Though there are many, these are three of the most poisonous faux pas to the development of your team, your organization, and your own personal growth. Whether you want to admit it or not, these are things that we’ve all been guilty of at one point or another – myself included.
1. Doing Too Much, and Thinking Too Little
On a given business day, most modern marketers have more on their plates than a pothead on Thanksgiving Day, for their first meal after an autumn-long liquid-only diet. Seriously though, we marketers are busy. Our to-do lists grow longer and faster day after day. Thanks to constant explosions in technology over the last decade, the number of ways in which marketing organizations can deliver value to a business continue to multiply, and with them our responsibilities – things we weren’t capable of yesterday are suddenly the things that will be expected of us tomorrow and every day after.
It comes with the territory. As a result, we can often find ourselves dedicating mammoth amounts of our time trying to scratch our way down perpetually growing lists of tasks with reckless abandon.
The problem is, when your primary focus is getting to the bottom of a bottomless legal pad of to-dos, you suddenly spend more and more of your time executing things that “need to be done,” and increasingly less time thinking about what it is that you’re actually doing. Rather than coming up with new ways of doing your work, you tend to reproduce sequels and parodies of work that has “worked well in the past.” Instead of developing fresh, new ideas that your team has never tried, you become a life support mechanism for aging ideas that your bosses assure you are “tried and true.”
Of course, the things that have worked well in the past have worked well for a reason, and your bosses more than likely have very good reasons as to why you should repeat them in this fashion. The point is not to always be reinventing the wheel, rather to make sure we are reserving enough time and energy for optimizing and breathing life into our respective wheels to avoid diminishing returns over time.
As a rule of thumb, try sticking to the old, faithful 80-20 rule. For every 80 minutes of time you spend executing initiatives in a given day, you should spend at least 20 minutes thinking, planning, studying and imagining them.
2. Looking From the Inside-Out
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods and says “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” The two young fish swim on for a bit, and eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
–David Foster Wallace
Much like the fish story from the opening lines of David Foster Wallace’s famous commencement speech, marketers waste an awful lot of time doing and thinking about things without really considering the realities of the world that exists around them. Even for professionals in an industry founded on the very principle, it’s impossible to think outside-the-box until you come to the realization that you’re in one. One very common mistake is the tendency to act on impulses derived from an insider’s perspective, without ever even acknowledging how this might look to those standing outside our fishbowl deciding whether or not they should feed us.
Here are a couple examples of ways in which Marketers can be blinded by such inside-out POVs. Call it food for thought…
Marketer’s POV > Customer’s POV – We have many friends in this industry whose customers also happen to be marketers. Of course, there is nothing even remotely wrong or any less respectable about that. But for the rest of us charged with marketing to software developers, or substitute teachers, or redheaded only-children from New Zealand named either Jeremy or Sebastian III, a marketer marketing a SaaS application to another marketer can seem a little like the equivalent of a foot marketing a comfy slipper to another foot: “Oh, wow, this feels nice, I like this…I’m sure you’ll agree.”
I bring this up not to step on any toes (especially not those of someone wearing slippers) but to make a very specific point. Even marketers that, one would think, have a distinct advantage in tapping into the psyche of their target audience (i.e. marketers marketing to other marketers), even they still suffer the same consequences as the rest of us who make the foolish mistake of putting our own POV before that of our customers.
- Will the things an entry-level social media manager cares about matter to a CMO?
- Will the concerns of a marketer at a Fortune 500 company in Texas match those of one at a start-up in Cambridge?
- Will Inbound marketing best practices resonate for someone who’s marketing organization focuses on tradeshows and direct mail?
In most cases no, in some cases yes, but if you lead with the assumption of yes, you are missing the mark a majority of time.
For those of us not pedaling comfy slippers to other like-minded feet, the challenge is that much greater. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what you think or like, it only matters what your customers think or like… and want… and need… and perhaps most importantly, what they DON’T. If you don’t walk a mile in your customers’ slippers and start seeing things from their perspective, you’ll end up walking a lonely road—marketing to yourself, and ultimately, shooting yourself in the foot.
Internal POV of Organization > External POV of Industry and Peers – Another way we confine ourselves inside-the-box is by looking solely within our own organization as a source of inspiration. This is not to say that there aren’t a million great ideas to be found within your organization and team – there probably are – just that it should not be the only place you look.
