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The Quandary of New and Better

  |  November 19, 2010   |  Comments

Five ways to manage marketing risks and nine ways to make the right changes - and staying on top of your game.

Every time I turn around there is something new and better on the horizon in digital marketing - new hardware, new software, new tools, new channels, new targeting opportunities, new tracking capabilities, new providers, new pricing models, new ad units, new everything. If consumers are overwhelmed by choice in this fast moving marketplace then marketers are doubly so.

Consumers adopt along a well-documented bell curve, while smart marketers watch and follow that consumer curve. In our current environment, there are many overlapping curves to watch, and placing your bets on which ones have staying power or will achieve the uniqueness or scale that makes them attractive to marketers is extraordinarily difficult - and risky.

The risk to marketers in all this change takes many forms. Jump too fast to trial a new offering, channel, or approach and you may get ahead of the consumer adoption and have inconsequential or too highly segmented, early adopter-only participation. Wait too long, however, and you might lose the opportunity to stand out or capture incremental value. Of course, all things in marketing being relative, your risk and potential reward depend on your business goals, competitive environment, and target audience demographics. Groundbreaking ideas, whether in a category, in the industry, or even just within your own organization may bring some advantages but it also introduces uncertainties.

How to manage marketing risks:

  • Work with proven providers. As trusted partners roll out new offerings you can quiz them on the readiness of those offerings and even perhaps participate in beta trials.
  • Don't bet the farm. When trying a new approach or effort make it part of your test budget first with rigorous metrics for success.
  • Set expectations. If you don't know what the impact will be - say so. Inventive marketing requires some stomach for the unknown.
  • Watch progress closely. Build in out-clauses and other stop measures that may limit the bleeding on something that isn't working, but make sure you have the appropriate metrics tracked and have allowed enough time to truly assess results. Look outside of expected results to see if there are unintended impacts either positive or negative from your new efforts.
  • Make sure you are doing it for the right reason. If this risk doesn't have an associated and large enough potential reward, then reconsider.

The internal, operations side of the business is a whole different set of risks. New tools and other first-time efforts exact a hefty toll in training and trialing, whether for an agency or for a corporate marketing department. Processes all down the line may be impacted by a seemingly minor change. Multiply that across all the tools and relationships that have the potential for regular change and you may induce staff fatigue around a constant state of transition.

If you swap out key partners, processes, or tools too often within your organization you risk never really maximizing your expertise in an area. It simply takes time to learn to excel at our complex tasks. On the other hand, if you don't keep current with the latest tools, knowledge, tactics, and opportunities on behalf of your clients or brands you will be obsolete quickly. So how do you make the right changes, offering enough stasis and stability to your practice to support excellence while staying on top of your game?

  • Evaluate whether the incremental benefits offered by the change make the investment worthwhile. Include a time frame, if you can, in which you are likely to be able to benefit from the transfer.
  • Don't be swayed by emotion or competitive pressure. Do an objective evaluation of the features, functionality, costs, and benefits as they relate to your specific situation. Use an outside consultant to help you make the go/no go decision if you can't detach from the emotion.
  • Reach out to your networks for feedback.
  • Bring the teams impacted by the proposed change into the conversation. Assess how attached they are to their current state of affairs and if they are likely to resist or embrace adoption efforts.
  • Designate a leader for the change process and have them develop a transition plan with associated costs and timetables and report back on them regularly. Track training and adoption time in a separate category from other work so you can really see the cost.
  • In early change state, consider creating at least one super user who is responsible for training internally and assumes an overseer role to limit errors.
  • Learn to look at the ripples created by change efforts across an organization and prioritize how many you will attempt in any one time period even if they are not directly related. Err on the side of caution. Better to successfully navigate fewer evolutions then to suffer from taking on too much at once.
  • Don't necessarily consider it an either/or situation. You may be able to add incremental capabilities or tool sets and still keep the old for a time period if that does not multiply costs unacceptably. That way you can trial something first with a subset of staff or projects/clients and spread out some of the learning time and the risk.
  • Don't be afraid to change course in the middle. If it truly doesn't feel right for your team, is not as promised, is overly taxing on the organization, or more costly then you anticipated don't wed yourself to a disaster. Allow yourself the option to reconsider or postpone.

In the end, "better" is often a very subjective term that needs to be weighed against your organization's mission and business goals, and carefully balanced with your ability to execute. In this age of newer and better we can easily get caught in a hamster wheel of perpetual change. It is a rare and valuable skill to be able to separate the new and better from the just new.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robin Neifield

Robin is the CEO and cofounder of NetPlus Marketing Inc., a top 50 interactive agency established in 1996 to focus exclusively on online marketing and advertising best practices. Robin brings innovative strategy and a depth and breadth of marketing experience to the agency's practice and management. As one of the industry's pioneers, she is a driving force behind NetPlus Marketing's ongoing success with a diverse and discerning client base that considers online results critical to their business success.

Robin is a frequent speaker at national industry events, including ClickZ, internet.com, OMMA, Ad:Tech, SES, Online Marketing Summit, and Thunder Lizard conferences and is a sought-after resource for industry and business publications for her insight and advice on such topics as digital strategy, social media marketing, and behavioral targeting.

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