Why “incremental improvement” of your marketing can sometimes be total crap

3 Simple Questions to Improve Every Project

I am a HUGE fan of incremental improvement for your business and by extension your business marketing. I have seen first-hand how effective this can be, and the positive results can quickly start to snowball. It also works great for your personal goals!

It’s similar to Dave Ramsey’s recommendation of focused intensity over time.

And it’s similar to kaizan, a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency, etc.

It’s also helpful to regularly take an account of the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns or events.  For example, in the past when I have done events, both for nonprofit and for-profit organizations, at the end of every event we review a few things:

  • Things that worked well and we want to keep
  • Things that could be improved for next time
  • Things that were broken and we need to completely remove

To make this easy to remember, I call this by my own shorthand abbreviation “the good, the bad, and the ugly“.  Good we keep, bad we improve, ugly we remove.

Often, especially for events – which tend to have multiple components – we tackle these three categories for every major piece of the project – perhaps registration, setup, teardown, logistics, etc.

I always review these same questions for marketing campaigns as well, whether that’s after the end of a campaign, or on a regular basis – and depending upon the type of marketing campaign, that may be monthly, annually, or anything in between.

Each event, or each campaign, will have at least a slight improvement over the previous in one or more areas, which (hopefully) has a positive impact overall.

I have seen this concept of incremental improvement work in both my professional and my personal life.

Why incremental improvement can be total CRAP

Incremental improvements – constantly making your marketing better – do work.

But sometimes, you just need to INNOVATE.  Sometimes you’re stuck in a rut of doing things the same way they’ve always been done.  Or you keep doing it the way it’s been done because you feel like you don’t have time to step back and start over.  Or because you don’t even know what thinking would be “outside the box”.

There is no box!

Tear everything down to the ground and start over.  If you could do it all again, with no limitation of “this is how we’ve always done it”, what would it look like?

Innovative Changes

Innovative changes assume that that last year’s approach is fundamentally inadequate.

Innovative changes to your marketing work best when they rely upon hard data and competitive insights into your customers.  The worst thing a business could do would be to start over without using great data to know what they need to do.

It’s that old saying:

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

and a related quote from one of my favorite self-help authors:

“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” – Stephen Covey

I don’t recommend making this type of drastic to simply just to make a change.  If you think your marketing needs to be freshened up a bit, use the incremental approach.  Or grab a free marketing strategy session for your business and we can help you determine whether it may be time for an incremental change or an innovative change.

If you have good data to support what your customer needs, then you can consider this type of drastic, all-in strategy to give a complete overhaul to your company’s marketing efforts.

If your marketing strategy needs so many incremental revisions that it would amount to starting over, this could also be the time to implement such a radical strategy.

It is not to be undertaken lightly. Before you begin you would want to review the insights about what your customers want and need, but do NOT review your past results.

Here’s how I do it

The steps I would take to start an innovate change to your marketing

I’ve done it before with both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.  It works best when you have several people participating.  If you are going to innovate your marketing strategy, you need to look at your marketing in a completely different way than you have before.

1. Brainstorm with a future success question

Imagine this time next year, our marketing strategy was completely successful and generated the awareness and income we desired.  Keep in mind there are no limits to time, budget, staff, or anything else.  What would our results look like?

Take time to let everyone brainstorm what it may mean to your company to have had a hugely successful marketing campaign. Continue to remind them there are no limits, let their imagination run wild (it may help to have a sign or two highly visible in your brainstorming room that says “No Limits” or similar).  Remind your participants that they should not be looking at it from today’s perspective, but as if it had already happened.

Ignore all past methods and results. None of that matters.

This is where you effectively “tear it down” and start over.

2. Brainstorm the methods

Next, after you have a pretty comprehensive list of what a great marketing plan with no limits may look like for your unique business, brainstorm the follow-up question:

We’re at the end of the year of these great marketing results.  How did we get here?

The results of this portion of your brainstorming are where you will find true innovation for your company’s marketing strategy. Keep in mind, you may not be able to implement all (or any) of the suggestions – yet.  But it is important to brainstorm geared towards the results you considered from the first part of the activity so that you think through all of the activities you would take to reach that amazing point – without any of the current limitations anyone may feel.

Once you have as many ideas as you can gather, add each strategy or tactic to a spreadsheet. Sometimes in brainstorming you will have a few oddball suggestions that are not appropriate or meet the business objectives etc, so feel free to leave those off your sheet – you’re wanting to gather all of the ideas that could honestly feed in to success but nothing extraneous.

3. Begin to categorize

Once you have a comprehensive list of the marketing strategies and tactics that would boost your business to record-breaking success, you can begin to look through the list and rank.

You will want to add your strategies to several categories.  Most items will fall into more than one category.  I tend to do this with either color coding and having a spreadsheet with checkmarks next to each strategy under the appropriate columns.

Here are some suggested categories to use:

  • those items which would be most critical to achieving the success you outlined
  • those items that you could implement quickly and easily with current resources, ie you could feasibly implement this month (or you are already doing)
  • those items that would take a considerable amount of planning, work, and budget to implement, which would likely make them a future project, ie you would likely need a year or more to implement
  • those items which would be nice to have but not critical to success
  • those items which would need some further research, planning, etc., that you may be able to implement in more than 1 month but less than 1 year
  • those items with very small budget required
  • those items with very small staff resources required
  • those items with very large budget required
  • those items with very large staff resources required

Here is a sample of how I might complete my spreadsheet.  I tend to keep similar categories in the same color group for easy visual reference, and all I do is put an X or similar in the cell, and have Excel automatically add the color using conditional formatting when there is no blank.

4. Rank

Now that you have each item added to multiple categories, begin ranking by category (column). This can be done by the group, although sometimes it will need to be completed by a smaller group such as CEO, CMO and CFO – those people who can speak for some of the resources of the company but not a large group of people who do not or would not have this information.

Give the most important item in each column the number 1, the next most important item the number 2, etc. Once every item has a rank in every category it should, this will allow you to sort and filter the spreadsheet for planning purposes.

Here is what my ranked spreadsheet may look like:








From here is where you can begin to innovate by working on implementing those items that are ranked #1 and moving through your list strategically.  I won’t go through the best methods to perform this work but there are plenty out there.


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