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Marketing Strategy for Online Business — 6 Powerful Tips from John Jantsch

In this episode of the Online Business Expert Series I’m excited to talk about marketing strategy for online business with marketing consultant, speaker, and bestselling author John Jantsch.

I first met John when I was working at Copyblogger and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. I’m honored to say I’ve appeared on the pages of his Duct Tape Marketing blog and podcast, and I had the opportunity to address John’s customers at one of his live training events.

In addition to talking about marketing strategy for online business, we discuss John’s latest book, The Ultimate Marketing Engine. He had lots of wisdom to share during this wide-ranging interview.

By the way, have you subscribed to my YouTube channel so you can see all my newest content?

Marketing strategy for online business should be informed by your ideal customers. This is a subject John is passionate about!

When you understand what your best customers need, you can design your solutions around them. The result is that you attract more of those ideal customers to your business.

Let’s look at the six tips that might make you look at marketing strategy for online business in a whole new way.

Tip #1: Social media — focus on engagement

John has approximately 4,000 articles on his blog. A recent one really jumped out at me. 

Here it is: Is Facebook Still a Useful Play for Small Businesses? 

In the article, John suggested it may be time to revisit our dependence on social media.

For many businesses, there’s no question that using social platforms are a necessary part of marketing. What John questions is whether social media is useful the way people are using it.

Some people are simply repurposing content on their Facebook Pages, which doesn’t get any organic engagement. Social might be free, but using it that way has little to no value for them. 

What does work? A few of John’s small business clients have amazing engagement. They’ve been very effective at posting about their business culture. 

Their content is more personal — great pictures, funny things, that demonstrate who they are as a business. There’s no call to action. It’s about getting to know the “business” as the people who work there.

Page views are valuable, but engagement is what counts on social. Facebook ads have gotten harder to leverage as people have become immune to some of the approaches that used to work. John recommends a carefully thought out social media strategy instead.

“Whether it’s Facebook or some other platform, my real advice to a lot of small businesses is find the one you think has the most value for you and just go deep in that and forget about the rest, because you can’t do them all. Not well, at least. So you’re just wasting your time if you try.”

In that same article, John wrote that Facebook can have a place for small businesses, but what’s more important is to create a better customer experience.

John Jantsch explains why engagement matters more than follower numbers on social media.

Then he said this: 

“For most of the folks that we work with, social media in general is a lazy and misleadingly costly way to market.” 

It’s a strong statement. He explained what he meant by social media being costly.

“Thinking that Facebook’s free or LinkedIn’s free and I can just post anything I want and put my links and my promotions there because it doesn’t cost anything — the cost really is not just the time, but I think it’s the cost to really connecting or building trust that comes from having real, valuable engagement.

“Facebook looks at that and says you have 10,000 followers, but none of them read your stuff, so we’re just not going show it to anybody. And so all of a sudden that’s a sort of a tangible cost that you can attribute to that type of participation in social media.”

We need to measure results to make sure that the time and effort that we pour into social media marketing is actually paying off. 

Photo of Pamela Wilson and John Jantsch discussing marketing strategy for online business.

Tip #2 — Make exceptional customer experience part of your marketing strategy for online business

John talked about why he believes customer experience is a priority over social media marketing. 

He sees the power in creating a memorable customer experience — which is not the same as customer service.

I asked him how online business owners can approach those two concepts.

John sees customer service as, “I do what I have to do.” If a customer has a complaint or requests something, customer service takes care of the need. 

Customer experience is a step beyond that. 

Customer experience asks how you can continuously look at what you do and find a way to do it better.

It’s something you can easily build into your marketing strategy for your online business.

“So many businesses set up their process for how a transaction’s done, how a customer gets fulfilled, how you send them a bill — pretty much everything we do in business. And maybe we don’t look at it again for 10 years.

“The problem with that is people aren’t people aren’t going to come to you and say, ‘You know, your experience could be a little better.’ They’re  just going to find somewhere else to go.”

Great customer experience exceeds customer expectations — and it’s not difficult to do. 

John’s wife recently received an item she ordered online which included a note that said, “Get ready to open your surprise.” It’s a step above the usual message that thanks a customer for their order.

“I think there’s so many easy things you can do that just have people go, ‘Oh, nobody else does that.’ And that’s what I’m really talking about. Just constantly looking at ways to not just improve, but to surprise people and exceed their expectations.”

Photo of John Jantsch explaining how TOLO helps deliver a great customer experience.

Tip #3: Redefine YOLO to build a great marketing strategy for online business

Exceeding customer expectation led us to discuss the concept of TOLO as a marketing strategy for online business. 

TOLO is similar to a concept that’s already familiar — YOLO. But instead of You Only Live Once, it’s They Only Live Once. John explained he heard the term on Seth Godin’s Akimbo podcast. It was such a good idea he included it in his book The Ultimate Marketing Engine.

John asks people to think about TOLO as the idea that you’re going to go see a friend and unfortunately, they are going to die soon. They don’t know it and you can’t tell them. He acknowledges that it’s dramatic, but effective.

“Every time I talk and use that phrase, people are like, ‘I immediately felt a shift…’ We remember that we’re just people selling to people — that we all only get to live once.

