How To Keep Kevin Costner From Ruining Your Blog and Business

image of kevin costner

In the Internet Marketing for Smart People radio show finale to season one, Brian refers to “Kevin Costner Syndrome”, a condition that affects a number of bloggers, marketers, and entrepreneurs.

If you saw Costner’s 1989 blockbuster “Field of Dreams,” you remember the line from the film:

If you build it, they will come.

It was heartwarming and inspirational in the movie. It can destroy you as an online marketer.

You’ve been told that if you start blogging and “join the conversation,” your appreciative audience will be magically drawn to you.

Some people blogging for business are still waiting for “them” to come.

Silly people. Good thing we’d never fall for that … We know better. Right?

Eh … maybe not.

Many of us who read Copyblogger are chasing dreams of our own right now. We’re building it because we believe they will come.

We just know they’ll come. Tired as we are, we don’t understand why our dreams aren’t getting the attention they deserve.

If this sounds like you, it’s possible that you have Kevin Costner Syndrome (KCS), too.

KCS eats your dreams for breakfast

Entrepreneurs are easily enchanted by the “Field of Dreams” story.

We love the idea that our dreams are premonitions of unstoppable events.

Resistance loves that we love that idea, too.

On its own, KCS can be an incredible asset for an entrepreneur. It can give us the faith we need to pull through the darkest days of our journey. However, it also makes us vulnerable to misleading direction.

Planting voices that masquerade as our own is resistance’s specialty, so how do you know whether your calling is pure?

Easy. Just answer this simple question:

What is your ball field?

In other words, what’s the grand attraction that will draw those appreciative crowds?

Was your answer printed books, e-books, recorded audio, recorded video, websites, consulting packages, a service, or some other thing you can hold in your hand?

If so, it can only mean one thing: you’ve been had.

Instead of building the best ball field you could, you spent too much time getting the best deal on screws for the bleachers and controversy-free chalk for the lines.

You were so focused on painting the concession stand (twice, because you didn’t like the color the first time) that you forgot to order the lights. You needed the light, so you put out some floor lamps and had friends hold up flashlights for as long as their arms could handle.

You’ve been so busy focusing on the logistics, you missed the message.

Save your dream from Costner’s death grip

Don’t let KCS ruin your life.

Every legendary entrepreneur has a few busted ball fields in his or her history, and they went on to do amazing things.

You can too, if you properly manage your condition.

KCS is easily managed by understanding two critical truths:

  1. Your ball field is not your various products
  2. Your ball field is your core message

Things like books or consulting hours are nothing more than media for your message, often referred to as your Unique Selling Proposition. It’s the positioning statement that transmits the emotional content required to draw them to your product or service.

The message doesn’t tell your story — it’s the takeaway you build your story around. If you’ve been building your ball field with a message that’s about people giving you money, you’re not going to be as intriguing as a would-be competitor who’s been building her customer-focused USP.

Your message is the driving force behind the vehicles you select (like websites, books, consulting packages, and so on). Without it, you’re lacking a magnet for the masses. Polish it to address a proven need and you’re ripe for a home run.

But what if your core message is still unclear to you?

Consider flipping it…

If you build them, it will come

Instead of continuing to throw products down an empty hall, consider taking a break for a moment … just sit back and listen.

Focus on the people you want to work with and observe them in action. Learn what they care about and what makes them tick.

When you’re building relationships, you find out what your friends and associates want and need. They tell you. You just need to listen and be ready to make yourself useful.

Don’t stop writing just because you haven’t nailed your USP yet. Fine-tune it while you’re making things and making friends.

Try on a message or two and see how they fit.

You’ll know when it’s right — your legions of customers will tell you.

Just be patient. Be observant. And whatever you do, don’t stop believin’ …

About the Author: Jessica Commins is Copyblogger Media’s Affiliate Manager and a connoisseur of iced tea. Following her on Twitter might be the easiest thing you do all day.

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Reader Comments (83)

  1. Steve says

    I really like Derek Sivers’ (CDBaby) take on what should guide you in building a business, and in gaining an audience and more customers, in his new “Whatever You Want” book. But i like your points about KCS of course here too.

    • says

      Derek Sivers is one of the smartest dudes most people haven’t heard of yet. Definitely a honor to have him mentioned anywhere near me. :)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. says

    My initials are KCS – and it kind of bothers me to be associated with such a horrible syndrome affecting so many bloggers.

    But then again – my dead dad comes to visit my blog all the time – sometimes he even leaves a comment!

