How marketers can learn from a mechanical marvel

by Nigel Hollis | July 22, 2019

This blog post is written for those of you who are willing to learn and do not just want to be spoon-fed what they already know. Do you know what a flywheel is? If not, and you are willing to learn why this mechanical marvel is relevant to the world of marketing, read on.

I had been hunting for an analogy for how marketing really helps brands grow in order to illustrate our Mastering Momentum report. Guess what? Someone else had already created one. In his book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins talks about The Flywheel effect. He describes The Flywheel effect as a self-reinforcing loop made up of a few key business initiatives. Each initiative feeds into the loop and is in turn driven by the other initiatives to create long-term growth. The more successful each initiative is the faster the business grows. No one initiative is key to success, it is the cumulative application of effort in a consistent direction that gets the flywheel moving.

This idea applies just as well to brands as businesses because, after all, a brand is the result of everything a business does as it is interpreted by its potential customers. The only problem to my mind was that a flywheel seemed somehow old-fashioned, like the potter’s wheel or one of those huge flywheels that were mounted on the side of the first traction traction engines. So, I turned to Google and started doing a little research. What was the modern version of a flywheel? Mmm…turns out the modern version of the flywheel is, well, the flywheel.


If you own a car with a combustion engine, it has a flywheel in it. Cars would not run if it were not for the flywheel. Flywheels convert the intermittent power provided by the cylinders firing into a smooth rotation of the drive shaft. When you take your foot off the gas the flywheel is what helps the car slow gently rather than coming to an abrupt halt. OK, I thought, maybe this will work after all. But then I ran head on into the wall of ignorance, “No one knows what a flywheel is. Isn’t there something simpler you could use”.

Bang went my analogy and any ideas of illustrations for the report or scale models of flywheels at client events. Which is a pity, because it is the flywheel is the perfect analogy for how brands grow. Marketing helps amplify the positives of the brand at different points in the buyer cycle, it helps confirm to users that they made the right choice, it reaches out and motivates new, potential users and it helps capture more than the brand’s fair share of searchers and shoppers. The cumulative effect is that the ideas, associations and feelings that constitute a brand in people’s heads act like the flywheel in a car, carrying the impetus of marketing on through time so that sales continue to be made even in the absence of direct marketing pressure.

Is that really so difficult a concept? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Stina Van Rooyen, July 24, 2019

    Nigel, I didn't know what a flywheel was until I read your post, but it doesn't seem like a difficult concept. In our industry specifically we are constantly learning and curious. I didn't know what a dampfnudel was until a few years ago and may otherwise have missed out on so much deliciousness :) But a good analogy is a bit like a joke: if you have to explain it as you go along it loses the impact of the punchline, which seems to be what's tripping up the effectiveness of this one.

  2. Ed C, July 22, 2019

    I love it!

    Two others that come to mind:

    1) Compound interest, with contributions. If you have $10 and an x% interest rate, you'll have more money after a certain time period (like when you're ready to retire). If you add $5 to that every year and still get the same interest rate, you'll have a ton more at the end of the time period. Each contribution adds to the bottom line.

    2) A punch. Punch with just your arm and your opponent might feel it. Now twist your hips to add to accelerate that velocity. Now turn your lower body into it for further acceleration. Now exhale (or even yell) with the punch to really get the muscles working as they're supposed to. Now the punch really hurts.

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