Technical startups are wriggly creatures, especially those that are grown in the wild, outside of larger corporations. The stereotypical bootstrapper with a vision will be unable to lay out any accurate roadmap for the business, technical development or marketing roll out. Why? Well, simply because they cannot predict what it will be in 6 months from the day they commit and pull the trigger by setting up a company.
And as my co-founder and CEO (at Movebubble) Aidan Rushby often reminded me,
“it’s just about starting the journey!”
Once committed to a vision, there is an understanding that the journey is likely to change. In fact it’s pretty likely that you will have pivots, big or small along the way. Whether you are changing the product or marketing direction your journey will be fluid. Your value proposition malleable whilst you figure out what really does work, and what really does offer value to your customer. Now I speak more from a software/website development startup perspective but I would imagine that the same is true for hardware too.
Lets go back a little and look at what marketing was.
Marketing was the demonstration and monetization of value.
Having just written that sentence down for the first time since I learned it on my MBA I can actually see how flawed it is. The ‘demonstration’ of value to me implies that a business should show, advertise and sell its benefits and features, highlighting how this is valuable to customers. Now this is still true, in part, for those businesses that know how their products deliver value and are effectively a marketing led organization. But in agile development startup environments, unless you’re delivering something with IP, then you’re solving social problems, communication problems, integration problems, and the business is ultimately (and should be) product led. This is correct because you are ultimately testing and failing every day, building more of what people use more of, and less of what people use less of.
Until there is demonstrable value being delivered from the product, the role played by marketing is exhausting and incredibly difficult. It is not for the faint hearted, but if you understand the role of marketing in a startup you can add a phenomenally powerful competitive advantage to the business. Now i have limited experience to many, but it feels like this is a rarity in the startup world. I think that people view marketing in a startup exactly the same as performing marketing in a more established business. Before the ever-illusive product-market fit marketing is in a perpetual state of change, always in catch-up as it tries to re-communicate the shifting value proposition. This can be truly exhausting, and I can talk from experience on this one.
It was however only when I truly began to understand my role as the strategic arm of marketing within the business did I begin to get that it was about supporting the business at it’s current stage and not sticking rigidly to an MBA text book. I know people talk about it all the time, but the key is to learn to tell a narrative. Turn marketing into a storytelling machine. The reason is not what you might expect. If you are telling a story, the plot is allowed to change. It is expected to change actually, and in doing so becomes interesting. What marketing must learn to do is manage change. It must become comfortable in motion, and very specifically build processes, strategies and hire people to manage this movement.
There needs to be an understanding that what we are doing today will be irrelevant tomorrow. It is becoming much like agile development, however agile marketing is unable to check the rendering of a story on a screen, and must instead analyse both quantitative and qualitative data to understand whether it is on course.
So what processes am I specifically talking about? Well, there are many but for me it is about speeding up the time between knowing whether something is working or not. It is about automating reporting metrics that are important to the business and being able to take action every single morning to move the needle back in the right direction. The more you can turn the function of marketing into a machine, the more marketing can do its job of leading change and growth from within the company. Because ultimately I think that marketing’s new role in startups, is to be able to lead a group of people to work together and pull in the same direction.
Marketing has so many channels open to it today, that it is impossible to ‘do’ them all. But what is not impossible is to establish a set of process, from the bottom up, that empower your team to test and make decisions to ultimately guide change.
Agile is the new buzz word in the business world, being first established in the software development world to tackle a set of unpredictable and moving requirements. Eric Ries, amongst many others, was one of the first to talk openly about the principles of the Lean Startup and Agile Methodologies where optimising the performance of a website or piece of software was the primary focus. This is where the term Conversion Rate Optimisation has come from, or Growth Hacking to use the contemporary terminology.
I believe that these very same principles of test often, fail often, learn always are paramount as we move into a faster and far more dynamic world in terms of both customer expectations and the competitive landscape. I believe that we are able to focus on the reallocation of resources within marketing in the very same way, and move away from the stale, rigid and risky waterfall management framework and into the fast, ‘boxer like’ world of SCRUM.
In short Agile Marketing is comprised of short sprints, that occur anywhere between 7 and 30 days. These micro campaigns consist of pre-defined stages, that in turn feed the direction of marketing strategy and vision. A brilliant piece to read, is the SCRUM reference card that highlights the details of this way of thinking. I have amended the defined Sprint stages so that they are more relevant to the responsibilities of marketing, in my humble opinion.
SCRUM teams get together at the beginning of each sprint or micro-campaign to break down larger goals into smaller tasks. The team then chooses and allocates tasks, roles and responsibility to members. Each team member accepts the tasks, in the genuine understanding that they are achievable in the sprint.
The layout of the SCRUM will be as follows:
This stage will enable team members the autonomy to work on their own, and collaborate accordingly to deliver on their own responsibilities. Team members will look use personal knowledge, research and data available from previous iteration cycles to develop campaign and marketing assets that will deliver on the KPIs identified.
