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Hacking Marketing

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Byron White interviews Scott Brinker, editor of chiefmartec.com, and co-founder and CTO of ion interactive, on his newest book, Hacking Marketing: Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster, and More Innovative. In the podcast, Scott talks about how tools have infiltrated marketing, and how we can adapt to take advantage of it. Byron also challenges Scott to reveal one hack from the book - listen and see how you can implement right after listening. To learn more about Scott, you can visit http://chiefmartec.com/.

Bryon:                                                   Welcome back everyone, Bryon here with Scott Brinker. Scott, welcome.            

Scott:                                                    Thank you.

Bryon:                                                   Super excited to chat with you about your new book, Hacking Marketing. First of all I could stop right there and I’d buy the book but let me finish the system, the title, Agile practices to make marketing smarter, faster and more innovative. I was going to think of more fun I think would be a good title for that one too because I...   

Scott:                                                    Yeah, we could add that on at the end…

Bryon:                                                   I think we should. But tell us a little bit about this new venture. Tell us about Hacking Marketing. Why did you write the book?

Scott:                                                    Sure. I think everyone who works in marketing now has this very visceral experience of just being overwhelmed with software. Software has just infiltrated every aspect of what marketing does which for the most part is a good thing, it’s given marketing a lot of great capabilities. But most marketers, right, their background isn’t in software development or IT management or computer science. I think a lot have struggled with how do we really adapt marketing management to take advantage of this software environment in which we are now operating in. That’s why this book for was the non technical person’s guide to how do you leverage software thinking and software management to turn marketing into a kickass digital organization.

Bryon:                                                   Do you think that there has being tension historically between technology and building technology in marketing? Tell us about that tension and how you can hack your way through that.

Scott:                                                    It’s a great question. I think historically, right, if we thought of a career continuum, there’d be one side of the continuum where we would have put soft ware developers and IT and possibly on the exact opposite of that continuum would have being people who gravitated to marketing. I was fine up until the point in time that software hit the world, to quote Marc Andreessen, right. Just now that software has so infiltrated everything that marketing is doing, marketers are having to incorporate this software savviness into not just what they execute in marketing, but more of even how they think about operating marketing from a more strategic level.

Bryon:                                                   Do you worry, Scott, being a technologist yourself that venture capitalist might be a little bit too eager invest in software models in general and SAS models and apps with the glorious goal being these revenue models that are running on 100% gross margins and the profit will be there? In the end of the day there is just so much technology out there. Are we going to saturate the market place do you think with just too many technical solutions and not enough time to learn them all? What are your thoughts on that?

Scott:                                                    That’s a really good point. As far as venture capitalists’ enthusiasm, we see that go in cycles from one industry to another, and I think we are sort of here at the peak. I would suspect the enthusiasm that venture capitalists have specifically for marketing tech, on one hand I think we will see the number of new companies in the mar-tech space probably start to level off and maybe even begin to consolidate. But when you’re starting with a landscape of thousands of products already even if you have pretty heavy consolidation, I think we’re still going to be in a world where there is hundreds of marketing tech products out there. In fact that isn’t even the right way to look at it. It’s not just software that we buy with the label marketing tech, right; it’s the fact that marketers spend all their days interacting with things that are run by software: Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn all these are big software programs. I think we sort of moved into a world where it’s a digital world and everything digital is run by software.

Bryon:                                                   You write a lot about Agile in the book and obviously you have some deep roots in what you like calling software inspired management concept and the book is very much sort of articulating that sort of concept that you’ve cracked a whip on and put forth in your work place probably. But what is it about software development and Agile in particular that you think makes it a good root from which we should all grow?

Scott:                                                    Agile software development came about because software developers kept running into the same problem over and over again, which was when they would plan out these very long cycle of software projects, what they planned at the beginning of the project and then by the time they delivered it months later or years later, what the actual user said, “Okay, well now that I see this I want something different or the market requirements have changed we need something different.” it’s just that old way of building software wasn’t adaptable. And as the world kept changing faster and faster certainly in the software domain software developers created this  Agile methodology to build software in a more incremental and iterative way so they could constantly adapt to feedback and changes.

