In June of 2015, I wrote about the Distracted Consumer with their heads buried in smartphones and attention spans decreasing from 12 to 8 seconds in just 15 years. It occurred to me that marketers, subject to the same rush of options, information and environmental forces, are highly distracted also, and may not be focusing enough to get real value out of the solutions they buy and attempt to implement.
As a consultant for years, my DNA is wired to help solve problems and find ways for clients to streamline and improve their marketing efforts, ultimately improving customer experience for their clients.
Stick with me (proving you can outlast the attention span of a goldfish) as we explore 5 areas of distraction that can derail you from sustained improvement, and consider ways to combat those:
- The explosion of options and the sea of information regarding technologies & practical applications, much of it contradictory, hyped up, biased, and confusing, makes it difficult to find and focus on the right technology platform.
- The amount of data available can be overwhelming and lead you down countless dead ends. Big data, little data, slow data, fast data. Its data galore and finding the right data and putting it to use in a timely fashion before it decays into worthless bits can be challenging, costly, and elusive.
- The disruptive organizational environment. Matrix management and average tenure in jobs less than 3 years means instability in teams, long term planning, and accountability. Disruptive isn’t always an adjective to be proud of.
- The death of critical thinking trumped by speed over quality.
- Agile as a crutch to why people drop everything to work on the new thing when often the newest thing isn’t always the most important thing, or the thing leading to highest impact & value.
So many choices
Let’s face it. It’s great to have choices. It allows us to discriminate as consumers on features, quality and price, and push our suppliers to compete and innovate. Marketing technology is certainly no exception. Chiefmartec.com catalogs nearly 4000 companies supplying a variety of technology to the marketing function. Yet picking solutions is very different than walking down a cereal aisle and deciding on your next breakfast. More akin to a pharmacist that needs to understand the interactions when mixing medications, a marketer needs to understand how these technologies will (or won’t) interact to produce a productive overall solution.
Before you pick a technology stack, explore examples where other firms have successfully deployed a solution with various vendors “stacked” together. Ask yourself if they received the value and within the budget and timing they expected. Once you pick one, be patient (within reason) and give your user community a chance to adjust to it, and adopt its full potential before you jettison it for shiny new parts. Find a core linchpin vendor, and build around that firm and its technology, making sure that company is stable, innovative, and invests reasonably in its products versus its exit strategy or next acquisition.
I’m drowning in a big data lake
Have you ever started searching the internet for something and 30 minutes later find yourself reading an article that has absolutely nothing to do with what your initial pursuit? Sales & marketing data trails are no different. With a remarkable amount of data, often linked together with drill downs, report hyperlinks, summary and details tabs – you can quickly get lost in a maze of data.
Marketers need new discipline and training to navigate data and discern bad data from good data. Before embarking on data exploration, it helps to have a hypothesis in mind, and then set out on a path to prove or disprove it. Use caution and judgement to verify data resources, tossing out dubious sources.
Stick with some core tools that enable you to navigate, slice & dice, fuse, and distill data. Learn some deep features and exercise your proficiently with them, just as you regularly exercise different muscles to stay in shape. Spreadsheets, like tools in a plumber’s toolbox, haven’t changed that much in 20 years and in many cases work just fine.
These days, we’ve been disrupted by much more than travel and leisure start-ups. The workplace culture is one that breeds and seems to reward attention deficit disorder and interruptions. There is actually a premium put on impulsive behavior, hatched by a technology crazed society that fears they may become outdated and obsolete thinkers because they have been offline for more than 15 minutes.
Interruptions abound in our lives. It’s what’s killing our attention span. But to be a happy and productive marketer, you need to find your quite place and time. I find it early in the morning. My brain is fresh, my associative thinking runs freely, and I have some time to plan ahead and some control over the interruptions, which later in the day become harder to ignore. I use this time to plot out longer term efforts, take stock in what I’ve accomplished and what’s in flight, and then factor that all together to adjust priorities in tune with my long term objectives.
Find your happy place and time, and use it to get deeper into a subject, a skill, or to perform some research that otherwise invariably falls victim to death by fragmentation. Avoid forcing something out prematurely if it hasn’t been subject to testing or vetting commensurate with the expectations of its audience. Use your practical judgement to tradeoff the benefits of a rush job with the consequences of shoddy work. Justify the time needed to question, fact check and sustain deep analysis. The world still needs a healthy dose of this from those willing to buck the new world disorder.
The need for speed – the death of the deliberator
I’m not suggesting speed is always bad. If you can crank something out with “good enough” quality, and you beat your competition to market, you gain a first mover advantage. That said, it’s easy to see the deterioration of product, service and content depth and quality, as massive quantities are pushed out at breakneck speeds by dubious producers and publishers – or simply regurgitated into the echo chamber of the digital world.
Yes, it’s the golden age of the individual, where anyone gets a platform to be an author and self-proclaimed subject matter expert. Yet alone, that doesn’t make the ideas worthwhile or the end product immune to scrutiny. Take the necessary time to question things, double check them, and dig deeper to find something unusual or interesting as you probe into that next layer of analysis that can lead to real insights.
Hand me my agile crutch please
Agility is critical during a performance, when things don’t go according to plan, or as a marketer when you are:
- Responding to seismic market forces
- Using it to quickly test and learn and refine new ideas.
Don’t let it, however, becomes a crutch for failing to plan, concentrate, and see tasks through. Form a hypothesis or formulate a project plan, plot a path, and stick with it unless you encounter an actual example of a major market force that should be factored in. I’m sorry, but these disruptions don’t happen every day, although rhetoric would suggest otherwise.
Agility works best when it’s backed up with a thoughtful game plan. The game plan forms the blueprint and guardrails you operate within. The tactics you employ to achieve your goals should be flexible as you tactically maneuver once the action begins. If you alter your course in ways that have no connection to your overall strategic plan, the clamor from these random adjustments will be the noise prior to failure.
Instead, use the agile approach as a methodology to execute on a grand plan & mission – with the difference being that you are simply releasing, communicating, and adding value to your constituents on a more frequent basis during the full length of your overall master effort.