Marketing Physics 101

First published February 9, 2012 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Physics has never been my strong suit, but I think I have a good basic grasp of the concepts of velocity and direction. In my experience, the two concepts have special significance in the world of direct marketing. All too often I see marketers that are too focused on one or the other. These imbalances lead to the following scenarios:

All Direction, No Velocity

As a Canadian, I am painfully familiar with this particular tendency. Up here, we call it a Royal Commission. For those of you unfamiliar with the vagaries of the Canadian political landscape, here’s how a Royal Commission works. It doesn’t. That’s the whole point. Royal Commissions are formed when you have an issue that you wished would simply go away, but the public won’t let it. So a Royal Commission deliberates over it for several months, issues a zillion-page report that nobody ever reads, and by the time the report comes out, everybody has forgotten why they were so riled up in the first place.

This is similar to a company’s strategists noodling for months, or even years, about their digital strategy without really doing anything about it. They have brainstorming sessions, run models, define objectives and finally, decide on a direction. Wonderful! But in the process, they’ve lost any velocity they may have had in the first place. Everyone has become so exhausted talking about digital marketing that they have no energy left to actually do anything about it. Worse, they think that because it lives on a shelf somewhere, the digital strategy actually exists.

All Velocity, No Direction

With some companies, the opposite is true. They try going in a hundred directions at once, constantly chasing the latest bright shiny object. Execution isn’t the problem. Stuff gets done. It’s just that no one seems to know which direction the ship is heading. Another problem is that even though velocity exists, progress is impossible to measure because no one has thought to decide what the right yardstick is. You can only measure how close you are to “there” when you know where “there” is.

Failing any unifying metrics grounded in the real world, people tend to make up their own metrics to justify the furious pace of execution. Some of my favorites: Twitter Retweets, Number One SEO rankings and Facebook Likes.  As in “our latest campaign generated 70,000 Facebook likes” — a metric heard in more and more boardrooms across America. Huh? So? How does this relate in any way to the real world where people dig out their wallets and actually buy stuff? Exactly what dollar value do you put on a Like? Believe me, people are trying to answer that question, but I’ve yet to see an answer that doesn’t contain the faint whiff of smoke being blown up my butt. I suspect those pondering the question are themselves victims of the “all velocity, no direction” syndrome.

Balanced Physics

The goal is to fall somewhere in between the two extremes. You need to know the general direction you’re heading and what the destination may look like. You will almost certainly have to make course adjustments on the way, but you should always know which way North is.

And if you have velocity, it’s much easier to make those course adjustments. Try turning a ship that’s standing still.

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