Friday, 10 August 2012

Marketing is getting infinitely complex.

Marketing is getting infinitely complex.
But here is some context to help you deal with that complexity.

Today’s marketer not only has more channel choices than at any other time in history, but the number of channels is increasing every day. Plus they are often operating with effectively less budget, to deliver higher, more accountable performance, while a waterfall of data thunders down upon them.

No wonder we often feel overwhelmed. No wonder many marketers are suffering decision paralysis as they wade through the mountains of options and data trying to decide the best strategy.

In response our reptilian mid-brain has us longing for a simpler time, as a way of protecting us from an ever-lurking fear of failure.

The problem is not complexity

Let's bring some context to this complexity.

In 1999, the IBM Knowledge Management Team developed a Cynefin Framework (a welsh word), which provides new approaches to communication and decision-making in complex social environments. Sounds like a good description of the marketing function - right?

The Cynefin framework has four main domains: 
  • Simple in which the relationship between cause and effect is obvious to all.
  • Complicated in which the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or investigation.
  • Complex in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect.
  • And Chaotic in which there is no relationship between cause and effect at all.
In the context of marketing, the market systems we deal with are at best complicated, but usually complex. Yet often we find ourselves mistakenly developing strategies based on the incorrect assumption of a simple system where cause and effect are obvious.

Understanding that marketing sits in the complex domain creates opportunities for better dealing with the challenges of complexity.

Change your approach to testing and learning
The first insight is that in this domain it is impossible to develop best practice, or even good practice. Instead, relationships between cause and effect manifest as emerging practice. This requires us to probe, sense and respond to the market. It means that marketing activities are actually probing the system, observing the changes that occur and responding to these changes, both negative and positive. This is seen in practice as marketing moves from a succession of individual campaigns to a process of constant engagement.

Collaborate to create new solutions and mutual value

The second insight is that complex systems require us to develop truly collaborative approaches to market. Not simply co-ordination and cooperation, but collaboration leading to creating mutual benefit and value with the many stakeholders within the system. In media we are seeing this collaboration between many of the traditional and the newer media providers and their customers leading to new intellectual property, functionality and utility.

Simply learn to deal with complexity
At the core of our survival mechanism we crave simplicity, the fact is that marketing has never been simple. There were perhaps fewer options in the past, but within the context of the Cynefin framework marketing primarily exists in the complex domain, never the simple.

Marketers need to embrace this complexity and evolve processes and strategies for dealing with complex systems. This means that many of the modes of operating that are based on the simple domain assumption of an obvious relationship between cause and effect will need to change too.

Darren Woolley
Managing Director and Founder
TrinityP3 Strategic Marketing Management

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