  3. says

    So many great ideas in this post. Like many bloggers, I started out with the KCS delusion – if I had a great blog, and eventually came out with some great products, e-books, etc. – my readers and customers would eventually follow.

    Boy was I wrong.

    After the first month passed by and my brand new blog barely had any readers, I slowly began to realize the key to blogging (and the key to many other areas of life) is relationships. Now while these are not my strong point as a natural introvert, I’ve been making a much bigger effort, through social media, reading/commenting on other blogs, and even (eek!) in person networking events to foster relationships. It’s made a big difference, and I can only imagine the impact it will have if I continue with this relationship mindset in the future.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Jessica. I enjoyed this post.

    • says

      Great to hear that you’ve been able to identify what has worked and hasn’t worked with the success of your blog and business. I know for a fact that interaction through comments, etc is crucial in any business, especially one online where that’s pretty much the only way to communicate.

      Chris Brogan is one of the most personable people I know – he’s ALWAYS replying to people on Twitter, Facebook and his blog. I think a lot of the success that he’s encountered is a direct result of how much he cares to engage.

    • says

      Thanks for the kind words! I agree with Brian… interaction is crucial. They’re at the heart of any solid relationship. People buy from people they know and like, and we build better solutions when we understand our customers. It’s the ultimate win-win!

      I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment — that’s what it’s all about! :)

  4. says

    Build and they will comes was good on the 19th century. people wanted better products for their needs. today needs have to be invented. No one said my NetBook sucks How about a slate? But once an iPad jumps in people droool…

    I guess its about knowing what they want, when they want, what price they want and how they want. Kindaa hacking your customers mind. Nice title for the next post

    • says

      That *is* a good headline idea… Of course, hacking makes it sound a bit more nefarious than “make friends and find out how to help them.” 😉

  5. says

    When I started out as a newbie I had the very same KCS syndrome. I realized pretty much later that things won’t work that way. Besides I don’t see a point in developing a product/content or a service without really knowing what people want or what the market needs now. And only if we listen we can know about the need!

  6. says

    Jessica, you are so right. I know the message I am testing is right because my potential customers are saying it back to me before I can finish. I see the glint in the eye, notice the more erect posture, and I know I’ve hit an emotional core. From there we will build the company.

  7. says

    I agree roughly a billion percent! People forget to stop and understand their audience – their best customers, and especially the people they wish were their best customers.

    There are some interesting marketing hints in Field of Dreams, though, that you don’t mention here…and it’s also worth pointing out, with respect, that “If you build it, they will come,” is actually never said in the movie itself. It’s a mis-quote of the actual line.

    I re-watched the move earlier this year, and actually ended up writing an article about it: “Four Business Lessons from a Corny Movie.” I hope it’s okay to post the link here?

    • says

      Very cool, Grace! And I agree… an entire marketing book could be written about the Field of Dreams storyline.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and share!

  8. says

    “Try on a message or two and see how they fit.”

    You have to be willing to be wrong in order to succeed. Fine tuning your message takes time and patience and you might not nail it down for a while. It’s ok to try different things and see what happens.

  9. says

    Hello Jessica,

    Thanks for your Post,

    Especially for pointing out your distinction between ‘Core Message’ and ‘Your Story’ I think that I tried to write a Headline to express part of My Story without being able to make it a Core Message I do think that the Core Message needs to be something that is easy enough for anybody to communicate and tell others about, I just made a change on my Blog, and I do think that I now have a better Core Message for my – Happy Home Business Lifestyle – Blog.

    ‘It might not be entirely perfect yet, only I do think that now it’s already somewhat more
    clear what you can expect to find on my Blog’

    All the Best,
    To your Happy – Home Business – Inspiration,

    • says

      So glad I could help… The core message is what you build your story around. It’s *hopefully* what people say you do when you’re not around. Nail that and the rest will likely fall into place. (with a lot of hard work, too, of course)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  10. says

    Very true. Just because you think your blog is worth of attention, doesn’t mean it will receive the attention.

    Start off with quality content. Take different angles on subjects or submit reviews, testimonials, or infographs that no other blog can get their hands on.

    The idea of your blog being a spot for unique content is what will drive people to curiously come back time and time again.

  11. says

    It definitely takes much more than just building it!

    I tell my readers this all the time. A lot of beginners, for whatever reason, have trouble believing this–and learn the hard way. Nothing takes the place of great content and intelligent preparation.

    Thanks for the post!

