What Marketers Can Learn From Software Companies

Challenged by Speed and Complexity, They Adapted

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Chad Currie
Chad Currie
To me, the crafts of marketing and software are starting to look alike. I'm fascinated to witness how organizations handle the increasing speed and complexity required to launch a campaign. As we watch time and cost trends curve up, it's easy to freak out. Our precious concepts seem in danger of collapsing under the operational burden of too many moving parts on too many screens. Our friends in the software field had this same freak-out in the '90s and they came through it OK, but transformed. I see lessons.

  1. Heed care with offshore production
    Our natural inclination when faced with inflating production budgets is to start hacking at costs. Off-shoring helps, but only if your own house is in order. Software companies learned that vigilant documentation is absolutely necessary to see any benefit from offshoring. Many saw that it created more liabilities than it solved and changed their minds. In the end, only the most operationally tight organizations benefited from off-shoring, and they had to work hard for incremental gains.
  2. Do more of less
    If cost is the symptom, bloat is the disease. In the '90s, "enterprise" software roamed the Earth. Think massive titles, like Microsoft Office, that took years to develop also took years to return value. Contrast that with the Google Docs suite, for example, where features and products are rolled out whenever they are ready. The result is product momentum. Apply that to your own marketing efforts and consider the opportunities lost by taking 10 months to develop a massive blitz that is overplayed and consumed in three weeks. Could you identify smaller test segments or micro-messages that could be in market two months from now? How many of those could you pack into a year?
  3. Launch then learn
    If you manage scope, speed is your reward. The software biz has a school of thought called Agile Development. It stresses the importance of getting to a working version as fast as possible. By removing over-abstraction and overplanning, it's easier to find and develop those concepts that consumers really need and want. In our new digital, social marketing space, this approach plugs nicely into consumers inclination to burn out on campaigns quickly. Be bold, follow your instincts and get something out there.
  4. Stay in the (feedback) loop
    With this approach, now you can launch initiatives while the next one is already cooking. Remember, this is manageable because you are limiting the scope and reach of each initiative. Software's move away from versioned desktop software to software-as-a-service is a result of this sort of thinking. Example: Do you know or care what versions of Facebook or Google you're using today? Social media plays a big part of that software improvement cycle and the same can go for marketing, too. If you are rolling out your marketing stream in manageable bytes, you are poised to use social media feedback -- both good and bad -- to dial in your story. Listen closely and track the voice of the crowd. Use it in the next iteration. Repeat.

No time like now
I once believed this software-meets-marketing principle was a novelty. But with the recent economic uncertainty, I am starting to think it's a necessity. Mega-campaigns now feel like playing roulette and betting it all on black. I'd rather play two-hundred hands of poker and control my odds as I go. (I like the ending!)

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Chad Currie is VP-group creative director at T3, where he advises interactive creative direction for clients including Marriott, JCPenney, JPMorgan Chase and UPS.

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