Every “Best practice” should come equipped with a “Perfect enough” definition. If they don’t they are a recipe for stagnation. Here’s why:
When an organisation takes a new initiative, i.e. developing a Christmas themed ad campaign, and that initiative works, it would be complete idiocy not to do it again. The next time around the experience gained in the first implementation creates improvement in execution which in turn leads to improved results. This virtuous cycle continues, and the initiative becomes an institution, and somewhere around that time improvements cease to happen. You still get good results, but you don’t get significantly better results no matter how hard you try.
This is perfectly natural. Almost every type of activity has a limited max potential and as you get nearer to maxing out, the same effort to improve the execution yields less and less improvement of (business) results. It’s called an asymptote, a value that you can get close to, but never reach. In my experience it’s usually the S-shaped version that pops up in business, with a slow start, a good ROI on efforts in the middle, and then that discouraging lessening of improvement at the end.
What happens to almost all businesses (and their marketing departments efforts) is that by getting good at something and dubbing it a “best practice” they tend do do more of it long after they’ve stopped improving results. Good advertisers continue to increase media spend. Strong sales forces keep paying for ever moire training of sales people. Clever innovators focus even more on features. Imagine what would happen if they borrowed some insights from each other! But self-critique is hard (don’t I know it) and when the tactic feels good, it works, it’s safe, why bother casting for something else?
This is when your organisation needs to realize that you’ve traveled the curve beyond the point where it’s “perfect enough”, and you should be searching for new initiatives that still have potential to deliver meaningful payoff on invested effort and resources.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be doing things that work. But good development takes good resource management, and if your looking to improve maybe it’s time to quit digging ever deeper and instead go prospecting at some other place. There’s got to be something you haven’t tried yet.
Not too long ago, if you had something interesting to say or something exotic to show you had a pretty decent chance of actually getting through to most people. And I really mean “most people” as in the majority of your nation or culture. After all, people led fairly predictable lives full of repetetive tasks and a slow information flow. You might think I’m referring to agricultural villages in the early 1900’s, but no, I mean the 70’s when I grew up. At that time you could even catch the attention of a classroom full of 10-year-olds by telling them of far away places and historical times.
Those days are gone. Now, teachers are up against the Xbox. Or 48 tv-channels. Or the Internet. And they don’t stand a chance if they try running their old routines. This goes for all of us. Even if your target audience isn’t comprised of clan-members on WOW they are still likely to have high standards of reference when they decide what they’ll pay attention to. Do you really think your average print ad will do the trick? No, you’re right, it won’t. So what to do?
We all have to work with what’s unique and/or sought after. When it comes to education I’m convinced teaching could be much more effective if the classroom experience was had out of the classroom to a greater extent. Involving more grown-ups (parents, volonteers, etc), integrating subjects, and getting more hands-on experimenting will probably also be good things to try. All of those are things the Xbox can’t do.
For businesses this means NOT trying to do what the market leader is doing, especially if all the competition is copying the leader. This is not news to any marketers, and still, incredibly many marketers do just that. The fastest path to getting some attention is usually to earn it. Create something worth paying attention to. Write a book about the stuff you know and your clients don’t and give it away for free. They’ll still come to you for help, trust me, but this time they’ll listen. Don’t piggyback on bought celebreties. Instead find some that actually like what you do, and put the spotlight on it. If they come to you instead of the other way around you’ll also save yourself some of the embarressment of having sponsored the wrong spokesperson (someone up for sponsoring Tiger Woods? anyone?No? He still plays very well.)
So remember that the next time you try to get some attention in this day and age: We are all competing with the Xbox.