Marketing as Product Development: Why Campaigns Need to Be More Responsive

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Spencer Pitman
Spencer Pitman



responsive-marketingLast year, I joined PCR to evaluate and develop strategy — to understand the vision of the organization and to begin to make recommendations on systems, practices, layouts, and aesthetics that guide or reflect output. This is often called “organizational design.”

In the year since I joined the team, I have learned a lot about media buying, social strategy, qualitative analysis, ethnography, SEO, and a broad lexicon that any freshman communications major would already have command of.

I’ve also been talking with our team about how most of these “things” are simply objects within our campaign-building stack. The complex conditions in which consumers are gormandizing information demand a more subtle, nuanced, and flexible approach than what we see from many companies in our industry.

Our staff now calls traditional marketing campaign methods “waterfall,” and they refer to our practices as iterative.

A software engineer knows what I’m getting at.

The reason that technology people seem to distrust marketing people is because marketers seem to love interesting language but can be relatively unconcerned with precision or the product behind that language.

In the technology world, when we use words like “adaptive” or “emergent” or “Agile” we are referring to specific methodological indicators. Those words have significance beyond their dictionary, adjectival definition — they are technical processes and practices for shipping product or solutions. They are approaches that have proven particularly effective in the past because they allow us to build products that are modifiable and extendable.

Engineering used to be about developing the most robust systems — but more and more, it is about building platforms capable of improving in the face of chaos.

A simple depiction of parallel work allocation in an iterative system.

Those words behind these concepts are sexy and cool and sound futuristic. And we’re seeing them appear in website copy, in employee handbooks, and in so so so many pitch decks. “Hey, we’re Agile. We work in sprints. We use a shit load of Post-its.”

The purveyors of this language need to have a practical grasp on what adaptive practices look like — and how to apply them to marketing systems.

Create the Best Experience for the User

The problem with a great deal of marketing is that it begins with the goal to make a product, service, or client more successful. It is less concerned with ensuring that the best solution for the end user has been rendered and is more oriented around driving up metrics (typically sales). This can result in outstanding short-term wins, especially if we define the metrics to favor the work (ignoring, of course, that this represents selection bias).

Looking at the long term, however, this approach appears to be fundamentally misguided.

To make marketing about transparency (not advantage), sales about solutions (not quotas), and business about consumers (not stakeholders).

The companies building the best products in the world are incredibly sensitive to the user’s experience. UX is incredibly important to product development and extension, and we also think that UX conversations that ignore marketing are woefully incomplete. When we begin talking about campaigns, the first question we ask is: “What problem is the client solving?” and then “For whom do they solve it?”

In the process of answering, we wind up uncovering characters and stories (or build off of the ones product has already uncovered) and can begin to understand the human needs that give rise to a market.

This idea also requires transparency: Better human experiences demand that we work to make the marketplace as open as possible. You need to drive valuable, decision-impacting information into the consumer discourse.

“Content marketing” for us looks a lot like frank conversation and equipping people to solve problems by themselves.

Help Humans Solve Problems — Not Sell More Shit

We want to rebuild the ontology of marketing.

If we change the context of selling to one of information parity, then the goal of marketing becomes not sexiness or brand reach, but inbound discoverability. You need to sell on excellence in the most open environment possible.

In other words, if consumers know what they need, and we’re working in an excellent way to address those needs, then our job is to make sure we’re visible and accessible.

Discoverability requires that we understand and remain sensitive to the end user’s character and journey. This is not simply the purchasing or decision pathway, but the greater condition and moments of their life — the things that are important to them and the things that slow them down. We want to make sure that the solutions we are working to provide are as elegant as possible; that they solve easily, and fade into the background.

In other words, do not interrupt lives.

Elegance and transparency are critical, actionable values. Elegance requires us to focus on the consumer, their journey, their sensitivities, and their needs and to equip them with the objective and valuable information so that they can make good decisions (even if that doesn’t mean buying from us). Transparency means that we have to commit to building the best, not building the cheapest.

We don’t interrupt lives, we don’t usurp experiences. We just do our best to provide value and fade into the background.

How This Drives Adaptability

This commitment to the consumer demands not only elegance and transparency from campaign approaches but the ability to understand needs and adjust on the fly. Consumers’ discovery journeys are growing increasingly complex and subtle, so marketing needs to be prepared to operate with coordinate finesse. In other words, the ability to modify and extend systems becomes fundamental criteria for success.

As mentioned earlier, practices capable of such adaptability are not novel. They have existed and been refined for some time in software and are beginning to appear in other verticals, as well. We believe that marketing and campaign development must adopt these practices in order to maintain relevance in a world where increasingly, users have informed decision-making capacity.

If we are going to build excellent customer solutions and improve discoverability, then we naturally fall to object-oriented analysis and UX design thinking as schemata for best practices.

There is a huge amount of conversation happening in our industry about how to be innovative, but the results often amount to little more than clever experiential marketing. Innovation, at its core, is driven by commitment to human needs and decoupling solutions from what we’ve tried before.

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