The Law of Constant Compromise

Why is it that marketers cannot simply declare what their objectives are and then go about the business of getting there in a swift and decisive fashion?

Similarly, why is it that agencies cannot simply declare what their solutions are (or will be) and then go about the business of executing them in a swift and decisive manner?

The answer to both is the same.  There are no “straight lines” in marketing.  Even the “shortest distance” between two points (such as problem and solution) will be pocked with turns and tumbles, sideswipes and stumbles.  We are in a near constant state of compromise, and until we recognize it, we will suffer losses in the face of it.  This is why I have coined the term “The Law of Constant Compromise.”

This law is simply stated as:  No matter what the plan is and what the solutions are, expect to compromise at virtually every intersection on your way to the finish line.  This is a great heuristic for those of us in the projection business, those of us in the creative business, and all of us in the marketing business.

In nearly every facet of marketing, we’re faced with challenges, changes and charges to improve on the last execution or set a tone of success if it’s our first time out of the gate.  We draw a straight line between where we are now, and where we want to be at the end of the program/project/contract.  And then the shitstorm begins:  major and minor mishaps that mire progress on any level:  the client wants the logo bigger.  The photographer thinks Oklahoma City is a better backdrop for this shot.  The media doesn’t quite have the inventory they promised you. Your software was just updated.  The new designer you hired may have exaggerated a titch on her resume.  The competition launched a new product and you didn’t see it coming. And those are just the obvious speed bumps.

And on and on it goes.  This is life in marketing.  So at each turn, you have to be quick on your feet, keep your objectives in mind, and come up with an alternate re-routing (or 12) of your original plan.  In other words, you must learn to constantly compromise.  And compromising is about retaining your original intentions while reacting to and managing the current obstacles.  We don’t give up, we don’t kick and scratch and demand to have it our way, we compromise our way into a workable solution.

I see it based on a simple equation: our original intent, divided by the nature of the current challenge, then multiplied by the value of the revised solution.

So, if the Law of Constant Compromise exists, how do we use it to our advantage?  Keep these five factors in mind:

  1. Remember why you’re compromising:  You had a big idea.  Or you have a great plan to introduce it to the world.  You don’t scrap the whole darn thing if you believe in the value of the original destination.  Hold on to your big idea.  Let the twists and turns add or remove certain features, or change the timeline, but don’t let it re-design or derail the entire program.
  2. Remember your prior mistakes, but don’t hold someone else accountable for them.  As you look to work around challenges and changes, make sure you remember your previous stumbles and take care to not repeat them.
  3. Be prepared for things to change. We spend a lot of our time dreaming of the perfect execution, the perfect campaign, the perfect dashboard to demonstrate how our metrics held up.  But the bottom line in our business is that things change hourly, pretty much.  Just know that things are coming that can blow out your tires, then be prepared to adapt – and quickly.
  4. Respect mandatories.  Every agency and every client has mandatories that must be honored.  Respect these, and let them be the guideposts as you create new solutions when necessary.  You may have to veer off the intended course for a while.  But as long as you end up at your point B, does it matter what route you took to get there (as long as nothing surreptitious was purported?)
  5. Get better at workarounds.  We can’t see every obstacle as a dead end.  Every time we’re faced with a challenge and we create a compromise, we do have the opportunity to make things better, make the solutions cooler, create something insanely greater.  Remember the equation: your original intent gets divided (therefore minimized) by obstacles.  But your original intent is also multiplied (thus maximized) by the value and power of your new ideas.  So bone up on quick-on-your-feet-how-about-this-instead skills.

Get a grip on the Law of Constant Compromise, and your experiences may be that the compromises along the way are actually what lead you to the greatest successes of all.  Challenges won’t seem so unwanted anymore.  You’ll welcome the opportunity to create better plans, craft better stories, build better relationships. And you’ll find out a lot about yourself– or your agency, or your business model–in the process.

Curation: The Magic Word for Marketers

Marcel Duchamp Cubist Painting 1912

I recently attended CES in Las Vegas to do some research for a client.  CES was huge and hyperactive and I hated it. My resistance was not due to the size or number or quality of exhibits, but rather the show’s inability to navigate me through any of it.

