Over the years we’ve been a part of dozens of marketing innovation and digital transformation projects at a variety of companies. While no two are exactly the same, the projects that really take off all have one thing in common: the organisation’s culture is open to change. Brilliant strategy and cutting-edge technology won’t change anything if your company doesn’t have the right culture and capabilities in place. People are the true foundation for any meaningful, lasting change.
Challenger businesses and the growth they deliver are built on a certain type of culture that’s largely absent in incumbent organisations. But you don’t have to be a small, scrappy start-up to think and act like a challenger. Any business can grow a challenger culture in their marketing function.
Here are three principles to help you get started:
Progress, not Perfection
Speed is the biggest advantage start-ups have over bigger, more established institutions. They’re not slowed down by layers of approval, levels of bureaucracy, and cumbersome fixed processes. They are able to make and implement decisions quickly, but they also don’t try to make everything perfect. They get things to “good enough” – or even “great enough” – and get them out into the world. Then they iterate and improve as they go.This is the same approach start-ups take to product development — lean, agile, step-by-step, not trying to build the full, perfect product right away. When it comes to marketing, “perfect” is not only unrealistic, it’s also subjective. Your CMO might think that line of copy needs to change or that color should be different, but these are just opinions, and the only opinion that really matters is the consumer’s. Get the content out there and see what the consumer thinks about it. Plus, it usually takes as much time to get something from nothing to 80% done, as it does to get it from 80% done to 100% perfect. An unnecessary obsession with perfection limits your capacity to do more, new things. Now, some aspects of your marketing activity do need to be perfect (and it’s important to know what those are), but most don’t. Shift your team’s perspective to prioritise progress, not perfection
Be uncomfortable being comfortable
The biggest risk in marketing today isn’t doing the wrong thing, it’s doing something that doesn’t get noticed. There is so much noise out there, so many distractions and demands on consumers’ limited attention. You have to think and act differently to stand out, which means pushing yourself and your team outside your comfort zone. Start-ups often do this naturally because that scrappy challenger mindset is part of who they are. They’re David taking on Goliath — they know they need to play the game differently to get noticed and make an impact. But regardless of size or age, it’s that challenger attitude that any CMO or marketing leader should cultivate in his or her team.
Too many traditional marketers push for work and ideas that make them comfortable. If you feel comfortable with the marketing you’re doing, you’re not growing as fast as you could. Uncomfortable is the new comfortable. Get uncomfortable by asking your team to start bringing you ideas that push you out of your comfort zone. It’s amazing the creativity and innovation you can tap into with just that one small change.
Push a learning agenda
Good marketing teams deliver results. Great marketing teams deliver results and learnings that make future results even stronger. Focus on how quickly and how much your team is learning, just as you focus on the quality and results of their work. This is something almost every challenger does naturally, and few traditional businesses do at all. One tactical change you can make is asking for a “Test Learn Agenda’ with every initiative, workflow or campaign. A “TLA” is a hypothesis that you want to test for that campaign, idea, or activation. You’re going to do the thing either way, but the TLA makes sure you capture specific learnings for future use while you do. Maybe you want to see how a certain audience responds to a new message, or you want to AB test a few versions of your creative. The specific test and hypothesis matters less than building a habit and culture in your team of constantly testing, learning, and evolving.
The principles of progress over perfection, comfort in the discomfort, and creating a culture of learning will have a huge impact on the growth of your team, brand and business if implemented in the right way. Cultural change is hard, even in start-ups, and can seem impossible in traditional businesses with so many layers and so much legacy. But cultural change is also the most important factor in driving innovation and growth.