Just get moving: Overcoming digital paralysis

moving-day I’ve finally up and moved. Welcome to my new home here at WordPress. And, apologies for being out of touch for so long.

See, when I started this blog back in 2010 over at Typepad, that platform was all kinds of modern and full-featured. But, digital years are like dog years. Seven years later, my non-mobile responsive site on a limited-access platform wasn’t looking so new and shiny anymore.

I knew I had to migrate the blog over here. I just never seemed to get around to it. Despite being in the industry for fifteen years, my actual technical skills are fairly limited. I’ve set up WordPress blogs before, and I knew how easy it was to fall down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out how to do those million things right, from design to functionality to site admin. The actual work involved felt daunting. Because I never felt like I had enough time to finish the task, I never actually started it.

I’d fallen into the classic digital paralysis trap: Because I couldn’t do everything, I stopped myself from doing anything. Which is why it’s been nearly two years since my last post.

Oops.

The thing is, plenty of companies suffer from digital paralysis, too. The rate of change in digital is too fast for most corporations to keep up.

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7 useless facts about your personas

Aaahh, personas. Those imaginary people that all planners invent to help inspire our marketing.

At their best, personas are like our childhood imaginary friends – so real that we can almost hear their voices in our heads. At their worst, they’re cardboard-cutouts, boring “average” people designed to appease everybody and please nobody, with 2.1 kids and a dog, who haven’t existed outside of a Norman Rockwell painting in half a decade.

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The trouble with estimates

By its very nature, estimation is a game of unknowns. When we make projections for budgets, revenue or returns, we base them on a series of wobbly assumptions. Each assumption in itself might be somewhat reasonable, but the more of them we put together, the shakier the foundation is on which we build our estimate… and the more likely the estimate is to collapse in a heap.

The fact that we base so much of our decision-making on these estimates ought to be worrisome, when we consider how they’re actually built in the first place.

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A portfolio approach to digital planning

How much money should you be allocating to each channel in your marketing mix?

One simple answer is that you should calculate the ROI of each channel and then shift your budget from the less profitable channels into the more profitable ones. But, even leaving aside various challenges with measuring ROI across a multitude of digital and offline channels, this approach is problematic even assuming you could get accurate numbers. It fails to take all sorts of factors into account, such as the value of emerging channels versus established ones, the difference between awareness marketing and lead generation, and the impact of one channel on another to create a sum greater than its parts.

But the opposite approach — not measuring at all, but simply planning budgets by instinct or by what “feels” right, is even worse. If you have no idea how your various tactics are performing, then you’re flying blind. And as demonstrating ROI becomes increasingly important for marketers, there’s no way that such a laissez-faire way of planning is going to work for very long.

It occurs to me that we need a different approach — one that takes a holistic view of multiple channels and tactics, and drives towards a common goal, but which allows for different performance objectives for each tactic.

Such an approach exists. Our friends in the financial planning industry have been using it for years. They call it portfolio planning.

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The Destructiveness of Anger

Can anger, criticism and negative feedback generate more creative and better ideas than encouragement and positive feedback?

That's the hypothesis explored in a provocatively-titled article in Wired Magazine by Jonah Lehrer entitled The Creativity of Anger.

Why does anger have this effect on the imagination? I think the answer is still unclear – we’re only beginning to understand how moods influence cognition. But my own sense is that anger is deeply stimulating and energizing. It’s a burst of adrenaline that allows us to dig a little deeper, to get beyond the usual superficial free-associations. In contrast, when our mood is neutral or content, there is no incentive to embrace unfamiliar possibilities, to engage in mental risks or brash new concepts. (Why rock the boat?) The absence of criticism has kept us in the same place. And this is why anger makes it easier to think different.

The article has been making the rounds on social channels and stirring up debate all day. Some people are lauding it as a breath of fresh air, while others are aghast at the attack on the sacred cow of brainstorming in a positive, non-judgmental feedback loop.

Personally, I think this sort of thinking leads us down a dangerous and destructive path. Here's why:

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Great achievement has no road map?

The title of this post is a quote from The West Wing. It comes from a third-season episode in which a highly respected physicist is trying to get approval for billions in funding to test theories about the origin of the universe. When asked by a senator about its potential practical applications or benefits, he replies that he can’t provide any, because “great achievement has no road map”.

Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the West Wing, was obviously trying to prove a point about science in this episode. This point showed up as a recurring theme throughout the series, notably in episodes about – among other things – the US space program, scientific medical research into finding a cure for cancer, and even funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. The common thread running through all of these episodes was that, in constantly pushing for the time frame, the budget, the visible returns and the predicted outcomes, we are limiting the capacity for human potential.

And yet, we create road maps all the time. We strategize, plan, and use road maps as tools to help us get from point A to point B.

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Strategy versus tactics

There must be thousands of blog posts out there about the difference between strategy and tactics. You can find 'em in a Google search, but don't bother. I'll save you the trouble.

See, they all pretty much follow the same formula. They start off by bemoaning the fact that nobody else in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD understands the difference between strategy and tactics. They usually cite a few examples in here of poor, misinformed clients, colleagues or even bosses, to illustrate their point that they are SO MUCH SMARTER than everyone else and that this mysterious distinction is something that only they can get. They then proceed to give their own definition, which is accurate to varying degrees, tends to make some sort of reference to ancient Chinese warfare, and is of course illustrated by an example or two. Finally, they wrap up with an admonishment against using the wrong lingo, and usually a self-plug about why they can develop kick-ass strategies that really, truly are strategic. (And not the least bit tactical.)

Here's the thing, though: Most companies don't want strategies. Most companies want tactics.

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