Over the past year I’ve been spending most of my weekends and a good number of evenings renovating an old family home on Cape Cod. For those readers who share the passion for designing, building, and transforming spaces, you know how rewarding it can be.
But at the same time, doing this home renovation also provided a wealth of lessons for those of us in digital leadership. How so?
The obvious analogs would be the importance of brand design, taking care when building assets and campaigns, and, of course, using the right tools as we set out to transform our customer experiences or streamline our back-end processes. But during my time up on ladders or staring down at new flooring (and perhaps breathing in too many paint fumes), it became apparent that the similarities go much deeper--especially when you think about a house not just as a singular space, but part of a broader community of neighbors and craftsmen, and of course family members whose perception of what you are creating goes far beyond a simple structure.
So here are some lessons that apply to my fellow digital disruptors, but hopefully to others as well who are looking at expanding their businesses or moving into new markets or even renovating their own approach as leaders.
Lesson 1: Look At The Big Picture
What is your goal? It is needed updates and repairs, or a whole new look? Who are your stakeholders and what do they expect? And what's the time horizon?
In other words, you need a plan, but be willing to adjust it as you go along based on what you learn. (“Let’s see what’s behind this wall ...”) This is a philosophy that is true for marketing leaders and a necessity for anyone pulling an old house apart.
Lesson 2: Get Inspired—And Leverage How-To Content
The great thing about home renovations (or branding) is that there is no shortage of examples, guides, and experts willing to point the way.
While I’ve long been a fan of Architectural Digest and This Old House, I’m now addicted to Houzz as well. Why? Great content (13 million photos) and a community and marketplace that should provide inspiration for any content marketer.
Lesson 3: Know Your Market
It’s been said that all real estate is local. And when you are renovating a home a couple hours from where you live (or marketing to a new geo or industry), it pays to know the local experts.
What’s the best place to get lumber on the lower Cape? I like Hinckley. For paint, go to Snow’s; they can match any color sample. Digital leaders talk about targeting and localization, but there’s no substitute for going out in the field and seeing what people are actually buying and who they are hiring to get things done.
Lesson 4: The Right Materials And The Right Tools Matter
For siding with white cedar shingles, you want at least “B” grade, but depending on how you install them, “A” grade may be overkill.
For digital leaders, top-quality content makes the best first impression, as does the people you line up as references, and where you distribute it. Like a trip to the tools department at your favorite big box store, the modern marketer’s toolbox can be overwhelming, but I’ve developed my go-to list and recently shared what we used during my time at Placester in a recent interview with MarTech Advisor.
Lesson 5: Don't Be Afraid To Tear Down Walls
You can tear down walls, provided they aren’t load bearing. (Fun tip: Load-bearing walls are typically perpendicular to the floor joists below. Don’t remove those without a structural engineer!)
In your business, what walls could you tear down? Is marketing and sales separated by conflicting goals or cultures? Are traditional and digital campaigns held to different standards? Is your agency on an island and not quite in sync with what you need? Tear down those walls!
Lesson 6: Experiment Early And Often
Unsure of the paint color you want? Buy some samples and paint a few swatches and live with them for a week.
Are you unsure of where to spend your paid dollars next quarter? I’ve always had my teams do experiments comparing different channels (Facebook, AdWords, and LinkedIn), creative, and CTAs—and then double down on what works.
Not surprisingly, top leaders do the same: Successful CEOs are 52% more likely to run experiments than market followers.
Lesson 7: Plan Your Budget—Then Double Or Triple It
Remember the Tom Hanks comedy from the 1980s, “The Money Pit”? Home renovations are a lesson in staying focused and making tradeoffs, and recognizing that when the guy at Hinckley asks if you want a contractor’s account, you know you are spending too much money there!
Fortunately paying attention to Lesson #7 can help to minimize your spending.
Lesson 8: It's OK To Call In The Experts
I have done pretty much everything in this current project, but I don't mess with anything involving plumbing or gas lines.
Digital leaders are also multitalented by nature, but we need to know our limitations. There’s a reason why creative agencies exist. And why I’ve always relied on freelance writers and event managers. And why getting outside help to align a company’s vision and values with what stakeholders want or to spark new growth ideas can be a difference maker.