A few months back I wrote a piece titled "Operating in Real Time: How Far Away Are We?" I must have struck a nerve with the concept of real-time marketing because I received an inbox full of email and tweets ranging from those who warmly embraced the idea, to those who saw it as a utopian dream with no potential to operationalize. While the minority of large, nimble and progressive marketers (yes, they exist) may be able to pull off real-time marketing sooner than most, I tend to agree that it will be limited to certain tasks and channels for the time being. But it will happen, eventually.
One of the key concepts that will drive the shift to real-time marketing deserved more light and a broader context: the concept of being reactive.
Being Proactive About Being Reactive
How often has it been drilled into our heads that being reactive is a negative trait and an ineffective way of working? Of course, the comparison is usually being made between being reactive and being proactive.
However, being reactive can in fact be a positive characteristic -- when the comparative alternative is being assumptive.
Everybody Makes Assumptions, Every Day
Think about how many assumptions you, or those you work with, make every day. Assumptions are not inherently bad, particularly when they are educated and formed based on experience. After all, isn't that one of the benefits of working with experienced partners and colleagues? Educated assumptions are predictive -- to varying degrees, of course. But so many assumptions made in marketing are either overtly positioned as fact, or implicitly presented as fact with a lack of disclosure. Often assumptions fill in the blanks to justify an otherwise non-data- or research-supported statement. Plugging in assumptions is easy. Seeking answers and admitting that you don't know all the answers is more difficult. Why are agencies and marketers so afraid of stating that some of their ideas are simply assumptions that need to be proven? This is such a pet peeve of mine.
My recommendation is to deal with assumptions head-on. Here are two easy guidelines that will make you a more honest marketer and help you gain the answers to questions that should be rightfully sought, rather than just making assumptions.
1) Disclose your assumptions. Question the statements you make. Do
you really have the data and experience to support them? If the only supportive statements and justification behind your choices are hearsay and theories, these are assumptions. Isolate and disclose
these assumptions. It will allow others around you to understand that there are probably more gray areas than they once thought. You may feel uncomfortable about this at first, but those who seek
answers become smarter marketers than those who don't. It will usually also allow others to be honest about their assumptions as well. As easy as it is to pass off assumptions as fact, it's just as
easy to rely on other's assumptions and scapegoat them when things go wrong, rather than collaboratively isolating assumptions and seeking answers to difficult questions.
2) Plan to be reactive: Rather than basing your strategies on too many assumptions, plan to prove or disprove assumptions and iterate around realities as they take shape. This requires establishing a reactive process. Certain areas of digital marketing are already structured to be reactive -- for example, creative and media optimization, or social community management. But what about less tactical optimization? The legacy processes within most marketing organizations are challenged by iteration in strategic direction. Agencies' profit margins are thinned by material iteration when not properly planned for. However, the alternative is etching assumptions in stone, ignoring the changing realities and committing to ineffective strategies. Go into every plan preparing your team to be reactive to specific potential outcomes. If you plan to be reactive ahead of time, there won't be any surprises. This is the new normal in the age of evolving markets and access to big data, and the process is permeating businesses beyond digital marketing.
How honest are you with yourself when it comes to assumptions? What about your partners and colleagues? How reactive is your company? Share your thoughts in the comments or hit me on Twitter @jasonheller.