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How to Apply Jim Collins’ Theories to Your AdWords Campaigns

Gary Garth

10 years ago



I’m a big fan of reading business books based on theoretical documentation and organizational concepts, which has proven to work.

It inspires me to try out new strategies and keep an open mind to change and innovation.

For that reason, I try to read at least 2 books every month even though my work schedule doesn’t always allow it.

One of my absolute favorite authors is Jim Collins who has banged out several bestsellers such as: “Built to Last’, ‘Good to Great’, ‘How the Mighty Fall’ and “Great by Choice’.

The other day I found myself explaining our Sales Department how the characteristics of successful leaders and organizations described in the triangle from the book ‘Great By Choice’, also apply to sales.

This triggered my thoughts toward how the same lessons can be applied to Google AdWords management and its best practices.

Ambition - White Shark Media Blog

The Concept Behind Great by Choice

First, let’s go over a brief summary of the context and ideas behind ‘Great by Choice’. The authors Jim Collins and Morten Hanson wrote this book after asking themselves the question:

“Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?” 

The question resulted in a nine-year-long research project where they dissected the annual earnings, press releases, interviews and much more content behind a set of companies who outperformed their comparisons in the same industry by at least 10 times (10 X’ers).

Just to name a few of these 10X’ers (selected as a case out of 20.400 companies):

  •       Intel
  •       Microsoft
  •       Southwest Airlines
  •       Progressive Insurance

These being organizations that all beat their competitors more than 10 times measured on stock market value, even though they were in the exact same industry, shared the same market conditions and had the same resources available.

By methodically analyzing the nine years of data, Jim Collins and Morten Hansen found a set of common characteristics in all these exceptionally successful companies that distinguished them and their performance from their direct competitors.

Great by Choice - White Shark Media Blog

How 10X Companies Thrive Despite Meeting Challenges Out Of Their Control

10X’ers live by an understanding that certain factors are out of their control. And instead of leaving the outcome of their initiatives up to pure coincidence, they take full responsibility for their own fate.

They execute on this concept by following three core behaviors in a religious manner:

1. Fanatic Discipline

Consistency is key for success in everything we do whether it’s business, sports or anything else. Consistency with our goals, values, efforts, training has to be realized with a fanatic discipline.

Jim Collins also elaborates on this theory by describing ‘The 20 Mile March’, which is a theory that you should aim to reach 20 miles per day consistently, even on bad days when others give up because of challenging conditions or when things are going great and you feel tempted to go for a full-length marathon, pressing for maximum results.

Instead of pursuing the one-time extraordinary outcome, it’s way more effective in the long run to put forth a consistent effort without interruptions (just think of your many diet attempts).

How Fanatic Discipline Applies to AdWords Management

When translating this theory to successful AdWords management I notice many resemblances. Many advertisers and even agencies don’t put forth the necessary effort, and time, to manage their campaigns.

How Fanatic Discipline Applies to AdWords Management

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Every day, I talk with prospects and clients who are under the understanding that an AdWords campaign can be set up and left alone once it has been tweaked a bit. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In order to get a strong ROI with AdWords, you need to take disciplined actions on a continuous basis, whether it’s ad copy revisal, reviewing search terms and adding negative keywords, or keeping track of your campaign goals.

My colleague and our CMO Andrew Lolk have created a great Infographic which reflects how White Shark Media always follows a SMaC recipe (Specific, Methodical, and Consistent) when optimizing our client’s accounts within the first 30 days.

Being fanatic about optimizing your AdWords campaign consistently is one of the key factors that determine your account performance. Larry Kim (founder of WordStream) discovered a strong resemblance between accounts with a lot of activity versus accounts with low or no activity. His analysis was based on more than $10 billion in Ad Spend and backs up the theory of fanatic discipline quite nicely. 

2. Empirical Creativity

A frequent reason for failure is when people’s actions are based on assumptions, or even worse when important decisions are grounded on opinions, conventional, misconception, wisdom, or untested ideas.

10X’ers on the contrary only place their bets on practical experiments that have proven successful i.e. there is clear evidence. This doesn’t mean that they don’t test out new ideas, markets, or concepts – they do this frequently and often systematically, but they just reduce the probability of failure by never scaling up ideas or investments that haven’t proven to work in a smaller scale.

For savvy AdWords managers, this comes very naturally, since managing a campaign is entrenched on analysis and data. Like I always love to tell my team and clients:

“In God we trust. Everyone else must bring data”.

The same goes for campaign expansion. Whether it’s targeting new geographical locations, a new target audience, or just a set of new keyword ideas, you always want to test these ideas within a controlled environment and with a budget of which you can afford to lose.

By continuously testing ideas and seeking new ways to improve or grow your campaigns, you increase the likelihood of finding new golden opportunities to monetize on.

Jim also details this conception in a separate chapter labeled:

“Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs”

This approach explains the results from 10X’ers that never perform hazard bets, trying to attain big-leap innovations or massive triumph without having empirical validation of their concept.

In other words, you want to fire a low cost bullet, which you can afford to miss before taking the big bet and firing your cannonballs.

3. Productive Paranoia

I personally love to live by this recurrent behavior from 10X’ers and can relate to this frame of mind from our own business. By maintaining a high level of hypervigilance, even when things are going well, 10X’ers are more likely to secure their success and market position.

I think the best way to explain this is by quoting one of my idols Mark Cuban:

“Always work like there is someone working twenty-four hours a day to take it all away from you, and play like it’s your last chance to play”.

When comparing this approach to AdWords Management, I see the same behaviors from our SEM Strategists when managing our clients’ accounts.

We know that AdWords is a game of inches and that the difference between success and a profitable ROI versus failure and client churn, comes down to a very slim margin. For that reason, a disciplined approach to ongoing optimizations and attention to detail is vital in order to sustain a healthy AdWords campaign.

Even when an account is producing conversions at scale, you can rest assured that your competitors are seeking assistance from other agencies or experts and trying to figure out how they can leverage AdWords on the same scale you are.

If you don’t keep your eye on the prize by being productively paranoid, you might end up falling behind and losing money and opportunities.

Closing thoughts

I highly encourage you all to pick up this book and go through the rest of the proven strategies, which I chose not to include because of the length of this post.

There are many more interesting chapters such as ‘Return on Luck’ or ‘Leading Above the Death Line’, which are relevant for most business owners and AdWords account managers.

I have personally adopted many of the behaviors and try to replicate it throughout our organization by repeating myself a lot and I keep referring everyday work situations back to examples listed in the book (I’m pretty sure that our team thinks I’m either a little crazy by now or have a serious crush on Jim Collins!).

Point is that I recognize many of my mistakes are made when I’m not following these guiding principles for success. Even after being in business for +20 years, I still tend to shift my focus on other areas of the business when I get bored or take actions based on my emotions or gut feeling (I bet that you also do this at times if you’re to be brutally honest).

However, the theories and proven concepts in this book help me make more informed decisions and remind me that there’s no such thing as overnight success or get rich schemes – success comes from constant hard work and maintained focus.

Whether you’re a business owner, account manager, or working in a completely different space, the findings in this book are universal and can be cascaded throughout all verticals and positions.

As a business owner and marketing professional myself, I thoroughly enjoyed and found this book extremely beneficial. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

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