The heady days of 1998 and 1999 allowed many to fall into slipshod marketing practices. But current conditions call for a very different approach.
Now that the dot-com crash has exploded the myth of Internet time, it's a good opportunity to look back on one of the most dangerous practices that arose during the bubble: taking shortcuts to get big fast. This practice was exceptionally dangerous for marketers.
Though it is true that the Internet has increased the velocity of business, far too many people used it as an excuse to take shortcuts.
Shortcut 1: In the old economy, you built a brand over time, by delighting your customers. In the new economy, you built your brand by spending $100 million on television advertising, paying customers to use your product, and presenting an initial public offering to increase your "buzz."
Shortcut 2: In the old economy, you built your company organically, by hiring good people. In the new economy, you built your company virtually, by hiring Scient, Viant, Sapient, or somebody else with a cool "-ient" name and by making offers to anyone with a pulse.
Shortcut 3: In the old economy, you learned about marketing and business by working for a successful company, such as Procter & Gamble or Clorox, and struck out on your own when you had accumulated experience. In the new economy, you dropped out of school/business school/McKinsey and started your company right away, since your "paradigm-breaking" ideas rendered old-fashioned experience useless.
Unfortunately, though the idea of these shortcuts is appealing -- who doesn't want to get rich quick with no effort? -- they led their proponents off the proverbial cliff.
I advise you to pick up a copy of "The Mythical Man-Month," quite possibly the greatest book ever written about the software development process. In it, Fred Brooks describes how taking shortcuts in complex, interdependent endeavors such as software development inevitably leads to a trail of tears.
Although Brooks wrote his book for software development managers, marketers should also heed its lessons.
Taking shortcuts in the development process leads to what he calls "spaghetti" code: disorganized, nonreplicative, and unmaintainable. And when you've made that mistake, no amount of money or resources will correct it.
Sound familiar? The same holds true for marketers. If your marketing efforts aren't carefully planned and documented, they'll also be disorganized and unscalable. Moreover, one famous Brooks saying is that the surest way to delay a project is to add more people to it. Ever experienced that yourself?
The shortcuts taken during the Internet boom led to spaghetti companies, and now we're all paying the price for the few lucky ones who got liquid and got out before the music stopped.
Those shortcuts also led many of us to practice spaghetti marketing -- I, too, am guilty as charged. During those heady days of 1999 and 2000, I launched half-baked campaigns and hired PR firms without establishing and sticking to a well-thought-out plan. And I paid the price. My company came close to perishing when the downturn came.
I've reformed, however, and I'm here to tell you that "The Mythical Man-Month" also offers marketers a recipe for success.
The key to success is discipline: planning carefully, executing systematically, and documenting thoroughly. In other words, doing things the old-fashioned way.
It means resisting the temptation to fake it (and it can be tempting -- after all, most of us are successful because our quick thinking and silver tongues allowed us to talk our way out of trouble, in school and in the business world). And it means staying an extra hour at the office to plan an agenda for our next meeting or our next campaign.
So the next time you consider taking a shortcut, remember: Becoming a spaghetti marketer is a good way to let your competitors eat you for lunch.
Chris and his work have been featured in Fortune, the Financial Times, and the New York Times. He earned his MBA from Harvard Business School.
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