Turning your marketing hamster wheel to a flywheel

Tara Hunt

Tara Hunt

Tara Hunt, CEO of Truly, has over 20 years experience in market research and strategy on both client and agency side. She wrote one of the first books on how the social web is changing business, was named one of 2013's Entrepreneurial Women to Watch by Entrepreneur Magazine and one of the Most Influential Women in Technology in Fast Company. She has built an engaged and enthusiastic business audience online of over 345,000 followers, including a significant number of thought leaders. Tara combines a data-centric with a human-centric approach to building an audience, leaning heavily on insights into consumer patterns and behaviors while keeping an eye on online trends and changing expectations.

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Unlike the hamster wheel of buying ads, requiring constant feeding, a marketing flywheel will get you in motion and keep you in motion.

Do you feel like you’re on a marketing hamster wheel? Do you have to apply constant pressure to your marketing and sales in order to keep your business afloat? Are you constantly shoveling money into social media ads and search ads, but you aren’t seeing much of a return? Is this how your marketing strategy feels:


You aren’t alone. Lots of people are promised the moon when it comes to spending money on ads and other “quick and easy” schemes, but the truth is that marketing isn’t as simple as buying a bunch of ads and watching the customers roll in. Sounds like you need to get your flywheel going!

I’m going to explain why just making noise doesn’t work anymore and what you should do instead to get off of that constant marketing hamster wheel.


First, forget that funnel

I’m sure that someone along the way told you to “build your marketing funnel.” In the language of marketing, a marketing funnel looks something like this:


That’s very simplified, but, essentially, the thinking behind a marketing funnel is that the more people you have that are aware at the top of the funnel, the more people will make it down to the purchase part.

This would be awesome, but it just doesn’t work that way. In fact, as you’re starting to realize, this is what the funnel actually looks like:

The reason that it’s not working as well as promised is that the modern-day customer journey doesn’t follow the whole funnel idea. It’s not that linear. In fact, depending on the purchase, it may look more like this:

The ZMOT at the bottom left of this journey stands for the Zero Moment of Truth, an acronym coined by Google. Prior to the internet, most marketing strategies were built off a mental model that included 3 moments:

[BEFORE INTERNET – Think With Google]

The Stimulus was the moment that the consumer decided they needed the product. It could be anything from your car breaking down to seeing an ad on TV.

The First Moment of Truth (FMOT) would be the consideration phase of the customer journey. In the case of the car, this would be going to the various dealers and looking at your options. Even if you were swayed to buy something you saw in an ad, you’d still head to the store and take a second look (and maybe even compare the product to competitors).

The Second Moment of Truth (SMOT) was your experience with the product. Did you feel good about your decision to buy that car after owning it for a while? How about that product you saw in the ad?

As a marketer, you’d be very interested in creating more stimuli to pique interest. The sales team would be in charge of the FMOT, moving the consumer from consideration to decision. Customer service and the product designers were mostly responsible for the SMOT.

But then the internet came along and screwed all of this up and we got a Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT):

zero moment of truth
[AFTER INTERNET – Think With Google]

Now, when someone wants to buy a car or sees an ad for a nifty new product, the consumer goes on a whole new journey, which brings me back to this diagram:

buyer's journey

Depending on the complexity or cost of a purchase, they can spend months and have hundreds of touchpoints before they get to the decision. Just look at this case study from Google on one person’s journey to buy a car:

touch points

900 digital touch points!!!

Having recently decided to purchase our leased vehicle rather than getting a new lease (a Mini Clubman we love – our SMOT is strong!), I can confirm that this is not a ridiculous number. I went back through my search history and there were over 130 Google searches…and we were just deciding whether we’d keep our car.

So, yeah, don’t think that expanding awareness is going to push any more people down a fictional funnel.

Next, understand your leading and lagging indicators

Most businesses, especially small and mid-sized businesses, are terrible at goal-setting. Disastrously terrible! Catastrophic!

But this isn’t entirely their fault. These businesses are terrible at goal-setting because:

  1. everyone focuses on the lagging indicators (what they want to achieve), but completely forget the leading indicators (what it takes to get there); and
  2. most companies don’t have the data on their leading indicators…they don’t know what it takes to achieve their goals.

Still confused? Here is an example:


If your broad objective is to bring in more leads, you’ll need to know what to do in order to achieve this. How do you find this?

  1. Go into your historic data to find out what brought in leads in the past
  2. If you don’t have historic data, you can use data from case studies (yay for the internet!)
  3. Experiment to set the leading indicators.

In the example, Hubspot published a study on the impact of blog posts on creating inbound leads and found that 11+ posts per month resulted in an average of 250 inbound leads. This may, of course, vary for your industry, so you’ll need to compare other sources.

No matter what, the third option – experimentation – is highly recommended. Take small amounts of money and test your theses on what brings in leads.

Finally, turn these insights into a flywheel

Now that you are on your way to understanding your leading and lagging indicators, you need to turn them into a flywheel. But before you do this, you’re probably wondering:

what in the heck a flywheel is anyway?

The flywheel is used as an analogy for implementing business strategy and was created by Jim Collins to describe how driving a new strategy is like getting a huge flywheel into motion. But once you get that flywheel into motion, growth gets incredibly efficient.

The advantage of the flywheel over the funnel is that it allows you to build on your successes along the way. As you figure out your leading and lagging indicators, they start to drive the flywheel.

Take, for instance, the infamous Amazon flywheel:


Lower prices on more offerings is the leading indicator that results in increased customer visits (lagging indicator). Then increased customer visits become the leading indicator that results in attracting more third-party sellers. Those third-party sellers become the leading indicator that drives expansion and distribution, which results in growing revenues per fixed costs…allowing Amazon to offer lower prices on more offerings.

The flywheel is, in essence, a virtuous cycle of leading and lagging indicators. In your case, you just need to figure out what leading and lagging indicators create that virtuous cycle.

To bring the Hubspot example up again, it could look like this:


Articles lead to inbound traffic, which then leads to more sharing and comments, and those comments and shares help create more insights into the content, which helps you create more articles, which drives more leads.

Start with your original leading indicator and see how much of a virtuous cycle it creates:

use this as your flywheel template!

It may take a little while, but if you have the right flywheel formula, it will eventually pick up steam and require less and less time, money and energy to grow.

Unlike the never ending hamster wheel of buying ads that require a constant feeding and even increase in intensity, you’ll be able to pare back and let the flywheel grow naturally, just making sure it stays on track (and adjusts for changes in the market).

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