I think that’s a perfect metaphor for what marketing as experiencing today. We’ve come from a history in marketing where we thought of the big yearly marketing plan and these very long cycle of marketing campaigns. But in a world where the environment for marketing just changes so rapidly and we have to be able to respond the feedback through social media, marketing really has a great opportunity to incorporate more iterative and incremental management in its operations as well.

Bryon:                                                   Marketing has done a lot of guess work in the last 10 years; let’s be honest, right. We can’t predict what’s going to go viral or what’s going to get shared, passed around all the time. We are learning how to reverse engineer things but let’s face it we want to surprise. If we are going to get excited about something we don’t want a repeat of something we’ve already seen so even reverse engineering has its limitations. How do you build a marketing program really not knowing what’s going to work and not work when it really comes down to the element of creativity and surprise?

Scott:                                                    Well, for most companies, the good news is they don’t start entirely from scratch. When you are a startup you have your own set of challenges in how you approach that. But if you’re an existing company that’s looking at how you adapt to this new environment the good news usually is there are probably a set of things that are working for you today and you don’t have to throw those out you can absolutely continue to operate them. What I think is key is to recognize because things change so rapidly. You really do want to allocate a percentage of your budget, a percentage of your resources, really time investment as much as anything as doing a lot of small experiments on the edge with very much the idea that a lot of those experiments won’t pan out. That’s where the nature of that exploratory approach to innovation. But by investing even just small amounts in those exploratory efforts, as you find winners you will be finding the candidates for new marketing tactics, new marketing approaches that can eventually scale up and become part of your core as well.

Bryon:                                                   Scott can you give us an example of some hacks from your book that we can put to work fast, like now, after this podcast.

Scott:                                                    Actually most of the book is really more about how do you change marketing management. It’s not just a particular hack. But really how do you build that capability for continuous innovations into the organization itself. Probably not a five minute hack I can give you, sorry.

Bryon:                                                   Oh no, I’m going to push you on this. Even how we run meetings or how we think about marketing or how we think the wrong way about solving problems. Look at Agile, just looking at sprint versus just a bunch of task lists that are in a series. Certainly there is some takeaways, I’m certain that you can surface on that it will help us think differently.

Scott:                                                    Sure. I think one of the things, taking from Agile that is in some ways the easiest thing to explain and the hardest to actually to put into practice, but there is no technical reason why you couldn’t put it into practice immediately after this, listening to this is--

Bryon:                                                   All right.

Scott:                                                    Agile is driven by having a prioritized; emphasis on the word prioritized back long, of what the team is going to be working on. The beautiful thing about Agile is that it’s iterative, you can adjust those priorities as you go through cycles and get feedback from the market. But at any given point in time, everyone on the team can look at that board and see, this is the relative priority of this task. The problem is for marketing, right, particularly as we’ve had this explosion of touch points and all kinds of channels and activities we’re now responsible for, is for most marketers these things aren’t very well prioritized. There are sort of thrown in a large heap of, “Yeah. This is all stuff you should get done.” There is not enough hours in the day to get it all done and what gets done and with what quality can actually have a pretty high variance in it. If you can get the discipline to get your entire team to say, “Hey, let’s actually… Let’s rank things. I know it’s going to be hard but let’s just rank these.” The clarity that can give to the strategic investment and what you’re working on, phenomenal.

Bryon                                                    How important is leadership when it comes to Agile? Is it all about the methodology or do you need really strong decisive leaders that can really move small mountains with their charismatic ways when it comes to Agile, crack whips when you need to and make the team understand that the whole is greater than the individual parts if you will?  Talk with us about leadership and Agile because I’ve always been confused about that. It seems such a team sport approach. How important is leadership in your mind?

Scott:                                                    It’s an interesting balance between those two things because when it comes to actually executing the work, the Agile approach advocates giving a lot of responsibility to the team themselves, that they can decide exactly how they are going to get it done, how much they can get it done in a particular sprint, how they work together as a team to execute that. They are given a lot of freedom to optimize what works for them. But that being said, it requires two really strong contributions from leadership. First that hack, if you will we were just talking about, right, the prioritization. The decision of what is important for this team to work on, in what order. That is where leadership needs to offer its clarity and in the absence of that you get a whole bunch of sounding theories signifying nothing.

