How Much vs. How Little

By changing the fundamental question surrounding marketing from “How much?”, to “How little?”, we can change our entire approach and become more efficient and effective.        

Marketing has always been about a simple relationship: spend verses return. For decades, even centuries, marketers have been asking, “How much does it cost to reach how many people?” That’s the problem.

The question shouldn’t be;
“How much does it cost, to reach how many people?”

The question should be;
“How little do we have to spend to reach the right people?”

By asking, “How little” we:
• Force comparison between other possible marketing vehicles instead of evaluating the merits of an isolated effort.
• Spark creativity by creating a challenge with a constraint instead of asking an open-ended question.
• Start with the low-hanging fruit instead of reaching for shiny objects.

The result is a more efficient portfolio of marketing vehicles.

By focusing on “the right” audience we:
• Invest in building long-term loyalty instead of chasing one-time buyers.
• Deliver a powerful, emotive message that breaks through instead of speaking to the lowest common denominator.
• Segment based on psychographics (one’s values and principles) to find “our people” instead of by demographics (statistical data) to find similar people.

The result is a more effective portfolio of marketing vehicles.

Because we have been asking the wrong question, we haven’t been taking advantage of readily available data and technology that makes marketing more efficient and effective. We really can do more with less and do so fairly easily, but execution requires good math.

We see a lot of bad math, lazy math, or no math at all. The equation is simple, for every dollar we spend, how many dollars do we get back? But we often see that:
• Nobody is watching, with marketing vehicles that are never measured, analyzed or optimized.
• Drastically different efforts are clumped under a single vehicle like branded and non-branded search terms combined under Search Marketing (Separating these out, we find very different efficiency and effectiveness).
• Not all costs are included, like management fees, creative production, materials, etc.
• A lack of detail: Which campaign is performing, which key word, which city or door; the more detailed the data, the clearer the story.
• There is a lack of measurement beyond the conversation to understand customer performance to identify if a vehicle or campaign drives repeat customers or only one-time buyers.

Nothing here is complicated or complex. It’s all very simple, even easy. The hard part is deciding to try the unglamorous path and being disciplined enough to see it through.

Christmas Emotion is Gone

Why do companies wait till Christmas to create advertising that touches my soul? It’s never the wrong time of year to communicate beyond features and benefits and share why we exist and how it can impact our lives.  

Does turkey stimulate the amygdala, turning on the emotional processing center of the brain; making us more sensitive to emotive messages? Does excessive eating, alcohol, a little R&R and the celebration of the new year turn off the amygdala; transforming us back into robotic data processing machines void of emotion?

Of course not. We are first and foremost emotional beings, and in most cases, make emotional decisions backed by just enough logic to justify our actions. So why then do brands only communicate on this emotional level around the holidays? Why only then do they pause the chest pumping, feature touting and price promoting to remind us what it is we actually crave; love, connection, and purpose.

We are back to where we were before Christmas. The same mundane ads trying too hard to be funny, bragging about features and benefits that all the competitors claim, or worst of all, competing on price. But why?

All the classic Christmas stories, from It’s a Wonderful Life, to children’s animated specials, to A Christmas Story and even my personal favorite, Elf, call us out on this false boundary we set around Christmas. They are all written to inspire us to keep that Christmas spirit going all year, to never lose sight of what’s truly important to us. Yet two weeks later, it’s gone.

But just like those Christmas stories all tell us, it’s a choice we make. We can choose to see each other as data points and providers of features and benefits. Or, we can choose to see each other has humans and organizations of humans, needing and wanting love, connection and purpose. We can choose to communicate from a commerce mindset, focusing on creating a transaction. Or, we can choose to communicate from a human mindset, focusing on serving the individual, providing them with the tools, education and inspiration to love, connect and fulfill their purpose.

Dylan Blew My Mind

Powerful authentic brands that stand the test of time are built stone by stone through a process of uncovering and deeply understanding who they are at their core and then sharing that process with the world. 

It was 1997, and I was a sophomore at Rochester Institute of Technology studying advertising photography. There was a group of us sitting in a friend’s finished attic (doing what college kids do in cozy attics in the dead of a blistery Rochester winter) when a friend said, “I’ve got a new album you need to hear”.

