Drink Your Own Kool-Aid™

A few days ago Seth Godin (an author whose writing I have read quite a bit of, and feel has some really interesting insight into nature of creating value, despite the fact that he occasionally says or writes something that’s just bonkers) wrote a short blog entry on spending money on your business, and how hard that can be.

He’s right. It’s hard to spend money on something you can spend time and effort on making an end-run around. I work with small businesses all the time who waste a lot of time because they want to save a buck. I’m guilty of it too. Anyone who has ever had to do without because they are building a business knows what it’s like. You work long hours to do a thing you could outsource or automate because you are time rich and cash poor.

The problem I have with Mr. Godin’s post is that he didn’t title it something like, “The Value of Your Time,” or, “How to Go Broke Saving Money.” He titled it, “Ad Agencies Don’t Run Many Ads for Themselves” and then tried to assert that it’s because they don’t want to spend money on themselves…and that’s not it at all.

The reason ad agencies don’t spend money on ads for themselves is not that they don’t want to spend the money, but that it’s the wrong tool. Ads (print, TV, radio, web, whatever) work great when you’re trying to reach a large enough group of people who will consume that media. It won’t work when a) your target is tiny, and b) they don’t reliably consume any one media source.

Reaching top decision makers in sizable companies isn’t as easy as reaching your average potential Coke drinker or Nike wearer or iPhone user because most people wear shoes, drink soft drinks, and would love an iPhone. Maybe .001% of people have any interest in the selection of ad agencies, and I would bet that a fairly small percent of them are tuning in to American Idol for any given episode.

Ad agencies instead spend their marketing dollars on different tools, which are also really expensive, but will work way better for their target market.

However, there is something to be said for drinking your own Kool-Aid. We did a little experiment in walking our own talk this summer, and it worked out really well and provided a solid case study. We wrote and designed a series of postcards. Seven in all, as I once read a study that suggested that it takes seven exposures to form a brand impression. We kept them simple, typifying the “One Nail” philosophy we preach to our clients. We gave a single, clear call to action. We set up simple and clear ways to measure results. We also built the mailing list from scratch, and voice-verified the details for the points of contact to eliminate gatekeepers.

Guess what? It worked. 60% of people who got the postcards went to the microsite. 30% of them asked to be contacted. 9% of them set appointments. 4% signed on as new clients after that appointment.

So, while I think Mr. Godin missed the mark with his title and its implication, I do think there is a case to be made for drinking your own Kool-Aid. I would certainly hope that the Kool-Aid you’re serving to clients is delicious enough to drink yourself.

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