Bullets vs. Cannonballs

Everyone knows that a home run has much more impact than a single. And everyone digs the long ball. So lots of people, and many brand marketers, put their focus on hitting a big blast. They find a big idea, put their effort into perfecting it, and take one big swing for the fences. Everyone talks about those gigantic hits and about how important it is to be “all in” behind that one big at-bat.

But as in baseball, many, if not most, of those home run swings end up as strike outs. And if you’ve put all your effort on that at-bat, then you’ve got a failure on your hands. And you have to start at ground zero once again.

Which is why I’ve always believed that it’s important getting LOTS of at bats, getting on base, and setting up yourself to score some runs, instead of waiting and focusing on a single home run swing. Call me a marketing “Moneyball” advocate.

There’s a concept I read the other day (the source was copyblogger.com, but it’s originally an idea from Jim Collins in “Great by Choice”) that postulated that smart and successful companies know how to fire off some bullets before putting tons of resources and effort into one big cannonball launch. That way they can see where they land and figure out how to hit what they’re aiming at, before shooting off the heavy artillery. Once they’ve got that learning, THEN they load the cannons and swing for the fences.

I love this idea. In this way, if your bullets don’t hit, you a) haven’t risked too much; and b) use the misses as learning to develop better aim (or a better swing, depending on which metaphor you’re using).  And, having some positive experience and learning before the big swings adds to your confidence and conviction. And your hit rate.

I say, shoot lots of bullets. Both before you launch the cannonballs. And even during, and after you shoot them off. This suggests not only putting out some low cost demonstrations of your idea to get some learning before you launch the big Super Bowl ad, the sexy campaign website, or the high-cost mail piece. But maybe before you even MAKE those high cost items. What do you think?


  1. I’ve always used that metaphor too (my employees are probably sick of hearing my sports metaphors!). Getting lots of singles, doubles, steals and getting on base wins games more than home runs. Otherwise, the Rockies would win the World Series every year. Continually building and nurturing a healthy company culture and doing things right for your clients wins for your business every time.

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