The marketing optimization trap

Chasing his tail

In marketing, we love to talk about optimization. Conversion rate optimization. Landing page optimization. Revenue optimization. Search engine optimization. Social marketing optimization. We dream of being able to squeeze every bit of performance out of our marketing machinery like a Formula 1 race car driver.

In our endless quest for optimization, we forget one vitally important thing, however:

You can endlessly optimize a bad system.

For example, we can endlessly delve into our analytics and optimize our practices for any given metric. You can optimize your Twitter habits to maximize the number of followers you have whose handles begin with the letter A. A ludicrous example, to be sure, but not so far from what many marketers already do.

In the quest for optimizing for that metric, we forget to question whether we should even be doing the practice at all. Worse, as Simon Sinek points out in his book Leaders Eat Last, our brains give us positive chemical reinforcement for every little optimization we deliver. We get a shot of dopamine in our neurons every time we squeeze out another percentage point of performance – but we fail to ask whether the performance even matters. We can chase our tails endlessly and feel like we’re getting somewhere.

The best thinkers, the best strategists in marketing don’t just leap into optimization without first understanding the strategic (un)importance of any given practice or method. Ask first whether you should do it at all before you ask how to do it better!

You can get very good at being very bad. Better to not do at all than to do the bad par excellence.


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How to find your dream job

Job Search

I was reading with interest a series of (print) articles recently in Fortune about people looking for their dream job. Much of the debate talked about perks, about job roles and responsibilities, and a lot of the side benefits of a job. What was glaringly missing from many of the discussions, however, is figuring out what your dream job is. Certainly, we’d all like the nearly imaginary job where we get paid obscene sums of money for doing virtually no work at all, a privilege reserved only for criminal banking CEOs and politicians, but that’s not a viable career path for most of us.

So what defines your dream job? How do you figure out what your dream job is? I’d submit that in order to answer this question, you need to dig further back in your past than any part of your professional life. For example, I’m working in as close to my dream job as I can get right now as VP of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications. What I do on a daily basis varies wildly, but the common thread is that, as long as I behave in a fiscally responsible, ethical manner, I get to experiment with new technologies, test things, learn, and receive positive social reinforcement for what I do.

How did I figure out what my dream job would be? I looked back in time. When I was a kid, my dad built me a “laboratory workbench” out of plywood and 2x4s. That little wooden bench was covered in chemical stains from my chemistry set, burn marks from a variety of wood burning devices, and more seemingly junk items than that desk should have been able to hold. I was forever taking things apart. I once cut a screwdriver in half, accidentally, because I was tinkering with an alarm clock that was still plugged in. The electrical arc cut the screwdriver in half and tripped every breaker in the house. It’s amazing that I survived my childhood largely unharmed.

The defining trait of my childhood was curiosity and exploration. That’s what I did best, and that’s what I enjoyed most. It’s no surprise, then, that my dream job focuses on that behavior. At heart, my dream job is still being a kid and playing with toys – it’s just that the toys have changed form. Instead of a kid’s chemistry set, I play with Tableau and R. Instead of taking alarm clocks apart, I now take companies’ analytics and marketing programs apart. Instead of testing and experimenting with random chemicals, I test and experiment with web pages and email marketing.

I didn’t take childhood interests and try to pursue them in a career. (well, actually I did and it turned out badly) What I did to find a happy job, a dream job, is to take childhood behaviors and find careers that made use of those core behaviors. Find work you love based on habits and behaviors that define you.


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Are you proud to be an American?

Are you proud to be an American? Is America the kind of country that you think best represents you? Do you think other people in other parts of the world think, when confronted with a tough political, social, or economic problem, “What would the Americans do?”

Flag in the wind

If there’s one commonality in today’s America that people of any belief or political faction have, it’s that they feel America’s going in the wrong direction. Conservatives think it’s becoming a craven, gluttonous paradise where anyone can marry anything and their religion is a persecuted minority. Liberals think it’s becoming a Taliban of its own and the rich get richer while everyone else is left in a gutter to rot. The average Joe knows for sure his wallet is getting lighter, the scale in the bathroom says he’s getting heavier, and political leadership seems more like Game of Thrones while the city around him seems like Breaking Bad.

Is this the America that 3,000 people died for on 9/11/01, 13 years ago today?

There are two catchphrases from my friend and former boss, Allen Nance, that would greatly benefit America if we could all live up to them. Do what we say. Work as a team.

We know what our American ideals are. They’re fairly clearly printed in the various founding documents of the nation. Do we actually do what we say? Do we believe that all men are created equal, that we aim to provide for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? If not, then that’s starting point #1. Our basic principles tell us that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are for everyone, not just a privileged few or whoever’s in office right now. Our basic principles tell us that we are a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people – and if we’re not doing what we say, then we need to remove the people from office (of any party or political persuasion) who want things to be just for them and their friends and not everyone.

Do we work as a team? Do you help your neighbors, even if they are hipster liberals and you’re a button-down conservative? Do you wave and say hello to your neighbor in the hallway or on the street, even if you’re a devout Muslim and they’re a Baptist? Do you even know who your neighbors are? Work as a team means that whatever your differences, you put them aside and you work together for your common good. There are plenty of serious issues like poverty, crime, and blight that don’t need to have a political bend to them in order for you to find a common, apolitical solution. Conservatives and liberals don’t want to get mugged coming home from work. Christians, Jews, and Muslims all have charity written into the basic tenets of their respective religions. Blacks, whites, Latinos, and Asians all don’t want a crackhouse in the neighborhood. Find the common ground and work to improve it as a team, as a nation.

Do what we say. Work as a team. Those are tough things to accomplish, but if we do them as a nation, perhaps we’ll build a country everyone can be proud of again.


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