When you were sitting on your cottage dock this summer, or perhaps flying back from a summer vacation with the family — or just toiling away at the growth of your company during those sweltering months — did you take the time to get a little philosophical? Doing so could change the way you market your business.
The first step is to see one per cent as the new halfway. To do that, let me explain something fundamental about exponential growth that may have slipped your mind since taking Grade 11 math class.
It goes like this: if you take 30 steps in a linear fashion, you end up about 30 metres away. If you take 30 steps in an exponential fashion, you end up more than a billion metres away. That is the power of exponential growth.
So, what does this impromptu math lesson have to do with marketing? A lot. When you first start something new, it takes a while to gain any traction. Let’s say you start with the objective of achieving 100 per cent of your goal (whatever it may be). You must start at 0. Let’s say you make a tiny bit of progress in the first year, reaching 0.01 per cent of the goal. Then, you double every year after that. 0.02 per cent, 0.04 per cent … up to the seventh year when you reach just over one per cent of the goal (1.28 per cent to be exact).
Now, most people would assume you need another 100 years to achieve the goal because they think linearly — but they’re wrong, and by a long shot. If something is on an exponential growth curve you keep doubling, in just seven more years you hit 100 per cent of the goal —163.84 per cent, to be exact. Therefore, one per cent is the new halfway when you’re measuring on an exponential growth curve. Of course, if you manage to achieve, say, five per cent of that goal in the first year, then the entire process becomes expedited.
In the real world, the power of exponential growth is demonstrated in achievements such as the time it took to map the human genome, increases in internet download times, or the exponential decline in the price of commodities such as solar panel equipment or computer memory chips. All started slow and quickly gained momentum.
On the marketing front, we often encounter organizations that want exponential progress out of the proverbial gates. Sometimes this is possible — if a company is launching its first search engine optimization campaign, for example, chances are good that the results will be exponential, at least in the short term. But such rapid growth typically isn’t sustainable, especially for business-to-business focused organizations whose potential client base is far more limited and targeted.
Indeed, progress on the marketing front tends to be far more incremental. Launch a search optimization initiative and (if it’s managed properly) you should see steady gains over time. Deploy a series of PR campaigns and expect to build on the progress of each one. Post high-quality content to your website and social media channels and you should expect a steady increase in business leads. Achieving all of that takes time.
Not seven or 14 years, of course. If your marketing agency has a habit of informing you that it could take a decade or more to enjoy a significant return on investment, it’s time to look for someone new to represent your company. What’s important to note when marketing is that successes tend to be cumulative. One win builds on another, raising exposure for your brand, boosting sales leads, positioning your products and services in an effective way — no matter the objective. Patience is critical in allowing this process to play out.
It’s easy for C-suite executives and managers to take a short-term approach when seeking to achieve ambitious marketing results, usually due to pressure from more senior leaders, but the real results will emerge with long-term thinking about the success of a marketing program.
If your team is tasked with deploying an SEO strategy, for example, they should be given at least six months to allow it to gain traction, but I would even recommend providing them with a full year to allow the strategy to take root and show results. Along the way that means making tweaks on the tactical side, remembering that it takes ample time for your team to make those necessary adjustments, test the outcome and adjust again as necessary. Any less and you could be setting them up for failure.
So, as you prepare for a full-steam-ahead autumn marketing campaign designed to spur additional growth across your business, set realistic goals and don’t be deterred if momentum seems to build slowly at first. The most important point is that progress needs to happen continuously. Achieving even one per of your goal is OK. In fact, it means you’re already halfway to success.
• Dave Burnett is CEO of AOK Marketing, a Toronto-based firm that helps traditional offline businesses get discovered online.
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