The most important trait of great digital marketers is curiosity and skepticism. They approach their profession and careers with a simple, “Wonder why that is?” framework. They know they must continually be researching what their customers need and be educating themselves on what ways marketing can deliver. This methodology extends much beyond the cheesy one-time-a-year focus group.
And they test their assumptions rigorously and often. How?
As Stanford start-up professor Steve Blank says, “Get the heck out of the building”, so you can better understand why your customers are buying or not. As Mr. Blank points out, “there are no facts inside the building”.
Marketing as drivers for customer insights
This approach requires the mindset of a scientist. Hypothesises are tested and solutions constantly evaluated against the needs of the existing and potential customer base and the business objectives.
Being familiar with the strategy for growth beyond the lofty mission statement (which is usually horribly vague, long-winded, and impossible to quantify) and instead focusing on researching, testing, and implementing ways to drive revenue is good insurance for ongoing employment. A blend of creativity (dreaming up ways to possibly make money) and data (testing results and gathering data) is what the life of a successful digital marketer looks like today. A true combination of art and science.
But does this thinking only apply to early stage ventures or young enterprises?
Established companies are lucky as they have navigated the economic waters to a point where they can cash-flow and make sales. Working in organizations like this certainly has its advantages. The trade show schedule is defined years in advance. The industry press outlets are well known and key accounts established. There is usually a culture of “this is how we always do it” and things will continue to be rationally predictable in our market. Perhaps…
Established companies manage for mitigating risk and over time become quite adept at it.
Yet, the speed of the Internet is changing industry after industry. Witness the massive shifts underway in conservative verticals like education and medicine. Ask someone who used to work in traditional media what has happened in their world in the last ten years with Craig’s List, RSS feeds, and the rise of digital news outlets like The Huffington Post. Ask someone who used to work in marketing for Blockbuster or Borders before Netflix and Amazon pushed them out of business.
The problem with large established companies with their goal of eliminating risk and optimizing all processes with massive resources behind it tend to miss the next Big Thing.
Note: if you’re curious to understand this phenomena in greater detail, be sure to read Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma book which covers disruptive innovation and details several industries where the market leaders failed to act in time.
Yet, the curious marketer can uncover some of these pending customer shifts through a consistent process of asking questions and getting out of the building. It is imperative for them to report these back to management and founders to help steer the strategy discussion.
Remember, on a CFO’s budget spreadsheet marketing and sales can look like a tremendous expenditure and marketing in particular gets the reputation of being a black hole. Money goes in but it’s tough to see where it comes out.
In the previous shoe example, we saw how things like acquisition costs and customer lifetime value (CLV) are a few metrics that can greatly guide our objectives and thus our strategy. Yet, to arrive at good answers, we must ask good questions.
Key takeaway: Following a thorough review and understanding of profitability drivers, marketers have a tremendously powerful opportunity to set strategy by looping around to question, test, and further understand the market’s needs and desires to chart a course for the business’s success.
Let’s look at some frameworks for doing this.