What is the 80:20 Rule in Digital Marketing?

I should start by saying that when it comes to marketing, the only real rule is that there are no rules. Everything is flexible and can change depending on your brand, goals, and customers. Experimenting can help you find strategies that work best for you.

Having said that, there are a lot of marketing “rules.”

The 80:20 rule isn’t a hard-and-fast law of business and marketing. Instead, it’s a principle with a wide range of applications. Think of it as a guide to help you analyze, strategize, and prioritize your business’s focus.

So let’s look at the 80:20 rule and how to use it for building effective marketing strategies.


What is the 80:20 rule in digital marketing?

The 80:20 rule is nothing new—it was developed in 1896 by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. In fact, it’s also referred to as the “Pareto Principle.” Pareto noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Looking more broadly, it appeared that the 80:20 ratio repeated itself across many aspects of most industries. In essence, 20% of all efforts created 80% of the result.

While no scientific studies support the 80:20 rule, anecdotal evidence generally holds it to be true.

Because it’s a fairly generic idea, it’s very flexible. As a result, there are several variations concerning digital marketing, each with its own applications.

Some common variations of the 80:20 rule throughout marketing are:

  • 80% of sales come from 20% of customers
  • 80% of sales come from 20% of marketing
  • 80% of revenues come from 20% of your products and services
  • 80% of your social media posts should be valuable to customers, 20% should be promotional content

The definition of “valuable content” depends on your brand and target audience. In general, valuable content is informational, helpful, or entertaining. In other words: valuable social media content targets the reasons people join social media platforms.

How to apply the 80/20 rule

Clearly, the 80:20 rule is flexible and open-ended. Because of this, it has several practical applications for marketing. Ideally, you use the rule to find your business’s most valuable products, services, customers, and content.

So, let’s look at how you can apply the 80:20 rule to each of these:

Products and services

If 20% of your products or services create 80% of your sales, you can focus on improving, marketing, and selling them.

For instance, if you own a candle business, you can produce larger amounts of your highest-selling scents. Or you could expand your offerings by creating lotions and other products with those same scents.

If 20% of your products or services create 80% of customer complaints, you can optimize or discontinue them. For instance, if you offer a fragile product frequently damaged during shipping, you can find a more resilient alternative or improved packaging options.

If 20% of your website creates 80% of the roadblocks in the journey-to-purchase, you can optimize and improve those pages to help nurture your digital leads.

High-value customers

Understanding the top 20% of your customer base can help you in multiple ways. For instance, you could:

  • Focus your marketing on your most valuable customers
  • Optimize email subject lines and calls to action for these customers (make sure to ask permission before emailing!)
  • Create social media content your top 20% find valuable
  • Offer new products and services that appeal to them

Digital content

The 80:20 rule for social media marketing suggests that 80% of your content should be valuable rather than promotional. This is because most people join social media platforms for entertainment. Advertisements are often seen as interruptions—or worse, “cringe.”

While content creation generally focuses on social media, this can also include web content such as blogs and free downloads.

Remember that the type of content your customers find valuable can differ depending on your brand, audience, platform, and recent trends.

For instance, you can post:

  • Free e-books on your website
  • How-to guides and informational articles on your blog
  • Industry news, memes, informative videos, or reposts from knowledgeable users on social media platforms
  • YouTube videos about interesting or alternate uses for your products

Of course, these are just general ideas. When creating a social media strategy, it’s helpful to experiment and track engagement and trends. Things move quickly on social media—keeping up with changing tastes is as important as following the 80:20 content rule.

Benefits for marketing

The flexibility of the 80:20 rule offers many benefits. The specific benefits you experience depend on how you decide to apply the rule to your brand. Some common benefits include:

Time management

The 80:20 rule helps you manage your time effectively. By spending 80% of your time on the top 20% of your assets, you can help ensure the continued success and support of those assets.

But the rule also implies that you should allocate 20% of your time on the other 80% of your products, sales, services, and customers. While they might not bring in as much revenue, they might fill a niche. This can still provide value, build customer relationships, and raise brand awareness.

Effective time management can also help you improve productivity by focusing on completing the most high-value tasks first.

Retain audience

Creating valuable social media content makes you more likely to retain your audience on those platforms. This helps ensure that those few promotional posts you make get seen by your audience without spending extra on paid advertisements.

Just as important, it helps keep your audience engaged. The more engaged they are, the more likely you can become a part of their daily lives.

Increase ROI

The 80:20 rule helps increase return on investment (ROI) in two ways. It helps you:

  • Invest more in high-value products, services, and campaigns
  • Invest less in low-value products, services, and campaigns

Essentially, the 80:20 rule helps you build an optimized and well-balanced budget that invests your capital appropriately.

Target algorithms

Each social media platform uses its own algorithm to keep its audience using its app. Each focuses on different trends, user habits, and content. However, they all have one thing in common: they all prioritize user engagement.

For instance, Facebook and LinkedIn prioritize “helpful” or “meaningful” content. Twitter and Instagram prioritize entertaining content that makes their users stop scrolling.

The more you focus on engaging your audience with meaningful, valuable, or entertaining content, the more likely you are to target multiple algorithms with a single post.

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