CMO EXCLUSIVES | April 15, 2013
by Tim McMullen
New devices, new social platforms, new e-commerce tools. Technology is changing at breakneck speed, causing consumers to seemingly be everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
- Marketers can reflect the ever-changing world of technology by releasing our stranglehold on any one tech platform.
- Any environment is a valid and powerful place for marketing. But it’s not enough to show up.
- Give your team the space and trust that what they’re doing will change your marketing.
And that makes it rather difficult to market to them.
Amid the chaos, you’ve surely heard a creeping thought say you can’t possibly keep up. That it’s best to wait out each wave of change and jump on board when you see what works. Better that than to take a risk with your job on the line.
But the evolution cycle is now so fast that by the time you see what works, it’s already old news. So how can you possibly do everything your job demands while also finding time to get ahead of a relentlessly changing technology curve? By redefining what your job demands.
Adopting A Scientific Mindset
When scientists realize something new about the world, they restructure their processes to reflect it. Likewise, we can reflect the ever-changing world of technology by releasing our stranglehold on any one tech platform or tool. We need to be able to change as fast as it does, and that means holding onto only things we truly know.
And for the record, what we know isn’t, “We need to be on Facebook” or “Pinterest is the new thing.” Those are tools you may or may not need to use. We’re looking for truths on which to build a solution-making machine–truths like, “People want to seamlessly interact with their technology” and “Good marketing adds value to people’s lives through entertainment, education, or utility.”
With truths like that in mind, here are a few more scientific tips for continually creating innovative, relevant marketing amid the technological earthquakes.
Study Your Ecosystems
The animal kingdom has many ecosystems, each defined by its combination of weather, vegetation, animal life, etc. Whenever marketing enters the world, it, too, appears in an ecosystem–an environment in which people live, move, and breathe. An environment in which those people have an equal power to completely ignore what it has to say.
Take note of the various ecosystems in which your consumers live, but keep in mind: That’s only the first step. Next, discover how people act in those environments. Why are they there in the first place? What do they want out of their experience? How much energy are they willing to contribute, and what kind of rewards are they expecting from it?
Remember, there are many kinds of ecosystems. Facebook and Pinterest are ecosystems, but so are iPhones and iPads. Restaurants are ecosystems, as are their bathrooms. Music festivals, movie theaters, subway cars, and actual cars are, too.
Wherever people are, there’s a set of rules specific to the environment about how they prefer to interact. Any environment is still a valid and powerful place for marketing. But it’s not enough to show up. You have to meaningfully join the ecosystem.
Use Technology As A Means, Not An End
No scientist mistakes having a telescope for discovering something new about the universe. And yet it’s so easy for marketers to think it means something to have QR codes or a “Find us on Foursquare” sticker. We mistake the hammer for the hung picture.
Technology gives us tools. It’s our job to use them in interesting and meaningful ways. Informed by a given ecosystem, we can create aspirational strategies to guide our marketing.
For example, “Use Pinterest” is not an aspirational strategy, but “provide design inspiration to our fans in a place they love to be” is. See the difference? The first just adds to the noise. The second creates value for fans by putting technology to work for you.
And notice that the second example doesn’t demand Pinterest. You might find that your consumers actually prefer Houzz, Svpply, Gimmebar, or any number of other tools. In fact, “provide design inspiration” is a strategy that can guide you for years, regardless of the technological changes. Good strategy ages well.
Innovate By Asking ‘What If…’
This is where technology really gets interesting–and where you begin to jump far out in front of the curve.
Try imagining an amazing consumer experience you’ve never had, and watch how clearly technology becomes a tool instead of a solution. For example, “What if I could walk into my favorite coffee shop and before I got to the counter, my phone would vibrate and reveal a Half Off Any Drink special?”
Suddenly your team can organize itself around creating a meaningful experience, and the challenges present themselves in all of their various splendor. Technology: Is Foursquare powerful enough? What about cameras using face detection? User experience: Would I have to download an app first? Could it be integrated into something I already have? Legally: What are the privacy implications? Will we get arrested? (That’s when you know you’re onto something.)
Build Your Lab Culture
These tips may sound interesting enough, but how practical are they to implement? After all, you have more than yourself to consider. Can you really instill these ideas in a whole team?
Absolutely, but you’ll need to create an environment in which it’s safe for your team to think like scientists. That means allocating real time for experimentation, either within projects or beyond them. We give our whole team an entire workday every week to perform Lab experiments. That may seem idealistic to you now, but start down this course and in six months tell me you’re not addicted to the process and its game-changing results.
Of course, your team needs to act like scientists–set hypotheses, develop iterations, and record findings. But you’ll need to treat them that way, too. Give them space and trust that what they’re doing will change your marketing.
And, most importantly, realize that “progress as a straight line” is a myth. Progress looks like a slinky going up the stairs. You won’t make it to the next step without shooting too high, and you’ll inevitably fall back a little. But you’ll be incrementally farther than you were before. Some call this failing forward. Others call it rapid iteration. Whatever it is, it’s the only way things get better.
Scientists devote their focus, imagination, and resources to learning what they don’t yet know. The world of marketing now demands the same of us. Ignoring it is about as safe as a scientist ignoring the discovery of gravity. But changing to reflect it puts you in the running for the invention of human flight.