The not-so-little things

We’ve all heard the old saw “It’s the little things that matter most”. The sprinkles on the cupcake, cutting the crust off the sandwiches, the ribbons on the package – these, we were told at a young age, were what would be most important, most memorable, make the difference. But who really believed it? To me, the little things may have taken you from an A to an A+, but who cared? The heavy lifting of the big things got you the A in the first place. And did anyone ever really say “this delicious chocolate cupcake is worthless because it has no sprinkles”? No, because it was delicious already. Truth be told, I always believed that the “big things” mattered most – the little things just played around in the margins.

Advertising always understood this. People talked about, waxed poetic about, and spent all their energy on the big things. The big salaries focused on them, too. The big new positioning; the breakthrough creative idea; the Super Bowl ad. In fact, timetables allocated nearly all the time upfront to developing the big idea. As if that was all you needed to get you where you needed to go. After that, a lot of less expensive arms and legs would do all the little things to push it out to consumers.  And maybe, just maybe, they’d do the little things well enough to go from an A to an A+. Put those sprinkles on.

Well, we’ve never been more wrong. And that old saw has never been more right. Because the “little things” do matter most. In fact, the little things aren’t so little. And they don’t just make the difference between an A and an A+. Without them, the big things can’t assure you anything more than failure.

These “little things” used to be called “execution”. Getting the idea out, trafficked, in front of eyeballs. And “flawless execution” just meant not dropping the ball. That’s not what it’s all about anymore.  Execution has joined with strategy – it’s a thinking AND doing exercise. Every step of the way. Anyone who knows me knows I call it “stratecution”. And it’s a 24/7 exercise.

In today’s schedules, getting to the idea should be nearer to the starting point than the end. Having the big idea, you still have to work through all the little things regarding who you want to reach (and it’s likely to be several different types or layers of your target at several different points and mindsets within their purchase process), how you’ll connect with them (there are millions of media-types, each with implications for content/message), what you want them to do, how you’ll elicit their engagement, and how you’ll measure it. And you’ll have to think about sequence of messaging, what are your follow up communications. What new ideas come up as you are developing it? What else has happened in-market since you started that leads to new ideas? And this is just scratching the surface.

So developing the TV ad is just a beginning. Where will it run? Should you create additional video to run on your website? Should you create “viral” versions? Should you develop additional content for online video units? Will you push people to a web property – and if so, where will they land? Might you do something more targeted that could connect with local outlets? You get the picture.

And the sexy, drop-dead DM piece you developed is worthless without lots of smart work on list development. Plus what’s the call-to-action, where will you drive people, and how will you measure it? Will you test and then roll it out? Or is there another way to optimize performance? Do you want to reward existing users, or incentivize outsiders? Is this part of a stream of communication, or just a one-off? What else might they be receiving that should impact your message? Are you looking for hand-raisers? If so, what are you offering in exchange for their data?

And digital communications is the most “little thing” reliant of all. Even having a great website idea is just a starting point. Again, who do you want to visit your site, how will you drive them there, what do you want them to do there, how will you measure your success, are all as important as the initial idea. And the iterative nature of digital means you’ll be continuing to develop the idea and how it should come to life all during the development of it. And then there’s the roles of mobile, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. Little things, one after another.

It seems your mom was right all along – it’s the little things that matter most. And those little things are bigger than ever.


  1. Hats off on your new blog, friend. It sparked a couple of thoughts.

    Strategy isn’t over-rated. It just needs to be redefined, then baked throughout everything a company does, including communications.

    If you are trying to be the friendliest shoe store in the world, say, you better not outsource your customer service call center to India. Or make offensive advertising. Or your e-retail experience a maze of confusion and horror.

    Communications is only part of marketing, not the whole of it. And this idea of doing things is increasingly important in a world going virtual.

    1. Alan- Thanks for the comments. I think the idea of the Herb Kelleher quote is less that strategy in itself is over-rated, i.e. unimportant. It’s that it’s been over-valued by marketer after marketer as the holy grail. A great strategy is a hyphothesis – it needs actions and activities to demonstrate it, develop it, test it and evolve it. And, to your point, to drive it throughout everything the company does.

    1. It’s true – “big ideas” consume everyone. But big ideas enter the world on the backs of all the little things. And big ideas fail without those little things being done. And I think there are lots of examples where lots of little things, without a great, “big idea” behind them, can help drive a fair bit of success on their own.

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