I know. It’s confusing. I’m telling you to invest less in marketing when everyone around you is telling you that you should invest more. As one of those self-interested marketing types, why would I tell you to invest less in marketing when you investing more is how I make my rather questionable living? Doesn’t that go against everything that us narcissistic marketing types are supposed to say to unsuspecting business owners? Um, yep. But I guess that’s what happens when you throw an accountant into the deep end and they’re forced to learn a thing or two about marketing – but that’s a story for another day.
If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention
Over the past 10 years marketing has changed more than it has in the 50 years prior to that. Every day sees the introduction of some new strategy, tactic, system, algorithm, platform, method or metric that’s supposed to help business people become better marketers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Most business owners just get MORE confused as they try to go up the digital learning curve. The more they learn the less they feel that they know. I know exactly how that feels.
I’ve been “doing digital” for more than 15 years now and have personally mastered (and excelled) at a wide variety of digital tactics. I can build pretty awesome websites. I can write decent copy. I’ve truly slammed it at SEO. I’ve built and managed profitable Google Ads campaigns. I can retarget successfully across multiple platforms. I’ve mastered cold email. I’m ranked amongst the world’s top 10 influencers for the Mautic marketing automation platform. I have a social media footprint running into the tens of thousands. I have anything up to 40 staff doing all this stuff for me and my clients – and yet…
I sometimes feel that I know less now than I ever did! That’s the fast-paced nature of digital.
What is Minimalist Marketing?
In essence, minimalist marketing is marketing that’s guided by strategy, rather than the anarchy of standalone or disjointed tactics. You might wonder what I mean by that, so let me illustrate by explaining how many businesses arrive in that dark, unprofitable place.
The Story of John & Sarah
John and Sarah start a business. They “know” that they need a website and get their neighbours cousin (a uni student studying graphic design) to build them one, really, really cheap. It has great pictures of John and Sarah on the website and their Mum’s are super proud of both of them. John and Sarahs’ friends all express their admiration for their new website, as well as the really snazzy purple, green and orange logo designed by Sarah. That thing really pops!
As the months and years roll by, John and Sarah find that they need more marketing collateral. Initially, Sarah designs some brochures using MS Word, but eventually, they hire a local graphic designer to “fix things up a bit”. The new brochures look great but don’t quite match the website or their business cards, as Sarah has changed their logo “just a bit” quite a few times now. In fact, the orange has gone and it’s now a bright shade of yellow. And it has some blue stripes. Ah well, it’ll all be OK…
Meanwhile, one of Johns’ golf buddies tells him that he knows someone in his industry who’s killing it with Facebook ads. John knows that their 22-year-old receptionist, Emilee, uses Facebook every day and is a regular Wizz on the computer. He instructs Emilee to create a Facebook page for the business and run some Facebook ads. How hard can that possibly be, right? He gets Emilee to write some blog post too, because – ya know – everyone needs blog posts and Emilee has plenty of free time to do that – in spite of her “solid C student” prowess at English.
Next, Sarah gets a random phone call from a phone number in India. David Smith (really?) is an SEO guru who can get their website ranking at the top of Google search results with his “Miracle 999 SEO Booster Bundle”. Sarah tells John all about the thousands of new customers from around the globe who could soon be visiting their locally focused website and buying from them. They jump right in for some of that amazing SEO.
Then Sarah meets somebody at the kids’ school who knows this awesome Google Ads guy – and you can guess the rest. Before long, John and Sarah are on the road to a digital marketing disaster. Sun Tzu said it best, long before the internet was ever even thought of: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” John and Sarah are now hearing the noise before defeat. Loud. And. Clear.
Minimalist Marketing is all About Your Strategy
John and Sarah could have avoided the situation I’ve outlined by having a clear strategy and a solid tactical plan for their marketing. Instead, they decided to chase every bright shiny object that offered even a glimmer of hope for their marketing. They knew no better. I’ve done it myself. Repeatedly. You’ve probably done it too. These days, I think I spend as much (or more) time reminding clients to STOP chasing bright shiny objects as I do persuading them to stick to their strategy and just implement their existing plans. Staying focused and disciplined is hard. It also sits at the core of minimalist marketing, right along with Strategy.
Write this across your forehead: Strategy comes first.
Don’t even think about tactics (what marketing you’ll actually do) until you get this sorted or you’re headed for certain disaster. I’ll give you my iron-clad guarantee on that.
Focus on Quality, Not Quantity
To be a successful minimalist marketer you’ll need to focus on the quality of your marketing, rather than the quantity. If you’re going to have a website, make damned sure that it’s a high-quality website – good design, customer-facing, selling a clear value proposition and encouraging visitors to engage with you. If you’re going to write blog posts and distribute them via social media, make them informative and worth the time that readers might invest. If you decide to engage in SEO make sure your focus is on the kind of keyword sets where you can easily add value for visitors to your pages.
The days when you could just push out worthless content on the internet and still manage to have it discovered by search engines are long over. You are now competing with the (literally) millions of pages published each month on the internet for the attention of search engines and the eyeballs of prospects and customers. You’d better make damned sure that your content is worthwhile or you won’t attract either.
