Julian Chow
Apr 29, 2016

The full-stack marketer mindset

Amid much discussion of skill sets, we don't hear much about the marketer's mindset. But a few adjustments to the latter can make a big difference, writes Julian Chow.

Julian Chow
Julian Chow

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 have talked about this question 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, missing from the conversation is any discussion of the mindset that a full-stack marketer needs to have. We all know that skills will 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 driving 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.

Always a work in progress

One of the things marketers need to realise is that our work is never done. By that, I don’t mean you’ll always have new emails to attend to (of course you will), but rather, that whatever you implement is always a work-in-progress. Never settle (as Steve Jobs said). Rather always think about what you can do better next. This is where a tool like Agile comes in handy, as it views work as a series of never-ending sprints.

Have an “uncertainty mentality”, where 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. Being uncertain drives us to keep trying, improving and iterating on our work. Look at Google, or Facebook, which 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 startup world. Founders are often quoted saying, 'Fail fast, learn fast'. While that is true, the fact is that we also need to learn from the successes. I’d say the key takeaway, actually, is a learning mindset. Always ask, 'Why did it work?' or 'Why did it not?' rather than popping champagne whenever your campaign outstrips its KPIs by 100 percent. Reflecting is a great tool to use for driving learning after the end of every phase of work. My teams sit down at the end of every work sprint and ask ourselves three questions:

  • What went well?
  • What could we have done better?
  • What will we do next?

If you notice, the last question ties into the first mindset I talked about earlier, which is to keep improving. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of building reflection time into your processes, because it creates dedicated time for learning rather than doing it as and when it’s convenient (which might be never). 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 document. They don’t give much space for proper retrospection and in-depth learning.

Hypothesise, prototype, test, learn, execute

Some marketers are doing this, while some aren’t. From what I’ve seen in my years in an agency, marketing plans need to be firmed up to the highest amount of detail before they get signoff 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) is the question of 'How do we know this plan will work?' What’s the contingency plan then, if we find that halfway in, the results aren’t what we expect them to be? How do we then make changes, seeing that upper management has signed off on budgets and all? Do we just continue and forge ahead with something we know is not working?

What if the planning process were turned on its head, into a series of cycles consisting of the flow above—hypothesise, prototype, test, learn, execute. Instead of a whole-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, in detail, 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. The objective here is to use as few resources as possible to derive learning.
  3. Test out the experience with a small group of relevant users or customers.
  4. Learn and then use the insights to execute, or pivot on your idea should feedback come back poorly. It is key at this point to really be open to negative feedback and not try to just validate your idea.

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

User empathy

The term 'customer-centricity' is being bandied around a lot, but perhaps we’re just scratching the surface at this point. A lot of user-centricity conversations, I find, focus on developing buyer journeys, or understanding user experiences, such as how they would navigate a website. But what marketers need to do better is to empathise 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 behaviour 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’m now always pushing myself to question 'So what?', or 'Tell me more?' [You might make a good journalist. Ed.] when I receive user insights, in attempts to go deeper into the mind of the user, so that I can feel what the person is feeling.

Now, having said all this, I hope that this piece inspires you to start thinking about where you are with the elements of this mindset, and what you’d like to adopt. I’ve dropped a couple of practical takeaways which you could start using right away, and I’m always keen to hear (in the comments below!) if this helps you at all, in your line of work.

Final note: Mindset change is not easy, and I’m very thankful to the folks and my classmates at Hyper Island (go crew 4!) for challenging my thinking and helping me reshape the way I view my job.

Julian Chow is digital consultant and senior account manager at Text100 Singapore



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