Avoiding the Cheesecake Factory Dilemma: How to Practice Lean Digital Marketing

By / Data + Analytics, Marketing, Technology

In my 22 years of marketing experience, I’ve worked in Fortune 500 companies, early-stage startups, rapid-growth businesses, and even a few non-profits—and there has always been one constant—the problem of having too many choices. Choices for what to talk about in a job interview. Choices for what health insurance plan to select on your first day. Choices for what roles to hire and more when resumes start pouring in.

Regardless of my position, I would always find a way to frame a situation of too many choices as what I call The Cheesecake Factory Dilemma. This completely made-up phrase not only sounds like the title of a Big Bang Theory episode, but it usually generates a lot of tilted heads in the room (or silence over the phone). Let me explain.

You go to the Cheesecake Factory to grab a quick meal (and likely, a rich, decadent dessert). Your server hands you a menu that could be confused with a copy of the Yellow Pages. Just pages and pages of options: appetizers, sandwiches, salads, full meals, specials—and that doesn’t even include separate menus for drinks and desserts. You wanted to sit down to eat, but now you can’t make up your mind, you’re almost overwhelmed from the abundance of options. You may even have “buyer’s remorse” once you decide. Having too many options could cause frustration, confusion, and may even lead to a bad customer experience.

In the marketing world, it is important to do what you can to consider how to optimize the user experience and keep new (and existing) customers happy without ending up with a Cheesecake Factory Dilemma of your own.

Marketing Tactics

As a marketer, you have several marketing options at your disposal, whether you are working with a shoestring budget and need to lean heavily on organic search (SEO), email, and social media, or you’re fortunate enough to have the resources for extensive pay-per-click and paid social media campaigns. To have the best chance of success, don’t throw everything at the wall just to see what sticks.

First, consider what the goal is. If the project calls for raising awareness or just driving prospects to a landing page, you could get a lot of quick metrics with a simple Google Ads campaign. Just gather some “seed keywords” to capture your target audience, write a few variations of ad copy, set your budget, and launch. Because paid search campaigns provide almost instantaneous results, you’ll be gathering data to assess results and then select the next part of your marketing plan.

For a more elaborate campaign to generate leads or sales, you’ll want to consider what will have the most impact and how much time you have to achieve your KPIs. If your timeline for the project is just a few weeks out, you’ll want to consider marketing tactics like paid search or a blend of content marketing and social media marketing. However, if you’re tasked with a long-term project where you need to show regular results and have the opportunity to optimize over time, you can focus on organic search strategies. A fully-implemented SEO plan could take several months to bear fruit, but once you start ranking, it will continue working for you long after you set the groundwork.

Once you start collecting data from a few select marketing techniques, then work your way down the list of other campaigns and experiments to keep the machine moving along.

Marketing Tools Stack

A digital marketing professional typically has their “money tools” that they lean on regularly, whether it has an associated cost or not. They may rely on a variety of Moz’s SEO tools, deep-dive research and competitor know-how from SEMRush, keyword research & backlink data from Ahrefs, or perhaps a combination of these. And for a lot of digital marketers, the list doesn’t end there.

There’s no question that every marketing tool provides some value for getting the job done. However, at some point you need to set limits for how many you can toggle between before it becomes counterproductive. Imagine if every project you work on required you to dive into several marketing platforms at once. After a while, working in the tools alone would become your job!

Most marketing tasks can be completed with the features available in one or two tools. Many have overlapping features, but different ways of delivering the data, so you don’t need an exhaustive tool stack for every little thing. Consider the project at hand, which data you wish to pull, and then work off a short list of tools to complete the work

The (Seemingly Endless) Lead Gen Form

This is probably one of the most hotly debated topics in digital marketing. When determining how to get more prospects to complete a lead generation form, best practices (and common sense) dictate that the fewer fields you have, the less friction you provide to your potential customers, and the more likely they will submit their information. After all, who wants to navigate through a Cheesecake Factory-like menu of information fields just to request more details about a product or service?

In recent years, conversion rate experts have debunked that entire principle. Some have detailed that it’s not about the number of fields but the actual data you are asking for. Others have made the case that it’s less of an issue about the number of fields and more about how adding extraneous landing page copy to a lead form page can significantly reduce conversions.

