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Frictionless Business, There's the Rub

  |  June 7, 2013   |  Comments

Identifying the right places for friction and removing it elsewhere is the difference between sparking a fire and slowing all progress to a halt.

It was Shakespeare's Hamlet who once opined that the barrier to his own suicide was tied to death delivering him into sleep where his own dreams might be his salvation; thus, creating "the rub" whereby his easy out became a difficult destination.

In the media business, many an idea or opportunity has died the death of barriers and limits. Great creative, the most strategic of media plans, and even brilliant products themselves have all met their maker because the resistance (or friction) was simply too much to endure.

In this business and also in life, in general, friction is the enemy. It slows us down as marketers and consumers. It gives us a reason to stop forward progress and/or look for an alternate path. In a marketing sense, the friction we must avoid comes in many forms, including the three described below.

Consumer Friction

Show me a man with time on his hands and I'll show you a man who just hit the Powerball lottery. Short of that it seems no one, regardless of walk of life, ever has enough time. Consumers in the current age of digital want value and access, but above all else they want solutions that give them what they lack most - time. For brands to truly become trusted solutions and resources, the equation has changed. Low, low prices will only go so far. Now, brands have to think about their marketing as utility delivering value to consumers. Social media as customer service extension/replacement and apps/in-store technological support as information support are good starts. With the rise of "content newsrooms," brands are suddenly finding themselves in a position where what they choose to say must be rooted in the value it can provide to their current and would-be customers. To do this, the mindset shift requires that brands think in terms of providing solutions to problems, removing the friction of education, and purchasing to create new evangelists who see the brand as solution provider rather than just a product producer.

Procedural Friction

There are more than 47,000 miles of interstate highways in the U.S. The construction of this paved network has been called the largest public works project known to man since the pyramids were constructed, and it was done for the low, low price of $425 billion. For anyone who will take to one of these roads for vacation this summer, you will gain the firsthand understanding that the network is always under repair. But "Construction Ahead" signs are not just reserved for the highway. In fact, there are probably more of them inside agencies and media companies than one could count. The fact is, as devices evolve and emerge, consumer usage changes and new platforms are created to target these shifts. As such, an entirely new infrastructure is required. Tech stack strategies (buy, build, partner) have become a key consideration that will only grow in importance. Ultimately, the reduction in manpower spent collecting and processing data to inform more intelligent buying and give order to the chaos will create a network that more closely resembles the yellow brick road than the broken cobblestones it does at present.

Organizational Friction

Ask 10 marketers the biggest challenge to their business and, while you are likely to get 10 answers, in each of the responses will be some form of a desire to become more agile as a brand. The next big idea is tantalizingly close for many, and what is stopping them is not the idea itself, but the execution. Organizations built sturdy internal groups, derided now as silos, to execute specific tasks such as marketing, IT, and finance, and while they work well in isolation, they have been measured and recognized for that very behavior over the collective impact. Now, both brands and agencies are shifting the thinking to structures that utilize words like holistic and integrated. The thinking being that with alignment comes cohesion and productivity. The approach also removes friction of conflicting agendas and reporting lines into a singularly-focused organization. Apple, for example, has one P&L for the entire organization.

Friction is force resisting the relative motion of solid surfaces, fluid layers, and material elements sliding against each other. It is not, even by definition, a negative. But, in the business context, when opposing sides weight against each other with great effort it can be a barrier. And therein lies the rub. Friction can be incredibly productive to create energy and advance causes, and yet it is often the limitation of progress. Identifying the right places for friction and removing it elsewhere is the difference between sparking a fire and slowing all progress to a halt.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.



Chris Copeland

Chris Copeland is chief executive officer of GroupM Next.

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