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Book Review: 5 Takeaways From Scott Brinker’s Hacking Marketing + Bonus Author Interview

Posted on Apr 13th, 2016
Written by TopRank Marketing
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  • Book Review: 5 Takeaways From Scott Brinker’s Hacking Marketing + Bonus Author Interview
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    Digital marketing is a very competitive race. The team that is nimble, creative and working smarter will almost always win and keep the business in the end.

    Many tools and processes have surfaced over the years that can help marketers improve their efficiency and deliverables. However, there are still many antiquated processes that still exist that may be hindering success.

    Scott Brinker’s new book Hacking Marketing: Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster and More Innovative takes a much needed look at the areas of marketing that are broken and ways that they can be fixed.

    In the time that TopRank Marketing has been following an agile approach to marketing, we’ve seen amazing benefits in our ability to deliver more impactful digital marketing strategies within a much shorter timeframe to deliver results and delight our clients. This book is for anyone that is considering the idea of an agile approach, has already started the process or just wants to learn more about what it is.

    Below you’ll find what I considered to be some of the top takeaways as well as an interview with the author where he digs even deeper into some of the core concepts discussed in the book.

    5 Takeaways From Hacking Marketing

    #1 – The Concept of Digital Dynamics

    “We want management methods that can leverage digital dynamics, rather than struggle against them.”

    In his book, Scott describes what he calls Digital Dynamics. The five characteristics that are part of a digital world that make up these dynamics include:

    1. Speed
    2. Adaptability
    3. Adjacency
    4. Scale
    5. Precision

    The struggle that many marketers are facing is trying to harness the power of these features with management practices that were created prior to the digital world we live in today.

    #2 – The Correlation Between Marketing & Software

    “Everything digital is controlled by software.”

    Many of us may still think of software as programs that we download to our desktops or smartphones. However, the applications and websites that we use everyday as well as the cars we drive are typically made up of many software programs working together.

    While we may think of our digital marketing activities as being direct to our consumers through email or social media, they are still passing through software to reach their destination. These softwares have a significant impact on the success of your business because the fact of the matter is, they write the rules.

    #3 – Why Marketers Need to Adapt an Agile Approach

    “Rethinking the way we manage marketing, to make it more responsive in this new environment, can have a significant impact on the agility of our business.”

    Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely heard of more and more companies adopting an agile approach to their business. This allows companies to rid themselves of antiquated processes that slow them down and reduce effectiveness.

    The agile approach was recently developed by software professionals but has become largely adapted by marketing departments across the globe. However, marketers quickly found that not all of the elements of agile for software companies fit the mold for marketing.

    Scott began working on an agile marketing manifesto and suggested that the values that should be focused on for this use case should include:

    • Numerous small experiments over a few large bets.
    • Testing and data over opinions and conventions.
    • Intimate customer tribes over impersonal mass markets.
    • Engagement and transparency over official posturing.

    #4 – How to Change the Way That Marketing Operates

    “To acclimate ourselves to the speed of a digital world, we must accelerate the tempo at which marketing operates.”

    In order to become more effective, it requires that marketers improve efficiency. But creating a sustainable approach that doesn’t wear out your staff can be a tricky thing to do. Creating a more successful approach is less about the speed at which you do it, and more about ensuring that your team can adapt quickly and focus on the right activities and outcomes.

    The traditional waterfall timelines that many marketers follow can stunt effectiveness because the amount of time invested does not always improve results. An agile approach however focuses on launching sprints which are short (one week to one month) projects to show more immediate results.

    #5 – How to Prevent Marketing Chaos

    “Short loops of incremental and iterative work, with built-in checkpoints for feedback and adaptation, are the engine of agile management.”

    A large part of the early phases of agile marketing require teams to be experimental. Based on what they’re marketing, who they’re marketing to and the makeup of their teams will all help determine how best to approach this new way of marketing.

    When you throw the waterfall timelines out the window and instead focus on the small incremental sprints, you may find that there is a lot more happening at one time. To avoid getting overwhelmed and caught up in the details that don’t matter, you need to find a way to organize, prioritize and track all of the activities that make up your sprints.

    Interview with Hacking Marketing Author Scott Brinker

    Q: Can you explain what you mean by hacking marketing?

    I know, it’s a strange title, right? Most people think of hacking as something bad — hackers who break into people’s computer systems and steal credit cards or whatnot.

    That is definitely not the connotation in my book.

    In the software community, hacking has a very different meaning. It’s an attitude of hands-on discovery — a “let’s build something, quickly, and learn from it, rather than endlessly debating hypotheticals” approach to product development. Hacking emerged in the 1960’s at MIT, as a way of describing the playful experimentation among the first generation of computer programmers, pioneering new boundaries of what software could do.

