The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfills himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world… - Lord Alfred Tennyson
PDAs, for-pay email accounts, dial up, movie rental stores, fax, public pay phones, maps, newspaper classifieds, long distance phone charges, VCRs, phone books, calling 411, record stores. What do all of these have in common? You got it – they all became toast in just the past decade and were replaced by something better. Each example signals the double-edge of disruption – equally an opportunity and a threat to managers today.
Every single digital marketing manager I’ve ever talked to complains about two challenges consistently:
- How to stay on top of digital news, trends, shifts as covered by tech blogs and news sites.
- How to adapt to, and adopt, new technologies or risk a loss in competitive advantage or face irrelevance.
In a survey of 1,700 CMOs conducted by IBM in 2011, 50% of CMOs reported feeling underprepared to tackle all but 2 of 13 key market factors (see below). This underlines in a very real way how embattled today’s marketers feel.
Here’s some help with both.
Staying on top of digital news and reading up on market shifts is the easy part. In fact, here’s the list of news sites/tech blogs that I glance through every single morning. You can subscribe to this list and do the same. Or make your own (and hopefully share with others).
The second challenge is exponentially harder, especially if you’re looking at it through a big company lens. Here are 4 guidelines that I’ve seen work well in large corporate environments:
1. Measure success against pre-set criteria: In his post on PandoDaily, Brian Solis suggests that the success of any technology be measured against several factors important to the success of a business. This forces managers to gauge both near term performance and longer term importance, and adopt a barometer against which all projects/technologies/initiatives can be measured. This approach is very similar to having an internal hurdle rate for projects, something business managers have been doing for decades.
2. Accepting of failures, learn and move on: At a recent tech conference, a senior HBO exec was asked what his #1 recommendation was for companies looking to innovate digitally. His answer – a greater acceptance of failure. This is critical if managers are to test and learn, experiment with new technologies. It is also amongst the biggest hurdles in a corporate environment, fraught as it is with job insecurity.
Recently, a friend was telling me about a former employer where employees were encouraged to speak their mind, where failing at a project was acceptable as long as you learned from it and applied those learnings, and employees were encouraged to air their grievances in public. The company is Bridgewater Associates, one of the largest and best performing hedge funds in the world. And apparently one with a strong culture of transparency. Where one company can do it, others can too.
3. A culture of testing and experimenting: In an ideal universe, managers should be allowed to devote a certain amount of their time to playing with newer technologies and platforms – learn and innovate by doing, very much like Google employees do. In the real world however, many large American corporations don’t allow employees to access gmail or social networks from work and ban them from going to external websites. I can’t think of a worse impediment to instilling a culture of innovation for digital managers. Is it any wonder then that managers are dependent on external agencies for trendspotting and execution? What is a marketing manager to do?
4. Contradistinguish disruptive technologies from mere trends: Now that you have your set of factors to measure against, a supportive environment, and a mandate to experiment, all of a sudden it becomes exponentially easier to make an educated decision on what technologies/platforms are a passing fad, and what is a more enduring shift that you should hitch your company’s wagon to. Not a 100% accurate mind you (or even close), but certainly much better informed.
At a time when each new day also brings a new shiny object touted as the latest in a long string of digital “innovations”, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say “pass” or “yes, please” with more confidence?