If You Were A Spy Novel

Spending a few weeks on vacation and reading my fill of spy novels makes me reflect on my years in the online business. Spy novels and movies feature cool gadgets that work exactly when you need them, with the ability to adapt to any situation. Sounds like a perfect metaphor for online advertising/marketing. After poring through eight of Vince Flynn’s books in two weeks, I found a few themes that I think are really important for marketing, email marketing and online advertising in general.

Every aspect of a successful spy operation has three key traits. First, there is an amazing amount of intelligence informing every decision. Second, the speed in which decisions are made is near real-time. And third, some decisions have to be made in the field: People sitting behind a desk, not in the trenches, shouldn’t be making tactical decisions.

Apply that to the practice of CRM and more precisely to email marketing, and you can begin to divide planning into a couple of key areas, some done in planning stages, some driven at the point of interaction:

  • Communication Planning:
    This is the strategic plan. Whom do you reach, how often, through what channel, all with a strategic goal in mind. But how often should you revise this plan? Most have a general outline and then in-market segmentations strategies take over, based on market needs. Success is dependent on the speed and depth of insight informing those segmentation strategies. Most that I see revisit this area only seasonally.
  • Programmed CRM:
    These are the core programs that “must” happen, regardless of the situation. Think system messaging, core engagement oriented program design (welcome series, e-commerce interactions, core search interactions, site triggers). Most of these are programmed once or twice a year. Some are very difficult to optimize, and many find it very difficult to connect insight into meaningful data points.
  • Transactional Optimization:
    You may think that’s a no-brainer: your core objective is driving topline value for your business. What I’m referring to is real “optimization,” squeaking the last drop of water out of the rag with the existing budget. Sure, it’s easy to blast away — that’s simply a matter of resource — but with a fixed budget, where do you optimize?

What’s important about these three areas are:

  • Each requires a different type of planning and decision-making
  • Each requires different sets of information
  • Each will be executed by different types of teams (some more experience than others).

In spy novels, the government agencies (CIA, etc.), tend to leverage contractors for certain type of work — some of it the “dirty” work, some of it very “specialized,” work — but most important is the contractors’ “speed.” They can simply operate faster than larger organizations can run.

However, though you may want fast and specialized, that doesn’t necessarily translate to “good.” Outside insight is really important in the execution part, assuming you have the type of operational model to take advantage of it. Outside insight is great for annual planning, to apply a filter to your “internal” views. And in today’s times, it can be helpful to consider a data specialist who can help you think about Data and what is possible in your present situation.

Developing discipline to plan well in advance, using “loads” of data to inform decisions, understanding what information will help you make decision in the field, empowering your “in-market” people to make decisions. Think like an intelligence agency: You have to be faster and more flexible than those trying to destroy you.