In the past few years I heard many people people say that ‘Marketing has changed forever’ however, coming from an older school of marketing I wasn’t so sure. I had listened to many provocative statements about the future of marketing and was seldom convinced that what they were referring to would actually be the catalyst for change they thought it would.
In this instance they were talking about marketing automation, a combination of software and technology which allows businesses to automate the repetitive elements of marketingacross multiple channels. To me it felt similarly hyped to the early days of mobilemarketing. The revolution was right around the corner though no one could say quite when this corner would be turned.
Marketing automation intrigued me, it neatly dovetailed with my belief in technology’s ability to democratize business, and I saw this as a manifestation of this principle. It’s something I believe in passionately because technology should be an aid to prosperity not a hinderance. In the way that Slack made it easy for people to communicate within their own company without requiring expensive inter-company communication software. How Square was able to turn a mobile phone into a credit card reader. And on a more populist scale how Apple’s GarageBand and iMovie enabled people to create pictures and sounds that only a decade ago were limited to those who could afford to rent a film studio or recording suite.
So where was marketing’s version of Slack or Square? Sure, it was easy enough to automate a few emails to be sent out but what about ensuring they were sent to the right people, at the right time and also linking them to social media? And finally, how achievable would this be for SME’s with limited marketing resources, limited time and a limited budget?
As I looked further into marketing automation I realised it was far more complex than it needed to be. I’ve previously covered the amount of resource required to operate some of the current enterprise marketing automation platforms. For a large company this was a small price to pay for the ability to market at scale but what about the smaller businesses, those that didn’t have the resources to deploy HTML programmers, designers and database managers?
I had my first experience with a marketing automation solution in my work as a strategic advisor to growth companies and my research lead me to one of the industry leader’s called InfusionSoft. While the platform was fine what immediately caught my attention was the requirement for 4 to 6 hours of expensive tutorials needed to familiarise oneself with the platform before even contemplating sending out the first campaign.
There was also a steep learning curve to understand how the workflows, personas, squeeze pages and message optimization worked, and a need to get to grips with the associated vocabulary. For any business that is light on resources and desperate to get their message out to prospects as quickly as possible this is a significant barrier. They simply don’t have the time or resources to spend 4-8 weeks getting the system up and running.
I figured there had to be a simpler way to approach this and so with my favourite Sharpies in hand and a huge sheet of paper stuck to the wall I drew out the process of creating, sending and analyzing messages through email and social media to an audience that someone didn’t know much about.
It took several months to refine the process to where it approached a viable solution and I was confident I had the outline of a marketing automation platform that would actually assist businesses to attract, retain and sell to customers but who couldn’t afford the time or cost required by an enterprise platform. The platform would also allow these SME’s to utilise the sorts of data that enterprise users were gathering and analyzing on a daily basis.
The concept wasn’t about big data, it was all about small data. What was the minimum amount of data required to provide meaningful information about the people who were interacting with the marketing messages data source? I then took it a step further and asked how that system could learn from the data and suggest best the strategy and best channel practice for the next campaign. These were exciting questions to ask, and equally exciting to work out how to take this from concept to prototype.
Taking my inspiration from people like Eric Ries and the notion of a product market fit (PMF) approach to building the software I approached it in an iterative way. Instead of waiting until the product was built, then building a website, creating some PR and then launching it, I was going to do it the other way round and launch the product before it was built and then create the demand. I also wanted to start to selling the product before it was finished. I wanted people to be able to use it in its most basic form and together we would grow. In other terms I was going to growth hack my way to a new product and put everything that I had heard, read and experienced into developing this new product.
I also wanted to do it without using the conventional approach of employing full time staff or having an office and instead use virtual teams made up of the best resources around the world.
My first challenge was to find a software architect who could turn my idea, and the many pages of scribbled notes, into workable lines of code and Philip, who is based in Auckland, came aboard and began work on the prototype. Meanwhile Rick in Lima helped research current players in the marketing automation market. Josh in Los Angeles helped frame the website copy while Chan in New York worked up the HTML design and Danny, from Melbourne, built the splash pages.
As of now many of the components required to get the prototype finished are being assembled and will soon be ready for first phase user testing. Will all the time, money, sweat and worry be worth it when the first prospective customers see the unveiled prototype? Will they find the prospect of being able to simply create marketing campaigns and find out more about their customers compelling?
I don’t really know is the short answer however, whatever their reaction I’m ready to capitalize on it and move into the next stage of product development.