In marketing, as with building your business, this principle of firing bullets then cannonballs is a genius and essential strategy by 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? This blog gives you a quick insight.
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. Where as 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 the 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.” Watch a quick clip by Jim Collins here:
Application to business and marketing
When looking to expand your business the principle of firing bullets before cannonballs will enable you to gain an understanding as to where your new strategy will work, what amendments should be made before a big launch, or whether the idea should infact be rejected based on the alarmingly poor performance. However, there’s a distinctive difference between ‘trialing’ something and firing a bullet. We often get clients saying they will trial our flyer distribution service by doing a very small quantity as a one off. This is not what it means. Instead, fire bullets on the design, the call to action, the paper size and the targeted locations. These are the bullets, and once you’re set on a strategy roll it out on a larger scale with a cannonball. Two of our larger clients both did this by firing bullets using one of their branches. Once we established a fruitful strategy they implemented this branch by branch, until ultimately all branches use the same strategy.
How we got it wrong
When we were looking to expand our business geographically a few years ago, we only partially followed this principle. 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, 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, but instead of firing another bullet, we fired a premature cannonball and setup a new branch in Leeds. This is where it all fell apart! We didn’t give enough time on recruitment or training the manager, which led to problems, we didn’t have the logistics knuckled down prior to launch, which meant everything was re-active and haphazard and we didn’t operate from a welcoming office, which led to distributor recruitment and retention difficulties. If we had fired more bullets first training a more suitabe manager, 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 you can get it right
Get it right by using the firing bullets principle in the key strategic changes you’re looking to implement. This can be 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. Or, if you really don’t fancy the read, simply get in touch with Mr Flyer directly and we will help build you a strategy firstly firing bullets, then cannonballs.