matching service between agencies and brands, that we dubbed the eHarmony of content marketing.

Now don’t laugh … at the time I thought it was brilliant.

My written desire was to have 100 paying customers by the end of 2009.

Over the next two years, we were struggling … burning through cash to pay for programming and marketing, increasing our debt. I was having doubts. Late summer 2009 was critically important. That was the time when we were approaching agencies in our system to see if they would pay for another year.

Most agencies were not re-signing to the $5,000 annual fee, and one in particular, our best case study where we delivered a multimillion-dollar client, still hadn’t signed up yet.

So I called the CEO on the phone. Let’s call her Paula. I said, ”Hey, hey Paula … for some reason your auto renew isn’t turned on in our system. Just wanted to make sure there wasn’t a problem.”

She said, “Oh yeah, about that … we decided not to renew.”

I said, “really … why is that?”

She said, “Well, we can get better ROI by doing some other things.”

And I said, “You can get better than 1,000% ROI somewhere else? What is it and I’ll sign up.”

There was silence for a bit … and she just said, “Sorry Joe, we’re not going to renew.”

And that was that.

I hung up the phone, went into my backyard, and just lost it. I couldn’t even close our best customer. I felt completely sorry for myself. A complete failure.

I couldn’t believe I had left a great job for nothing. I had an amazing wife and two small boys that I couldn’t take care of.

It took me a couple weeks to pull myself together. Secretly I’d already been peeking around to see if any full-time jobs were available, which actually made me feel even worse.

And then I went back to the success formula. I then noticed that all my goals were around selling a small product to help just a few people. Actually, my goals were quite small. They were also very “me” centric. There was nothing about adding value to others. Honestly, who cares if we reached 100 customers by 2009? No one. It was a terrible primary goal and didn’t follow any of what we are talking about here.

My career goal actually came to me while I was reading feedback from our blog subscribers. The requests were all around “our group needs training,” “are there other content marketing pros I can meet,” and “my CMO needs convincing.”

And I finally got it. Our audience needs education, not a hookup.

So we set the goal to be the world’s leading educational resource for content marketing to solve those audience issues. And we wanted to do this by the end of 2013.

And then I worked the formula. Recorded it … read and reviewed that goal first thing in the morning and before I went to bed and stopped doing everything else to focus on that.

My friends and loved ones thought I was crazy before. Now they thought I needed to be committed. I mean, still no one even knew what content marketing was and I was going “all in” with it?

Content Marketing Institute was born exactly nine months later in May of 2010 and the most amazing people in the world helped to join this new cause. The first ever Content Marketing World took place in Cleveland at the Renaissance Hotel in September 2011. We were hoping for 100 people to show up. Maybe 150 if we were really lucky. That year, 660 attendees showed up.

And by 2012, we accomplished our big, unreasonable goal. And today, here we are at Content Marketing World with 4,000 attendees.

There was no logical reason that we should have succeeded. There were dozens of other companies that should have created Content Marketing World. But we set the goal and worked the formula … just like Bruce Lee, like Warren Buffett, like Oprah.

You will do amazing things. You will change the world. But it’s a choice, and there is a process for making it happen.

Too many talented people I know decide to just swim down. It’s easier, it’s safe, it’s comfortable, and it’s seductive. But it doesn’t make the world a better place.

And one final thought … this odd quote from Bull Durham sums everything up:

If you believe you’re playing well because you’re getting laid, or because you’re not getting laid, or because you wear women’s underwear, then you are!

This means, whatever you believe you are doing for whatever reason is true.

And if you believe you are failing because of … your education, your skills, your job, your significant other, then you are!

But if we can reprogram our minds for success, we will be successful.

Tabula rasa … today you have a clean slate … and you can choose to reprogram your brain … your lives …or not.

Just like content marketing is a new muscle for most organizations, success planning is a muscle we have to build and work on every day.

So, in 2019 …

  • Document your desires.
  • Review them consistently every day.
  • Remove the clutter in your life so you can be successful.

Thank you!

Is your goal to become a better content marketer for your brand and your audience this year? Register for Content Marketing World 2019 and expand your skills from experts in the field.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute