Many of us resist new methods and technologies, instead relying on things we’ve grown accustomed to. Once we take the plunge, it’s easy to get excited and confuse this new thing as the only option. Think of how resistant we were to embrace webmail services like Hotmail when they first became available. We were so ensconced in the world of desktop email clients we couldn’t imagine moving to an online version, regardless of the benefits gained. The same thing happens all the time; we get comfortable with something and turn off the possibility of other options.
Missing out on such advancements can make us vulnerable to those who more aggressively test and deploy new tools. This challenge is compounded by the rate of change in a connected world. Tools that are seen as critical in marketing today may not have even existed two years ago. Once such a technology reaches a tipping point, we find ourselves in a landslide of momentum around it. The new tools available to us, particularly on the web, are awfully easy to get excited about. Some will last while others might mutate or fall away. I’d like to provide suggestions on how to keep one’s head above water in this environment.
Before all of this new technology, marketers spent a lot of time coming up with a good plan and then executing on it, given how costly it was to put such campaigns together and deploy them. That cost, although still substantial, doesn’t need to be quite so prohibitive any longer. We can now establish a strategy and act on it quickly and with less fear. Should the plan not quite work, we can always change course. It might seem messy, but adapting like this is pretty fast these days. You’re left with a great advantage since you don’t need to employ an army to spread your messages.
Trends and technologies will continue to change, with new ones emerging all the time. This doesn’t mean you should embrace every new tool, but I’d remain open to the possibility of exploring them. You may launch a blog only to find that it doesn’t resonate with your audience. At such a time, there’s no reason for you to not see if your message might work better in a video blog, podcast, newsletter, or some other medium. Perhaps the approach you’re taking just isn’t the best fit. If this is the case, adapt.
I recently had lunch with a colleague who shared such an example with me. His team had connected with a local grocery chain regarding a website redesign project. In examining their situation, he observed that there were areas more deserving of consideration. Although the website was in need of an update, they advised their client to forgo this step in favor of building content in order to increase interest. The firm was subsequently hired and started to toy with the content. With time, they learned that the most popular aspect of the site was in the recipes offered to interested shoppers. They amplified this content and traffic increased manyfold in spite of a rather hackneyed website.
Given the number of new technologies, approaches, and expectations we’re faced with these days, we just have to adapt more readily. Part of this relates to divorcing ourselves from sentimentality regarding the way we used to do things. Just because it once worked doesn’t necessarily mean it will today. Why would anyone voluntarily limit themselves to methods that weren’t the most effective? The only benefit in doing so is comfort. Don’t let fear get in the way of your marketing goals.
You may have to get uncomfortable to gain familiarity with new methods. Once you do, you’ll more objectively determine which tools best suit your purposes. It’s equally important to be wary of change for its own sake. The existence of a new method doesn’t necessarily render a working one obsolete.
Rethink the importance of ample funds
Advertising works well—particularly for big brands with lots of money. If you aren’t a big brand, you have to find a way to achieve the same end with what you do have. Sometimes the same effect—or a better one—can be had by exploring methods that others would have discounted due to their low cost. A lack of cash can actually prove an advantage; it can even open you up to new methods of differentiating.
If they’re making sexy, polished ads, perhaps you need to go the other way. Where they have high-paid models, you bring in local teenagers whose knowledge of posing is limited to the fictional Zoolander’s “Blue Steel.”96 They utilize high-resolution photographs that cost $20,000 a piece, so you get an old Polaroid and have fun. They hire a famous actor to narrate the commercial, so you bring in a funny kid with a weird voice who makes people laugh. Some of the best albums in rock and roll history were made by unproven musicians whose bad equipment was outshined by pure “guts.” The same applies here. Money isn’t the answer you think it is, so don’t let it stop you. Instead, ask how you can do better with what you’ve got.
It doesn’t end with advertising. They bring their best clients on all expense paid golf trips; you invite yours to a wild house party. You could even “up the ante” by bringing in a fire-eater or local band that hasn’t quite cracked, but still “rocks.” Their offices have fancy boardrooms and luxurious chairs; you buy some lawn chairs and beach umbrellas, replacing ostentatiousness with a bit of spirit and fun. They send wasteful gift baskets with overpriced crackers at Christmas; you call your clients in January offering a temporary price cut to minimize the credit card “hangover” they’re perhaps suffering from.
If you’re reading this book, you’re probably part of a small company. Most small companies don’t have mountains of cash to help them look like everyone else. There’s no point in trying to keep up with them on that level. I won’t tell you how to spend your dollars, but I do think there’s waste in blindly doing things the “proper” way. You don’t need a wheelbarrow full of currency so long as you’re willing to use your brain.
I don’t advise doing things differently just for the sake of having done so. Still, there are a lot of bad rules out there that many follow to a fault. These are rules we rarely question, just because everyone else seems to take them at face value. I think we have to ask exactly why we’re following such rules and ponder whether they benefit us or get in the way.