A moment later Bob Dylan’s young weathered voice and simple guitar picking moved through all of us as it resonated off the low hanging pitched ceiling. “Hard Times in New York Town” pierced my heart and flooded my soul like nothing I had ever heard before. We sat and listened to that album all night and replayed that moment countless times over the next few years. How were songs, many of them over 35 years old at the time and recorded using the most basic technology, able to touch us so deeply and influence our lives?

Dylan is simple.
Simple is powerful. Most Dylan songs are three chords. Most of the three disk sets feature only Dylan: just him, his guitar and harmonica. He is the ultimate example that it actually doesn’t take much to communicate deeply. The less that is said, the more piercing the potential of those words/images/experiences. I guess I should stop there.

Dylan is himself.
Dylan has always been and will always be unapologetically himself. He says what he sees and feels; he does what he feels is right and then leaves it at that. Even his voice is unapologetically himself. He didn’t go looking to make a hit; he just did him, and that is where art is born. He then put that art out into the world for people to do with it what they may and decide for themselves what to make of it.

The press and most of the public struggled with this. They often asked him what he meant by his songs or tried to attach him to movements, genres or current events. Dylan never understood this because he was just playing music; people could make of it what they will. This wasn’t posturing or positioning but simply being himself, and that came through in his music. It is the ultimate position, and the only defensible one. 

Dylan evolved.
Because Dylan is simple and is himself, he was able to evolve. He experimented and played with music, but more importantly he experimented and played with who he was as an individual and what he might be capable of. Because he evolved, so did his sound– countless times. Even as his health waxed and waned he persisted in being his authentic self, allowing what was happening on the inside to come through to the outside.

Bob Dylan remains one of the most authentic and powerful personal brands that exist today, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. He built that brand the old-fashioned way. He didn’t go around liking other people’s posts so they would like him back, vigilantly posting once a day at just the right time. He didn’t defend his name on Google searches to drive everyone to his website or buy his competitor’s names as search terms. He didn’t mold himself to the latest musical trends or chase the white space.

Instead he focused on himself. He put in the work to discover who he is and then shared that with the world. That’s the old-school way to build an authentic brand that stands the test of time. It remains the only way.

What’s The Problem Today?

Most businesses don’t wake up asking this question because we are too busy dealing with yesterday’s problem to notice, care about or focus on today’s problem. What if there was a team focused on only today’s problem?

Log jams alter flow hydraulics by diverting flow towards the bed or banks, increasing flow resistance and upstream pools. This then diverts flow onto the floodplain, damming the channel and causing water to spill over the structure. While this is the effects of log jams on river geomorphology according to Wikipedia, it sounds an awful lot like the work flows of many companies.

The river is like all the work that needs to get done, and the banks of the river are our capacity to do the work: A big rain occurs (like the holiday season, a big PR hit, an employee leaves, perfect product/market fit), we max out our capacity and suddenly logs (unexpected problems) come flying down the river, jamming up any choke point.

If the big rain is temporary, we might be able to deal with the overflow by working harder and longer, disappointing some customers for a short period of time but not so many and so badly that we damage our reputation. The problem with this path is the rains will come again. Do we really want to take the risk of damaging our reputation and relationship with our customers?

If the big rain is seasonal or the sign of the new normal, we can scramble to hire more people to manage the increased flow of the river – throw people at the problem. The issue with this is that builders and managers are two different types of people: one solves problems and the other keeps those now-solved-problems from occurring again. Neither enjoys the other’s job or excels at it. They each trigger different cultures within teams or organizations.


What if there was a team whose only focus was to unclog existing jams, proactively prevent future jams and work to sculpt the river for optimal health and flow. This team would be:

  • an eclectic mix of individuals, each with specific skill sets and compatible mindsets
  • free from day-to-day responsibility of running the business
  • able to move quickly from log jam to log jam (or dive deep, if required)
  • empowered to hire outside resources like developers, creatives or other tactical specialists
  • capable of gaining a 360-degree view of issues and their impact on the business
  • skilled at designing 360-degree solutions for the business
  • reporting only to the leadership team

What if your organization had its own special forces team (internal or outsourced) so that it was able to solve your most pressing challenges without diverting existing resources from the task at hand?

Could you make more progress faster?
Could you increase employee satisfaction and therefore customer satisfaction?
Could it pay for itself or better yet be a profit multiplier?
Could you change your culture into a problem-solving organism?
Could you, the leader, founder, change-maker, be more effective by day and sleep at night?


