Survival of the (Marketing) Fittest

Survival of the (Marketing) Fittest

Inherent dynamic forces allow only the fittest persons or organizations to prosper in a competitive environment or situation – Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of “Economic Darwinism”

Recognizing the sea change in marketing and sales brought about by new digital channels, McKinsey & Company recently coined the term “Digital Darwinism” in relation to today’s marketing free-for-all. Digital Darwinism is described as the developing gap between brands with the strongest abilities to adapt to the changing digital landscape vs. those that are slow to change.  Today, we are in a dynamic marketing environment highlighted by dramatic shifts in how buyers respond to marketing messages.

Within this environment, the buyer wields more power than ever before while influencing these buyers is increasingly difficult. This is not a buyer entering a showroom, with a salesperson by their side to tell them what’s important and what to ignore, to help shape their opinions and buying criteria. The buyer is  gathering information on their own from these varied sources, before the seller even knows the buyer is in the market for the product or service they sell. Once the buyer raises their hand as a prospect and is ready to purchase, that buyer has already decided what features and factors are important to them, and the seller has an enormous uphill battle to change their opinion or create any preference for their own brand.

So what is a marketer to do? In this new, competitive marketing landscape, doing things in the same old way is a recipe for extinction. Many companies find themselves pouring money into digital “point” solutions, one-by-one, and seeing those solutions achieve some measure of success only to quickly plateau or, worse, begin a steady and expensive decline. They are constantly chasing the next revenue bump, whether it be in SEO, email marketing, social media, video, and on and on. This treadmill has claimed many a skilled and seasoned marketing professional.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin

You can have the most money or the most talented team, but if you’re not able to bring it all together in a way that internalizes and institutionalizes the reaction to change, you will have a limited runway of success. Responsiveness requires the understanding and willingness to recognize the changing environment and develop a comprehensive, coordinated reaction. In this shifting landscape, it takes equal parts Marketing Strategy and Marketing Operations to create a real, unstoppable beast of a marketing organization.

Marketing Strategy involves a deep understanding of the customer and their motivations. Remember, you’re no longer sidling up at the buyer’s elbow, elucidating on the many benefits your product or service offers. You need to get into the customer’s head and understand why they specifically need your product and be able to communicate that from a distance, with messages that make them think and help to shape an undeniable preference for your brand. You have to know where that customer will go to get their info, through what sources and what channels, and make sure you have a coordinated approach to reinforce your message at every turn. And you need to design the customer experience to be something that moves the customer to action.

That’s where Marketing Operations comes in. Strategy without deft Operational expertise can work to a degree, and for a certain amount of time, but when the ground begins to shift or new competitive forces come into play, that Strategy will take a hit. And by the time you realize what has happened, you’ve lost significant traction trying to recover and, ultimately, are left struggling to come up with a new strategy while your competitors lurch ahead. When the world around you is in constant motion, it can seem like you are in a perpetual game of catch-up.

Luckily, digital marketing allows for greatly reduced feedback loops and adaptive approaches that evolve with this constantly shifting environment. Marketing Operations makes it all possible. In fact, again according to McKinsey & Company, well-run Marketing Operations can “provide a 15 to 25% improvement in marketing effectiveness, as measured by return on investment and customer-engagement metrics.” [1]

The central components of effective Marketing Operations are:

  1. Marketing Technology & Infrastructure required to get the messages in the right places at the right time;
  2. Customer Insights to analyze and make meaning of customer behavior;
  3. Customer Experience to encourage and lead the customer through the buying process;
  4. KPIs and Measurement to continually track and adapt; and
  5. Governance & Process to share data and manage capabilities. [1]

When Marketing Strategy and Marketing Operations are taken together, Operations not only provide the “pipes” to get the message out, it transforms Strategy from an annual planning session into a living, breathing and, dare I say it, evolving activity. A coordinated Marketing Strategy + Operations approach provides not only a means for maximizing your marketing spend and dramatically improving efficiencies, but it creates a significant barrier for the competition. Because finding and training the talent, building the systems, and developing and maintaining this type of approach from scratch is extremely difficult. However, for those that do, the benefits are not just survival, but the foundation for enduring success.

[1]  How Digital Marketing Operations Can Transform Business, David Edelman and Jason Heller, McKinsey & Company, July 2015

Picture of Jack Macy
Jack Macy
Jack Macy is one of the co-founders of CSTMR. His background and experience span branding, marketing strategy, design, UX, and technical development across financial services, technology, healthcare, and nonprofits.

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