The 20 Percent Edition Nr. 29: How to Walk the Fine Line Between Bullish and Bu**shit Marketing Using Deterministic Optimism

Hello friends, and welcome to this edition of The 20 Percent.

In Zero to One, Peter Thiel introduces the interlocking ideas of determinism and optimism as a way to gauge where the future is going.

While Thiel uses this framework to discuss societal change and entrepreneurship, I found his insights remarkably valuable in marketing.

The Determinism – Optimism Matrix

This marriage of determinism and optimism produces four variations, each with its distinct individual characteristics:

Deterministic Optimism

The deterministic optimist believes that the future will be better than the present. He matches that belief with a plan of action to achieve that vision.

Deterministic optimism is the best place to be. Generally, entrepreneurs with a marketing plan and demand for their product or service fall into this category. It’s also where website marketing can have its most significant impact: when there is already demand, and the goal is amplification. Entrepreneurs in this category can afford to be bullish and bold with their marketing.

Deterministic Pessimism

The deterministic pessimist believes that the future will be worst than the present. Therefore he creates a plan of action to minimize the negative consequences of future circumstances.

Deterministic optimism is the second-best place to be. We saw a lot of this during the pandemic, where businesses in affected industries lost faith in the political management of the crisis but made a conscious effort for damage control. Entrepreneurs changed their allocation of marketing budgets, tried new things, and in many cases, came out wiser in the process.

Indeterminate Optimism

The indeterminate optimist has an inherent belief that things will improve but doesn’t match this belief with a bold plan for action. Indeterminate optimists are also usually content with incremental improvements.

A lot of bu**shit marketing falls in this category. Every entrepreneur is bullish about their business, but not everyone has a concrete marketing plan for achieving their vision. Indeterminate optimistic marketing is dominated by ad campaigns that aim to sell right away (and rarely work), unclear marketing goals, and the urge to reach large audiences without a clear plan for establishing a brand.

Indeterminate Pessimism

The indeterminate pessimist believes that the future will be worst than the present but is caught in limbo, unable to react or find a path to action.

Usually, this type of marketing comes as the aftermath of indeterminate optimism. After the marketing budget is depleted and the incremental improvements don’t yield profitability, marketing reaches capitulation.

Walking the Fine Line

Walking the fine line between bullish and bu**shit marketing means constantly fact-checking your marketing plan, removing unrealistic expectations, and focusing on bold, long-term execution that is within your reach.

It also helps when you focus less on vanity metrics and more on the underline goal these metrics serve. Metrics (e.g., Google rankings, website visits, cost per click, etc.) come in handy for optimizing your amplification, but in the long term, they lure you into the trap of incremental improvements.

The good news is that it’s never too late (or early) to start thinking in deterministic optimism terms. Because if you don’t, you stand to lose one way or another. 

Stay inspired,