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.

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 or become diseased; If a plant takes over an area and pushes all other plants out, an insect or fungus will wipe it out. The only question is, how long can an unsustainable actions continue, unchecked, before this inevitable collapse?

We humans believe we can outsmart this universal law despite there being no history to prove our 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 top-line 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.


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.

It’s A Scavenger Hunt

The breadcrumbs are everywhere.
It’s a game we’re all playing.
There is no end to the game.
The breadcrumbs just lead us to “Where next?”
If we pay attention, whether we keep moving or stand still, there will be another breadcrumb.
There’s always another breadcrumb.
The better we get at the game, the more obvious these breadcrumbs become.

Breadcrumbs can be a carrot or a stick.
That high ROI long-tail keyword – a carrot.
Or that pain in my shoulder and crunching sound in my knee – sticks.
If we ignore the carrots, they often bounce in front of our face to catch our eye repeatedly.
Eventually carrots move on or are eaten by someone else.
If we ignore the sticks, they swing harder, inflicting more pain (physical, mental, financial, etc.)
Sticks only stop when we do something about them or when the game is over.

To win the game, we first need to be looking for those breadcrumbs.
We need to be curious, open-minded and broadminded.
We also need to decipher breadcrumbs from trash.
The only way to know for sure which is which, is to test and measure.
Is it a great tasting carrot?
Is there less pain?

Little by little, breadcrumb by breadcrumb, we find our way.


If it exists, it has a purpose.

Whether a plant, animal, person, situation or brand, this is true. Understanding someone’s or something’s purpose gives us insights into what to do with it. How to treat it. How to utilize it. How to sustain it, grow it, strengthen it, support it, join it, evolve it, motivate it, share it.

When we are able to see people as individual purpose-driven machines, and brands as purpose-driven collectives, we can unlock what they have to offer the world.