We live in a consumer-centric world, powered by immediacy and universality of choice (otherwise known as the Internet.) Today, we can shop for anything online, customize the features, and dictate how it’s delivered. Everything from clothing to cars to medicines to media.

And that’s pretty peachy. We all love choice. We all love control. But the surprising truth in many of our brand interactions is that we’re not all very good at it. Especially when the choices are overwhelming.

At CES, I longed for a GUIDE of some sort. I wished there was a handbook that outlined what I wanted to see if, for instance, I only had 2 hours to spend there. Or if I was only interested in “small, cool audio stuff.” Or if I just wanted to knock around and see celebrities. (There were many in attendance. I passed on Snooki and 50 Cent and took a front row seat at Earth, Wind & Fire. Call me old school.)

Such a guide would have still afforded me choice, but those choices would have been curated for me. And curation is the magic word for the new consumer world.

Curation is the antidote for a world of infinite choices. It relates to both content and the methods of its consumption. Those marketers who can provide guides or maps or recommendations for their consumers will have a much more fruitful relationship with them as a result. This is true in both the consumer and business-to-business galaxies. Some examples:

Museums curate exhibits. Of all the Duchamp cubist paintings, a certain museum might choose 30 of them. They would then arrange them in a distinct order, put them on certain walls, make you stand in directed spots to view them. Remember, content and the mode of consumption. The subtext here is “the museum strongly suggests you view Duchamp this way.” It’s a very specific experience. If I want some other experience, I can gladly seek it elsewhere.

Restaurants curate food experiences. The menu, by definition, is a curated presentation of food. The chef took all the ingredients available that day and culled them to eight appetizers, eight entrees and five desserts to choose from. Would going to a restaurant and just seeing a big buffet of basic ingredients (vegetables, fish, lettuces, meats, sweets) be the same? Not a chance. Here’s exactly where I DON’T want to have too much choice. (Sidebar: this was how the original “Craft” restaurant in New York started. Chef Tom Colicchio just presented the menu items, and left the pairing decisions to guests. In the June 2001 review of Craft,  New York Times Restaurant Reviewer William Grimes stated “…(the culinary arts,) function more efficiently as dictatorships.”)

Brands in virtually all categories curate personal experiences. Whether it’s how your clothes smell, or what your ringtone is, or what color the dashboard lights are in your vehicle or the editors of your favorite business magazine – we, as consumers or business customers, are seeking features and experiences that enrich our lives in some way. But for goodness sake, we want someone ELSE to tell us what those are.

We want Amazon to tell us it has “recommendations” for us. We want Google to auto-fill our search terms. We want the Gap to recommend a sweet belt to go with that sweater we just purchased. Sure, we ultimately want to make the buying choice, but what we need brands to do is present the pathways to making them.

Marketers, take note. Curate an experience for us. Stand for something. Deliver something specific, that no one else can deliver. Or deliver something that lots of other people can deliver, but do it in a way that’s unique, or cool, or fun, or hip or technologically cool or convenient. Because we all want choices…we’re just not all very good at making them.

This article first appeared on Technorati.

Five Rules of Engagement

For years, marketers, editors and bloggers have been volleying the marketing term “engagement” around like a taped up shuttlecock.  The term has also been denigrated by continuous contextual evolution.  “Engagement” means one thing when referring to customer loyalty programs, another in the context of your web analytics package, and something further afield in the complex mesh of social media.

So, to give engagement a better—or at least more consistent—name, I’ve attempted to identify some key principles of what customer engagement means in the context of marketing, and in the process, hope to help marketers use these principles to focus their efforts on engaging more customers.  This will be expanded into an intelligence paper with more detail, which I will post here later.

Just to be clear, three qualifiers and definitions:  first, I’m not talking about making sales, or generating leads, or providing entertainment.  We’re talking about moving a consumer (of just about anything:  soda, music, jet engines, etc.) beyond the initial sale, into an area of prolonged interaction and even ongoing communication.

