Aug 27, 2021

Disruption Is Here, Are You Ready?

By: Josh Dougherty


Disruption Is Here, Are You Ready?

Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a body at rest will remain at rest and a body moving at a constant speed in a straight line will keep moving in a straight line at a constant speed...unless it’s acted on by an outside force.

This law of motion is analogous to many of our marketing programs. We have a core program that moves forward at a constant speed. If executed well, it delivers consistent results. When our programs operate at this rhythm it's easy to get lulled into a sense of complacency, expecting the same tactics or approaches to return the same results over and over again.

There’s one problem: just like Newton’s first law states, speed only stays constant until it’s acted on an outside force. 

And here’s the uncomfortable truth. Your marketing program is on a predictable and imminent collision course with an outside force. It’s the repetitive disruption caused by the exponential acceleration of change in technology, and all our human reactions to that change.

Your ability to create a marketing organization (and program) that’s resilient to this constant disruption will be the key to driving growth in the next 18 months, let alone the next three to five years.


Disruptions Every Marketer Must Face Right Now

Prognostication about what future disruption will rock our marketing world is a fool’s errand. The rate of technological change makes the most informed prediction an educated guess at I will not try to predict the future here. Instead I will highlight some disruptions we’re already facing today.


Artificial Intelligence

We aren’t living in 2015 anymore. Most of us have accepted that AI is going to be a big part of the future of our lives, including how we do marketing. The thing that most of us don’t want to admit is that it isn’t in our future, but instead part of our present.

We are faced with challenges that must be met with innovative strategies. A few of the most common and familiar are:

  • Search algorithms smart enough to filter out all content unless it is truly valuable and helpful in the context of the user’s search
  • AI that effortlessly tucks your marketing emails away from your prospects, never to be seen
  • New tools that are arising every single day

AI can also be leveraged in your marketing program to work faster and smarter. This can help us counteract the challenges AI introduces. But successfully adopting these AI tools will require resilience as well.


Privacy (21st century style)

Privacy. It isn’t what it used to be. But thankfully, regulators look to be finally working harder to protect consumers from the behemoths of big data.

Today marketers are faced with adjusting their tactics in the face of regulations like GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act. Other jurisdictions, and potentially the federal government are following.

The results of these laws are that targeting and advertising to your audience is more difficult than it has ever been before. In addition, it’s no longer legal to simply scrape the internet for email addresses and blanket them with an email campaign. Buying a list doesn’t really pass muster either.

These changes are 100% good for the consumer. And 100% challenging for marketers. I for one believe that the onus is on us to think through how to build brands that are committed to being radically helpful and memorable, so that we can attract those who want to buy from us. 

It turns out, in addition to being legal under the laws mentioned above, an opt-in is also the best way to build an engaged list...which leads me to the next point.


The Disappearance Of Cookie-Driven Surveillance State

The long rumored demise of the cookie is now upon us. Explicit opt-in or consent will be the requirement going forward in the future due to the privacy laws mentioned above. In addition recent iOS changes, as well as the built-in functionality of popular browsers like Firefox and Safari, are making cookie blocking the norm rather than the exception.

There’s one simple takeaway. The era of simply harvesting user data and using it for advertising targeting is likely going to end. No doubt we will still be able to target and advertise to people, but how we do this will considerably change.

This means that all of the sudden first-person data (especially email addresses) are now more valuable than ever. Many of us have been able to relax our focus from list building because it was easy to find people on Facebook, LinkedIn, or through programmatic display. It’s time to get back to basics and start building that list again. It will be the key to your future success.


The Erosion Of Trust

Trust is at an all time low. I wrote a post about this earlier this year on the findings from the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer. Here’s a relevant excerpt.

“Edelman titled their report “Information Bankruptcy” for a reason. The barrage of misinformation and global society’s inability to identify a shared set of facts has left people in an unprecedented state of mistrust.

Edelman reported that on their 0-100 trust index, only businesses remain as a trusted institution (only just at 61, 60 is the cut-off for being trustworthy). Nonprofits, government, and the media are all considered untrustworthy. Not just in the United States, but globally.

