As marketers, we use technology for outgoing communications and campaigns. Contributor David Rodnitzky exhorts us to use the latest tools internally, as well.
We live in a world with instant access to information. Think about a simple question – “What is the population of Iowa?” — and consider how getting an answer to that question has changed in just the last 20 years.
In 1994, you would have had to find an encyclopedia or (gasp) go to a library to look up the information – and the data you found would likely have been somewhat out-of-date. In 2004, you would have done a search on Google, assuming you were near a computer with internet access. Today, you can pull out your phone and get the results in 30 seconds.
Now think about how your online marketing team works, be it in-house or at an agency. If someone on the team has a question about how to complete a particular task, what do they do? Do they ask a team member? Read a book? Look it up in a company knowledge base?
Through my 14+ years in online marketing, my experience suggests that – despite the tools and technology currently available – most marketing teams still rely on the “Homeric tradition” of passing down information from one person to the next, rather than a more automated solution.
I think it is time for all of us to move away from this ancient method and enter the modern age.
Online Marketing In Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece was one of the first great civilizations, giving the world amazing scholars like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The Greeks, however, did not have any technology to transfer the knowledge of their intellectuals en masse.
And even if the internet existed, most people could neither read nor write, anyway. So knowledge was transferred through the “oral tradition” – from one person to the next. Homer’s Odyssey, for example, was actually just the transcription of folk stories told for thousands of years around the campfire and passed down from orator to orator through the generations.
And since we all played the game of “telephone” growing up, we know that when things get passed from person to person, the story doesn’t exactly come out the way the first person told it. Hence, the dramatic and mythical nature of the Odyssey, with characters like the snake-headed Medusa, the human daughter of Zeus, and the half-horse, half-man Minotaur.
We know that telling someone something – as opposed to writing it down – is a recipe for misunderstanding.
Imagine, for example, if there were no blueprints for building commercial jetliners, and instead, we relied on master craftsmen who honed their skills for years and years and then passed down their knowledge through hands-on instruction to young apprentices. I suspect few of us would want to fly on the artfully-crafted but highly-inconsistent airplanes that were produced.
And yet, how much of your marketing team’s canon of knowledge comes from person-to-person interaction on your team? If someone has a question like “what is the optimal number of keywords in an ad group?” or “should I create gender-specific campaigns in Facebook?” – is there a place in your office (either physical or virtual) where best practices have been collected and a newbie team member can go to get the answer? Or will the newbie ask three people on your team (and likely get three different answers)?
If you are passing down information through the oral tradition, don’t be surprised if you describe a horse to someone and later hear that they’ve built a Minotaur!
Online Marketing In Modern Greece
Today, there is really no need for oral tradition (sorry, Homer). Indeed, there is hardly even a need for books anymore (sorry, Gutenberg). The internet and cloud storage enables us to create vast repositories of data that can be instantly searched and accessed from anywhere.
A newbie to internet marketing shouldn’t have to rely on a seasoned manager to learn the science of our craft. Here are just a few ways to codify best practices on your team and ensure consistent and optimal performance across all team members:
- Create an internal Wiki or knowledge base to house how-to guides, videos, etc.
- Develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that explain how to do recurring tasks
- Create checklists (and put them on your Wiki) to ensure that team members don’t miss any steps
- Use a project management tool like Asana to ensure that team members are following process
- Hold regular internal seminars (or webinars if you have multiple offices) to educate everyone about best practices
- Condition team members to rely on your tools instead of relying on their peers for knowledge transfer
These sorts of tools aren’t expensive – you can likely set up a combination of project management and a Wiki for a couple hundred dollars – heck, you could probably do the whole thing for free on Google Drive!
And creating this sort of consistent, readily accessible knowledge base is no longer a ‘nice-to-have.’ Relying on a bunch of smart online marketers without a codified process is dangerous for several reasons:
- Your competition will simply get better results by codifying their best practices
- You will produce inconsistent results based on the individual talent of each team member
- The intellectual property of your business can literally walk out of the door at any second, leaving you with nothing
There’s a reason that 99.9999% of all commercial airline flights land safely – consistent, codified and rigorously adhered-to process. Now at this point, you might be saying: “building airplanes is 100% science – our job is part art and part science.”
To a large extent, I agree with this notion. There is no purely scientific way of writing the absolute optimal ad text every time, nor can we always know the exact right media to buy (no 100% conversion rates for you!).
That said, to truly extract the most value from the artistic side of your talented team members, you need to first build a process based on science.
In other words, process helps smart people spend their time on smarter things. If your top people are constantly reinventing the wheel every time they have to do a menial task, that’s taking up time that could be better spent thinking of the next great marketing innovation.
Moreover, if you don’t build process to help newbies quickly learn the trade without constant teaching from your top people, your senior folks spend too much time on training others, and your junior staff does not learn the right foundation.
I tell my team that our new team members should spend 100% of their time on science and 0% on art, but our most senior people should spend 80% on art and 20% on science. Without the right knowledge base, these ratios are impossible to achieve.
Access to information today is fast and inexpensive. Considering the changes over just the last 20 years, it is hard to even fathom how much more accessible data will be in the near future. Making a commitment to enable your marketing team to operate with a consistent set of rules – and making these rules available through technology – is simply becoming table stakes to be competitive today. Help your team build airplanes, not Minotaurs!