So as to minimize risks of customer facing content the following ‘have I done this checklist’ should be used by each team member:
1. Have I read this word for word, slowly to make sure that it reads correctly?
2. Have I read this backwards to make sure that there are no obvious spelling errors.
3. Have I run this piece of content through a Microsoft word spell checker?
4. Has another person read this before I pull the trigger?
5. Am I willing to put my reputation against this piece of content?
6. Only when the answer to all those above is YES, then you can deploy.
This checklist format comes from Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto, which i would encourage everyone on this blog to read.
Mid sprint SCRUM Review meetings will be encouraged, where team members are to demonstrate finished materials (or at key iterations) for feedback from interested team members. This offers an opportunity for outside people, customers or potential customers to offer feedback. This will offer iterative feedback on material and campaigns enabling a value driven approach
In this stage, seeding teams will take the assets and distribute across previously identified channels so as to gain maximum exposure for the brand. Teams are also responsible for answering any questions online and via social media, or taking any feedback and gathering it for the next SCRUM meeting.
This is an important (and continual process) of social listening and communication. It ensures that all team members are on relevant social media and engaging in associated conversations about the material, products, services and company.
In this stage of the iteration cycle team members will collect the data of relevant KPIs so that ROI can be gauged. Assumptions should be made from this information, and attempts at insight are encouraged.
Decisions should be made for future iteration cycles in preparation for the next SCRUM.
I think it apt to state that all team members should get aligned with real metrics, and leave the ‘gut instincts’ at the door.
Each sprint will end with a retrospective meeting where the team can reflect on its own process, and are able to take action to make future sprints better.
The main aim of these meetings is to expose organizational and team impediments. It is important that this time is a free and open environment to positively critique team and individual performance. This is not a time for the blame game, rather for personal learning, mentorship and improvement.
So this is, in short my breakdown of the Agile Methodologies into something ‘chewable’ for marketers. I could be wrong, but hey, i am happy to amend my view dependant on the results. Challenge me.. please.
I look forward to your comments.
I must admit, i think i hate what the word marketing has come to represent. Marketing people (and i think the general public) think it represents advertising, direct mail, persistent one-to-one communication (aka bombardment), cookie ridden snooping, inbox flooding SPAM etc etc etc. Delete delete delete… It sounds as popular as the word politician and banker. But really it is so much more, so much more intrinsic to us all.
I am still learning (in my current role as CMO for Movebubble), every day the enormous role that marketing plays in any business. From customer listening, value setting, branding, message, tone of voice, social engagement, competition analysis, revenue streams, User Experience, product development and the list goes on. And, one might ask… what does that all means Logan?
I think the one thing that many business are so focussed on is B2C (business to consumer). I once wrote in another blog post that it was P2P (what i called people to people). I thought i was so clever… When i wrote this original blog post I had still envisaged a member of an organisation speaking, albeit as a person, to a customer (also another person). However since this P2P insight I have come to realise that the most crucial and valuable form of brand ‘marketing’ comes from personal recommendations i.e the interactions between your customers. Its C2C (customer to customer) as Mark Earls suggests in Herd; a book about how humans are built to interact; is the most important thing to understand and focus on.
‘I’ll have what he’s having‘ is how we are made. Its Cognitive Ease (did i just coin a phrase?)
We don’t like making decisions, hence we always take the easiest route… mentally that is. We are down right lazy. Again as Mark Earls says, we are homo-mimicus. We like to copy, its a survival instinct. I do listen to my friends and will often go the same movies as them, buy the same beer, eat at the same restaurants. So how does a company get into this, personal space. And should it? If it tries does it really just turn people off.
If your business is good enough, and performs a task beautifully and easily then is this enough to generate WOM (word of mouth) or as marketers now like to say ‘word of mouse’. The role of marketing is today; in my humble opinion all about lubricating the wheels of C2C communication. I am not sure there are any answers (that is that i have any), but i hope this makes you think a little about the role of marketing these days.
This blog is for me to put ideas out and see what people think. Engage and open up lines of dialogue. If any one has any thoughts on this, please let me know.
And on that note… “Waiter, can i have what he is having…?
This is a great lecture from Professor Clayton Christensen at Business of Software 2011. He is a lecturer and professor at Harvard Business School and has some brilliant insights, something all entrepreneurs should understand. In this talk he describes disruption (referencing disruptive innovation) as the art of killing rather than being killed. How do you take on the incumbents in the marketplace? You can’t outspend them, and you probably can’t out innovate with new features and added benefits onto already existing products and services.
He implies that if you can focus on the job required to be done and the causal mechanism behind a customers decision then you can retain the ‘bleeding edge’ high ground and ensure continued profitability. Becoming a purpose brand is vital, i.e. one that states what job it tackles so as to become that brand people go to when thinking of a task. This is the only way to ensure sustained profitability. An example here is ‘furnishing my house’ and IKEA.
Drucker has a great quote:
“A customer rarely buys what the company thinks they are selling him (/her)”
Investigate what job people are using your product for, and improve on it. Companies are often wrong about how people are really using their services. People use chairs to change lightbulbs and not to sit on (all the time) so should chair companies make chairs that do both jobs better, or innovate with a new product for changing lightbulbs?
