The Essentialist's Guide to Marketing Optimization

I'm currently reading the book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. It's a fantastic book for developing the "skill" of saying yes to only a few things and no to everything that does not help you achieve your "essential intent," that is your core purpose. Being clear about your essential intent helps to bring forth the strategic tradeoffs that must be made to eliminate the activities that distract from the essential intent and shift your focus to only those activities that help you reach your goals.

When we work with new clients, the first thing we do is audit everything they're currently doing and the results of each activity. Then, we do the hard work of identifying the top performing activities and eliminating the rest. What this does for the organization is re-focuses their efforts on the activities that bring the most value. This is not an easy thing for some organizations to do, because it means, to quote Stephen King, “killing your darlings,” or cutting those activities that you’ve become attached to.

An Email Epiphany

If you’re wondering how this essentialist strategy works in real life, here’s a true story. A while back, we began work with a well-known t-shirt company in Kansas City. The company was rapidly growing and gaining a massive following. The founder, an essentialist at heart, asked the question, “are we focused on the right things?” After auditing all their marketing activities and results, we found some mind-blowing insights. While he knew that email marketing was a revenue generating activity, we were able to draw the correlations that every time they sent an email, the company generated upwards of $5,000. Every. Time.

We were also able to conclude that every subscriber on his list was worth about $40 to the business. This insight was huge! So, while the other activities they were doing, (blogging, social, events) were generating some results, he made the strategic tradeoff to focus his staff's limited time and resources in growing his email list. Period. In social, they pushed email signups. On the blog, an email signup in the sidebar. At events, they captured people’s email addresses. For this e-commerce company, we were able to uncover their “lever,” and helped them optimize down to just the highest value activity. 

Had the founder not made the decision to cut non-essential activities and focus only on the one generating the most value, they may have wasted countless time and effort on sunk cost activities, which is certain death for a growth-focused company.

Optimize Like an Essentialist

If you’re ready to uncover the unessential activities in your organization, here are some easy steps to find them:

Step 1: Identify ALL the activities (online and offline) that your organization is doing to market the business. I suggest starting a spreadsheet for this activity, like so:

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Step 2: List the frequency at which you create/publish/attend each activity. Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly.

Step 3: List the expected outcome for each activity. If you expect the activity to drive leads, input “leads.” If the activity is designed to increase webinar signups, input “webinar sign ups."

Step 4: What were the actual results from the past 90 days. Based on what you input for the expected outcome, find the metrics to uncover the actual results. If you don’t have actual numbers, then use the next column and rank what you believe the activity’s business impact to be from 1-10. (1 being low impact, 10 being high impact).

Step 5: How much time/money does it take to produce each activity? Rank the level of effort from 1 (low) to 10 (high).

Our sample spreadsheet (get the completed one here) includes a graph so you can correlate the highest impact and level of effort to see which activities net the greatest impact with the least level of effort.

The last step is to cut the unessential activities to focus on the highest value activities. Using the data to give you clarity, you can now make the strategic tradeoffs necessary to focus your organization on the highest impact few. Maybe that’s cutting the bottom two-thirds. Maybe that’s cutting the bottom half, or maybe it means cutting all but the highest performing and focusing solely on the one thing.

What are your thoughts about the “essentialist's” approach to marketing optimization? Tell us in the comments below!