The Pareto principle (often known as the 80/20 rule) is well known in marketing and sales circles. Pareto tells us that 80% of your profits/leads/sales will come from 20% of your efforts. The secret to success is understanding which 20% of your efforts are generating these results and maximizing them.

As online marketers, we have a huge advantage over our “traditional” marketing counterparts in the fact that analytics (ranging from the simple but highly informative email marketing analytics provided by iContact to more advanced solutions like Google Analytics) give us real-time information about our campaigns, helping us identify trends; isolate, test and ultimately improve our marketing efforts; and reduce marketing waste.

Despite these advantages, too many marketers ignore the opportunities available to them via analytics and continue to follow their gut instincts. Perhaps these gut instincts have served you well in the past – and I’ll be honest, I also enjoy flying by the seat of my pants at times. But if you have ever wondered how much cash is being left on the table by your instinctive marketing campaigns, it’s time to invest some time in analytics and testing.

Another Way to Look at the 80/20 Rule

I’m a great believer in keeping any marketing plans you produce short and to the point. I have worked with organizations in the past for which planning has eclipsed the task at hand, and as a result, nothing gets done. I’m also a believer in building agility into your strategy. In this respect, I like to leave 20% of my marketing plan open to the realms of chaos.

This not only keeps me on my toes but also ensures that when things don’t always go as planned (And when do they ever?), I’m ready to jump in and roll with the punches.

Treat Chaos as a Friend

I recently attended an event with a speaker who had meticulously prepared his presentation and spoke from cue cards. Unfortunately, technology got the better of him: His slide deck refused to display the way it had during his rehearsal, and he completely lost the plot, resulting in the delivery of a confusing and panicked presentation.

The speaker was perhaps too well prepared for everything to run smoothly and forgot to factor in the 20% chaos rule. I believe that had he done so, he would have taken a deep breath, made a small joke about his slides and then free-styled his way to the end of his 20-minute slot with anecdotes from his lengthy career in marketing.

The same approach can be taken toward your email marketing strategy.

Yes, you will want to plan campaigns around your peak selling periods, availability of stock and resources, etc. But what happens when something goes wrong? Or perhaps, to put a positive spin on it, what happens when something goes so right, it could potentially go wrong?

This is where your 20% chaos rule comes in. Of course, the very nature of chaos makes it incredibly difficult to plan for, so just be ready for it, and if/when it hits, enjoy the ride and learn from your experience.

This post first appeared on the iContact Email Marketing Blog.