How to Use First Principles Thinking To Make Cutting-Edge Marketing Solutions

Published by Klint Ciriaco on

Using First Principles Thinking To Make Cutting-Edge Marketing Solutions
Photo credit: pixabay@free-photos

Elon Musk uses first principles thinking to help him solve challenging problems. For someone who has built impressive companies, it’s worth exploring the framework that makes him create impressive feats.

So what is first principles thinking

It’s a thought process that questions assumptions about a problem and then boiling that problem down to its core. You then create solutions from there.

A classic example is Elon Musks’ explanation on lowering a battery pack from $600 per kilowatt hour to $80. 

Most people assume batteries are expensive. They are if you buy them assembled. 

By applying the first thinking principles, ask yourself, “What’s a battery made of?” You find that it has cobalt, nickel, aluminium, carbon, etc.

You then check the prices  in the London Metal Exchange and find the parts cost $80, a whopping 87% reduction. 

Most People Don’t Think This Way

The opposite of first principles thinking is reasoning by analogy. It’s a way of solving problems by using commonly held beliefs and assumptions. This way of thinking can be problematic. 

To illustrate, let’s say you are an aspiring digital marketer. You found an internet guru who sells a script he claims helped him close 50 clients. Hundreds of his students have also used it in the past and have gotten great results. 

Impressed, you bought the script, used it on your prospects, but then… crickets. 

Reasoning by analogy made you think, “If they landed multiple clients with that script, then I will, too.” 

We see this in a lot of situations. The common knowledge is that paying an expensive mentor will make you become as good as him. Using fancy tools always equate to producing great work. And so on. 

In short, those common knowledge examples are not necessarily accurate. 

So How Do You Use First Principles Thinking To Make Cutting-Edge Marketing Solutions?

1) It starts with finding out the core of what you’re dealing with

Let’s say you want to become a copywriter. You do some research and found the following tips: 

  • Appeal to your audiences’ emotions. 
  • Use simple words. 
  • Make your sentences short and concise. 
  • Move them away from pain and push them towards pleasure. 

At the heart of those tips is a fundamental truth about becoming a copywriter:

It’s not about writing fancy words. It’s about becoming a master persuader and influencer through words. 

From there, you can develop your skills further by stepping outside the boundaries of the tips you initially found. Studying psychology, borrowing tactics from other disciplines, and experimenting, are some things you can do to advance your skills. 

2)  Question the assumptions about your problem

This is to avoid a blind leading the blind situation. It doesn’t help that we tend to imitate others. 

After all, seeing the masses do what we plan to do gives us validation that we are on the right track. 

Take going to college for example. It’s a potential solution for one thing: financial freedom.

The assumption is that going to college will automatically land you a good paying job. We know that’s not entirely correct. 

The Obstacles To Using First Principles Thinking

It takes brain power and time to peel the layers of commonly held beliefs to solve marketing problems. For this reason, we take shortcuts by following the crowd.

To show why this is a bad idea, let’s go back to our example where you are an aspiring digital marketer. 

When you bought the script, you were sure it was going to work because hundreds of students have produced great results. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for you.

You then decide to ask your prospects why they didn’t sign up. Their response? “We’ve heard that pitch before.“

There you have it. Because your would-be clients came  across hundreds of other marketers using the same script you bought, it’s novelty effect has worn off before you could make a sale. 

The Rewards To Using First Principles Thinking 

It feels great to come up with cutting-edge solutions no one has ever thought of before. The case study below shows my own experience using the first principles thinking in marketing. 

Being able to create high-impact solutions that’s new and effective is no doubt extremely satisfying. 

Case Study: How I Got The Media’s Attention Without Reaching Out to Them 

I wanted to develop my marketing skills years ago so I offered to help a food bank for free. Their truck was falling apart and it was the only means they had to fetch food from restaurants. If it stopped functioning, a congregation of homeless people would be left without meals. 

The goal was to spread word about them so I immediately thought of getting the local news stations involved.

I avoided a reason by analogy approach which entailed cold calling and emailing a bunch of stations. After all, that’s what everyone did. 

I honestly tried that approach in a prior project only to find it was ineffective and time consuming. 

So, I put on my first principles thinking hat on and took the following steps: 

1) I Explored The Assumptions I Had About This Project:

  • News stations will cover any story as long as it’s interesting.
  • If I reach out to them with a good story, they’ll run it.
  • The story I’m giving them is a good piece. 

2) I Debunked Those Assumptions

People send them stories all the time, so the competition for their attention can be fierce. If I send them a story, it will most likely get lost in the cacophony of messages they get everyday. 

Furthermore, mine was less likely special to them. I probably wasn’t the only one who has sent them a similar story. 

I was also a nobody. No one in those stations would give me the time of day since I was a stranger. 

Debunking those assumptions…

3) Lead Me To The Fundamental Problems I Had To Face

If I want them to cover my story, I had to first package it in a way that’s tv-worthy. Second, I have to cut through the noise of emails that flood their inbox. 

From there, I…

4) Developed A Solution That Got The Media’s Attention

I first made a heart-warming video. I interviewed the volunteers and found that they used to be homeless and drug addicts. They turned their lives around thanks to the organization. With such an angle, I was able to make a compelling video. 

I then had to address the “noise” problem – the competition for the tv stations’ attention. The solution? We created the “noise.” 

I made a facebook group consisting of volunteers and members of the food bank. I showed them the plan for the campaign along with the video I made. 

To my surprise, the people I added to the group invited their friends and families as well. The numbers went from less than 10 to about 60 members overnight. 

The plan was simple. I instructed all of them to send the video I made to tv stations as soon as I posted it online. They didn’t have to pitch anything. The video itself would do the work. 

The results were awesome. At the end of the campaign, 253 people shared the video and the news ran a story about the food bank four times. 


We live in a copy and paste world. This is even more true in marketing. A slew of once potent marketing solutions have become obsolete because a herd of marketers have copied them. 

I’m certainly guilty of doing it. 

But by using first principles thinking, we can become rogue thinkers – individuals who produce solutions the world hasn’t seen before.