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The 3 Variables That Marketers Have to Balance

The 3 Variables That Marketers Have to Balance

"Our marketing isn't working."

Whenever I'd hear this from a founder or a marketing leader, my first instinct was to always ask about their funnel. But now I've realized that jumping into solutioning only partially solves the problem.

The correct first step is to level-set. Everyone has a different expectation for what marketing is or what a marketing function is supposed to do. This can become a very philosophical discussion about the job of the marketing team, so I've found it helpful to use this equation to keep things practical:

Marketing = A x A x A

A successful marketing function manages the relationship between these 3 variables:

  1. Awareness
  2. Affinity
  3. Acquisition

We can then use this as a baseline for a quick exercise that more precisely diagnoses why marketing "isn't working."

Each of these variables is scored from 0 → 1.


How well does your target audience know who you are and what you do?

Again, this is meant to be a quick-and-dirty exercise to create alignment, but some companies will have quant data to back up opinions here. Think: brand recall surveys, Google trends or search volume analysis.


How preferred are you over alternatives? Do you get referrals from happy customers?

Branding, demand gen and "customer love" initiatives like sending swag can play a role here, but you have to be clear-eyed that the real driver of this metric is a great product. Product NPS. Churn metrics. Scores on review sites.


How good is the team at driving downloads? Getting demo forms filled out? Email subscribers? Web traffic?

This one is usually the best understood, because most marketing teams spend their time here and this is usually how most marketing teams are measured (whether this is a good or bad thing is food for thought for another post.)

The annoying truth: sometimes, success is not up to you

You'll notice something about the equations here. There's a multiplication sign between the 3 variables. If one of the scores is really poor, it negates how good the others are.

I've known strong marketers who were doing all the right things, but the company just wasn't growing and was getting lapped by competitors that had a smaller team. Using the equation, we can understand why. Here's how you'd score a company that has some awareness, knows how to capture demand, but gets little word of mouth:

0.7 x 0.2 x 0.7 = 0.098

Now imagine a competitor that has less awareness & acquisition, but has a great product that people love:

0.4 x 0.8 x 0.4 = 0.128

While marketers play an outsized role in Awareness and Acquisition, Affinity and word of mouth are the hardest levers to move, because they're cross-functional efforts with a lot of ambiguity.

Earlier in my career I worked in video games, which, like all entertainment fields, is a punishing place to work as a marketer. You have no idea how good you are. I remember some game launches where we had an a great, well-funded strategy that was executed to perfection. But too bad: the game sucked, and so it didn't matter.

If this feels somewhat "unfair" that's just because you are viewing careers like meritocracies, which they rarely are from a technical sense. The product and company you do marketing for has a way bigger influence on your success than any technical ability you have.

That in itself is a skill that you need to hone. This is why it's so important that you know how to evaluate a company before you join them.

One last example

Here's On Deck as an example. Today, I'd score us as:

0.25 x 0.9 x 0.25 = 0.056

Awareness. We're extremely well-known in the startup world, but as we rapidly grow outside of that, we're finding that we have lots of work to do.

Affinity. Our NPS is thru the roof (one of the reasons I joined). As a startup, there's naturally a lot of ups and downs for the company and a lot of changes, but one thing that has been constant is that our customers and our community love the work that we're doing.

Acquisition. There's still so much opportunity here, but we're really early in our journey (again, one of the reasons I joined.)

This equation has been really handy for me, whether I'm advising someone who's frustrated at their marketing function or whether it's someone evaluating a job opportunity.

I'd love to hear what you think about this one. Either reply to this email, comment below or check out the LinkedIn version of this post.