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Marketing is changing and those in charge of direction, strategy and performance are having a hard time keeping up. From startups to larger corporates, the CMO or VP of Marketing is finding it more and more difficult to stay on top of it all.

The skillsets required within a marketing team are ever expanding. With an explosion of potential channels, programmatic buying, growth modelling and activity, community management, data analytics and brand building to name a few it can be incredibly hard to build and hold onto a team that can offer all of this, and pretty much impossible for a young startup.

Interestingly CMO’s are beginning to realise this skill gap and are taking action accordingly. They are now beginning to hire agency operating managers to simply manage the performance and direction of the agencies that they work with, which can be up to as many as 10!

Agencies are also having a hard time recruiting. Being an agency requires one to be at the forefront of digital marketing techniques and strategies, and therefore many of the roles now required within marketing teams simply did not exists in marketing 12-24 months ago; data scientists, growth hackers and product developers are a few simple examples (disclaimer, I know some companies might very well have had these rolls in other areas and leveraged them in marketing but generally these appointments are new for marketing).

How can CMO’s and marketing teams maintain control in a world fast running out of control? Click To Tweet

Marketing departments have undergone enormous change over the last few years, and the role of CMO could be more appropriately called ‘Change Management Officer’. I’ve been there, it’s tough! Inexperienced CEO’s (and by this I mean those that are unaware as to the change that is really taking place in marketing) demanding the unknown and undeliverable, shareholders unable to grasp the basics of digital marketing and the frontiers of digital marketing exponentially expanding…

So how the hell can CMO’s and marketing teams offer more oversight and maintain control in a world that feels like it’s fast running out of control?


The issues and complexities of marketing

Brain of the informed consumer lean marketing is changing marketing







So let’s dig into some of the underlying issues with a more traditional approach to marketing.

The way we find and buy products has changed!

Marketing has traditionally (i.e. in MBA speak) been about delivering and communicating value to an audience. Before the age of the web advertising was merely about buying television and paper adverts that helped you push the right messages to a trapped audience that had zero ability to offer feedback and talk to one another.

These days markets are intertwined, in touch with one another and with a collective voice far more empowered than ever, and that’s great news! But with informed consumers comes a more complex buying cycle, where reviews, peer recommendations, and influencer suggestions being far more important than that advert you saw on the tube!

These days markets are intertwined, in touch and with a collective voice far more empowered than ever. Click To Tweet

This is the world we live in now. So that last click attribution model you might have been employing becomes less relevant over time, because brands should be engaging with customers way way up the buying journey, perhaps before the customer even knows they want to buy a product or service.

How often do you buy marketing platforms through recommendations of colleagues across social media, for example? If you’re anything like me, that’s where you found the bulk of your most useful tools. How do those influencers hear about the product? Very likely outreach and opinionated content that garners a reaction from the influencer, hopefully a good reaction!


Buying cycles are longer

The buying cycle is changing with lean marketing







Longer buying cycles that occur on and offline are now causing major headaches for brands, with attribution modelling being a minefield; again especially the smaller companies and overwhelmed CMOs! Where does mobile attribution, WOM and deep linking come into all this – all of them incredibly important?

Should you use last, first, periodic, time based or flat attribution modelling, 28 day post click or make your own? Who knows, but you can be sure that the default on all those tools you’re using will be set to something that makes the tool look as good as possible.

Attribution modelling is an optimal proportion of resource allocation to produce the best results Click To Tweet

Ultimately, all we’re trying to achieve with attribution modelling is to understand the optimal proportion of resource allocation to produce the best results for the business. And this is more complex than it sounds… trust me. For larger businesses you can spend money and create bespoke attribution models, but for young, bootstrapped or angel financed startups, the home-made attribution model is more likely what you’ll end up with.

These developments are so new that marketing departments are becoming learning labs, where people are tasked with being up to date on the hottest new trends and tactics, but it can be tricky to systemise organisational learning. This is where agile or lean marketing comes into play.

Are we moving closer to lean marketing?

Lean marketing is changing marketing test your vision







So as we move from traditional campaign based marketing into a more fluid approach to digital marketing and micro-campaign management, we move ever closer to something that resembles agile development; that ‘always deploying’ model of software deployment that allows small iterative changes in direction and resource allocation.

Now marketing needs to embrace this, and yet not forget its roots of building a brand, telling a story and ensuring market competitiveness. The key lies in having a vision or strategy for marketing, but testing on an ongoing basis with agile or lean marketing methodologies.

Growth hacking is great, but without direction can just deliver mindless, useless growth Click To Tweet

As I’ve said in many previous posts, growth hacking is great, but left unchecked and without direction can just end up delivering mindless, useless growth. I have enormous respect for growth hackers, as they have an invaluable skill set and a different way of looking at the same problems. But, much like anything else it’s coordination of efforts and ensuring we’re all pulling in the same direction.

Growth hacking unchecked

As marketing functions become more technical and analytically focussed we need a way to incorporate that hacker mentality into a broader approach to marketing. I think that it’s unfair and unwise to expect a growth hacker to solve all your problems, much like expecting a VP of Marketing to roll up their sleeves and build an Adwords campaign is unlikely.

So it’s about a framework, a way to ensure that the strategic imperatives of the business are being focussed on and yet allows a creative (yet robust) approach to experimentation and micro-campaign deployment. This is where lean marketing, or as some might know it, agile marketing comes into play.

So what the hell is a lean marketing or agile marketing methodology?

Lean marketing is not a replacement to the marketing function or strategy. Instead it is a way of getting a group of marketers with an array of disparate skill sets (perhaps working remotely) pulling in the same direction.