I think the other thing that leadership can be incredibly important for in Agile is the mechanics of Agile. The methodology of Agile is actually really pretty simple and straight forward. What either makes it thrive or fail is a lot about the actual culture, the spirit of embracing how we are going to approach that iterative feedback loop, that transparency of what people are working on, that transparency and prioritization of what’s most important. Those are for a lot of organizations pretty significant philosophical shifts in how they are run a team and if leadership doesn’t buy into it, it really doesn’t matter how much you go through the exercise of the methodology.

Bryon:                                                   Have seen performance and bonuses tie to Agile with KPI measurement in an effective efficient way? Is that becoming more prominent and popular?

Scott:                                                    Yes, but not so much for the activity of the Agile methodology. But really it’s seems to work best when performance bonuses, performance reviews are based on what they should be which is basically the outcome. That Agile should be looked at as a mechanism for facilitating better outcomes but sort of measuring things like, how many tasks did the team get done in a particular sprint, sort of vanity metrics.

Bryon:                                                   I just went through an exercise at my own company that I wanted to ask you about. We had a consultant who came in and sort of followed the methodology from a great book called Traction, to help align individual goals with department goals with overall company goals here at WriterAccess. It was a really cool exercise. We took about three months; we did at the end of Q2, Q4 sorry. What are your thoughts? Can you imagine…? Does Agile work for that type of methodology of having multiple tiers of goals, would something like that sit, I wonder?

Scott:                                                    Sure. Agile is definitely one of those approaches to getting things done that tends to be very compatible with many other systems of management that can be complementary to it. Again, if you think of the heart of Agile as that sort of iterative approach to sprint where the teams have a lot of control over the sprint execution and there is a lot of transparency in that process, that’s great at that level. But there’s levels above that of, okay. How are we working collectively to adjust the strategic vision that’s guiding those priorities and what’s the right way to be able to incorporate the feedback from those frontline teams to get that up into the decision making process of how we are going to adjust our margins strategy. Then  there are many different approaches that people are taking to that but I think you can certainly look at other strategic management methodologies as a way to get that alignment that are not incompatible with Agile.

Bryon:                                                   Can you imagine running your business without Agile practice and then the second follow up is do you think Agile will really become the dominant method by which we organize our troops and drive our revenue?

Scott:                                                    I think in broad strokes Agile will be the de facto way in which organizations and teams are managed in every aspect of a company.  The caveat to that is again the spirit of Agile, the philosophy of Agile, the thing of empowering the people who are doing the work, really constructing a mechanism to allow priorities to adjust in a very deliberate way to feedback; those are the things that are really important. How you implement them. The official Agile methodology, something like Scrum, it’s certainly one way to do that but we see lots of companies that improvise their own very ancients. One of the things I advocate in the book is assuring marketing managers that they should feel free to experiment, that it isn’t about strictly following a methodology. It’s about finding a cadence for operating in this world of constant change that works for your particular organization.

Bryon:                                                   So eloquent. Thank you, Scott for your time today; really great chatting with you.

Scott:                                                    Thank you Bryon.

Bryon:                                                    I wanted to just ask the book is out now it’s out just in March, so congratulations on that. Is it available everywhere and are you doing a worldwide sweep of your book? Tell us a little bit about your marketing plans.

Scott:                                                    Sure. It is available certainly on major channels like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. We’re going to figure out if I can take copies of the book to small islands in the South Pacific. It’d be an incredibly exciting way to do marketing for this book. But I keep a pretty rigorous speaking schedule. You know it’s my blog, chiefmarttec.com and just always happy to engage with people on this subject. It’s a fun time to be in marketing and marketing management.

Bryon:                                                   Who would you like to hear from and how can they get a hold of you, Scott?     

Scott:                                                    Wow, I would be open to hearing from anyone who would like to have the dialogue around how do you adapt a marketing organization to take advantage of this new software driven environment instead of struggling with it, turn it basically, as they say in the software world, from a bug to a feature. Probably the best way to reach me is through my blog. You can email me sbrinker@chiefmartec without the H at the end; chiefmartec.com.

Bryon:                                                   Great stuff today, Scott. Thanks for being with us.

Scott:                                                    Thank you.

Bryon:                                                   Right on. Thanks you for joining everyone. We’ll see you next week. Thanks again.