Hacking is the new marketing

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While applying the term “hack” to any fresh, fast, fearless approach towards attacking a challenge is getting “hackneyed,” it nonetheless is often a useful way to talk to clients about how to ignite the change they need in their marketing operations. Conversations about broad transformations are important and necessary, but to get focus and momentum, you have to get something done quickly that will make it into market. And that's a hack. What do I mean? A hack for me is about more than an all-night sprint to generate a coded digital feature. It is about taking on a major business goal without the baggage of the status quo. It requires leadership support. It rethinks how to do a new product launch, for example, or how to grow share in a key segment, by tapping into new data, using new channels, leveraging new tools, and bringing different people together from various functional areas as a tight team to achieve the goal under tight deadlines. For a marketing hack to work, it requires some specific elements. Here’s a checklist I’ve put together:

  • Start by thinking about real people in real situations, rather than broad audiences to reach. Describe the context these people would be in, and what their specific decision journey looks like.
  • Identify what content would be relevant for them.
  • Itemize the data you could capture and use to make the journey more relevant.
  • Put together a list of tests for how video, social, and mobile, for example, can connect with people in key moments and can trigger the right interest that will encourage a next step in the customer journey.
  • Lay out a learning plan that will capture feedback on which variables are working, such as content type, placement, timing, etc.
  • Spread out lots of low cost content “lures” in wide variety of places where interested people are likely to engage, instead of creating one singular ad that you push out.
  • Build for change so that you can easily swap out content, offers, etc., on a constant basis as you learn what works.
  • Capture those learnings in a systematic way. This is an investment that the entire organization should benefit from, so you need to be able to not only capture the knowledge but also to categorize and share it.
  • Carefully limit the large-scale complexity that could spin out of control with so much content and placements out there, by prioritizing and testing. At the same time, it’s important to identify new tools for content management, personalization, and measurement you can try out.
  • Bring together people with complementary skill sets who don’t usually work together.
  • Set tight and specific goals in terms of accomplishment, time, and money.

This is really all about non-stop testing, learning, and scaling. And as you do this, you'll learn what you need in terms of more robust infrastructure to make it cost-efficient. That’s critical because I've seen the alternative fail more often than not, where ambitious leaders try to drive big change by putting in big tech infrastructure before the right muscles get built and before people see that there is a new way of working. And many tech vendors encourage this, since they aim to sell broad enterprise licenses as fast as possible, as opposed to a gradual ramp-up.

But through a few dozen client experiences we've supported, a portfolio of well-designed hacks, with the right team structure and support, gets the momentum going faster. The learning, proof of concept, confidence, and foundation of teamwork that comes from smart hacks is a great cultural catalyst for change. In the organizations that do it, it becomes a bit religious. They believe in a new way of approaching customers, based on desirability of engagement, personal relevance, and being in the right place. They take the leap of shifting spend that they can't prove ROI from in advance. They just have to try. And when they do, they usually stumble at first, or at least see a higher cost per conversion as they invest more in the initial tries than when they would reach scale. But with fast iteration and the right support, they break through and prove what's needed to make it work more broadly.

If you don't spin out a few teams to hack away, it is just too hard for your organization to see an alternative way of operating. So what have you hacked lately?

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.