Truly Communicating

In Short
The dilution and evolutions in the meaning of words, combined with a ratcheting up of noise, makes truly connecting with individuals or an audience increasingly difficult. Our only choice is to be impeccable with our words.

In Depth
I find myself using the world truly a lot. I get that it’s viewed as filler, an unnecessary adjective taking up room on the page, but I can’t help myself. I truly can’t help but use it. I stare at it on my screen and think, ‘Do I really need that word?’ My answer is most often yes.

I feel the need to emphasize that the word I’ve chosen, was done so intentionally. That this isn’t a word used out of convenience or for emotional effect, but because it is the right word. That this word might be simple, overused or misused, but at its core there is a very real and powerful meaning that we should pause and take note of.

For example, there are things we desire, and things we truly desire. There is caring and truly caring. Serving and truly serving. There is a layer deeper than our first reaction which requires us to pause, think and feel for a moment.

If I was a better writer, perhaps my message would come across without its use. Or maybe our words are losing their meaning. Our language is in a constant state of change and we are in an accelerated period of change; insert your personal opinion on millennials, Trump, social media and marketers.

The bottom line is I find it difficult to truly communicate without noting my authentic sincerity. This is the problem facing many companies as content replaces marketing and distribution becomes the new circulation, all while the volume on the noise dial is set to 10.

I think ultimately the answer to all of this is not “truly”, but rather consistency. If we say what we mean and mean what we say for longer enough, people will come to understand that the words, images and experience we choose are meaningful (full of meaning), that there are principles and values behind them, a depth to these words born from an authentic desire to truly connect.

Perhaps someday I’ll feel I don’t need the trulyies.


Unsustainable Actions = Collapse

Note: This is not about global warming

In Short
If the actions we are taking are not sustainable, they will lead to collapse. That is the simple law of the universe that we struggle to fully comprehend because life occurs now and the results of our actions occur later.

Unsustainable actions, if left unchanged, will always result in collapse. It’s the safety switch built into all of nature. If an animal population grows too large, they begin to starve; If a plant takes over an area and pushes all other plants out, a disease or insect will wipe it out. The only question is, how long can an unsustainable action continue, unchecked, before this inevitable collapse?

We humans believe we can outsmart this universal law despite there being no history to prove this to be the case. Businesses collapse, societies collapse; negotiations, treaties and borders, whole sectors of the economy, personal relationships, governments, and on and on and on, all collapse under the weight of persistent unsustainable action.

What we have been able to do is delay collapse. Whether quantitative easing, genetically modified organisms or pouring money into customer acquisition, we can engineer delays in the collapse. With enough money and manipulation, we can sprint through the perils of unsustainability to reach the oasis of homeostasis.

We must realize this is a sprint and that the terrain we are navigating is perilous:  But we don’t need to be stressed out, running around with our hair on fire. Think more like a special forces team moving through an unstable urban environment: Their mission is clear, their moves deliberate and coordinated, and they conserve resources while moving quickly and acting decisively. If they do encounter danger, they keep moving, keep making decisions so as to avoid becoming pinned down and requiring additional resources they either don’t have or which would risk greater exposure.

We need to go in with a plan: We must have a clear objective and, to the best of our ability, script the path. Sure, no plan survives the war; but to move in a deliberate and coordinated fashion requires everyone to know where we are, where we are supposed to be and where we are supposed to be heading. With this kind of clarity, making adjustments is quick and efficient.

We need to communicate: To get a 360-degree view of the landscape we’re moving through and to make those adjustments while remaining in sync, we need to over-communicate. It’s rare to see a team communicate too much, and it’s nearly impossible for new teams to do so. Using data as if it were night-vision goggles to identify obstacles or opportunities that are not clear to the naked eye, the team can remain on the offensive and avoid costly mistakes.

Companies in or approaching an unsustainable state often aren’t operating as just described, because everything is ok today; there is money in the bank account, we are getting new customers, we have great employees, the investors are happy. But…
What are the underlying fundamentals saying?
What is the cost of customer acquisition?
How many new customers are coming back?
What is our SKU efficiency and is it improving?
What product, ad or page is performing best (or worst) and why?
What is our margin by channel?
How effective and happy are our employees?
What is the burn rate on our investment capital? And is it slowing or when will it slow?What is the economic environment and forecast?
What are the macro trends in our market?
Where is the point of homeostasis?