In short, it’s a methodology that ensures a majority of time is spent on proven marketing tactics that deliver an underlying growth mechanism for the business with more stable returns on investment; and yet allows a significant amount of time for experimentation focussed on 1 of maybe 2 things; either finding new sources of growth or ensuring those assumptions that are made about the current growth tactics are still evident and correct. This is the 70:20:10 rule, 70% of your time on stuff you know works, 20% of your time spent on testing and optimising that 70%, 10% on wild untethered experimentation.

My suggestion then to those Heads of Marketing that are struggling to find the time to do everything that is being asked of them is to stop. Take a step back and undertake this 5 step process to getting back on top of marketing’s efforts.

1) Build an analytics framework

Identify the key conversions that make up your sales and product funnel, using Dave McClure’s good old PIRATE formula has always worked for me:

  • Acquisition
  • Activation
  • Retention
  • Referral
  • Revenue

Check his slideshare embeded here for more information:

Ensure that you have all your analytics tags in place, reporting from (no doubt) a multitude of analytics platforms. You might need to create your own data points here, such as conversion rates and cost of acquisition etc.

Then you need to periodically plot these so that you can see how you efforts are affecting these agreed conversion rates.

2) Benchmark

Look at your key conversion rates, the direction of movement and make a call. Which ones look as though they need work?

Make a list. Use your gut to inform you at this point, as you don’t really have much in the terms of accurate benchmarking here. But great places to ask are on social media, and simply digging into other posts and case studies.

This can be hard, as I know all the questions that are likely rolling around your head right now.

  • “How do I know what average is?”
  • “Does my industry have a different average set?”
  • “Maybe our business is just less exciting than others?”

Here’s an interesting post with benchmarks for some conversion rates.

3) Get your strategy inline

Now speak with your CEO, find out what the main focus is for the business and ensure that your strategy is aligned. There is no point in growing traffic if the product has poor conversion rates, or optimising the product for conversions if you want increased visibility in Google.

Interestingly here, there can be a real difficulty in getting product and growth teams onto the same page. Of course everyone wants growth, but one persons goals are not anothers, and so ensuring that you are working incredibly closely with the CTO is paramount. Without their buy in,

“you ain’t goin nowhere fast..!”

There is no point in growing traffic if the product has poor conversion rates Click To Tweet

And don’t try to do everything at once. Again, trust me, I’ve been there. I have not pushed back when pushy CEO’s have asked for the world in a week, and instead tried to manage the lot. Yup, you got it, I failed to deliver. Learning to say ‘no’ can be so powerful for any aspiring marketer, as it allows people to focus on one thing at a time. No one can really multitask. So don’t try.

I always say to my partner-clients that we’re going to move one needle at a time. That’s it!

4) Figure out all the inputs

lean marketing is changing marketing lead inputs







Now it’s time to get creative. People always assume process and framework removes any option for creativity. I couldn’t disagree more. What a framework gives you and your team is time to really think about the problems you’re trying to solve, and then get creative to find all the possible things that ‘might’ help you get there.

Creativity is about problem SOLVING, and you need time for this Click To Tweet

So now you have your framework, your analytics stack and your main goals it’s time to unleash your team’s creativity and discuss ALL the inputs that you can affect that you think will give you that desired output.
This set of inputs allows you to figure out a range of potential tactics to trial, so that you can find the ones that really work.

So let’s assume the following:

The strategic goals of a business are to increase awareness and not ad spend; therefore there might be a strategic impetus on increasing visibility in Google and reducing cost of user activation.

So what outputs can you hope to affect? These are basically your KPIs to measure your work and in this case might include organic traffic sessions per week and domain authority, alongside activation rates from organic traffic.

So what inputs can we change the effect this?

We can create compelling, optimised content focused on answering the questions of those ‘seekers’ in Google

  • We can look at aggressive link earning campaigns
  • We can run campaigns aimed at getting influencers to share this content
  • Create content on other mediums for sharing
  • We can undertake guest posting campaign
  • And of course…. the list goes on!

5) Then you test, a lot!

So now that you’ve identified both the outputs you want to affect, and those inputs that you believe will affect those outputs; Test!

Again, coming back to our current example… once you have agreed that incoming links are important to achieve your overall strategy objectives you can draft up a range of experiments to find those tactics that actually work and deliver links.

Once you have them all, you can prioritise based on what is going to deliver the most for the least amount of work and investment. The way that we do that (and I know lots of others are beginning to use this method as was described in a great post from Sean Ellis on this podcast, is through a prioritised approach to experimentation. But in short you give each test idea a score from 1-10 (1 being the worst and 10 being the best) for:

  • Potential impact on growth – 1 is low, 10 is high
  • Confidence of success – 1 is low, 10 is high
  • Ease of implementation – 1 is low, 10 is high

Then you make a call on how long it will take you, and who will be doing it, so you score how many hours are required for Marketing, Design and Development teams.

Then you simply perform the following calculation to gauge the priority of experiments.

ICE Score / Total Resources required (number of hours) = priority

Then it’s a really simple case of reordering the experiments, and making sure that you’re picking things that are within your ‘growth focus’ for that month/quarter (ie there is no point in optimising emails and retention if you are trying to gain awareness with increased traffic).

Once you have this, it’s simply a case of rolling your sleeves up and pulling the trigger to make things happen. Now is the time to do things that don’t scale, as once you find something that works you can look at automating it later.


So, there you go. A brief overview of how I would use lean marketing to approach a growth project either internally externally as a growth team.

Growth is a team sport @morganb Click To Tweet

But remember that “growth is a team sport” (quote from Morgan Brown), and required buy in from everyone in the business. It is not siloed, and everyone should be reminded that their efforts are all part of that growth strategy.

So good luck, please let me know how it goes, or if you have any additions to this process or you simply disagree. Either way, I’m all ears…