Will it make the boat go faster?

According to Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan in The Gap and the Gain, the British Olympic rowing team had a simple secret to their success at the 2000 Sydney games. “They developed a one-question filtering response to every single decision they made."

According to Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan in The Gap and the Gain, the British Olympic rowing team had a simple secret to their success at the 2000 Sydney games.

They hadn’t won gold since 1912, and “by all measures, they didn’t have a good rowing program.”

So how did they end up winning gold after an 88-year drought?

“They developed a one-question filtering response to every single decision they made. This one question allowed them to measure every situation, decision, and obstacle—and to not get derailed where most people do,” Hardy and Sullivan write.

"With every decision or opportunity, every member of the team asked themselves: WILL IT MAKE THE BOAT GO FASTER?”

Should they go to a party the night before training? Well, will it make the boat go faster? No? Then no.

Should they veer off their nutrition program? Will it make the boat go faster? No? No.

As management legend Peter Drucker once told Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: “Don’t make a hundred decisions when one will do.”

In our business, how often do we find ourselves making a hundred decisions—or innumerable calculations and considerations—when faced with difficult questions?

Should we expand our service offering?

Should we lower our prices?

Should we take on additional staff?

Should we buy office space?

Should we open a second location?

But these decisions are only difficult because we don’t have any rules to follow. We feel like we’re blazing new trails every time we’re confronted with these questions.

What we need is a simple filtering rule to reduce these decisions down from many to just one.

In my business, and with my clients, I recommend this filtering question:

“Does this reinforce my marketing position?”

As a reminder, your marketing position is what your business stands for, and it’s the answer to these questions:

Who are your ideal customers?

What is the challenge they need help with, or the ideal state they want to reach?

How are you uniquely able to help them solve that challenge or reach that state?

When do they need help from a business like yours?

Where are they or where do they go when they need help?

Your answers are fundamental to your marketing—without them you aren’t really marketing, you’re just flailing for attention.

If you don’t have a marketing position, you might just be getting the wrong attention, in the wrong way, from the wrong people, at the wrong price, at the wrong time.

But with a marketing position clearly defined and articulated, you know you’re working to attract the right people, who have the right problem you’re uniquely able to help them solve, in your own special way, exactly when they need you, and you’ll reach them exactly where they go for support.

Thinking about expanding your service offering? Will it reinforce your marketing position, or dilute it?

Considering lowering your prices to get more work? Will it reinforce your marketing position, or make you look like the discount provider in your category?

Thinking about spending a boatload of money on a new advertising opportunity? Will it reinforce your marketing position, or just impress your peers?

If this question feels constraining, that’s good. It really should.

As Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote in The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, “This is the law of focus. You ‘burn’ your way into the mind by narrowing the focus to a single word or concept. It's the ultimate marketing sacrifice.”

Focusing hurts, but that’s what tells you it’s working.

Jony Ive, Apple’s former head of design and the world’s most influential product designer, once said, “What focus means is saying no to something that with every bone in your body you think is a phenomenal idea, and you wake up thinking about it, but you end up saying no to it because you're focusing on something else."

Expanding our services is easy.

Lowering our prices is easy.

Taking every promotional opportunity is easy.

The only problem is that it doesn’t work.

Eric Migicovsky, founder of the smartwatch company Pebble wrote that, “In 2015, we had the option to narrow our focus to a smaller but more distinct market positioning. Looking back, this is one of my biggest regrets.”

“We could have been the smartwatch for hackers,” he wrote, “but we tried to grow our volumes and market share (and failed).”

The reason you haven’t seen a Pebble smartwatch around lately, or perhaps have never heard of them, is because they didn’t focus on their position. They chose to expand and grow, instead of narrow and burn their way into the minds of their ideal customers.

“Looking back with hindsight,” Migicovsky wrote, “I should not have aggressively grown the company without a stronger plan. We should have just stuck to what we knew best.”

When we expand our service or product offering, people no longer believe we’re the best at what we do because nobody is good at everything.

When we lower our prices to get the work or the customer, we can’t do our best because we’ll need to make up the difference somewhere—and we’re more likely to end up busy and broke than profitable.

If we take every promotional opportunity that comes our way, we’ll confuse our ideal customers or attract the wrong ones who don’t truly value what we do above the alternatives.

But if we always ask ourselves, “Will this reinforce my marketing position?” we’ll know a good decision from a bad one.

And we’ll recognize the difference between a good opportunity and a distraction.

If it won’t make the boat go faster, it won’t get the team any closer to gold.

And if it won’t reinforce your marketing position, it won’t help your business.

It’s that simple.

It’s that hard.

It’s that important.