What Marie Kondo Could Teach Marketers About Clutter

mattnitzberg-ddtData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Matt Nitzberg, chief growth officer at ThinkVine.

Japanese organization expert Marie Kondo advises a few simple steps to get a home in order. First, tackle the home in “categories,” such as clothing, media and kitchen utensils. Second, pile everything together. Finally, hold each item in your hands and keep only those that “spark joy.”

While marketers may not actually pile what they do on the floor, it’s time to do some major cleaning. Marketers contending with increasing pressure on performance must justify what they do, creating an environment where clutter and obstacles are barriers to success. Marketers must scrutinize their approach for ways to streamline and simplify, and allow what really works to shine.

To follow Kondo’s advice, marketers should inspect their business in three different categories: strategy, operations and analytics.

Customers First

Marketing departments contend with fragmenting customer behavior and are inundated with new technologies and vast sets of data. Yet, marketers can only streamline for growth and profitability if they simplify their approach.

One strategy lauded by marketers in recent years is the customer-first approach. Building strategies by asking how to win with customers can unify a marketing team and free them to eliminate waste. In particular, chasing competitors – rather than customers – can generate enormous waste with little return.

Kroger reported its shift to a customer-first strategy contributed to more than 10 years of quarterly same-store sales growth and increased profits. It focused its customer-centric strategy around four keys: its people, products, the shopping experience and prices. Activities that don’t support these keys are not prioritized.

Strategies often fragment as marketers hold onto outdated goals or create pet projects to test channels and platforms without considering how they fit into a customer-first plan. They must ask what their customer might need from them on the go. The answer might be solved by a mobile app, but it might not.

Customer needs should dictate marketers’ next move. Similarly, marketing teams must be freed to stop doing things that no longer drive value for customers and the business. For example, if some customers don’t respond to direct mail, stop sending it to them.

Updated Operations

Next, marketers should examine the operations that drive their business on a daily basis. Inertia is a powerful force. When we can hold onto practices – even outdated ones – we often will.

So here’s another reason to put the customer at the center: Use that principle to overcome inertia and put disparate efforts together to enhance customer value. Design operations to reflect the customer journey. For example, if customers watch television programs on digital devices, TV and digital teams should collaborate on more addressable advertising plans, rather than remaining disconnected.

Companies may find that they can still draw on the approaches that made them successful in the past if they update them for today’s customer. P&G, which is undertaking major changes in its portfolio, organization and marketing approach, remains committed to brand storytelling. For years, it has been a top US and global advertiser on traditional TV.

CMO Mark Pritchard recently explained that the company may take a digital-first approach to advertising based on changing consumer behavior, but the real magic happens when it draws on its storytelling strengths to make a relevant connection, such as in recent “like a girl” videos.

To turn a change in strategy into a reality, many companies will need to train employees on the new approach. Lean marketing might be the right operations methodology for a company to adopt. Lean marketing forces marketing teams to focus on executing a few critical projects in approachable small pieces, which could be a good way to focus everyone around common goals.

The Metrics

Finally, it’s time to ditch many of the silo-specific reports and metrics that drive marketing teams apart and fracture the company’s understanding of what is truly creating customer and company value. Digital-specific analyses and reporting are the first places to look, as they are often the source of both the complexity and the noise.

Standalone digital analyses, including attribution, can provide granularity but without critical context. In the process, it can inflate the impact of digital marketing while underrepresenting the contributions of other marketing efforts and external factors, including the economy, weather and seasonality.

On the other side, marketers should stop relying so heavily on legacy metrics that offer hazy insight, such as GRPs for traditional television. These metrics ignore the important changes to customer behavior, such as how customers use multiple screens at the same time, and even purchase products from competitors on their phones while shopping at another retailer’s store. Very few purchase paths travel directly from a TV advertisement to a store these days.

If marketers pile all of these metrics onto the proverbial floor, they’ll notice that many absolutely do not “spark joy” and need to be discarded. Once the messy metrics are tossed to the side, what next?

Jim Nail, VP and principal analyst at Forrester, advises marketers to unify their impact analytics. He recommends “multiple marketing analytics approaches to get a comprehensive customer view of marketing performance. It has elements of marketing mix modeling to help CMOs get laser-sharp focus on budget-based allocations, while other elements borrowed from [digital] attribution give marketing professionals the tactical guidance needed to optimize creative and media placement decisions.”

The underlying math may be complicated, but the approach is refreshingly simple: Marketing leaders can support their customer-centric vision with holistic and customer-centric marketing analytics that are both broad and deep. This will allow their organizations to focus on creating customer value, not clutter.

Follow ThinkVine (@ThinkVine) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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