    With Hacking Marketing, I had two goals. First, to give non-technical marketers an orientation in software thinking as it applies to their profession today. Because let’s face it, marketing today is thoroughly entangled in software and technology-powered dynamics. And second, to bring a bit of that “hacker spirit” of hands-on discovery to the way marketing operates in a digital world — not just experimenting with what we do, but innovating how we do it too.

    Q: What did you see as the biggest barriers for marketers trying to adapt an agile approach that was designed for software companies?

    The biggest challenge with agile management, whether you’re applying it to software development or marketing, is the cultural shift it requires to be successful. Classic management culture is typically rooted in precise plans that span months or years, executed in a top-down fashion. You do “the big release” — or “the big campaign” — and it has to be delivered all-at-once, perfectly.

    Agile is a much more iterative approach that harnesses bottom-up feedback and ideas from the front-line. Management still directs the team’s priorities according to a longer-view strategy, but agile proactively embraces course corrections and opportunistic wins along that strategic journey. Rather than trying to predict the perfect big campaign out of the gate, agile continuously experiments with ideas on a small scale before ramping them up. The whole process is extremely transparent.

    Agile management is about harnessing change rather than fighting it. It makes perfect sense in today’s world, but make no mistake — for a lot of organizations, that’s a big cultural shift.

    Q: Do you have any advice about how teams should manage multiple sprints happening at one time to remain effective?

    Agile is more of a management philosophy than a single, specific methodology. That’s not to say that you can implement it without any process. It’s more than just a state of mind. But there are many different agile methodologies — Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, etc. — and many teams craft their own variation that suits their particular situation best. That’s the great thing about agile. The process itself is adaptable.

    My point is that there’s not one right answer to how to best manage multiple sprints.

    That being said, I think well-defined Kanban boards — where everyone can see all the tasks in flight, at different stages of progress — can be very helpful in coordinating large teams and multiple teams. If there are common points where you explicitly need two different teams to sync up, you can add a column in the board where those tasks queue up. And if it’s becoming a bottleneck, it’s immediately obvious.

    In organizational process design, as well as software development, I’m a big believer in the principle of “loosely-coupled architectures.” You want to design systems that smoothly hand-off the right tasks and information to different teams or components at the right time — but as much as possible, you want each team or component to be able to operate internally in their own fashion. Too much coordination becomes a drag on performance.

    Q: What are the dangers of having too many items that are a work in progress? What can marketers do to limit these?

    When the number of work-in-progress items exceeds the number of people you have working on them, one of two things happens. Either people end up task switching among them — or some tasks get deprioritized and pushed aside in a half-done state.

    In both cases, there’s a cost you pay. Task switching takes a toll on productivity, as your brain has to remember where it was on a previously dropped task. You may have to back up a bit to get back into the groove. If a half-done task has been unattended for too long that time required to recover your train of thought and restore creative flow can be significant.

    Teams are often far better having a small number of tasks actively in progress, and getting them done as quickly as possible, before grabbing more balls to juggle. You can facilitate this by keeping individual tasks as small as possible, even if they’re part of a larger story, and by adopting smaller sprint cycles. Limiting the number of tasks that are allowed in be in-progress at any particular stage on your Kanban board can also help keep task overload in check.

    Hey, there will always be interruptions and urgent issues that arise mid-sprint that demand that you drop something else to address them. That’s life in a dynamic world. But good agile practices try to minimize those fire drills as much as possible so that they don’t sap our energy and focus.

    Q: Why is it so important for marketers to be responsive?

    First, our audience demands it. Social media has given prospects and customers a voice, and they now expect that we’re listening. More importantly, they expect we’ll do something based on what we hear. Ignoring them, even if it’s unintentional, is a recipe for brand damage.

    Second, the competitive landscape today changes quickly. New threats and opportunities are continuously emerging in pretty much every industry. No one is safe from digital disruption.

    So, in the language of software developers, is this a bug or a feature? If you’re responsive, if your organization develops an agile management metabolism that can thoughtfully act on shifts in your environment in a timely fashion, this can be a tremendous competitive advantage. Change becomes a feature that benefits your firm.

    If you don’t develop that organizational agility though, change is almost always a “bug” — all it does is break the things you expected to work fine. And that’s a bummer.

    Are You Prepared to Evolve Your Approach to Marketing?

    Today’s customers are demanding better information, more quickly. In order to meet that need, companies must adapt how they approach marketing strategies and execution. If you’ve been toying with the idea of creating a more agile approach within your marketing department, be sure to pick up a copy of Scott’s new book, Hacking Marketing.  

    What did you find to be the most useful piece of information about agile marketing that you can take back to your team?