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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Lerner

Why Marketing Doesn't Work

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

I write this with a heavy heart, but often Marketing alone just doesn't work.

But when I look back on my time at PayPal, the most impactful work I did had nothing to do with traditional marketing. (Despite the titles on my LinkedIn profile.)

The nine-figure revenue impacts came from customer service treatments to boost activation and reduce churn based on propensity models. Plus product/engineering improvements to flows.

But it’s not just me.

Spotify’s best “growth hackers” were lawyers who out-maneuvered the record industry. Dropbox grew via viral product mechanics, AirBnB coders “hacked” Craigslist, Twitter recruited celebrities and YouTube flouted copyrights.

But before you fire your head of marketing...

If your startup isn’t growing the way you want, don’t blame marketing. Instead, figure out what is your true lever, and focus on it. Relentlessly. (Granted this is probably not pure marketing.)

It’s also not peanut butter.

If you spread your time and attention (like peanut butter) across too many initiatives, none of them will work. (In the early days at PayPal, before my time, Peter Thiel gave each person one thing. And he would refuse to discuss anything else with you except your one thing.)

For most successful startups a small handful of initiatives drove the vast majority of their growth— 90% of their growth came from 10% of the stuff they tried.

How to find your one thing

Be systematic

  • Generate hypotheses.

  • Find ways to test them quickly

  • Focus on the ideas that could be huge if they worked

  • Try things quickly and be honest with yourself when they aren’t working

What if they’re “sort of” working?

If you’re running experiments and they’re inconclusive check out this video “When Experiments Fail” I posted two weeks ago. It’ll help you clarify on whether you should double down or change tack.

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