Why Your Marketing Strategy Needs a Mental Model

See this blog post as a fancy slideshow

Mental models seem like a strange place to begin a chat about marketing strategy, right?

My tendency is to just “come up with the strategy already” and not spend time splitting hairs about what nests into where and which thing rolls up to what thing.

But … I understand the value of having a model in which to place yourself and your vision, goals, and strategy. Or, put another way, I recognize the risk in coming up with vision, goals, and strategy without knowing how it all fits in to the bigger picture.

I’ve done it before! It’s a mess.

Lesson(s) learned. 

Let’s start with models and then dive into the specifics of strategy.

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Building a growth engine

Every three months, I do a recap of where my marketing team — the Buffer marketing team — is at and where we’re headed for the next three months. This time, for the first time, I put my quarterly recap into podcast form. You can listen below and subscribe to the podcast to get future episodes and musings.

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What’s the big idea?

I am here to tell you that the secret to success in your career comes down to three things: take risks, work hard, and get lucky.

Fred Wilson

Ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything

Neurologist Daniel Levitin (as mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers)

If you improve by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put it all together.

Dave Brailsford, Great Britain cycling coach (as retold in James Clear’s Atomic Habits)

There’s a theme that runs through all of the above advice: Effort.

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The future of Brand Experience (BX)

1. How do direct-to-consumer businesses grow today? They build remarkable brands.

2. If you ask leaders at some of the biggest DTC businesses in the world for their keys to success, they will invariably start with brand. Brand is the native language of the new DNVB industry. It is the single biggest differentiator in the fight against entrenched, behemoth companies. Brand is everything for these companies.

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Principles of strategy

Last year, I had the chance to read the book Principles by Ray Dalio, which covered many of the lessons Ray learned throughout his career of investing and business-building.

(Kindle version here.)

What I loved about the book was his approach to decision-making and how it centered on this idea of principles. Here’s a brief explanation of how he thinks about principles:

1. Slow down your thinking so you can note the criteria you are using to make your decision.

2. Write the criteria down as a principle.

3. Think about those criteria when you have an outcome to assess, and refine them before the next “one of those” comes along.

This way, whenever a new decision comes your way, you may be able to recognize its similarity to a decision you’ve made in the past, and then you can apply the same principles you used successfully before.

Voila! A shortcut to better decision-making. :)

The book is a #longread, and there are many, many different categories of principles that Ray talks about. One particular category that has stuck with me is his principles for strategy.

Here they are:

Principles for strategy

Don’t put the expedient ahead of the strategic.

Consider second-and third-order consequences, not just first-order ones.

Beware of paying too much attention to what is coming at you and not enough attention to your machine.

Remember that the WHO is more important than the WHAT

All of your “must-dos” must be above the bar before you do your “like-to-dos.”

These have been useful for me as I’ve weighed strategic decisions at Buffer recently.

Hope they can be helpful for you as well.

Smart goal-setting in action: How to make progress on a giant goal

When it comes to breaking down a gigantic goal into actionable, measurable steps, things can feel a bit daunting. To quote Carl Sagan:

If you wish to make apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.

No pressure, right!

Similarly, what if you have one of these goals:

  • Grow Monthly Active Users (MAUs) by 10x
  • Increase Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) 50% year-over-year
  • Dominate the customer service market
  • Reposition your brand to serve the Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) space

Where do you begin? Continue reading