Culture for Change: Iterative Marketing Part 2

June 17th, 2010

Topics: Clients & Partners, Measurement, Optimization

Nike+: How Launch Marketing is Done

In the first part of this series, I made the case for marketing iteration as at least part of the path to creating more relevant and more effective digital marketing projects. One thing is certain though — it’s far easier to design a new process and get people excited about its possibilities than it is to actually implement that process.

It’s Not the Table
For years, the question of “who gets a seat at the table” has been key as agencies and marketers of all stripes seek to adjust their thinking to digital. The answer to this question has been what, at least in part, has set digital agencies apart. If traditional agencies have historically taken the output from the Art Director/Copywriter team and essentially farmed it out to developers, digital shops saw the role of the developer as key to the creative process. But as important as this adjustment is, it’s still not looking broadly enough.

Unless we examine the core culture that drives the way we work and what we’re trying to achieve, rather than just who’s doing the work, I believe marketers and brands will continue to struggle for relevence online.

VW_ThinkSmallBy way of an example, consider this from a recent Mark Fairbanks article:

“…it is the digital equivalent of Doyle Dane Bernbach’s seminal Think Small ad. I would argue that it is the most important work done by any creative agency—traditional or digital—in the past ten years.”

The project that he is talking about is RG/A’s Nike+ and I can’t think of another digital brand project that has been more effective at both:

  • fundamentally changing a brand/customer relationship.
  • having such a monumental impact on a brand’s bottom line.

Those make Nike+ the marketing holy grail.

Re-think What Launch Means
What makes Nike+ so different from other work that agencies have done in the last decade? It’s important to remember that the Nike+ that exists today isn’t the Nike+ that was launched in 2006.

Twitter wasn't around at launch, yet Nike+ has made it work.

Since launch, new features, new interactions, and new access to new information have all been added and updated. Integration with systems like Twitter, and new hardware like the iPhone – both of which barely existed at launch – has expanded its reach. The goal of Nike+ was not to get to the launch date. Launch was just the beginning, just the first point at which actual audience insights and data could be gathered and folded back into the project. In short, launch was just the first iteration.

So while there was certainly a different kind team at work, that alone did not make this project succeed. Rather it is a fundamentally different notion of what a “good” idea is, an entirely new approach to how marketing happens, and a different take on the relationship between agency and client.

It’s this shift in point of view that marks the biggest change to working iteratively: the cultural change. It’s also its biggest opportunity.

Re-think How You’re Organized to Reach an “End Point”
Iteration is about launching a project not with the goal of moving on, but with the goal of making it better. While this is simple to say, it can be harder to do. Much of the culture – and nearly all of the processes – within marketing are designed to move projects quickly and efficiently to a distinct end point. What makes a project “good” is defined in many ways by the events that take place before a project is launched – the brainstorming, designing, and development. Moreover, both budgets and client relationships are based on the system of projects getting briefed-in, executed, and completed. So what do we do?

Three Ideas for Changing to an Iterative Marketing Culture
While any answer is bound to be complex and made up of issues specific to an agency or business, I want to focus on three key concepts that I think are universal.

1) Redefine “Success”
What currently defines a successful marketing project? On time launch? Under budget? Award winning? The first cultural change is a redefinition of “success.” In the same Mark Fairbanks article, he makes this observation:

“I think the problem lies in the fact that the great concept traditionalists are looking for is no longer a smart headline. It’s not a visual solution. Frankly, it’s not a message at all. The great concept is now an experience.”

So, if one measure of success is great experiences, then what makes a great experience?

Useful is Great
First and foremost, great experiences are the ones that people actually use. It sounds simple, but the reality is that for most digital marketing projects this benchmark can pose a huge hurdle. It’s nearly impossible to know what people will use before you give them access to it, but that access doesn’t happen until the end of the project. But by working iteratively to make projects “successful” rather than simply “complete”, even projects that aren’t perfect at launch are valuable. They’re valuable because they give us actual data to work with; data that we can use to make the project better.

Client Success is Great
If creating great experiences for audiences is one measure of success – then meeting the goals of our clients and their business must certainly be another. Going back to the Nike+ example, what makes it so successful is that while it’s growing and developing to meet the needs of the audience, it’s also meeting the needs of Nike. By beginning the project with clear business goals, and using those to help measure success, Nike and RG/A have been able to iterate their way into not just a great marketing tool, but a great business tool, too.

By viewing success not as a launch date, but as experiences created that are both meaningful and valuable to the target audience and as business needs met, we set the cultural foundation not just for working iteratively but for truely successful projects.

It’s not the “end,” it’s just Part 3: “Iterating in the Real World.” Go read it.

  • Optimizing the Middle
  • Creating a New Relationship with our Clients
Justin SpohnGuest Author Justin Spohn
Justin is a co-founder of Fight, an interactive research and strategy firm in Portland, Oregon focused on making the Internet more valuable for brands by making brands more useful on the Internet. He is one of the foremost thinkers on iterative marketing and digital marketing strategy. Justin recently did a presentation at the Webtrends Engage conference about iterative marketing, you can flip through it on his blog. You can follow him on Twitter @adognamedpants.

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