Minimum effective dose of marketing

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After a shower recently, I noticed a logistical problem: all of the normal bath towels weren’t available. So I used a hand towel, which was sufficient to get the job done. Even though it was optimal, it achieved the desired effect. That got me thinking about a concept I first read in a pharmacology book years ago and saw crop up again in one of Tim Ferriss’ books: effective dose. In pharmacology, there are two important dosages that professionals pay attention to, minimum effective dose and maximum tolerated dose.


Minimum effective dose is the minimum dose of a drug that produces a statistically significant impact, an observable effect. Maximum tolerated dose is the highest dosage that can be administered before toxicity occurs. As you would expect, these dosages can vary wildly from person to person, but some generalizations can be made. Any parent knows that a dose of ibuprofen for a 200 pound adult cannot equally be given to a 50 pound child.

Can you take this concept and apply it to marketing? The answer is a resounding yes, and it’s a concept that should have its place in your toolkit. What is the minimum amount you need to do in order to produce a result? What is the maximum amount you can do before you cause damage?

For example, your email marketing list has a maximum tolerated dose. There’s a limit to how often you can email people, and that depends heavily on what the email is. Cision/Vocus* operates a mailing list called Help a Reporter Out. This list provides press coverage opportunities to subscribers and is sent out three times a day. That’s a high frequency, but because people want the contents, it falls below the maximum tolerated dose, the point at which people would unsubscribe.

An example of the minimum effective dose might be a tactical change. I was doing some data analysis over the holidays of my personal Twitter account and found that I could do things a little differently. With one very small tactical change, I was able to immediately see a statistically significant impact, a clear, observable effect**:


One little change, and metrics changed radically. Now, whether that stays the course or not remains to be seen, but there was a definite impact. It met the conditions for a minimum effective dose, a dose at which there was statistically significant impact. (curious what the change was? Become a Premium Content subscriber to my newsletter)

Consider adding these concepts to your marketing and measurement to determine when you’ve done something noteworthy and when doing more would be counterproductive.

* Disclosure: Cision/Vocus is a client of my employer. While I do not work on the account, I receive indirect financial benefit from the relationship.

** For the statistically fluent, the control was an average of 2,031 impressions of my #the5 tweets (sample: 300), while the experiment was an average of 1,764 impressions (sample: 10). The control engagements (all) averaged 9.58 per tweet, and the experiment was an average of 23.7 engagements per tweet. The p-value was 0.003.

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One response to “Minimum effective dose of marketing”

  1. trufflemedia Avatar

    You say “Even though it was optimal”, did you mean “Even though it was suboptimal”? Hand towels work but are harder to use;)

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