One of the main causes of this is the way we generally get our information and conversely, the main ways that marketers distribute their content. The report shares that advertising and social media are the two least trusted channels when it comes to receiving information. People know that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn have created echo chambers for us to hear what we want to hear and confirm our biases. But we keep going back, and our trust keeps decreasing from there.”


The Pursuit Of The Closed Deal At The Expense Of Inbound Marketing

One of the consequences of the pandemic and the slowdown in sales that many companies experienced in 2020 is a renewed focus on closing deals quickly. This combined with the trend of sliding marketing programs under the purview of a Chief Revenue Officer concerned with closing sales is putting increased pressure on closing deals without regard for anything else.

Hear me clearly. I believe one of marketing’s core functions is to build a steady pipeline of qualified leads that fuel customer acquisition, but it isn’t the only function.

What this radical push to focus all energy into closing deals doesn’t take into account is the fact that you must build a trusted and known brand for your direct marketing type activities to succeed. Brand marketing must be paired with funnel marketing. This used to be accepted as a given. Now marketers are having to fight to keep their brand marketing budgets.


Building Resilience For Existing Disruptions And Those To Come

One of the best things for us to learn as marketers, is that very little is in our control. We are dependent on the emotions and whims of the people we are marketing to. We are also dependent on them to take action. And we’re dependent on the technology that we use to reach our audience. And all three of these things are changing every day.

Combine that with the major disruptions we’ve just discussed and it becomes crystal clear that the only thing that we can control is how we respond to these disruptions.

I recently finished reading Charlene Li’s book The Disruption Mindset. It contained key takeaways that I believe marketing organizations can apply to help us navigate a landscape of constant change. I want to highlight 5 below:

  • The time to prepare for the disruption isn’t once it’s already happened: Organizations that can navigate disruption well, or better yet be disruptors in their industries don’t wait for disruption to happen to them. They sit down and do the hard work of learning about trends and asking the hard questions about what their customers will need in the future. Li focuses on organizations creating a product, but I think the principles apply equally well to marketing. Resilient organizations must take time to think through how buying behaviors and audience actions will change over time and then focus on building marketing programs that will serve those future needs.
  • Data and testing should inform disruptive thinking and action: Many of us think that we should maybe dip our toe into a new tactic, or try out a new approach. While it’s true that when you’re evaluating a new approach it’s important to develop a rigorous testing or pilot strategy so that you can determine if the new tactic actually works for you. Otherwise, you’re just continuing to make educated guesses with no certainty of their effectiveness.
  • Marketing organizations naturally will have a bias against change: There’s a minority of people in our marketing organizations that enjoy change, but most do not. Change is scary. It requires hard work. As a result, an organization dedicated to being disruptive and being resilient to external disruptions must commit to a habit of what Li calls “burning the boats” so there is no opportunity to retreat. In each situation you will have to decide what it means for you to burn the boats, but burn the boats you will have to do. Once that’s done all energy will be focused on succeeding in the new reality. This is exactly what you need to succeed.
  • A culture built for disruption is more important than a disruptive strategy: I’m a strategist. I love to build a strategy that is cohesive, logical, and practical. But, because of this I also can rely too much on a strategy. In her book Li reminded me that a strategy (whether it’s driving disruption, or responding to it) cannot be executed if your culture isn’t built for disruption. Li says that the three fundamental beliefs of a culture built to thrive in the midst of disruption: openness, agency for each person to act like an owner, and a bias for change. Does your culture have these beliefs?
  • Navigating (and initiating) disruptive change requires a solid structure: Culture alone won’t allow you to drive and navigate through disruption. You also need a structure that allows you to stay on track and move things forward no matter the challenge you face. 

Are You Ready To Build Your Resilience?

So, what do you think? Are you ready to build resilience? Are you ready to take on disruption or win? Are you ready to drive disruption yourself?

Marketing in a world of dramatic and continual change isn’t for the faint of heart, but by building a marketing process and organization that expects disruption you can embrace disruption as a lifestyle, drive consistent results, and enjoy the ride. 

If you want to dig more into this topic, please read Charlene Li’s book. It will give you all kinds of ideas that will prepare you for the inevitable moment when constant forward velocity comes crashing to a stop because of an outside disruptive force.

If you’d like to talk more about disruption in marketing and how to navigate it, find me on Linkedin. I’d love to talk.


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