As a partner of a marketing strategy and execution firm with clients and offices on both coasts, my travels to and from Silicon Valley are rich with lessons in how businesses of all sizes approach problems.
Doing business in Silicon Valley is different from anywhere else I’ve worked in my 22 years in the industry. Its high concentration of tech-savvy, academically inspired, entrepreneurial people has created a fast-moving, ultra-competitive culture of experimentation. The pressure to innovate is intense, and the rewards can be staggering. Business leaders are expected to be game-changers, even mythical heroes, with ambitious agendas out to change the world or transform entire industries, often before funding runs out or the competition catches up.
Interesting to me as a strategy type, marketing leaders in this engineering-oriented culture often rely more on what they intuit will work and then test their way there—a direct cause-and-effect approach. Generally, they adhere to a more agile framework for decision-making than the processes I’ve seen with marketers on the East Coast. There’s a confidence, rooted in the region’s entrepreneurial culture or perhaps just their own strong internal compass. If it seems right, try it and win big. If not, fail fast. This self-reliance has appeal, of course, but also a consequence that can cost opportunity.
If your business is more like a Silicon Valley company, what I’ve seen is that you will likely refine your marketing strategy internally and often resist outside opinion. For example, one senior marketing executive at a technology brand once asked me what an outside marketing strategist could possibly tell her about marketing her product that she did not already know. The misperception to me was that marketing strategists would ever feign to know more about their clients’ businesses than the clients do. We do not.
What outside strategy can do, however, is bring a rigorous process and informed objective point of view and focus rooted in research and deeper insights. More nuanced communications, stronger brand attributes, stronger connections to culture, and even new services and revenue streams can be uncovered. So the marketing strategist’s mandate in the modern marketplace is to accelerate and move with Silicon Valley agility. There’s plenty of warranted skepticism about strategy being simple and nimble enough to keep up.
If you are lucky enough to be asked to contribute, I’ve found that client engagements start immediately—but are often contracted one quarter at a time. “I like you. You seem smart. Let’s try it for a couple of months.” From the perch of a marketing partner, we have about three months of rope to put points on the board and show business impact. It’s quite motivating.
On the East Coast and other more traditional marketing environments, such as Chicago and Atlanta, the art and science of building brands and producing results has more history, functional experience, complexity, and silos. Industries are entrenched with more infrastructure and rules than in the Valley, so rapid change or risk naturally encounters more friction. Sales forces can be larger, and research may play a more significant role. Here, the instinct is to tap marketing strategy consultants much sooner, usually once a business decision—such as entering a new market, repositioning the brand, or improving performance—has been made.
In fact, one marketing executive of a large insurance brand recently told me that everyone in his department had the strategy consultants “on speed dial.” The implication was that a trusted, outside POV was integral to everything they do. His challenge—leading the marketing department of a huge business with fierce entrenched competition—is to ensure every internal effort is on target, on strategy, and consultants help him do that.
The end goal for everyone is, of course, the same: improved business performance. So what can marketers on either coast take away from these observations?
If you are managing a game-changing company, take a cue from your East Coast counterparts. Find a responsive and results-oriented marketing strategy partner as demanding and impatient as yourself, and get them on speed-dial as, in my experience, top marketing execs in established industries do. Ask them to help you find more ways to succeed in the marketplace—not in place of your own experience and gut feel, but in support of it.
On the other hand, if you are leading a marketing organization outside of the proverbial or real Valley, demand that your marketing strategists be nimble and accountable for quick results. You’ll have to do your part to help remove the cultural and organizational barriers to the entrepreneurial potential of your enterprise; that can become your competitive advantage. With the right stars and people aligned, you will be surprised by how quickly businesses of any size, industry, or location can accelerate success.
We all can work at the speed of the Valley.