If you do the job well enough as a service (or product) then you don’t need a marketing budget. Sounds so simple hey? Too many companies compete on the same axis of performance and competition. Innovate on different axis, centered on the task only. Simple examples are Salesforce.com and Oracle, Toyota and Ford Motors.
Oddly he tells us not to listen to the customer but to be sure that the company makes the job easier and cheaper. A great example here is when Ford was the innovator in the market, and the famous line from Henry Ford himself:
“If we asked the customer what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse”.
Henry Ford understood that the problem was getting from A to B, and so simply innovated to make this task easier and quicker. He did not try to breed faster horses. People are willing to pay a premium for a product/service that provides a better solution.
Its true customers don’t know what they will need in a few years time, and companies do have to lead the way. However if they lose sight of the job being performed they lose track altogether. Jobs don’t change quickly. So don’t add features above customer requirements or capabilities. Yes it adds complexity, and makes it harder to copy, but sometimes you will get so far ahead of the customer that you become too complex and replaceable. Not a good place to be as a business. Christenson suggests rather than innovate on the same axis/market, look to create zero consumption markets with simple products.
He makes a point that refers to innovation as a culture, and investing in the services of the future before you need them. Because if you wait until you need the innovation persuading shareholders to move away from key business activities to invest in higher risk projects is difficult, if not impossible.
Finally he describes how companies are now competing on business models. This is something that i have mentioned before of how it is now ‘Battle of the Business Plans’. The three business models he describes are summarised below:
Solutions Shop Business
In this business model you define a problem and offer a solutions. Business consultants are perfect examples of this.
Value Adding Business
These business take something in at one end, add value, and sell it at a profit. Great examples are clothing manufacturers.
Facilitated Network Business
These are closer to customer company collaboration to find a better solution. Perhaps the sharing economy falls into this category also. There are many examples of this, but a couple are Lyft and Sharedesk. These companies will take revenue per transaction.
Lastly he talks of ‘stupid managers’. Be careful as a company that looks only at the Return on Net Assets (RONA) or Internal Rate of Return (IRR) as measures of profitability and a guide to decision-making. If you are not careful, you can easily outsource your core competency further down the supply chain even though we are taught in business school that this is the right framework within which to make decisions. Dell is a perfect example of this managerial oversight. He says the best way to make decisions, is on how many tonnes of cash you make.
Anyway, enough of my summary. Watch this, and let me know what you think.
……. Also since writing this post, i have been asked to share this link for the Business of Software blog post with Clayton’s talk, which also includes a transcript of the talk. Happy reading. Sorry i did not do this the first time around. I forgot.
[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYLsphIC?p=1 width=”550″ height=”443″]
I was sat in a meeting the other day, talking about software requirements. And we began talking about ideas of branding and how ‘advertising’ has changed. Its no longer about repetitive bombardment from billboards and placards. Advertising in my opinion does not do ‘maketing’ justice. Marketing is about demonstrating the core values of why you do business and ensuring alignment with customers. Its not about blag or smoke and mirrors. Its about well timed, relevant content and engaged communication to ensure maximum comprehension and efficacy. Its about being human. Scott Stratton talks a lot about this. Definitely worth checking out and finding on twitter too @unmarketing . So stop advertising and start talking.
Anyway i digress ever so slightly… So we spoke of Customer Relations Management Systems (“oh the joy i hear you shout”). CRM we then thought could mean something else, and we explored the idea of ‘Contextually Relevant Marketing”. I am sure this is not coined here, i just thought it was really cool and i wanted to blog about it. The idea that a brand should be engaging with you at the right moment, with the right content. The lines between customer and company are blurred these day, and i think those companies that cannot leverage this ability to engage will always fall short of the mark. I believe that most companies dont get this, they still act on the opposite side of the fence to the customer. The problem is, there is no fence anymore. Be your company.
Just some sunday afternoon ramblings having watched Andy Murray win Wimbledon. Fair play.
Well, this is a novel idea…. and one i love.
Definition: Gamification is the use of games thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences.
From the days of finding every coin in Super Mario Bros (Explorers) to destroying all your friends in Goldeneye (Killers), Gamers have been slowly and surely watching, listening and taking notes to human behaviour whilst in Game mode. They know their stuff! Gamification is a new form of thinking, where people are funnelled into a fun Gaming environment that is aimed at maintaining your loyalty, and basically adding value to the customer experience. Gabe Zichermann talks of how brand loyalty has been overtaken by this phenomina, and people want to receive something for their loyalty predominantly in the form of status. What is status worth? Companies that dont see and aim to embrace this may miss out on a new method for customer and employee engagement.
There is a huge amount of information in this (so i am not even going to try and explain it too much), and it is well worth giving it one hour of your time. Beginning with Mary Poppins and talking through how air traffic control can be fun, this will make you think about your current working and customer environment. Truly inspirational, i will certainly find more from Gabe and other Gamification pioneers and post here.