Just the Absolute Essentials
There are almost endless options when it comes to marketing tactics and you don’t have the time, money or skills to engage in all of them. I mentioned strategy as the first principle of minimalist marketing. The individual tactics you choose (like SEO, or PPC, or blogging) need to feed your strategy and those tactics will hopefully feed off one and other. For example, you might write a high-quality, keyword-rich blog post which you use to attract organic traffic to your website (SEO). You might also post that same blog to your social media pages, drive paid traffic to it (Google Ads, maybe), or use it in a newsletter to customers. One high-quality marketing piece can be used over and over and/or be repurposed. Again, quality is the key ingredient.
The biggest challenge with the essentials might be deselecting certain things that you are doing now in order to become more focused on the most essential tactics that feed your strategy. Making those choices can be more difficult than it looks, but they are essential if you want to become a minimalist marketer. Choose the things that are the best fit and the most likely to work. Drop the non-essential completely.
Systems, Systems & More Systems
Minimalist marketing relies more upon systems and less upon people. Don’t get me wrong, people still have an extremely important role to play, especially in any service-based business, but even the people need to work within your system for minimalist marketing to be effective. You’ll find too that most of your people will love working within clearly defined systems because the part they have to play within that system should be quite clear to them. People generally love predictability and routine. You’ll be appreciated more than you know.
Software plays a major part in minimalist marketing too, reducing or eliminating the variables (or outright mistakes) associated with normal human behaviour, as well as eliminating the need for people to perform repetitive and often mundane tasks. Like the Terminator, a marketing automation platform just keeps pursuing its programmed objectives. It never sleeps. It doesn’t experience bad days when it doesn’t feel like emailing prospects. It doesn’t go on holidays or need any sick leave. Marketing automation might just become your new best friend.
For example, when a lead comes in via your website, could it automatically be pushed to your CRM? Could a series of emails and/or text messages be initiated that are designed to “warm-up” your newly acquired prospect? Can the right people in your organisation be notified automatically when your new lead engages in certain behaviours on your website? The answer to all of that is yes, thanks to the wonders of marketing automation.
Developing systems takes time and effort. The exciting thing is that you do it just once, then allow the processes you’ve developed and the tools you’ve employed to drive it. The long-term benefits of robust systems are profound. It’s not marketing specific, but I can highly recommend Michael Gerbers’ excellent book about developing systems, The E-Myth. Frankly, it’s the best book on business that I’ve ever read. Period. Just get it.
Become End-to-End (Outcome) Focused
An ideal system will be end-to-end and outcome-focused. It will be sequential, leading each new prospect along a pre-defined journey to becoming your customer – all with as little human intervention as possible. Put another way, minimalist marketing requires you to think backwards from the desired result (i.e. the sale) and plan each of the steps that your prospect will take from the point of first contact through to when you finally take their money and beyond.
Taking this ultra-organised approach allows you to do some things that more randomised, standalone tactics just don’t lend themselves to. Here are what I see as the two greatest benefits.
1. Visibility Over the Journey
Have you ever wondered where a prospect is at in the sales process? Are they warmed up enough that they’re ready to buy your product or service yet? Is now the right time to reach out to them and offer more information, or should you wait a little while longer? Systems (notably marketing automation) provide you with a high degree of visibility over where your prospect is at in their sales journey, right down to letting you know what pages they’ve visited on your website, when and how often, etc. If you want to go to the trouble, you can even develop a point scoring system that puts objectivity into when the right time is to reach out and speak to a prospect. You need marketing automation in your life.
2. Identify & Resolve Weakness in Your System
One of the main benefits of being organised and having a system is that it permits you to measure the effectiveness of each step in your process and make changes, as required. For example, if you have a nine-step marketing process and you are losing a heap of prospects at step six, maybe you have a problem right there, which you can now address by taking (and measuring) an alternative approach. A less organised process wouldn’t permit you to even identify the problem, let alone experiment with possible solutions. A problem correctly identified is half the problem solved. The right systems and tools make the correct identification of problems 1,000 times easier!
Measure ROI, Not Meaningless Metrics
What does every marketer want from their marketing? A solid return on investment.
I often meet people who are obsessed with measuring fairly meaningless metrics. Where their website ranks on Google for a certain keyword set. How many likes a particular post on Facebook gets. How many followers they have on their Instagram page. All of that stuff is interesting and you certainly should know about it. The problem is that none of it tells you anything much about your return on investment from marketing spend.
Minimalist marketers focus less on meaningless metrics and keep their eyes firmly on the ball of ROI. One of the keys to all effective marketing (minimalist or otherwise) is to measure your return on investment from particular marketing activities. How much do you make as a result of SEO, PPC, social media posting, or sending gifts to customers? You’ll be able to measure all or most of this stuff – and you should. Over time, you’ll know with a high degree of certainty what works best, leaving you free to spend more on your most effective marketing and drop less profitable marketing altogether. It might even leave you with some budget to experiment with some of those bright shiny objects!
The Minimalist Marketer
It took me a long time to accept that less really could add up to more, that quality beats quantity and that NOT trying new things all the time could lead to a far more effective and profitable marketing program. Since I embraced minimalist marketing as a personal mantra, my business has never been quite the same. It takes a LOT of effort to get yourself organised as a minimalist marketer, but in my personal experience, it’s been 100% worth the time and effort required. Give it a go. Comment below to let me know how minimalist marketing is working out for you.
Good article – I think I will steal it.