Second, engagement does NOT necessarily have to follow a sale.  But it does follow the initial conversion from “I’m not interested” or “I’m not aware” to “I’m interested and want to hear/learn/see/do more with this brand.” For instance, I don’t buy anything from Mashable, but I’m deeply engaged with their content, and couldn’t imagine starting a day without visiting that site and consuming that information.  The same is true for almost a billion people and Facebook: nothing has been purchased, but the engagement level with that brand is incredibly high.

Finally, customer engagement tends to be transactional.  That is to say that it seems reserved for those brands that involve multiple interactions.  You might buy a coffee brand or read a certain blog every day, so the opportunity for repeated experiences—as you’ll see, one principle for engagement—exists.  On the contrary, you may only buy a funeral plot once in your adult life, if it all – there’s not much of an opportunity for that marketer to drive engagement with that customer.  (Not to say it doesn’t happen  – the singular experience may leave a lasting impression.)

The Five Principles of Engagement – in relative chronological order.

Principle 1:  It Starts with Triangulation. Although many marketers believe that they can engage customers in a linear, point a to point b fashion, this is actually quite difficult to sustain.  At some point, the customer needs more attention, and thus triangulation becomes a pivotal element of customer engagement.  When you and your customer can triangulate on outside interests—features like design or performance, affiliations like music, or sports, or a cause like the environment, or travel rewards like Broadway musicals—then the opportunities to engage multiply exponentially. Now you can offer your customer more of what they like/want/need, (while simultaneously creating a deeper bond, since you and the customer now have a common interest or two or six,) and tie the resulting benefits back to your brand.

Principle 2: It’s Fueled by Passion. Passion is the fuel for true customer engagement.  When you triangulate on something together, it’s based on both of your passions for it.  (That’s why you choose your triangulation points carefully. If you don’t have passion for that “other thing,” your customers will see right through your shoddy aims.) If your brand can demonstrate real passion for the industry, for the craft, for the process, or it continues to demonstrate passion in the form of your new products and services, that passion tends to be matched by your engaged customer. It’s in the nature of relationships to want to reciprocate what the other party is doing.  This in turn, leads to a process of ongoing exchange between the two parties that continues to amp up the interchange.

Principle 3:  It’s an Ongoing Relationship.  Many sales professionals (and I say this with the utmost respect for what they do) have an understandably myopic view of what marketing is about…they think lead>conversion>end.  Today, marketers know that the sale or conversion is just the beginning of a long and hopefully fruitful relationship where the initial conversion is an indication of some assent to continue communicating.  Brands that form relationships with their customers tend to provide a more enjoyable, and more sustainable experience for the customer, where each has their own voice, and after some trust is built up, can even begin to ask things of each other.

Principle 4.  It’s Based on the Experience.  Even if a marketer can provide every one of the above principles, engagement typically only occurs when the marketer can provide a certain (unique) experience to the customer.  It could be a benign feature, or something very personal, (but as we know from our brand training, the more emotional the benefit, and the higher up the ladder of self-actualization, the better.)

Great brands with deeply engaged customers provide a single certain, can’t-get-it-anywhere-else kind of feeling for those customers.  In many cases, those brands provide repeated experiences (even simple ones) that add up to something similarly special.  That leads to an unmistakable takeaway and a glowing perception of the interaction between the consumer and the producer.  Apple does that.  Wired magazine does that. The Ritz-Carlton does that.  And just to prove it doesn’t have to be some hoity-toity-Fortune-40 brand, the guy on the corner who sells you your bagels and coffee can do that.  And so can your private voice teacher.  And, likely, so did your best sports coach.

Principle 5.  It’s Gotta Be Consistent. Okay, so you’ve triangulated on something cool to create some commonality.  You’ve demonstrated passion with turning out great products that set or buck the industry trends.  You’ve forged a relationship with your customer that’s based on a unique and singular experience.  Now the challenge is sustaining this good will.  The easiest way to do that is to exploit the principle of consistency.  Be consistent with how often you’re communicating with customers.  Be consistent with how often you’re upgrading your products or services. Be consistent with your brand voice.  Because of all the things, this is most important.  Your customers fell for you because of something you did, or the way you did it, or the way you packaged it.  They remembered that experience and the feelings it created.  They came back for more, and continue to patronize—maybe even evangelize for—you and your brand.  Make a left turn on them, and you’ll likely lose all that good will.