As you read this, I’ll probably be driving back to Ashland from Seattle. During the drive up a couple days ago, I continued a long-running experiment. My car is equipped with a trip computer that displays my mileage and distance to empty in real time. Small changes in speed had a huge effect; reducing speed even a few miles per hour increased or decreased my miles per gallon by up to four. Slowing down increased my mileage to a point, below which it started dropping again. Hard acceleration also took a big bite out of my distance to empty. Exiting the freeway to do a few minutes of stop-and-go driving in Olympia? My mileage plummeted. Overall, I averaged over 32MPG- not too shabby for a 260 horsepower V6.
I noticed other things as well. Rolling off the gas as I crested a rise followed by rolling back on as slowly as possible as I reached the bottom and started up the next hill gave me the greatest overall efficiency. The lower speed limits in northern Oregon and Washington meant that one tank of gas lasted the entire 460-mile trip and then some.

What does any of this have to do with marketing?

The keys to my excellent mileage were pacing, consistency, and subtlety. Let’s talk about these three topics in a little more detail.

Pacing. My normal cruising speed was about 65-70 miles per hour (portions of Washington have the higher speed limit). Slowing to 60 or 55 increased my mileage but also increased my trip time. Slowing much below 55 miles per hour would start decreasing my mileage because I’d have to downshift, meaning that the engine would still be spinning as fast while not pushing the wheels as far. Speeding up requires the engine to spin faster, which burns more fuel.

Same with marketing. Getting fast results requires a greater outlay of your resources. Slow down too much and you’ll need to spend more to make up for your spotty efforts. Finding your own “sweet spot” for your marketing will give your efforts the best balance of coverage and longevity. Should you advertise weekly or monthly? Should you contact your email list every month or every quarter? Should you focus on TV, radio, word of mouth, or other marketing methods? What combination of marketing methods will give the most mileage for your resources?

Consistency. Freeway driving is much more efficient that stop-and-go city driving. I pulled off the freeway in Olympia for lunch and drove a grand total of perhaps 5 miles before getting back on the interstate. Those 5 miles of inefficient driving cost me several times that many miles of overall range. Stop at a traffic light and you’ll expend copious amounts of fuel getting back up to speed. Stop your marketing and you’ll need a heavy investment of time, money, and effort to make up for lost time. Remember the old mantra “out of sight, out of mind?”

Never start a marketing campaign that you are unable and/or unwilling to stick with for the long term. You might balk at the ongoing cost and that’s perfectly understandable. Trust me when I say that the cost of stop-and-go marketing will be far, far higher in terms of both actual cost and lost effectiveness.

Subtlety. Hard acceleration requires lots of gas. It also tends to discombobulate passengers and cargo alike. Gradual speed changes aren’t nearly as sexy (especially when you’ve got a purring V6 begging for more), but they require far less fuel and don’t jar the contents. The students at the marketing training I presented yesterday were coming up with all kinds of suggestions for seasonal marketing campaigns and logo modifications for all the major holidays. Each such change entails costs for a graphic designer, printer, Web master, and more. It also strays from the original marketing message and confuses the target audience who may not necessarily associate the changes with your company.

How about sublet changes that leave the original logo/theme/etc. intact and add a tiny touch? That little dab will give you the seasonal flair you seek while not disturbing your mail message. It will prove far less costly in the long run. Remember, the aim of marketing is not to look fancy or to showcase your artistic talents and whimsy. Your single goal with your marketing is ultimately to increase your profits- something that’s rather hard to do if you’re not always seeking to extract the most mileage from your efforts.

Market your business as if you were driving a car down the freeway trying to extract every last inch of distance from your limited (and increasingly costly) fuel supply and you will go far- literally.