“Then maybe rather than some of the things we do being a chore, they’re a gift. And that’s really the point of coming up with this sort of sappy way of re-framing how we think about our interactions.”

TOLO takes customer experience a step further — into the concept of membership. 

Tip #4: Change the customer relationship from transaction to membership

When John talks about membership, he doesn’t mean a Costco membership or subscription model. Those are useful and valuable business models, but seeing the customer relationship as a membership allows customers to feel like they’ve joined your organization. 

Membership gives customers the sense they belong to something they, and we as business owners, believe in. It’s a mutually beneficial investment.

The power behind membership as a marketing strategy for online business is that it gets customers to not just refer the people they know, but to evangelize for you.

So what can we do in the online space to help people to see their purchases more like an investment? 

John developed a framework you can use as a marketing strategy for your online business called the Marketing Hourglass

There are seven behaviors in the Marketing Hourglass: Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat, and Refer. 

If you can understand the questions, objections, and objectives customers have at each stage of the hourglass, you can build a powerful marketing strategy for online business.

To help customers see purchases as more than a transaction, business owners need to teach customers why they should pay a premium — through case studies and stories of the transformation you as a business owner can deliver.

Another marketing strategy for online business that John talks about in The Ultimate Marketing Engine is narrowing your focus to the top 20% of your customers — those ideal customers you can take to the next stage.

It’s not a cliché to say 20% of your customers can account for 80% of profits. Focusing on your most profitable customers — the ones who have a great experience and are referring you — is a much better marketing strategy for online business than chasing lots of new customers.

“We speak very specifically to their problems, needs, challenges, and results. But then we can also get very good at understanding what’s the next thing we can deliver for them. What’s the next value that they need. 

“You know, everybody knows this, nobody debates this. It is so much easier to sell more to people who already trust you than it is to go out and find more people and earn their trust.

“So it’s really a combination of narrowing your focus so that you speak specifically to who you’re trying to attract, and attract more of them. That group is much easier for you to figure out what other products or services or levels we need to offer.”

Tip #5: Create milestones to keep your customers on track

Serving your best customers means figuring out where they in their business journey. John developed a process called the Customer Success Track. 

By creating a list of milestones, you can take customers to the next stage — by delivering transformation, step by step. Milestones provide a series of checklists and gives a real focus on how to move customers forward.

“This is not just a marketing idea. To me, this is a strategy idea. This is a way for you to build your entire business. When we developed this, it made us change our sales messaging.

“Instead of, ‘What do you need, we’ll fix that.’ It’s, ‘We’ll fix that today, but here’s where we’re going. You want to go with us?’ It’s changed how we train, it’s changed how we hire. Certainly it’s become our mission.”

Tip #6: Marketing strategy for online business is not the same as marketing tactics

There’s a logical order to develop a marketing strategy for online business. Think about it: Are you running Facebook ads to send customers to a website that’s not working? The website needs to come first. Then you can consider running ads.

“This whole tactic obsession has to go away, first off because it’s not serving the customers. And it’s also going to be a tough way for you to run a business.

“But bringing a strategic framework that not only differentiates you, but is going to actually deliver tremendous value, is really how you’re going to stand out today.”

There was something we talked about that might not be on your marketing strategy for online business radar — the importance of values.

John shared a story of how, in his early days in business, he worked for a client that got into legal trouble. John, among others, landed in front of a grand jury to answer questions. 

John had done nothing wrong, but he says that experience led him to an important decision.

“I had a narrow miss there that taught me a lesson — very, very much a turning point for me — to say ‘That’s not who I am. That’s not where I want to be. And that’s it, I’m in charge of that. And I have to make sure that people understand who I am, because the people who understand who I am — enough of them will be attracted to that.’ And that’s what we have to focus on.”

Never underestimate the power of living by your values, as a person as well as in your business.

While reading The Ultimate Marketing Engine, I thought about the number of people I’ve referred to one of John’s earlier books, The Referral Engine. I asked him if he was thinking about The Ultimate Marketing Engine back then.

The Ultimate Marketing Engine wasn’t on his mind back then. While he was starting to write his latest book, something pretty momentous happened. He signed the publishing contract on March 15, 2020 — just when COVID was declared a pandemic.

He didn’t want to write about COVID. But he saw what was happening to customers and consultants in his network as a result of the pandemic. He realized it was the perfect time to write about marketing strategy.

The Ultimate Marketing Engine is a strategy book, with a workshop contained inside of it. The companion website has all the tools John uses to help his clients.

It’s a powerful resource to help plan a marketing strategy for online business.

You can find John’s book, The Ultimate Marketing Engine at

And John’s website, Duct Tape Marketing is at

Watch the video above to see the whole interview. I always enjoy talking with John. He has deep knowledge and is generous in sharing it. Enjoy!

Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson is the Chief Marketing Officer at DCS. She’s the creator of the Offer Accelerator Program. Learn more about Pamela’s content marketing books, and read reviews of the tools used to run this site.
Pamela Wilson coaches people in midlife to build profitable online businesses
I’m Pamela Wilson

In 2010, at the age of 45, I started this site and grew it into a business that offers freedom, flexibility — and consistent revenue.


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