Dec 22, 2008

Marketing to fail fast - If everything is under control...

I met recently with Brenda Fisher, Customer Experience General Manager at Microsoft, and with Christine Thompson from Informing Arts (and one of the best marketing minds in the pacific northwest). We talked about the right speed for marketing, the best organizational architecture to support product management and product marketing practices, and the speed needed by B2C marketing versus B2B Marketing.

There is a crescent lack of speed plaguing marketing practices everywhere.  At the heart we can always find a marketing department not focused on having the right product to fulfill a specific need, but focused on promotional and awareness activities that are a “safe bet” because one is never fired by doing the “rational and proven” things. It is easier not to take risks, especially under the current economic environment where many can just see doom and gloom. Yogui Berra described this very well “I’m in favor of leaving the status quo the way it is”.

There is no way to reach the way up to profitability by cutting costs. It is a dangerous game, typical of organizations driven by a strong financial department and a weak marketing one. Instead I favor a “balanced portfolio” approach where we devote 70% of the resources to the core business and marketing tactics that are measurable and 30% to test new markets, new offerings or new audiences. In both cases, speed is of prime importance and we have to be able to execute and fail fast, learn and execute again.

Ichiro Suzuki, Maglio Ordonez and J. Mauer, got paid millions of USD as Major League baseball players, they all failed 7 out of 10 times at bat. Apple launched the iPod, but also the Newton and the Pippin (video game console), and Microsoft launched the Windows franchise, the Office franchise, but also Bob or Windows Me. As long as one learn fast and one has a balanced portfolio and the right KPIs in place, failing is just a normal part of the cycle and probably a much needed one.

I am very leery of companies focused on cutting costs as the only way to survive in 2009. No amount of cost cutting would compensate for bad product design or bad customer experience (ask Detroit’s big three). There is a Silicon Valley manifesto (PowerPoint deck) launched by one of the lead Venture Capital firms. In my opinion it has been wildly taken out of context when everybody points at the conclusion to be cutting costs and stop taking risks. I would encourage instead implementing a real marketing practice as discussed in many previous posts and take advantage of the opportunity ahead. 

After doing business in Latin-America and Asia for over ten years, facing macro-inflation, triple digit devaluations, exchange control, changes in policies, military coups and natural disasters, and always getting out of those situations in great shape thanks to taking calculated risks and failing fast, I cannot help but plan the same approach for 2009.

As Mario Andretti said: “If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough”.  – So go ahead and be willing to fail fast, learn and recharge. Happy Holiday!