Measure Twice, Cut Once

July 9, 2012
Implementing digital marketing

Today’s content marketing exec is in the hot seat to understand and leverage more technology than her predecessors. The depth and breadth of tools alone can seem intimidating, especially when considered in the context of the unprecedented velocity of change in the industry.

Introducing even greater risk than uninformed tool selection is the complex undertaking of technology implementation; customizing and integrating a handful of off-the-shelf products to work together to support the business goal. When sophisticated tools fail to deliver satisfaction to their users in the marketing department, one can likely look toward decisions made leading up to and during implementation to find the source of frustration.

We can expect overall efficacy related to the marketing mission to suffer in such cases, even if specific points of dissatisfaction seem relatively trivial in the grand scheme. Humans are remarkable in their ability to change behavior to avoid even minor obstacles and annoyances, despite the magnitude of potential consequences. Faced with a quirky user interface to perform, say, a quality control measure, eventually the staff member responsible is going to dread the task enough to avoid it entirely.

Today’s methods dictate the necessity for sophisticated tools, so we can immediately rule out burying our head in the sand as a coping mechanism for tech phobia. How, then, can we make enough sense of the landscape to navigate safely through an ever-changing minefield on our way to marketing nirvana? How do we identify the best tools to meet our goals, and then have them implemented in such a way that propels us forward toward our goals rather than weighing us down?

Avoid Shiny Objects

We begin, I propose, by eliminating technological considerations from our evaluation criteria, and focusing almost exclusively on factors that have more consequence than whether or not our content management system, for example, is open source or proprietary.

Likewise, let us set aside product feature sheets, and stop comparing solutions based on sheer volume of bells and whistles. While we’re at it, let’s close the browser and stop trying to assess the relative strength of competing products by devouring the various vendors’ websites. There’s nothing wrong with a little research, but we’ll never arrive at a sound decision by reading what others decide to put in front of us.

Begin with the End in Mind

The only sane and effective way to select the appropriate tools and to ensure that those tools—once implemented for your team—perform in a manner that supports your goals, oddly enough, is to have goals in the first place. We’re talking more than just high-level goals such as “generate 150 leads per month.” I mean that before you pull the trigger on an expensive purchase, you need to have documented exactly how you envision using such a system, from every task you expect it to perform for you down to the specific points of interaction between the system and each of your team members. If it needs to “play nice” with other systems as well, then by golly that needs to be documented, too.

In short, you shouldn’t go shopping for a big-ticket item—like a content management system, website design, marketing automation solution, or customer relationship management package—without having a solid list of detailed requirements and constraints to guide your decision making.

You don’t have to go it alone, either. Great software companies, agencies and consultants can all serve as resources as you get your feet solidly planted. If you can spare the budget to actually engage a firm to help you, that’s great, although use caution and avoid outsourcing your goal-setting. It’s great to leverage the expertise that outsiders can bring to the table, but even this process should be preceded by an appropriate “requirements” effort on your part. Do not, in other words, hire a firm to assist you if you can’t tell the firm up front exactly on what criteria their work will be evaluated.

In Conclusion

I have a theory that most software is purchased with the belief that “If it’s popular, then it must be good. And if it’s good, then it’s good for me.” This attitude is a recipe for trouble. The content marketer facing an expensive implementation must take the time to understand the needs of the organization and her team; to use that understanding to evaluate products; and to educate her product implementation teams to lead them toward the “best fit” configuration.