    Jennifer 😉

  12. John Hage says

    Thanks so much for this! I love the analogy!

    As a corollary to this, keep in mind that KC went on star in Waterworld and The Postman. Proving that even if you create it and they do indeed come…you need to keep on providing content that your audience wants or your trophy case could start collecting dust faster than you might imagine. Copyblogger always has a unique and interesting take on the world of content and that’s why I continue to read everything you send (well…most everything you send).

    • says

      Gosh, I don’t know which was worse… Waterworld or The Postman. Either way, you’re dead on. Legends are not one-hit wonders… they keep it up and they change the game.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  13. says

    thanks for this Jessica. I see this same message over and over in every color. LISTEN. “Listen to what people want and be ready to make yourself useful”.

    I can do this in my movement studio so well, and have the darndest time in my online world simply because I have 75 ideas at once. The easiest for me to do nothing. Tired of easy.

    Like Nick say, gotta be willing to be wrong in order to succeed. I find myself fine tuning when I don’t even have my core message clear. I

    am the guiltiest on having the colors, bolts, and shopping cart ready to go sans a product even!

    thanks for this reminder.

    • says

      Girl, most everyone I know has been there at some point. Once you see what you’re doing, you can make the change and start moving forward… I’m glad we could help!

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. :)

  14. says

    What if your audience is not saying things online, as with say nasa, a very specialized niche, not exactly on facebook regularly. Is there a way to get THEIR attention through social media? Is it possible to build a specially built “ballpark” for them?


    • says

      Darren, I would definitely check out Copyblogger’s free series, Internet Marketing for Smart People.

      Your question is a classic marketing question and I think you’ll find the fine folks at Copyblogger have answered it, along with countless others, much better than I can.

      Good luck :)

  15. says

    I feel like I need a t-shirt with Kevin Costner’s picture on, saying something like “You built it. They ain’t coming. Now what?” Sort of a WWKCD thing, but in this case, “What Wouldn’t Kevin Costner Do?”

    But yeah, I love this post. It’s such a classic trap that we fall into, even if we think we know better. I’ve been working online since 2007, but I’ve only been actively blogging for the last six months or so, and it’s truly amazing to me how much faster you can achieve things when you actually reach out to people instead of hiding behind a computer screen :)

    Thanks for a great post!

    • says

      Reaching out is sometimes a rather scary venture, but almost always worth the effort.

      Let me know if you print those shirts… I’m sold. 😉

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  16. says

    In the past I have made the “build it and they will come” mistake. At the time I thought PPC with Google Adwords was the answer. I was wrong! Big dud.. Since then I have been trying some different approaches to generate traffic to my new blog. Hub Pages, commenting on different blogs, twitter, and patience (which seems to be the real key.) I’m set to break 500 page views my first month, which isn’t stellar, but it better then what I have experienced in the past.
    I appreciate articles like this, because it confirms what I have been learning from experience and other sites. The next step will be to go to paid hosting/domain, but I’m going to wait until I gain more experience. Not costing anything takes some of the pain out of the learning curve.
    As for Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves covered over a whole multitude of sins! Especially with the Water World incident looming in his future…

      • says

        Thanks for the link.. It’s pretty much spot on. I’ve made .01 cents with adsense in the last month. A few years ago, I tried advertising a site with google adwords. It was a pathetic waste of money to say the least.
        For now, I’m going to hone my blog/s (when I decided on an additional topic), build some more traffic, and then try chikita, and hopefully write an e-book to market. Time has been a bit of a difficulty lately, so I’m just trying to stay focused and patient.
        Believe it or not, Hub Pages has generated me “some” traffic, but is not going to be a permanent fixture in my online writing arsenal. If anyone has any brainstorms, please feel free to share. Right now, I’m looking at either no or minimal financial investment. I’m more likely to stick with it if I don’t feel like I’m wasting money. Thanks!

    • says

      The most profitable way to handle this would be to spray train him with a hose, collecting your encounters on film. TMZ would probably fork up a few thousand per minute of footage gathered.

      Just a thought…

  17. emily says

    The title of this blog is hilarious! I like that you give a solution to the issue at hand- establish relationships and talk about your core message. I think it’s also important to be seen as a trusted expert in the field in order to establish those relationships in the first place. Here’s an article relating to this:

  18. says

    Fun post and it did provoke me to think on it awhile…bottom line though, before you can get the KCS you have to build something. Have faith in yourself and build it. You can’t drive traffic to nothing right?

