In marketing, as with building your business, this principle of firing bullets then cannonballs is a genius and essential strategy by the legendary Jim Collins of 'Great by Choice' (and many other must-read business books). But what does it mean, and how can you apply it to your business? As this is in the top 5 most read blogs on our website, we thought it worth updating and revising to help provide further insight. I then encourage you to read Great by Choice for yourself.
The Difference Between Bullets and Cannonballs
The main difference between a bullet and a cannonball boils down to scale. A bullet is smaller, more nimble, easier to fire and less consequential if misdirected. Whereas the size, logistical effort into launching it, and impact once launched is much bigger with a cannonball.
Have you ever simply gone with your gut and spent all your budget on one big campaign just to see it flop? I think we can all hold our hands up to this!
Fortunately, by following the principles in this blog, you don't have to repeat that mistake. Here the author surmises how the bullets and cannonballs principle applies to business:
"First, you fire bullets (low-cost, low-risk, low-distraction experiments) to figure out what will work—calibrating your line of sight by taking small shots. Then, once you have empirical validation, you fire a cannonball (concentrating resources into a big bet) on the calibrated line of sight. Calibrated cannonballs correlate with outsized results; uncalibrated cannonballs correlate with disaster. The ability to turn small proven ideas (bullets) into huge hits (cannonballs) counts more than the sheer amount of pure innovation."
Application to Your Business Marketing
When looking to expand your business, the principle of firing bullets before cannonballs will enable you to understand where your new strategy will work. It will highlight what amendments to make before a big launch or whether the idea should be rejected based on the alarmingly poor performance.
However,there's a distinctive difference between 'trialling' something and firing a bullet. For example, we often get clients saying they will trial our flyer distribution service by doing a tiny quantity as a one-off. This is a misinterpretation. Instead, fire bullets on the design, the call to action, the type of print and the target audience. These are the bullets. And once you're set on a strategy, roll it out on a larger scale with a cannonball. For example, two of our larger clients fired bullets using one of their branches. Once we established a profitable strategy, they implemented this branch by branch until, ultimately, all branches replicated the same strategy.
How We Got it Wrong
We only partially followed this principle when we were looking to expand our business geographically a few years ago. We started by offering services further afield by simply adding locations to our website; this was our first bullet. We followed this with some basic targeted marketing, the second bullet. We soon began to see traction in these new locations (Leeds in particular). However, our staff didn't enjoy the travel time involved. Still, instead of firing another bullet, we fired a premature cannonball and (at significant expense) launched a new branch in Leeds.
Unfortunately, this is where it all fell apart! We didn't invest enough time in recruitment or training the new manager, which led to problems. Equally, we didn't have the logistics knuckled down prior to launch, which meant everything was reactive and haphazard. Further, we didn't operate from a welcoming office, which led to distributor recruitment and retention difficulties.
Suppose we had fired more bullets, firstly in recruiting and training a more suitable manager. If we then waited until we had the funds for more appealing offices and had a concrete operations manual in place, we may have saved a lot of stress, money and time.
How Your Business Can Get it Right
Get it right by using the firing bullets principle in the key strategic changes you're looking to implement. Be it business direction, marketing strategy, personnel changes and so on. I strongly recommend you read the book 'Great by Choice' by Jim Collins, which discusses this business and marketing principle in depth.
Immediate Next Step
In the meantime, get in touch with Mr Flyer today, and we will help build you a strategy for firing bullets, then cannonballs.