Take this test to see if you’re a Marketing Tactic Addict

The world’s recent arms race has lessons to teach about modern marketing. The U.S. and Russia (then the U.S.S.R.) spent a fortune on new weapons during the Cold War, each afraid it would get trumped by the other in battle. Tactics — what weaponry to use — took priority over strategy — when and how to use them. Jonathan Schell’s book of that time chillingly described what was at stake: The Fate of the Earth.

In spite of lessons from both ancient and recent history, folks who wage wars typically get hung up on gizmos. So do those who “wage commerce.” Are you addicted to tactics over strategy? Take this test:

  1. Can you list three narrowly-focused strategies for doing an end-run around your competitors? Give yourself one point for each, and add a point for each that uses “out-of-vogue” technologies or tactics, such as direct mail or email.
  2. Have you recently watched a competitor use a tactic and asked, “What’s their plan for using that?” Give yourself two points for looking deeply into the tactic. If instead of asking yourself that question, yours was “Cool! How can we get us one of those?,” dock yourself two points.
  3. Was your last strategy something you first imagined being executed using older or lower-tech methods, but they turned out too slow or costly? Give yourself one point.
  4. Do you find yourself, “Spending eight hours on tactics and five minutes refining your strategy?” (A tip of the hat to Seth Godin’s blog today for this one.) Take away three points.
  5. Finally, have you rejected a proposal lately because the authors didn’t do a clear job of linking their most gee-whiz tactics to the strategy you outlined in your RFP (request for proposal)? Give yourself three points. Conversely, if your RFP did not explicitly describe your strategy, subtract four points.

Tally things up and pencils down. If your final score is less than three, you may be a Marketing Tactic Addict. If it’s a negative number, seek professional help. Addiction to the latest tactics — whether they’re social media ploys, video podcasts or whatever — are empty calories at best and brand poison at worst.

Remember that the attack that brought our country temporarily to its knees didn’t come from a thermonuclear strike made by a hostile country. It came from a networked, amorphous group — one that sneaked into our infrastructure and turned it against us with explosive results.

The enemy used nothing more than box cutters and a willingness to be martyred. It’s a chilling example of simple tactics aligned behind a killer strategy.

What the Netflix prize teaches us about digital teamwork

A few days ago a team crossed the finish line in a race to develop the best algorithm for the Netflix recommendation engine. It wasn’t easy. It turns out that the type of business logic once carried exclusively between the ears of a good video rental clerk is hard  to automate. Netflix decided they needed help. They placed a price on improving suggestion results: One million dollars for a 10% or better improvement.

Teams around the world got to work. It took them three years to reach the 10% milestone. And 30 days after one team did, the best results over that threshold took the prize. Here’s the leaderboad.

We can learn from these teams’ struggles. The leaders who were interviewed all agree they couldn’t have done it without an interdisciplinary approach, tight collaboration and a willingness to be wildly creative. According to a piece in the New York Times, “the formula for success was to bring together people with complementary skills and combine different methods of problem-solving.”

In the physical world, we know that the more hands you have to lift something, the heavier an object you can lift. But most of us in our digital, information age careers, have a difficult time imagining that this synergy is possible when the heavy lifting is computational. We need to think again.

Quoted in the Times piece, David Weiss, a member of one of the teams competing, said, “The surprise was that the collaborative approach works so well, that trying all the algorithms, coding them up and putting them together far exceeded our expectations.”

We’ve seen it work with open source software and multi-player online games. Now we have a very public example that in the digital world as well, many hands make light work.

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