One thing they agree on is that when lengthy lead forms become essential to lead form completion and quality, it is important to take lengthy information and make it easily digestible. In one study ,a company broke a 30+ question form into multiple steps to make it easier for prospects to complete. This resulted in a 53% conversion rate increase! This shows how you can temper user expectations by managing sheer question volume and help them focus on finishing the form.

Conversion Optimization

Seasoned digital marketers salivate at the opportunity to make some strategic changes to a landing page and improve their website goals. After all, there are so many possibilities:

Call-to-Action Buttons

Changing the color or text, position on the page, size, format (rounded or square), buttons or text links.

Page Copy

Using more direct language, adding information, removing information, linking to details on another page, using multiple pages for specific content or infinite page scrolling.

Page Design

Changing background colors, rearranging content blocks, navigation menu formats, callouts that follow you as you scroll the page


Inserting videos, testimonials from satisfied customers, social media links, trust badges

That’s just scratching the surface! Once you start looking at all of the different combinations of things you can test, it’s tempting to say “Let’s just test it all!” But that can actually have a negative impact on results. Say you want to test one element each from the list above at one time. If you start seeing conversions rise, how can you accurately determine which element had the greatest impact?

As difficult as it might be, exercise patience and test one or two elements at a time. Choose a technique you think will have the greatest impact and start testing that. If you’re experimenting on a page that gets a lot of traffic (or one that you can promote through paid search), you can gather data quickly, reach statistical significance, and then move to the next phase of the optimization process. Remember, there is always room for improvement on any landing page no matter how well it converts. It’s best to map out the tests you want to run and make gradual improvements over time.

Project Lists

We’ve all had those weeks. Deadlines are somehow creeping up in unison, you still have to get a lot done, and even if challenged to “stack rank” importance, it becomes more of a “1a, 1b, 1c” than “1, 2, 3” situation. Some marketers can provide equal time to each project until it gets done. Some may throw all of their resources into one project at the expense of others. Still, others may be so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work they need to do, they succumb to the most sinister of solutions: procrastination!

Rather than reach that level of overwhelming frustration, simply take hold of the situation by figuring out what can be done the quickest with the least amount of friction. One author explained how getting the easiest things out of the way early actually took the burden away from his most difficult task. It makes sense. We’re all wired with a sense of accomplishment when we complete a job, leverage this feeling to help you close out the list.

Making Hiring Decisions

If you’ve ever been in charge of a hiring decision, you know what you’re in for. You post a job and then get a mountain of resumes flooding your inbox from people who are qualified, some who are very qualified, and those who are so clearly not the right fit that they really shouldn’t have sent their resume. Like everything else, we’ve talked about, this review process takes patience and a bit of strategy.

Start by looking at key accomplishments in their most recent employment history. If they have done it recently and it’s on your job requirements list, chances are they will be able to perform the job with little guidance. Conversely, don’t go too far down a resume during your initial scans. If you need someone with PhotoShop skills in 2020, dabbling in it ten years and four jobs ago isn’t a skillset you’re looking for.

Next, lean on current team members or other trusted colleagues. Have them scan resumes, with an idea of what you’re looking for the most, and have them group candidates for next round review. If you have time, take a look at resumes that didn’t make the cut and see if anything was missed.

When you start the interview process, have an idea of what the ideal candidate will look like and see which ones check the most boxes. The select few who get to that level then move to the next stage of the process where either team members conduct interviews or you send candidates a quick marketing-related project (or “homework”) to measure their position performance capability. If candidates get to that point, it’s time to decide. Don’t let thoughts of missing out on the “perfect candidate” creep in. You’ve done your due diligence. If a candidate arrives late to the party but has clear skills that benefit the business, hold onto that resume—you might have another opportunity open up.

The End of the Menu

You will always have a multitude of options, it’s important to remain focused and look for the meat of the matter, whatever the marketing situation. Set your goal, determine the means to get there, and don’t get distracted, no matter how good the peanut butter cup fudge ripple cheesecake may sound.

Of course, if you need help with anything from awareness campaigns to web optimization, we can always help take a few things off your plate.

Written by / Data + Analytics, Marketing, Technology


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