How to avoid lazy, magpie marketing

by Ben Pujji


Every day marketers and agencies get excited about their newest ideas and tactics. Having spent the better part of a decade agency-side, I've seen the relentless pursuit of 'new'. But why? Why is it that so many obsess and focus on the new and shiny all the time?

Most will claim that new things, being fresh, might yield some kind of first-mover advantage. Others clearly hope that being first to spot new things will earn them reputations as thought-leaders, innovators, trend-setters, or even the SPITR crown (Smartest Person In The Room). I think the pursuit of new is often just lazy, magpie marketing.

What really matters, is making a difference. If you're first, that's great, did you make a difference? If you're second, that's great, did you make a difference? If you're last, did you make a difference? That can be fine too. The first to do something new that, well, yawn, you did to been seen as innovative, which didn't really make a difference? Yeah, that's not awesome, sorry. The thing is, pursuing new things is just one part of healthy marketing - not the hero or the heart.

Forget new for a minute, have you looked at your overall portfolio of marketing activity and exterminated the activities which aren't working well, to create funds, headspace and momentum to focus on activities you think will make the most difference, in some cases, the new stuff?

Your resources, your focus and your time are finite. Unless a regular activity in your business, or agency, involves getting your knives out and looking for things to cut, as well as a healthy dose of looking for new ways to evolve or add to what you're doing, then you might just be holding yourself back. You might be the marketing equivalent of a fast-food junkie - a bit out of balance. Agencies are often the worst at this, try convincing your rock-star Executive Creative Director you're going to reduce the TV allocation to extend a successful [anything else].

If you can find ways to keep your marketing lean and focussed by continually evaluating, learning and refining, then you'll be able to give more attention to the things you think are most effective, and give them a better chance of success. You make more of a difference by shutting down distractions and inefficiency, but you also win by pouring more energy into the things you think will make the most difference. It's win-win.

I know that it can be easier and less hassle to chase after new things than to improve, or stop doing old things. Your stakeholders, your team, your agency, and in some cases customers, care deeply about old things. They might not be happy when you cruise in to shut them down or mix them up. The trick, though, is not to randomly chop one thing to make room for another, but to have some idea about what success looks like - and evaluate against that (sorry if that's telling you to suck eggs).

A simple model to help you focus is known as 'Champions & Challengers'. Champions are the activities you believe are most effective and efficient - that you have reason to believe are working well. Challengers are unproven new ideas and activities which you're testing to see if you can outperform your Champions. Anything that isn't a Champion or Challenger, is a Choker, and it gets cut.

How will you decide what's a Champion, Choker or Challenger? Evaluate each activity against your strategy and KPIs. Why not do that now - put each activity in your marketing plan on a post-it (or Trello) and classify them as Champions, Challengers, or Chokers. Trust me, it's liberating to find and exterminate your Chokers, and use the resources they tied up to chase your shiny new ideas, or grow your tried-and-true activities, guilt-free.

If you don't have a strategy or some sense of what indicates success to help you evaluate activities, then you should probably attend to that before you do anything else.

Call it being strategic, call it being organised, or call it being focussed. What really matters is finding a way to focus on making a difference, first and foremost. Looking for new shiny things is just fine, as part of a balanced marketing programme.

I used to love the bragging rights of being the guy to first send the link to that new app, or whatever, now I see those people, and that game, as a bit of a distraction.