It’s the underlying data that gives us the clues we need. Impending collapse shows up in the answers to the above questions before it shows up in topline sales. It might be sunny, but the barometric pressure might be dropping like a rock.

If you choose to operate in an unsustainable manner, then best to act accordingly.


Wilco Wisdom

What Light | Wilco | Sky Blue Sky
If you feel like singing a song
and you want other people to sing along,
Then just sing what you feel
Don’t let anyone tell you it’s wrong.

In Short
For any brand, or any individual, the only truly unique and defensible position is simply being ourselves. Doing the work of peeling back the layers to truly understand ourselves and having the courage to share it with the world is the hard part.

Are we special? Are we unique? That goes for us as individuals as well as our companies. Jeff Tweety (the song writer, musician and record producer best known as the front man for the band Wilco) believes we are special, but he doesn’t let us off the hook there.

Tweety’s call to action in this song is to put our uniqueness out into the world. He’s calling on us to trust the artistic process. That if we have that fire burning inside -that voice in our head in the middle of the night- we need to listen to it; we need to harness that fire. We need to create and then put that creation out into the world.

He’s not saying we’re going to top the charts. There is no guarantee of fame, fortune or success however we might define it. He’s simply saying there’s only one cure for that itch: we’ve got to scratch it. And if there’s something inside of us we need to get out there into the world, well then start singing.

I find there are three core challenges that companies and individuals (including myself) face when attempting to heed Tweety’s call to action:

  1. Know Thy Self
    This seems obvious. We’ve spent our whole lives with ourselves and have poured our blood, sweat and tears into our company or work. How can we not know ourselves? How can we not be in touch with what makes us unique and valuable to others? The truth is we spend very little time digging into ourselves or our company, trying to get to and understand what’s at the core, what’s been buried by layers of self-protection, social-norms and miseducation. What is it we want to sing and why?
  2. Talent
    It takes talent to write, sing and perform a song that people want to hear. Without the right talent, it’s difficult to break through the noise and reach people; not just get in front of them, but reach them mentally and emotionally. It takes talent to simply express oneself (individually or as a brand). We either need to possess those talents ourselves or pull together a talented team.
  3. Money
    We need to make it. The starving artist is starving because they forgo making money for pursuing their passion and purpose. It’s more popular than ever for companies to do the same, although most of these companies are not starving. However, that doesn’t last forever and starving artists either make it or get sick of starving. The trick is walking that fine line between pursuing our purpose and reaching an audience, often referred to as our Minimum Viable Audience; or as Kevin Kelly famously named it, our 1,000 true fans. By starting narrow, not trying to pursue everyone but only those who share our tastes, our principles, our world view, we can attempt financial sustainability and grow from there.

None of these challenges are insurmountable. In fact, they grow easier to overcome with each advancement of technology. That is if we feel like singing badly enough and we truly want others to sing along.


Weighing Ourselves

“Today I weighed myself. I don’t know why? I’m not using the information. It’s not guiding my behavior. Why am I bothering to find out exactly how much of a piece of shit I am?”
– Louis C.K., Chewed Up

The comedian Louis C.K. is known for his brutal honesty. Most people are not. Most companies are not.

I know Louis can be raw and harshly honest, it’s what has gotten him into trouble a number of times, but I selected this quote for its harshness. Because, when we first start measuring ourselves, the result is often self-inflicted mental wounds. Our view of the world, and the ego that created it, collides with reality. That’s the point. We want that collision. It’s the catalyst for change.

To quote Louis again, “Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments. When you let yourself be sad, your body has antibodies. It has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness.”

While Louis might not be taking any action (yet) when weighing himself, he is being honest with himself. The name-calling is not necessary but the critical self-reflection is.

If we are not pointing out where we, as individuals or a company, are falling short, we don’t have the opportunity to improve and grow. Yes, let’s celebrate the successes, double down on them where we can; but we can’t shy away from the areas we are falling short.

We are a world drowning in data but starving for honesty and action–real honesty and real action. The kind of honesty that scares us, that brings our ego crashing to the ground and back to reality.

Data is so valuable because it allows for informed decision-making and action. If we are not making decisions and acting on the data, we must call ourselves out. We must question why we step on the scale at all.


