You’re not being strategic, no.

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The idea of “chasing bullet points” means that, instead of doing actual work that moves forward the organizational purpose or the bottom line in some way, you’re looking for stats/numbers/some other concept that you can slap next to a bullet point and please either (a) your boss or (b) some audience you’re speaking to — or (c) both. It’s patently useless as a concept, and yet, people do it every minute in offices all over the world.

A good example for some would be “media impressions.” This number essentially means very little. It’s kind of like social engagement. We love to measure it, but it doesn’t even mean that much — “272 shares!” doesn’t translate to brand loyalty, it doesn’t translate to money, it doesn’t translate to brand awareness, etc. Hell, it doesn’t even translate to “272 people read this.”

We chase big numbers — especially for bulleted presentations — because we think they’re more impressive to the people we need to impress (“gotta keep the client happy!”), even if they mean nothing. You’d much rather than 200 people read your content and act on it (i.e. chase your offer) than 2 million “impressions.” Marketing, as a field, is all about “The Temple of Big Numbers” but pursuing the passionate minority may actually be a better play. (That’s part of where the idea of “brand advocates” came from, although most companies that use “brand advocates” still chase people with high follower counts — and that doesn’t necessarily mean engaged followers, per se.)

A couple of years ago, I got an e-mail on a Friday afternoon from someone in a different department. She needed some numbers — a series of bullet points, essentially — on website traffic for a presentation she needed to make to her boss. This is a classic “turds over the fence” move, because sending someone a request for anything from scratch at 3pm on a Friday is a total joke and everyone knows that. (“Professionalism!”) Still, I did it — it wasn’t hard — and I tried to put a little context behind the numbers. Here’s what I got back. I still remember this:

Don’t need explainers, just need numbers. Need for bullet points on preso. Thx.

Chasing bullet points. Everyone does it to some extent, and in each case, it’s inherently meaningless. You’re just chasing a small, non-contextualized way to present a piece of information to please someone else or get them off your back. You’re not actually working on real information or purposeful actions. And here’s the funny thing: when you turn those bullet points into a PowerPoint, right? No one will be able to pay attention to it anyway.

We often make “work” about a series of things that it’s not actually about, and that’s really sad and misguided.

My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well.

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