The Magical Marketing Bullet

Marketing is complicated and difficult.

When presented with a complex system, humans tend to try and oversimplify – which, in many aspects of life, can help us – but in marketing, it often leads to a problem I like to call The Magical Marketing Bullet.

In this post, I want to try to describe this common scenario, why it is so problematic, and what you can do to escape magical thinking about your marketing.

The reptile brain vs complexity

As humans (apologies if you are not a human reader), we are all prone to oversimplify complex topics or situations.

From an evolutionary perspective, this was probably highly useful and helped us survive and make quick decisions in a complex and unforgiving world. 

However, in marketing, which can be highly complicated and not well suited to oversimplification, this can lead us to make bad decisions – one such bad decision is to rely too much on a single platform or tactic for our marketing. 

This blind, often irrational belief that there is one platform or tactic that will solve all your marketing problems can eat up time and money whilst your competitors hoover up jobs that could have been yours.

Why do we look for magic bullets?

It is human nature to fall prey to Magic Bullet thinking (1). 

We are wired to seek the path of least resistance (2) and look for the most straightforward answers to our problems. Evolutionarily, where our main goal was to find food in the most efficient way possible, this was almost certainly a good thing. 

Our minds are hardwired to use heuristics (mental shortcuts) to help us answer complex questions quickly. We are also overwhelmed with complexity and riddled with bias about what we think works and this all works together to help us make bad decisions. 

The SEO Magic Bullet

One such magic bullet marketing tactic is SEO. 

Sure, back in the day, SEO, like many other new tactics, often delivered impressive results for quick movers who spotted an opportunity and dove in head first. 

Unfortunately, we are far from the heady days of big SEO wins in the early 2000s.  

Yet, it is easy to fall prone to the magic bullet thinking with SEO:

“If I can just get to the top of Google, everything will be hunky-dory!”

If only that were true! You can test that theory easily and you only have to run a few Google Ads for your dream keywords to realise there is a lot more to successful online marketing in 2024 and beyond than just winning that initial click. 

The insanity loop

Do you recognise this thinking in yourself?

SEO is not the only tactic that attracts this kind of thinking, be it blogs, video, TikTok or today’s shiny new magic-bullet darling, Generative AI – we are hard-wired to mislead ourselves that there is a single, solve-all solution to our marketing. 

Fortunately, as rational beings, when something is not working, we move on and try something else, right? 

If only that were the case.  What is the old quote? 

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Well, if that is the case, then most small business owners and marketers are clearly insane. 

What happens in most cases is that we double down and keep flogging that dead horse and expecting different results. 

Certainly sounds insane when we get some distance from whatever magic marketing bullet we aim at. 

However, knowledge is power, and knowing why we do this can help us escape this insane and ineffective marketing loop. 

What happens here is partly due to the sunk cost fallacy (3) that misleads us in our actions. Rather than lose what we have already invested (time, money, effort), we push even harder in that same wrong direction. We burn more time, money, and effort and get even less back. 

It is this same instinct that is exploited to keep people at the gambling table or feed coins into the slot machines until you eventually go bust and the house wins. When chasing sunk costs, in gambling, or failing marketing tactics, the house, or the universe, always wins. 

Magical Marketing Bullets in a Nutshell

To summarise, it is all too common for us to:

  • Focus on a single “magic bullet” tactic that we believe is the singular key to success
  • Mistakenly believed that if we could just get this right, everything would be ok
  • Then to just keep chipping away at it and throwing good money after bad

Sound familiar?

If you see any of your marketing efforts reflected here, it could be time to take a pause and consider whether your aim is true or you have shot yourself in the foot. 

Step 1 – Realise this way of thinking is not helpful

If you find yourself slaving away, trying to recreate the success you once had or maybe only dreamed about with search, social media or whatever magical marketing bullet you chose, stop, step back, and think for a moment. 

  • Is this working?
  • Can you see progress?

If not, then ask yourself:

  • Have you got a clear marketing plan?
  • Do you have a strategy to stand out from the crowd?
  • Have you distilled that strategy into a clear message that grabs the attention?
  • Are you delivering that strategy via the correct channels and tactics?
  • Are you measuring progress and making rational calls on what is or is not working?

If you can’t answer with a solid and decisive yes to all of these questions, it is time to take stock of your marketing. 

Marketing does not have to be complicated, but there are a lot of moving parts you have to get the strategy & tactics correct to see progress. 

For marketing to be successful, we must think like scientists, propose theories, test them, and keep testing and testing until we get the desired results.

We have to remove our flawed tendencies to oversimplify and lean into bias and mental shortcuts, do the research and form a plan. 

Conversation – the real magical wand

If you are concerned you may have fallen prey to magic bullet thinking and your marketing is not delivering the goods, then I would love to talk with you. Nobody knows your business better than you do. We can help you identify problems in your current marketing and show you how to put together a plan to get your marketing moving again and generate almost magical results. 

If you have any questions or comments, get in touch! 


(1) Magic Bullet Thinking

(2) The Path of Least Resistance

(3) The Sunk Cost Fallacy


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