There are a number of evolutions and revolutions taking place in marketing these days. Everywhere we look, there’s talk of data, even more data, social data, Big Data, and analytical methods to make sense of the data. At the same time, we are inundated with new tools, new channels and new titles. No matter your level of expertise, it’s a lot to take in! It’s an exciting time to be a marketer, but a stressful one, as well.
As marketers, we are expected to not only be on top of the newest trends, but know precisely which metrics to assign to indicate the efficacy of every new tactic. How do we do it all? How do we appropriately manage expectations and multiple priorities? How do we keep our teams moving at a fast enough pace to succeed?
The great Vanilla Ice once said, “Burning them they ain’t quick and nimble,” which is a simple, but accurate statement. While my citation of Mr. Ice is colored with some sarcasm, he has a point: Lack of speed kills. I’ve personally used the line, “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” when judging the speed of a marketing department and how it gets tactics to market.
Moving fast isn’t always easy, though. I have worked within large marketing departments and as a one-person marketing “team”, so I understand the challenges from both perspectives. I also have had the privilege of founding and advising a few startups over the last few years. In every one, I was managing not just marketing tactics, but investor pitches, operations and sales. It was fun and exciting to build something like these projects from the ground up, but more importantly, I learned from it. It made me a better marketer, because startups are all about speed.
No matter what type of startup you examine, you’ll find that startups NEED to prove their concept fast, scale up fast, or fail fast. In any other scenario, they are simply wasting time and resources. As marketers working for established companies, we have the luxury of not truly being directly responsible for the day-to-day grind of making sales or managing operations. While it is nice to know someone else is responsible for these aspects of the business, we sometimes forget the pressing importance of being quick to help the business succeed. Being separated from these functions may cause us to not launch a new program on time (or at all), or we may not make changes to existing programs to avoid “upsetting the apple cart.” Take it from me, based on my time in the startup world, though…we need to DISRUPT! Sometimes we need to have the courage to shake things up, and we can’t be afraid to move quickly when the time is right.
So, what are some lessons you can learn from the startup world to bring speed to your marketing department to avoid missed opportunities to grow and stand out?
- Win or Fail…Fast: No matter what role you hold in your department—or if you ARE the department—it is imperative that your programs produce… or you move on. Ask yourself, “What does success look like for a particular program or tactic?” This question should be addressed at the beginning of your process, when you define your metrics. List the 2 or 3 metrics that you will judge the program against, and create a way to track them weekly or monthly. I sometimes have seen this report referenced as a “frog in a blender”—a case where you establish your averages and then use green, yellow or red to categorize results. In any case, make time to report and discuss the results! If it’s a win, keep it. If it’s not performing according to your expectations, don’t be afraid to adjust or pull the plug completely. But make the determination in a timely fashion. No sense riding something out longer than necessary…you don’t need a time suck! Conversely, “paralysis by analysis” prior to getting a program off the ground is equally as frustrating, and should be avoided.
- Don’t be Afraid to Pivot!: Everytime I see or hear that word, I always think of the Friends episode where Ross is yelling out “Pivot!” while trying to take his couch up a narrow staircase. Perhaps this shows my age, but I still think it is a perfect analogy for what you should be doing in your marketing department. If a program is not working based on your metrics, don’t be afraid to make a change. Your biggest asset will be your ability to identify new tactics or tests. I won’t lie; there are many department structures that make it difficult to change direction on a dime, and it isn’t always easy. However, there is a lot to be said for researching new trends, identifying whether they would fit for your marketing strategy, and doing the cost/benefit analysis—this is where you win. Show your willingness to be proactive and take a risk on a new tactic or perform an A/B test on an existing one. If the department is set up right, there should be some budgetary guidance for testing.
- Everything is Negotiable: I admit that this one doesn’t focus all on speed, but if there is one thing I took away from my time in small companies and the startup world, it is what one person said to me in passing, “Remember, whomever holds the checkbook holds the leverage.” I have used this phrase (in my head) numerous times when I have negotiated with vendors, from large scale digital projects to promotional item purchases to outsourced services. I admit that it could be deemed a hard-bargaining tactic, but it doesn’t have to be. The biggest takeaway is that you must establish your budget first and stick to it. Then you can quickly bring it back to a ROMI discussion. This forces you to think like a lean startup when looking for marketing services because you now have identified your limited funds. If you need to get three quotes, go for it… But I recognize that’s difficult when you are dealing with meetings, conflicting schedules and deadlines. Regardless, this mantra brings quality, speed and a little bit of ‘from the gut’ to the forefront. Remember, it’s never personal, just business.
As I mentioned before, there are many factors that can make it difficult to create speed in your marketing department, whether it be culture, structure or just the approval process. That said, take this article with whatever-sized grain of salt is appropriate. Remember, though, that in these days of hyper-marketing, using speedy approaches to start, stop and test marketing tactics will keep you not only ahead of trends, but—more importantly—your competitors. No matter what you do, make sure you are sticking to your marketing core competency. Don’t abandon what you do well; just kick it up a notch and pretend you are proving your concept every day!