Bullets And Cannonballs

August 28, 2018 , 2 minutes
bullets and cannonballs

Most people have probably read a Jim Collins book; he’s the author of a number of excellent business books. One of these books I recently went back and read was ‘Good To Great’ where he talks about a business theory he labels ‘bullets and cannonballs’. I think this applies neatly to how we talk to clients when they ask ‘how much money should I be spending on X?’

What’s the theory of ‘bullets and cannonballs’?

Spending a huge amount of money on marketing strategies without understanding the potential for success isn’t a great move for a business of any size. Sometimes things that have worked for one company, don’t work for others. Even if they’re in the same industry or with the same target markets.

When people ask us ‘how much money they should spend on their marketing’, we like to imagine we’re firing bullets and cannonballs at a marketing problem. In the past, when engaging in warfare at sea, real cannonballs were a much more effective means of hitting, disabling and sinking your target. But they took time to load, were hard to aim and if you missed, costly to keep speculatively firing. On the other hand, bullets were quicker, easier to aim and recalibrate and nowhere near as expensive.

Subsequently, captains of boats engaged in battle often fired multiple bullets first to assess speed, wind resistance and distance, before loading up the cannonballs, knowing that now their aim would be much more accurate, and fewer cannonballs would be wasted.

Using this theory with our marketing strategies, we understand the best thing to do for any business is first fire bullets. Then calibrate aim, fire again, then recalibrate and finally, when confident of success, launch the cannonballs. Because we’ve tested our aim and readjusted, the cannonball is much more likely of hitting its target with success.

How is this applied?

The application is simple. If you’re looking to assess five new channels or campaigns, allocate a small budget to each one. If it’s an SEO campaign, then pick the smallest plan. Fire the bullets, test, track and readjust. Once you understand which channels and which campaigns can deliver the best results then we fire those cannonballs and up the budgets.

But we keep firing the bullets too. Checking your calibration on the other campaigns is always important.

Photo by Andreea Swank on Unsplash