P.S. This is being written during a project I’m leading that is falling short of its goals. We are making progress, but not as big or as fast as we planned. The data is not pretty, but we keep stepping on the scale, taking action and then repeating. It’s not guess work, it’s the scientific process and it’s never ending – but it’s working.

For those just getting started, here’s a framework we are using:

  1. Deciding what to measure
    We manage what we measure, that is a double-edged sword. We will focus on our weight if the scale provides our only data point. And that pesky ego will try to protect itself, tilting the field in its favor. So, triangulate; measure weight, mile-pace over five miles and pullups.

    Translated into business, try measuring sales, budget and brand loyalty.

  2. Measure regularly and share the results
    Step on the scale every day. So, we went out drinking and had a couple late night slices; let’s step on the scale. We’ve been on the road, sitting on planes and in meeting rooms; let’s measure our mile-pace. No judgement, just evaluation, simply seeing a snapshot of what is.

    Translated into business; start a weekly meeting to review the data, then slowly open the meeting to everyone to remove the stigma of evaluating performance and make improvement a team effort.

  3. ACT!
    There is never an expectation that we will get it right on the first try. The scale will not always move linearly in the direction we want. We will need to change when we workout, or the routine itself, trying to find what works best for us personally. Those are data points that will give us a trend over time, guiding our daily activities and decisions.

    Translated into business; experiment. A/B test to evaluate two paths at once, allowing your customers to decide what works best. Talk to your customers to add qualitative insights to your quantitative data. Follow what’s working by attempting the same principles elsewhere. Then repeat.


Show The Math

In Short
Marketing today is more about showing our math than promoting our answer. By turning our company inside out, sharing what we do, how we do it and the results, we bring people along, build trust and allow people to buy into the answer.

Math class was never supposed to be about the right answer; it was always about the journey to the right answer. Our math teachers* pushed us to do long division and show the steps of Pythagoras’s Theorem so they could accompany us in our thinking. They could see each step of our process and validate the right formula was used correctly. The answer was simply the result.

This is exactly how marketing works today. The only caveat is there is no one formula or one right answer. There are 7.5 billion unique ways of seeing and experiencing the world and a growing freedom to choose the answer that’s right for each of us. Try walking over to the beverage cooler at a Whole Foods to experience how many answers there are to, “I’m thirsty, what do I want to drink?”

In the past it was enough to boast we have the best answer. We could simply shout to the masses that our answer is 20% better than the popular brand or 20% better than our previous answer. But people have been trained not to trust answers anymore. So we are left with 7.5 billion people who have to figure it out for themselves. 7.5 billion people who need to figure out if our formula is right for them and worth the price.

But who has time for that? Who has time to evaluate and validate if every product and service aligns with our world view of how things should be done? This challenge that the marketer faces, this obstacle to adoption, is the opportunity to cultivate loyalty.

If we can find the right group of people out of those 7.5 billion prospects, if we can share with them our math and show that our solution works, they will stop looking for other answers because they will know they have arrived at the correct answer… for them. They will become loyal customers with no promotional incentive needed.

How then do we show our math to busy people?

  1. Find our tribe
    We don’t need everyone; we just need to find the right ones. If we take the customers we have today and understand them, we can model what we know about them to find others. This is what makes ecommerce and digital marketing so powerful as a standalone business or part of a multi-channel strategy.
  2. Educate simply
    When prospective customers are shopping, we have a moment of their attention in which they are open to learning. This is our chance to quickly and simply educate them on how and why we created this unique product or service and the unique benefits of those decisions. There’s the math!
  3. Tell stories
    We share our math through stories. Everyone has time for a story; just ask the folks at Netflix or Instagram. Stories can take many forms: blog posts, customer reviews, videos, photos, etc. And topics can range from the making of, to case studies, to scientific research, and on and on.

    And showing the math not only works for selling products or services, it works for selling ideas, projects and change at the office or at home. The principles and steps are all the same; 1) We don’t need everyone, 2) We need to educate simply and quickly, and 3) A good story will stick.

While most of us don’t use 90% of the math we learned in school, the principles behind learning math and science are instrumental in driving action and change.

*My mom was a math teacher, and because of that we never simply received an answer from her; we always got the whole equation. While it was mind-numbing as a teenager, I now ––as an adult and a much less narcissistic human–– see it as invaluable.

