The full stack marketer mindset

Text100 Singapore’s Julian Chow explains how today’s marketers need to have more than a broad skillset, they need to have the right mindset to use it.

Text100 Singapore’s Julian Chow explains how today’s marketers need to have more than a broad skillset, they need to have the right mindset to use it.

One of the recent hot industry discussions has been around becoming a “full stack” employee. Inspired by this particular post on Medium, I’ve also been thinking to myself: What constitutes a full-stack marketer?

Many people will talk from a skill-set perspective: marketers need to learn how to be comfortable with data, they need to learn how to code, they need to learn how to design, and so much more. While hard skills are all fine and dandy, what I find missing from the conversation is this – what are the mindsets that a full-stack marketer needs to have? We all know that skills need to change as new tools emerge and replace older ones, but it is my strong conviction that having a transformed mindset can lead to a marketer who drives more impactful, longer-term outcomes.

I’ve attempted to break down this question into a couple of areas that I hope will provide more clarity to marketers out there:

Always a work in progress

One of the things marketers need to realize is that our work is never done. By that, I don’t mean you’ll always have new emails to attend to (you will) every morning, but rather, that whatever you implement is always a work-in-progress. Don’t settle (as Steve Jobs said), rather always think about what you can do better next.

This is where tools like Agile come in handy, as it views work as a series of never-ending sprints. Have an “uncertainty mentality”, in which you’re never sure that what you’re doing is the finished article. According to famous graphic designer Milton Glaser, “Certainty is preposterous”, and I have to agree with him on this one. Being uncertain drives us to keep trying, improving, and iterating on our work. Look at Google, or Facebook, who are continually making tweaks to their algorithms. While yes, we all agree this makes life more difficult for us, the mindset of constant improvement is something we should look to emulate.

Learn from both failure and success

Which brings me to my next point, and something that I really admire from the start-up world. Founders are often quoted as saying: “Fail fast, learn fast.” While that is true, the fact is that we also need to learn from our successes as well. I’d say the key takeaway here is a learning mindset. Always ask “Why did it work? Or why did it not?” rather than popping champagne corks whenever your campaign outstrips its KPIs by 100%.

Reflecting is a great tool to use for driving learning after the end of every phase of work, and is something that I’ve been pushing within my teams, to great effect. We sit down at the end of every work sprint, and ask ourselves three questions:

  1. What went well?
  2. What could we have done better?
  3. What will we do next?

If you notice, the last question ties in to the first mindset I talked about earlier, which is to keep improving. I cannot emphasize the importance of building reflection time into your processes, because it creates dedicated time for learning rather than doing it when it’s convenient. In today’s knowledge economy, wouldn’t you agree that this is one of the most valuable things we can spend time on?

At this point, I’d also like to acknowledge that I know most marketing teams do debriefs, but often these are just recaps on PowerPoint or Word documents that don’t allow much space for proper retrospection and in-depth learning.

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Hypothesize, Prototype, Test, Learn, Execute

Some marketers are doing this, while some aren’t. From what I’ve seen in my years at an agency, marketing plans need to be highly detailed before they receive sign off and begin executing. What troubles me with this approach (now that I’ve seen the light – I must admit that I also used to behave like this before) is the question of “how do we know this plan will work?” What’s the contingency plan if we find that the results aren’t what we expect them to be halfway through? How do we make changes, seeing that upper management has signed off on budgets and all? Do we just continue and forge ahead?

What if the planning process was turned on its head, into a series of cycles consisting of the flow above – hypothesize, prototype, test, learn, and execute. Instead of a one-year plan, we break the planning into 12 monthly cycles, each month consisting of a particular activity (or sprint) that contributes towards the achievement of the larger business or marketing goal. The flow of work would be as follows:

  1. Based on insights and learnings, create a hypothesis of what you want to execute on, and what you think the outcomes might be.
  2. Create a minimum viable prototype of what this hypothesis looks like. If it’s an event, then you might want to create a storyboard of the event, or use Lego pieces to help people understand the event experience.
  3. Test out the experience with a small group of relevant users / customers.
  4. Learn and then use these insights to execute on the idea, or pivot away from it should feedback be negative. It is key at this point to be open to negative feedback and not try to validate your idea.

And as I mentioned earlier, bake in reflection time to see what you can do better next.

User Empathy 

Customer-centricity is a term that I find bandied around a lot. A lot of user-centricity conversations focus on developing buyer journeys or understanding user experiences (i.e. how they would navigate a website). But what marketers need to do better is empathize with the customer. I like how David and Tom Kelley put it in their book, Creative Confidence: “We find that connecting with the needs, desires, and motivations of real people helps to inspire and provoke fresh ideas. Observing people’s behavior in their natural context can help us better understand the factors at play and trigger new insights to fuel innovation efforts.”

To sum it up: We need to have a mindset of wanting to dig into the story behind the story. I push myself to answer the question “So what?”, or say “Tell me more” when receiving user insights, in an attempt to go deeper into the mind of the user and feel what they’re feeling.

Having said all this, I hope that this article inspires you to start thinking about these mindsets, and what you’d like to adopt. I’m always keen to hear (in the comments below!) if this article helps in your line of work.

This article originally appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific.

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