    • says

      I personally think the KCS comes first. If you’re building “it” before it occurs to you that someone should see it, the “it” is probably a hobby. But I agree that faith and action are required if you want to build something truly amazing.

      Also, don’t forget that “traffic” is just a term used to signify numbers of unnamed people visiting your site. Relationships are much bigger than that. While good relationships are harder to measure, their impact will always be greater than something that just drives traffic. So… no. You can’t drive traffic to nothing, but really, you don’t need a perfect site to start making friends. :)

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  19. says

    One of the best I’ve received so far. We all have our own field of dreams, I guess. And we all deserve to have them come to see it. But it is not going to be a walk in the park kind of thing. It can be a back-breaking job but if it is worth building, it must be worth building well.

  20. Tea silvestre says

    I think I’m tapping into the collective unconscious with the whole KCS thing. I’ve been using the question “so you built it, why aren’t they coming?” as the lead in to some webinars I’ve been doing on web copy. Online marketing strategies depend on these 3 things:

    1. A clear message that’s articulated in a professional and friendly way
    2. A website that rocks (and all that entails)
    3. RELATIONSHIPS (where the real heavy lifting is)

    I’ve seen so many people who were good at 2 out of 3 fail online…a lot of them marketing folks who should know better. The Internet is a big pond. If you want to stop being a minow and move up in the food chain, you’ve got to knuckle down and commit to all three.

  21. says

    “just sit back and listen.

    Focus on the people you want to work with and observe them in action. Learn what they care about and what makes them tick.”

    I really agree Jessica, and am taking this approach right now.


  22. says

    Becoming an active listener is key to understanding the requirements of a target audience. The more we listen, the more we get to know about our customers. But the bad news is that most of the businesses are just too impatient to listen to what their audience has to say. And that’s exactly where miss the mark.

    Thanks for the nice post, Jessica!

    • says

      Thanks for the kind words, Obaidul! Sometimes I wonder if it’s more than just impatience…

      I mean, people are joking right now that the Google+ motto is “you know better than we do,” while Facebook’s is “we know better than you.” I think that’s more about arrogance than anything else.

      I agree, though. Listening is key. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason, right? 😉

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

    • says

      Consumers are the key to the success of every business undertaking. Reaching out to them and learning them is a very important step only fool would think that this is not needed in order to succeed.

  23. says

    This post is so spot on, and I’ve learned it the hard way. If no one knows about you, no one knows about you.

    What intrigues me more though, is whether you come up with the content idea first and then look for a suitable reference like Field of Dreams, or whether you watched the film and it sparked the idea? Enlightenment please.

    • says

      Hi Jon. In this particular situation, we were talking about people getting caught up in the details while missing the message and the line just fit. That’s when the post happened. Of course, this approach isn’t always “the way”…

      Nice website, by the way. Thanks for taking the time to comment. :)

  24. says

    It is always a struggle to prevent Kevin Costner from ruining everything!

    Nice Post, it is always important to be aware not to get bogged down in the little details.

  25. says

    I do agree! Experiences and being an authority over a certain topic will draw people to read your blogs..well, not at all times, some people do get lucky. But yeah, a lot of us are always particular about the nitty gritty.. Thanks for sharing

  26. says


    – Very inciteful and thank you.

    As one who has spent 2 years plus living with KCS (largely contracted from internet marketing guru, seminars,consultations and products) I am curious to know if this model was ever valid in the blogging world, it is just outdated – or simply dillusional?

    It initially sounds a reasonable proposition but obviously does not apply to the masses and with the benefit of hindsight is a flawed concept.


  27. says

    Great analogy, Jess.

    I especially like your advice about getting active and getting to know people before fine-tuning your offering. Such great market research, no?

    Here’s a Costner-related irony for you: the shows and rides at Universal Studios are sometimes centered around movies that flopped (including Waterworld). So they’ve built these exhibits and we go . . . to visit tie-ins to movies we’ve never seen. There’s got to be something meta in there. Like sometimes the derivative has far more staying power than the original product.

  28. says

    You are really talking to me, here.The last thing I want to do all day is churn out useless words….I like that you addressed resistance as an entity, for most days not only am I battling my own obscurity and feelings of worth, but huge feelings of unseen resistance as the climate of our economy continually degrades. However, I keep plugging away, refusing to let go of the dream! I am still convinced that there are people who will want my products and services, need them, and will not only appreciate them, but have the means to afford their little luxuries. This is truly thought provoking…
    Thank you so very very much!

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