For as long as there have been two marketers alive on this planet at the same time, there have been at least two marketers that shamelessly steal each other’s ideas. The interesting thing is that, in the marketing community, for the most part, idea-stealing is not even really frowned upon. It’s actually kind of culturally accepted. Even encouraged. It’s almost like an unspoken agreement between college roommates who—without the need to lay out specific terms and conditions to grant permissions—implicitly agree that, since my father is a dentist and your grandmother’s Italian, we’re both welcome to meatballs for dinner and Crest before bed. At the end of the day, neither would ever lose any sleep over the fullness of the other’s belly or the sparkle of the other’s smile, but with a little give and take, everybody will be happier tomorrow.
When a Marketer borrows an idea from another marketer, they’re usually just taking the idea and building upon it; using it in a very different way than its creator—at a different company, for a different product, with a different target market and different boss to impress. I’ve stolen many ideas from other marketers thus far in my career, and in every case I can think of, the idea I originally “stole” is almost unrecognizable by the time I’m through molding it, customizing it and adding upon it to fit the unique use case of my organization. I know for a fact that other marketers have stolen my ideas, and I tend to regard them in a similar way I Imagine a carpenter would their hosts, when attending a cocktail party at a house that they themselves built:
“Delighted that you admire my work, love what you’ve done with the place.”
So, it’s not even really stealing. It’s an unwritten license to crowdsource inspiration. Why do we spend the time and money to travel half-way across the country six times a year to attend and present at marketing conferences, when we could just travel twelve feet down the hall and camp-out with colleagues for a few days in the nearest board room? There are many good reasons why incest is illegal in the United States.
3. Shooting From the Hip
“Ready. Fire. Aim.”
Unless you are Doc Holliday played by Val Kilmer in the 90s cult western Tombstone (which is pretty unlikely), shooting from the hip is generally not a good idea. This is especially true for marketers.
Inbound, outbound, eBooks, webinars, case studies, social media, blogs, drip campaigns, lead scoring, reporting, reporting, reporting, events, sales enablement, PPC, SEO and 43 other three-letter abbreviations for marketing terms that end in “ization”—GASP. With so much to do and only 24 hours in a day, it’s no wonder we often end up running around like chickens with our heads cut-off.
Oh, this doesn’t apply to you? You’re the exception? Skype me, look me in the eyes, and tell me you’ve never sat through a Wednesday afternoon meeting with a marketing or sales executive that didn’t result in you clucking your way into a webinar that you instantly regretted committing to. I might even believe you, if you’re a taxidermist. But if you’re a marketer, I’m going to have to call BS.
How many times have you attended an innocent brainstorm or engaged in ad hoc stop-and-chat with a senior colleague on the way to the copy machine that has somehow resulted in your pledge to produce the next “viral video” attempt that you will now need to toil over for the next three weeks in order to produce a minimum of 47 views?
“Sure, Bob! I’ve seen the fox video, we can definitely put together a time-management themed spin-off called “What the Clocks Say” for that grumpy channel partner of yours. No problem, when do you need it by? Next Thursday? You got it!”
Perhaps this in an extreme example, perhaps not. The point is, the more we nod our heads to every proposed initiative that meanders across someone’s mind and pops up in conversation (regardless of the source, relevance to key objectives, and our ability to execute in parallel with countless other more important priorities) the more we are sacrificing precision in favor of speed. Just like a gunslinger who fires right out of the holster, trigger-happy marketers that prioritize quickness over accuracy might get their shots off faster, and more frequently, but have far less a chance of hitting the target.
One of the most common critical mistakes we make as marketers is allowing ourselves to be reactive – forgetting to measure twice before we cut. We sin by repeatedly succumbing to the devil-on-the-shoulder temptation to please people by saying “yes,” while ignoring and failing to worship the rational, reasonable angel-on-the-shoulder voice of our marketing conscious, who, despite our laps of infidelity, diligently reminds us over-and-over of our invaluable ability to say “no.”
This tendency is a dangerous and lethal culprit for wasting time and efficiency. If I were sheriff, every marketing organization in the world would have at least one door with a poster tacked to it reading: “Shooting from the hip: WANTED for killing marketing ROI. Reward: Much better marketing ROI.”
In this post I wanted to focus mainly on drawing your attention to the mistakes. Check back for my next post, where I’ll discuss some ideas, techniques and action items that you and your team can use to combat these nasty Marketing ROI-killers.