October 7, 2015

“DocThink” is a marketing mistake.

One of the big fat truths that emerged in the last digital blink of an eye is this:

Stop thinking Document when you should be celebrating Process.

Let’s face it. Most of us grew up with documents. Books, magazines, articles, term papers, manifestos, holy books, envelopes in the mail, brochures – forests of loblolly pines cut down to produce stuff that flowed out of printing presses. (Hey, Gutenberg had a pretty good run, didn’t he? Long after he died.)

Gutenberg’s still dead. Print isn’t dead – yet – but it’s almost ready to be sent upstate to live on a lovely farm.

quote from Zeno

Zeno, somewhat misquoted.

Despite the digital revolution, we still think with a “document mentality.” Information is static-stuff-on-paper. Take three examples: marketing plans, research and websites.

A marketing plan in the old days (think, say, 2007) is a nice thick sheaf of pages, the result of long (committee) labor, presented in a binder, immediately parked on a shelf. It included ambitious numerical goals and graphs, so everything for the next 12 months would be measured against it. KPIs would be sacred for a year until the planning process rebooted.

What’s wrong with that? Plenty. That static document often prevented mid-course corrections based on evolutionary or even revolutionary events. It had a fixed beginning and end, and if the competitive environment or the market or the behavior of market segments changed, well, it had to wait until next year. It’s there in print, see, so somehow cast in stone.

Let’s look at research next. Since long before you or I were born, “research” meant an activity conducted prior to action that created a document in a binder, immediately parked on a shelf.  It was expensive, extensive, and yes, static. Action plans were made based on its sacred texts. It was a settled issue, over and done with until the next year. Or longer.

Our third “document” is the website. For most organizations, a website is something you plan and write and develop and enhance and, finally, publish. And then on the sixth day you rest. (Whew. We won’t have to do this again for a while.)

If there was ever a means of communication that put Print into a death spiral, it’s the Internet. And yet … and yet … how often is a launch date for a web makeover delayed because it isn’t “finished” yet, or “not yet perfect” – the same mental process we used to prepare print documents. How often will a less-than-wonderful site persist because “we just re-did it last year”?

A typo in your printed catalog could be a disaster, if 3 zillion of them splooshed out of the printing press and into circulation before you saw the wrong phone number on the cover. (Yes, that happened.) By extreme contrast, a website typo, text change or picture swap-out can be made in minutes with any modern CMS. It is no big deal and takes no programming skill to edit on the fly.

Rethink all three of these “documents” – see them as processes

“You can’t step into the same river twice,” said Heraclitus.

“You can’t step into the same river once,”  replied Zeno.

Your marketing plan should flex with a continual flow of new insights into your market. You can, for example, monitor market segments, refine messaging, reshape your brand story, promote engagement based on user activity and competitive action.

Stay agile. If you’re following the book, you’re stuck in soft cement.

Your research needs a rethink, too. The digital firehose flow of information means your knowledge of your prospects can grow daily. It’s now possible to measure engagement even in downloadable media, so research can be a refinement of message every day.

Lastly, your website cannot and should not rest. It is not “done” when it’s published. As an added bonus, freshened pages are better for search results. Static sites (you know, like the one made for your nephew’s birthday 6 years ago) fade into oblivion; dynamic sites get uplifted. How often should you tinker with your site? Every. Damn. Day. If you learn from analytics that nobody’s engaged by, or even spending time on page X, it’s time to edit or refresh or replace page X. Rinse and repeat. 

In short, it’s all about our attitude regarding time. Marketing, unlike Accounting, should not obey hard-date stops and starts. The beancounters are servants of the calendar, but you should not be. Dynamic marketing activities may have a set beginning, but should not arbitrarily end. The process is in flux (hey, Heraclitus was right!) and standing still is not an option.