What knives teach us about marketing

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Swiss Army Knife

Here’s an unsurprising confession: I’m a fan of knives. (Warcraft rogues, you can stop giggling now) I’ve probably got more knives than any other class of tool in my house, even accounting for an absurd number of misplaced and lost screwdrivers, and I use knives on a daily basis more than any other piece of non-digital hardware.

All of this started when I was about 10 years old, when I got my first Boy Scout knife, a small Victorinox Swiss Army Knife. (back then in those politically incorrect days, giving a child a knife as a gift was totally appropriate.) It was a relatively simple model with a 2 inch knife blade, a built-in saw, built-in scissors, built-in can opener/screwdriver, and a pair of tweezers that pulled out of the plastic handle. All in all, it was a great little knife that whittled more sticks and bars of soap than I care to remember.

Over the years, I’ve collected knives, made knives from blanks bought at various knifeworks, broken more than my fair share of them, and can say with certainty one truth about knives:

Use the right knife for the right job.

A chef’s knife is wonderful for long drawing slices and cuts across large pieces of food. It’s terrible at very short cuts that require a lot of twists and turns.

A paring knife is wonderful for doing exactly what it says it does: paring. It’s also good in a pinch for quick, short slices and dices.

A folding belt or pocket knife is great to have around for utility tasks like opening boxes or if you need (and are safely trained in the use of) a knife for self protection.

A decorative knife like some of Gil Hibben’s fantasy blades are great for decoration. You’re highly likely to injure yourself or break them if you try to use them for anything practical.

Accidents happen when you use the wrong knife for the wrong purpose. You also get substandard results. Take a good look at a side of roast beef and imagine trying to cut it with a paring knife or a pocket knife and still have a presentable meal, and you get the general idea. Use the right knife for the right purpose.

As a kid, a Swiss Army Knife is good enough for most situations that a 10 year old is going to face. It’s not especially good at any one of the tasks that it does, but most kids don’t need to saw down a tree, carve a roast, or fight with a knife, and so it’s good enough for the barest basics. As an adult, the Swiss Army Knife is now relegated to a beloved keepsake rather than a heavily used utility tool.

What does any of this have to do with marketing? In many ways, marketing tools are no different than knives. If you don’t use the right tool for the right purpose, accidents happen and results are below expectations.

There are an astonishing number of companies that want to be all things to all marketers – some even go so far as to make the analogy that they’re a Swiss Army Knife of marketing. They want to be your SEO tool, your email marketing tool, your mobile tool, your advertising tool, and so on. It’s everything you need in one convenient package, right?

For the novice marketer, the all in one solution will take care of all of your basic needs, but it won’t do any of them particularly well. It’s better than no SEO solution, but you’ll hit its limits really quickly. It’s better than sending BCC emails from Outlook, but lacks any serious email marketing capability. It’s better than no analytics, but a pale cry from the full fury of Google Analytics.

For the capable and talented marketer, you’re better off going with a limited mix of best-in-class tools rather than bigger and bigger “Swiss Army Knife” marketing solutions. Any chef of repute and experience will tell you they keep a drawer of a half dozen or so knives that do one particular style of cutting exceptionally well, and they’re not shy about spending a decent amount of money on a solid blade that will do its job well through the years. As a marketer, look for the right tools for the right purposes, and be willing to invest more time and money to get better results.

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2 responses to “What knives teach us about marketing”

  1. And sometimes it turns out you don’t need a knife at all, but another tool entirely 😉

    1. Aye – that’s a different discussion entirely 🙂

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