Wrestling The Devil

In Short
The details, or the weeds as they are often called, get a bad rap, are considered a productivity trap and something the smart leaders steer clear of. But if the devil is in the details, success requires wrestling the devil to the ground.

I’ve made my living by diving into the weeds and wrestling devils. The truth is, most devils are nothing more than a lack of communication. A lack of clarity in either the vision, the starting point or the path connecting the two. This is why diving into the details is so important.

That devil we’re wrestling with right now looks nasty from the outside; it looks complicated and unruly, kind of like a giant knot of twine. But as we dive in, we see it’s a single string that just needs to be untangled, little knot by little knot.

So we start with the most available knot. That leads us to the next, and the next, and the next, as we slowly but surely unwind the mess, a misunderstanding of order.

What we’ll always find is a person behind all those knots. Not a devil, although they may seem possessed by one, it is a person doing what they think is the right thing. That person might be us, or a vendor, or an employee, or a whole team; but someone, somewhere is making this mess or allowing the mess to be made.

Once we’ve identified the little devil causing problems (again, usually unwittingly) the wrestling begins: Obviously not physical in nature… this is mental and emotional wrestling. It is taking the time to change how the individual sees, thinks, or feels; clarifying and aligning the vision, the starting point or the path between the two.

Changing how an individual sees, thinks or feels is usually not easy. Not because change is hard- change is actually quite easy- but because we humans don’t like change. We make change hard.

Change is scary, uncomfortable (at first) and confusing. It makes us feel like beginners again, like we’re not smart or talented or valuable. This is why people don’t wrestle with the devil in the details. Devil wrestling often turns into ego-wrestling, which can get heavy and more real than most can handle.

Heavy and real, now that sounds like work worth doing to me. That sounds like change that can positively impact a person’s life, which can positively impact a whole company, which can positively impact thousands of people’s lives.

This is why I wrestle devils for a living.

A few of my favorite resources for devil wrestling:
Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard
The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph
Extreme Ownership: How Navy Seals Lead and Win
The Power of Story: Change Your Story Change Your Destiny in Business and in Life 
All things Seth Godin

P.S. I should point out that not all devil wrestling is hard. When an individual or team sets aside their egos out of a hunger to learn, evolve and do what’s best for the brand, this process of change is fun, fast and yields nearly immediate results.

P.P.S. Sometimes the opposite is true and the devil wrestling requires more time and energy than the organization can bear, there is too much collateral damage and too little change. Sometimes the knot makers need to find another place to play.


Management vs. Control

At age three, my daughter was a skilled Zen teacher. During one of my lessons, she was trying to fight back pooping after three days of willful negotiation. As we both found, we can only attempt to manage pooping, we can’t actually control it.

As humans, we learn we can manage nature and over time confuse that management with control. We believe our will is all powerful, and we ignore universal laws. We dismiss the data. We hold tightly (pun intended) to our beliefs.

I’m not so sure my daughter’s belief about her powers over poop are all that different than a climate change denier’s powers over data. Or the business owner’s willful resistance to shifting trends as they cling to beliefs no longer supported by data.

Nature is always evolving, markets shifting, expanding, contracting. So we, too, must always be evolving by listening, watching, measuring and, perhaps most importantly, being honest with ourselves. If we don’t, well, I hope there’s a bathroom nearby.

Blocking & Tackling

In Short
Sustainable growth lies in executing the fundamentals thoroughly and consistently, day after day. The fundamentals are not the flashy, exciting things to work on, but they are what make the flashy and exciting things possible and successful.

The Philly Special didn’t win the Eagles Super Bowl 52; blocking and tackling did. Blocking and tackling is what wins every Super Bowl. Only after you’ve got the fundamentals down can the breakout runs, deep passes and methodical movement down the field be possible – oh, and of course, the trick plays.

Going to market works pretty much the same way. It all starts with blocking and tackling.

We often want to do the fancy stuff, especially the go-to-market teams. They want to create emotive videos, redesign logos, come up with clever slogans. Smart, long-tail search engine optimization is boring; functional content on the website isn’t sexy; an automated email series to support a new customer doesn’t win awards; incremental improvements to core products don’t get big events. But all this is the blocking and tackling that ultimately wins market share.

