Originally published on Idea Hunt.

Why is it good to be a “contrarian thinker” in PR?

With limited resources, new ventures must focus their marketing efforts. Growth hackers are wisely targeting one ‘low-hanging fruit’ after another to maximize momentum.

Entrepreneurs are building their MVPs (minimum viable products), testing for product/market fit, and when they have it, they scale using various growth tactics.

All good things, of course. And that’s how most startups are doing it.

So, why might it be a good idea to do the opposite?

More Traffic is No Silver Bullet

I think Mark Twain1 said it best:

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”

It’s easy to get stuck in this conventional type of marketing and PR thinking:

  • How do we get more traffic?
  • How can we convert more of that traffic?

Yes, it’s great to reach other people’s audiences by producing attention-grabbing content, and by launching urgent lead magnets to build your list. I do this, too.

Marketing may evolve fast, but people’s mental bandwidth is basically staying the same.

Here’s the thing:

When Just One Person is Enough

In theory, you only need to reach one other person, as long as that person becomes a customer for life and refers one other equally dedicated customer each month2.

In one month, you will have one customer and in two months, you will have two. In three months, four. Then eight, then 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, and so on. And in a few short years, your company will be the biggest brand on Earth.

The math couldn’t be simpler:

2[number of months]

This type of thinking will move your brand away from:

How can we attract more traffic and increase our conversion rates throughout our funnel?

and closer to:

How can we transform each and every customer into life-long brand ambassadors?

Now, some of you might think, “yeah, customer service is really important.” However, earning true fans is more than just taking good care of your customers3.

The Word-of-Mouth Test

Here’s a mental exercise to try — the Word-of-Mouth Test:

Imagine two friends hanging out. One of them is a customer of yours, the other one has never heard of your product or service. In casual conversation, the friend who has never heard of your brand brings the very problem that you’re solving!

The other friend, who really wants to help his or her friend out, then says:

“I used to have that problem, too. You should really check out X, their product/service is really awesome!”

If the above scenario happens often enough, your brand will become a success. Growth, sales, and marketing, all of that won’t be your biggest challenges anymore. You’ll instead have to focus on hiring the right people!

Where to Start

In the above ideal scenario, customers will be referring other customers without your active involvement.

A great product or service is a must, yes. So is great free content and stellar customer service. And the value you offer must address a real, urgent need that resonates with a large enough group.

And then there needs to be that little ‘extra’ something…

Hence, my no. 1 advice for startups always start with this:

Key takeaway: Don’t focus your PR efforts only on trying to reach as many people as you can, because there are no PR activities more powerful than starting off with happy first-time customers.


  1. Long-time readers of this blog will probably recognize this quote; it’s a favorite of mine and I use it all the time.
  2. See also Small Numbers Matter.
  3. See also Inbound Marketing is a New Paradigm.