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The “Mountain gorilla” digital marketing principle

Working in PR and marketing for many years, I have come up to the formulation of a firm belief that is the base of what I – Roberto Liccardo – have called the “Mountain gorilla principle.”


The assumption is that given a field with limited resources, the harder people compete for those resources, the less – on average – they will succeed. In its immediate application to digital marketing, that means that the success of a strategy is inversely proportional to the total number of efforts directed to it. 



The formulation of the principle


When is a limited number of people is utilizing a growth strategy, even with limited efforts, their chances to achieve success is very high. But when a considerable number of new people started to use the same strategy, or when a limited number of people are using it, but with great efforts, the strategy stops working. 


Some marketing channels are self-limiting to efforts, while some other channels are not posing any limitation. These last are mean to implode


That is the case, for instance of digital ads, one of these channels without such limitations. Given an x number of buyers, a y number of ads is offered, and given an x*1M number of buyers, a y*1M number of ads is delivered. We have been exposed to an always-increasing number of digital ads during the years. As a result, we don’t longer believe what ads offer to us. 


Many have called this the end of advertising. As per the words of Andrew Essex writer of The End of Advertising: “Advertising is indeed all over the place. And because there’s so much of it, not to mention all the noise and new platforms competing for our already-limited attention, the places where advertising is annoying, intrusive, and useless–e.g., mostly everywhere–is accelerating its extinction.” 


In my opinion, advertising is not dead; it just imploded. A marketing channel implodes when doesn’t longer help you to achieve growth due to an increased number of people using it. Digital ads are trying to getting over their implosion status, integrating with augmented and virtual reality, as well as leveraging tech to create new forms of engagement.


A self-limitation channel is SEO; the latter will never experience the implosion effect described for digital ads. That is because SEO success is limited to a fixed number of users, regardless of how many users are leveraging SEO for achieving success. PR is another great example of another self-limitation channel. Business owners use PR to leverage the credibility of Media and Journalist. Think about Forbes, and let’s assume that 0.1% of businesses can get mentioned in the outlet. These businesses leverage these mentions to prove that “they made it,” they are great businesses, and that’s why they have been mentioned in such an authoritative outlet. But now think about Medium. Since Medium is a self-publishing platform, everybody can get in Medium. Hence, there is no business which would write in their site “seen in Medium,” cause that would bring no authority to that business.


In the example above, Forbes has to limit the number of placements in their platform to keep its effectiveness. This principle is what makes PR a no implosive channel.


The application of the principle


Surely at this point, you are wondering what mountain gorillas have to do with what described above. Unlike other animals, mountain gorillas are non-territorial, hence given the limited resource of the territory they prefer to move to another area rather than competing or fighting. As reported “as humans have moved more and more into the gorillas’ territory, the gorillas have been pushed farther up into the mountains for longer periods… Despite ongoing civil conflict, poaching and an encroaching human population, both populations of mountain gorillas have increased in numbers.”


The success of the mountain gorillas species is given by their ability to move to less competitive and resources-rich areas. In the same way – according to the mountain gorilla principle – digital marketers should focus their efforts on less competitive marketing areas and avoiding putting many efforts in implosive channels. 


Let’s think about some iconic Growth Hacking examples such as the Hotmail’s “Get Your Free Email at Hotmail” Tagline, YouTube’s Embed Code, Dropbox’s Referral Program, Twitter’s Recommended Followers. They are all example of the application of what described here. As reported: “Social Media, etc. The chance of success on those is incredibly smaller compared to the success that can be achieved by exploring new channels or merely doing things in a different way compared to others.”

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