Marketing today, but especially digital marketing, is about the fundamentals. This is because everything is measurable:
We can measure the average order value of a new customer.
We can measure the annual or lifetime value of a customer.
We can measure the viability of targeted audiences.
We can measure the effect of each change to the message.
We can measure the performance of specific pages on the website.
We can measure the return on each dollar spent on each marketing vehicle.

It’s this measurement that allows us to incrementally optimize. Let’s be clear here: This is not to masterfully trick the customer. This is to communicate our value and purpose so that it resonates with our customers (not the whole world, just the customers that see the world as we do and desire solutions like the ones we provide).

Too many companies currently have too much money and are not measuring and optimizing their actions. Marketing budgets are being spent in unsustainable ways. The Silicon Valley mindset of acquiring customers at any cost, which works for bleeding edge technologies and platforms that require a network effect, has made its way into every industry and has created a culture of unsustainable customer acquisition and retention.

Most of us are not building Amazon or the next unicorn brand. For 99.9% of us, it’s time to get back to the fundamentals. For us, growth is all about blocking and tackling. Three of the most effective places to get started:

  1. Measure and analyze all go-to-market efforts.
    If we don’t have time to measure, analyze, optimize, repeat, then we are doing too much or need to hire additional talent to support our efforts. Too many of us are too busy and not paying attention to what the marketplace is telling us. And so we make poor, uninformed decisions about where we spend our money and how we communicate.

a. Measure the performance of every vehicle and the sales channel as a whole.

b. Analyze data at least monthly, preferably weekly; and if you are spending a
significant percentage of your revenue on marketing or have large peaks and valleys to your business, then measure daily.

c. Make decisions based on clear trends in data. Don’t lose who you are, or how you communicate. Optimize your ability to tell your story.

2. Optimize what we own first.
The most cost effective optimization comes from our owned marketing vehicles because, once optimized, they require little ongoing spend. Where paid marketing vehicles require us to continually feed the beast.

a. Our website
Building a better mousetrap will improve the performance of every marketing vehicle. Through user testing, consumer interviews and the data available for free from Google Analytics, we can improve the site experience, increase our conversion rate and drive long-term customer loyalty.

b. Organic Search
“We’re spending too much on search engine optimization”, said nobody, ever. Google is free marketing for life. Allocate marketing spending up-front to make sure Google’s search algorithms can clearly see what you offer. Target the long-tail customers for uncrowded access to highly valuable customers. Support from SEO specialists is amazingly cheap given the return on investment. Moving from page 2 to page 1 in a search, or from the bottom of page 1 to the top can trigger significant growth.

c. Email
Starting with automated email we can deliver a series of valuable information to customers based on if they a) are just signing up to hear about our next promotion, b) made their first purchase or c) have just spent more than $1,000 with us. Once optimized to further develop the relationship with the customer, automated emails are the gifts that keep on giving. They drive repeat buying habits and long-term loyalty without another second of our attention.

As for the weekly or monthly communications, make them useful. Give users a reason to want to open the email. Educate, entertain, surprise. It’s not that we are too busy for email; we have too much choice in how we spend our time.

d. Social Media
Let’s get clear, social media is a distribution vehicle. The question isn’t, “What content should we create for social media?” The question is, “Is the content we’re creating interesting or useful enough to distribute through social media?” What is working? Who cares how many followers we have. What matters is engagement. How many likes, comments and clicks? Understand what’s resonating and at what cost.

3. Expand our audience.
Once we are measuring our activities, and have optimized the digital world we own, we can now cost effectively expand our reach by paying for traffic. We are able to do this cost effectively because we know who our customers are. We know we can connect with them in a meaningful way. We know how to form a relationship so they will come back to buy from us again and again. It’s simply a matter of finding more of our customers.

Whether we use paid search, social media advertising, banner ads or whatever new-fangled tactic arises, it really doesn’t matter. We simply follow the data in search of our customers.

a. We cast a net. Usually the first cast is not profitable. But we are seeking new places to find our customers. Using the proven communications from our owned vehicles.

b. Once we’ve found our customers, we hone the location and message until we’ve found a cost-effective way to introduce ourselves.

c. We repeat, casting a new net. Seeking the long-tail locations where we can compete and win attention. Again, not competing for everyone’s attention. Not seeking all customers. Just our customers.

This is blocking and tackling. It’s not flashy, but it works. We’ve seen it work for sub one million dollar companies and those pushing to cross the 100 or 200 million mark.