David and Goliath ...A marketing automation story.


Malcolm Gladwell tells a very good story, one you probably know quite well. The story of a poor shepherd boy and the massive monster. Gladwell's take makes the story about agility, skill, clear vision, terrain, timing and technique...and little to do with blind luck or divine providence.

Size isn't everything (wink).

Someone smaller.

I'm not going to recount the whole thing, or any of it, but it is a short, bite sized, read.

Think of an army as a big company (military pun intented). You are trained in a particular skill and given a decent berth to bide your time till the action happens. You can rise up the ranks, but the process is largely command and control (Command and control often doesn't play very well with creativity). Till the chaos happens, then it quickly breaks out into pockets of meritocracy again. Steve Jobs being fired from Apple, then re-hired, is the classic business example.

"...Thinking outside the box"

When I was a teenager, I used to love the work of Edward DeBono. In Ireland (and probably most places) when your local library doesn't have a copy of a book you want, you fill out a ticket and they get it (if it is in stock). I had Edward deBonoitis for a while; six thinking, hats, PO, lateral thinking... it was pure gold. He hated "the box." 

I'm not going to lie, school was a drudge. It was probably the same in David's time. Plenty to learn out there in the wild, living off the land, dealing with constant change and fighting with lions (not so much an issue in Ireland).The point I'm getting at is that many companies will want to buy a monster, one size fits all, product - "one ring to control them all." The truth is that these rarely work. I can tell you why too. When your procurement big wig buys an off the shelf product, one of their things is always to tweak it in some way, to "make it suit our business." When you hear that stuff, run! 

After two years of mangling and finangling that person gets promoted and the next person begins to wrestle with the same ball of string and so it begins again, ad infinitium. They might even create an entirely new department to deal with the overspill. The "office of funny walks."Off the shelf and bespoke are different types of animal. Firstly, many people prefer to be widgets. Work = Salary (- 8 hours). Most don't have the aptitude or interest in learning to drive a space shuttle (Fewer functions, fewer headaches). It takes time to learn complex systems. New systems rarely "integrate" with older technology seamlessly. Politics are always a bitch. Your spanking new IT system doesn't help Mandy the manager gain control over business trips and team building, etc, etc.

Don't feel slighted. If you're a person who has given his/her all in the corporate environment for 30 years, I salute you. You probably didn't get a watch or too many Christmas cards these days. Nowadays you get a Linkedin request from the people who fired you asking for the password on your i phone account. (True story and it still makes me giggle :).

 Back to the main plot...
If I had one tip for any business person, it's to use the tools you have in your toolbox. They may not be the best, but you know how to use them. That is not the way that big business thinks, it's always looking to dominate a space. To lay out a matrix and then fill that matrix with appropriate widgets. It works fine, till it doesn't work fine. Read a couple of great books for more info on that one...

So what has all of that got to do with marketing automation?

Quite a lot actually. If your business is web based, it is by default a global business. You may target a local market, but your audience can be anywhere and anyone (think of a drone pilot in Oklahoma, as an example). You have the basic tools at your command to reach your audience.

Too many marketers think their time is free. But they don't realize that it is more valuable than their money.

Jay Baer

Remember that Jay Baer quote, it's important. I'm making the argument that automation is a valid guerrilla tactic. It permits you to extend your reach. Your "army of one" just became something a little bit more sophisticated. Time became your friend.

Another thing is that "automation" falls into the same melange as "AI" business intelligence, data mining, competitor analysis, social listening, outsourcing, agile, lean, transition, project management, big data, TQM, Six Sigma, etc. They all mean something, but it's doubtful that your management team can get a handle on it before the new "buzzword of the day" pops up. Put simply, most large companies rely on ingrained patterns, not innovation. That's your ace card.
While saying that ...big companies play "the bluff" better than you do. They can send their "sales team"to that meeting and convince the prospect that: Yes, We Can ...put a buffalo on the moon, in eighty days!" They may not have the ability, the right people or knowledge, but they argue that between signing and delivery they can "manage" the baby. Sales has no direct contact or responsibility to operations/delivery. Operations has to carry the can and sales commissions are paid out long before someone buries the project, or in this case, "the bull."

So why is automation so "bad"?

I would infer that is basic in group/out group psych 101. "We deliver you hand made, golden crust, pizza. Dominos, they work to a recipe. Sheesh, who needs Dominos?" It might be a lie but it hits you in your individualist, sensitive, sweetspot.
I've made the point before that you don't publish one daily newspaper and leave it on a bench in battery park. By the same token, writing a screed on BeBee may bring you great satisfaction, but the internet audience is closer to four billion people. That's a lot of Dominos.

Is it really bad?

Do you remember Linkedin before it became Facebook lite. Each day there was an echo chamber blast of "Linkedin (not equal) Facebook." Every day, like clockwork. Plenty of peeps were quick to hang their gang colors and clamber aboard. Complete tosh, but virtue signalling and wearing a nice tie is always good business, ain't it?
In the David v Goliath scenario the refrain would ring out; "can't you face me like a man!" Every bone idle propagandist has used that line at some stage to defend outdated values and frame an outcome within a certain bounded rule set. Social automation tools and digital tools make use of the fact that digital (as opposed to real) makes exact copies, so you can easily duplicate content across channels. To the people with full spec events, marketing, design and development teams, this makes you a "cheat." "The guy with 1000 bombs often calls the guy with 1 bomb a terrorist."

Answer me goddamit! Is it really BAAAD?

Jessep (Jack Nicholson): You want answers?
Kaffee (Tom Cruise): I think I'm entitled to them.
Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessep: You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives...You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.Hard to argue with Jack and I'm not going to. He makes a valid point.
My point is slightly different and it is;

Jack and myself are on the same side of the Guantanamo fence, as it were. Automation is here. "It's real." You need to skill up to utilize your advantage. Otherwise you're a tulip tangoing with (Mike)Tyson.My final foray into the world of guerrilla tactics is the ability to stay light and move fast. You've often heard that the hardest thing for large companies to do is "the fast pivot." Being quick to spot an opportunity is strangely one of the advantages of automation. The tool-set allows you to analyse more data faster, use that information and make key decisions.
It actually leads to different strategies like "ready, fire aim," where you can put a product out there, find an audience and tweak it to their needs. Think of of it as cluster bombing. You provide a set of features, the market reacts to one in particular and you go again with more precision, iterating as you go...walking in your artillery. Of course this is a big company tactic, but it works just as well with automated tools.The ability to "fail fast and fail early" is a similar model to the ready, fire, aim model, but relies on your failures being "cheap," by converting your speed and ability to pivot into a totally new direction.
A large company, simply by virtue of it's size cannot utilize this tactic (even if they pretend they can). As a side note, even when they build break away teams and projectize it, the game is still played within a matrix structure. A Frankenstein fetish fantasy. Clay Christensen covers it well in his book.

So David, what's left to tell you?

Nothing. Be You!

References :

Don't be unhappy to be a shepherd boy minding sheep, that's what the internet is.