Maybe you don’t need an extensive website with all the bells and whistles. Perhaps all your restaurant needs is a single web page without even an image—just a menu and contact information. As a hotel, you might bypass a website altogether and simply redirect to a page of reviews from Yelp, Expedia or Trip Advisor. One agency, called Boone Oakley decided to forgo a traditional website and instead use a series of playful YouTube videos in its place.97 All of these are viable—and possibly noteworthy—approaches that one could arrive at simply by asking, “What do we actually need to accomplish here?”
As I’ve noted before, truly different stuff can be scary to most people. It’s also where the greatest opportunity tends to lie. Few believed in the Herman Miller Aeron chair when it was conceived and some thought it a “monstrosity.”98 It has since become an icon and one of the company’s most successful products. No one would have made that chair by trying to incrementally improve on what already existed. They needed to look at what such a thing could be, and then rethink the entire notion of seating.
In the software development world there are many different methods of programming. One of the most common ones is the waterfall method, in which a project is exhaustively planned, crafted, refined, and finally released once deemed fit for public use. Another method, which is on the opposite end of the spectrum, is the agile approach. Using this method, a product is released early with only a small set of features, and then augmented as users interact with it, helping to isolate bugs and note desired additions.
When software was distributed physically, the former method was the most common, given the associated time and cost required to distribute updates. As we’ve increasingly moved to the web, many have gravitated to the latter method. The logic behind doing so is largely rooted in the development team being able to quickly adapt to real client needs instead of ones only anticipated in a vacuum.
The agile approach is quite fashionable at present, and there are a number of people championing this way of working. I was first exposed to this notion a couple of years ago and we’ve made efforts to integrate it into our operations—particularly in developing marketing strategies. The nice part about working in this fashion is that it is concentrated on getting something in play quickly, instead of polishing a potentially ineffective approach endlessly. Come up with a plan, get the minimum required elements in place, see how they work, then revise. That’s “agile” in a nutshell and it isn’t by any means limited to software. Ask yourself how you might benefit from such an approach and test whether it’s a fit for your marketing. It doesn’t always work, but it’s certainly worth experimenting with.
The problem with ideas is that we fall in love with them all too easily. Once we do, we put a lot of time into getting them off the ground. Some of us go to the far ends of the earth just to bring them to life. Although some look at this in a romantic way, I think it’s pure silliness. Contrary to popular belief, ideas are never in short supply. Tying ourselves to one that doesn’t work simply limits us from uncovering one that does.
Some people think that the creative process requires great toil and sweat. They come up with hundreds of ideas and select the best one. Then they sort through thousands of photographs to pick the one that feels perfect. They carefully draft the text and sift through it for any areas that could possibly be misread. They work closely with the production team to ensure precise execution, quibbling over the most mundane and inconsequential points. These become long, labored battles that result in outbursts, arguments, and stress. What happens if the idea doesn’t work? Well, that’s when the animosity really builds, people burn out, and the good scotch gets downed.
It’s not that I think hard work isn’t a factor in coming up with a good idea, I just wonder if we need to operate quite like this. I’ve come to accept that some of the things we do just suck. So we do our best to limit our emotional investment in an idea. Instead, we try to come to solutions quickly, test them out, and work with them if they seem viable. When they’re not, I think it’s acceptable to put that one out of our minds and simply move on to another.
Few plan their wedding in detail before the first date. Tell the truth, I know a couple of people who did so and they were pretty let down when things didn’t work as they’d imagined. Most of us keep things casual until we meet someone great. When we know that it’s a fit, we might start planning things, looking at place settings or what have you. I wonder if we should look at our ideas the same way. Let’s not “put out” for them until they’ve proven that they’re worth it.
A large part of Hotmail’s success comes down to one brilliant little move. Was it a huge giveaway or perhaps an award winning television campaign? Did they pay for product placement in a popular movie? Nope! They “hacked” their way to success by placing just nine words in a spot they had full access to. By appending the note “Sign up for your free email account at Hotmail” to each message sent through their system, they created enormous awareness for their product and effectively built a household name.99
Sadly, this probably won’t work for you. So many people have talked about this particular success that everyone thinks they can do the same. With such approaches being more commonplace, they begin to register as noise, with few grabbing our attention. You yet again may have to find your own way to connect. I suggest is you think less about what you’re supposed to do, and instead concentrate on how you can make things work in your favor. (Whether they were intended to work this way or not.)
Hacking basically relates to using existing tools in an unintended fashion. Doing it will allow you to cover ground others most likely haven’t. You won’t find the way to do this in marketing books or from consultants—once these things have been done once, they tend to be less effective. That being said, there’s almost always a faster, simpler, and more elegant way to achieve what you wish. You simply have to remain open to some less familiar ways of getting the job done.
Next chapter: Screwing Up and the Long Run
Get yours today from Amazon.com