It’d be nice to go just one scroll without seeing signs of collapse. A series of unfortunate events have businesses failing and flailing as they watch demand slow to a drip; frantically cutting off whichever appendages will lighten them enough to outrun the downturn.
Many of the dead ends these businesses meet are placed by chance, and chance can be cruel. Sometimes there’s nothing to do but sit and wait, offering prayer and sacrifice to your choice of marketing deity. Sometimes there’s nothing you could’ve done differently.
But. There might be a little more “woe is me” coming from affected businesses than is warranted. It’s leadership’s job to steer the company through choppy waters, and to build teams that can withstand them. Layoffs, budget cuts and general cutbacks suggest a fragile business/team model.
Marketing teams have seen as many setbacks as anyone, and are on the hook for driving interest and conversion even when interest is dwindling across industries. They need not to break under pressure, but strengthen. Survival isn’t enough anymore—brands need to be antifragile and grow through these conditions.
Often confused with resilience—the ability to withstand and quickly recover from difficult circumstances—antifragility is the ability to improve through difficult circumstances. Not only does an antifragile mindset withstand shock, it uses the shock to learn and grow.
Being antifragile is an ideal psychological state for most people. We can’t often predict what difficulties we’ll encounter as we go about our lives, but we can control how we react when we meet them. Ongoing research suggests the happiest (or at least most balanced) people are those who can divine and apply lessons from each of life’s apparent troubles.
It’s easy to see why antifragility is a growing buzzword among marketers as their businesses dip in and out of recession states. On a normal day, marketing is all about A/B’ing. It’s constant trial and error, and the furthest thing from an exact science. Unlike product designers, engineers or the rest of the “hard concept” pros that businesses rely on, marketers depend heavily on failure to push them in the right direction.
In marketing, being antifragile means your service/product, your strategy, your brand and your connection to your customer grow from chaotic circumstances. There's wisdom within every apparent “failure”, and the best marketing teams suss it out fast; reshaping their strategies to reflect the lesson learned.
Here’s how to become an antifragile marketing team.
It seems no matter where the DOW lands for certain companies, they always bounce back. They stay in the public consciousness and return thriving even after the biggest of setbacks. What bolsters them usually isn’t their tech, their clever budgeting or their dwindling sales—it’s the brand. Customer loyalty can do a lot to help survive crises, but it's brand that expands.
Brand hinges on creative marketing. Today’s digital landscape is a sea of competing voices, whose lack of brand creativity renders most of them nearly useless. Unless the goal is simply to take up squares on Instagram, the antifragile marketing team is one whose creative is distinct as it is abundant.
That’s not an easy balance for most creative marketing teams to straddle. Most teams are small relative to the assets they need to produce to remain an active voice in their industry, which often leads to them falling back on one of three methodologies.
These tactics respond to market stressors in ways that ensure stagnation at best, and catastrophe at worst.
Your creative marketing teams aren’t lacking in creativity, they’re lacking in capacity. They have the skills needed to ideate and make any given asset a homerun, but those skills are wasted and opportunities lost when they can’t keep up with the breakneck pace of the market.
The market is calling louder than ever for brands to be as ubiquitous as they are clever—the stream of creative assets needed to remain an active voice in your prospect’s ear is constant, and is more than most creative marketing teams can deliver on their own. Leaning on a purpose-built, dedicated design team to cover the multitude of brand needs is the first step toward antifragility on your marketing team: It keeps market-ready material flowing without adding as much as a new head, while ensuring creative quality and brand alignment are never sacrificed.
It’s recession-conscious, too. Without exploding the budget in the short term, it lays the flooring for long term payoff.
Conversions and drop-offs are not reasons, but many marketing teams treat them like they are. They attempt to discern market feedback from these myopic sources, and end up with an appropriately myopic perspective on why campaign X didn’t work.
It’s a dangerous game. Given the “soft science” marketing professionals adhere to, market growth comes from aggregating all possible sources of customer and prospect response.
Marketing teams that aim to understand and cater to their base gather information from both ends of the spectrum. Yes, they pull from quantitative sources like clickstream data, transaction logs, social and content performance. But antifragile teams also color their quantitative data with input from qualitative sources like in-depth interviews, surveys, feedback boxes, direct outreach and more.
It’s amazing what a bit of context can do. Suddenly those ambiguous numbers make sense, and you can plot your next steps accordingly. Maybe you’ve been hitting folks too hard with the email drip system. Maybe prospects don’t fully understand what you do. Ask more questions, get better answers.
Post-mortems may look and sound like the least appealing part of your week/month/year, but they’re integral to antifragile marketing. They embody the essence of the concept: Growth through trial. Without evaluation, there is no growth. And if there is, it’s accidental and unlikely to be sustainable over time.
If you’re puffing out your cheeks and blowing a raspberry after putting something out into the world, you’re setting yourself up for a rude awakening.
We’ll say this once and then never say it again. It’s gonna sting a bit, but you’ll be better when it’s done. Ready? Okay.
Everything should have a post-mortem.
We don’t do things just for the sake of doing things in marketing. We do them because they teach us something; even if that thing is “never do that again”. Yes, not every tweet or email blast is worthy of an hour-long discussion with the stakeholders, but action without evaluation is waste. We’re all eager to jump on the hype train when a well-placed meme or timely event boosts our profile, but spend less time poking through the debris of their middling and poor-performing counterparts.
It’s a shame, as many philosophers (marketers for thoughts) have praised the value of failure for deepening understanding over success. Just as nothing should be done without thought, nothing should be excluded from examination.
It’s impressive when you forecast the big storm from a mile away, or spot the sun beyond the clouds, but it’s not good enough anymore. Nassim Taleb, who coined the term “antifragile”, said it best: “Not seeing a tsunami or an economic event coming is excusable; building something fragile to them is not.”
Successful business models are built to thrive whether or not success surrounds them.
Pending the time and place, predictive data can have all the efficacy of a fortune teller. We expect lulls and upswings around certain times of year in marketing, but the recent recession has reminded us that disaster and difficulty strike without warning.
If you’re asking yourself “how can I see this coming next time?”, a change of mindset is due. For one, it gives harmful credence to the notion that a good marketing strategy is one that hunkers down under duress. It’s the antithesis of scale, and concedes the advantage to your more growth-savvy competitors in the interim.
In case it’s not clear yet, your brand’s ability to withstand and morph itself around market challenges is the best response to its random trials and system shocks. If engagement and conversion are dipping across the board, don’t be content to board up the house and hope for the best.
Antifragility may be all the rage on LinkedIn these days, but it’s more than a slogan. Here’s what antifragile businesses and models can look like in practice.
Brio, a healthcare logistics service, used circumstances surrounding the pandemic to its advantage. At a time when public skepticism of healthcare was high, they pivoted to become a nationwide COVID testing logistics service. They recognized a gap in their market: Businesses didn’t know who to trust with their COVID testing. Brio needed a brand that inspired trust, and spoke to the simplicity of their solution.
Like many who managed to turn the fallout of the pandemic into results, Brio leaned on their brand to elevate them while others were sinking.
Legendary guitar manufacturer Fender didn’t start out antifragile. They were going all-in on social media, but had no idea why certain social posts got juice while others hovered in the double digits. They discovered the cure when they brought an AI-powered analytics tool on board. Collating demographic information on their socials, they found women appeared to have little interest in engaging with the company online. In fact, the gender imbalance was actually growing.
Adopting the antifragile mindset, they learned where female guitarists found barriers to entry with Fender, and recalibrated their socials to reflect the diversity of musicians using their instruments. Since then, the company has reported an overall increase in social engagement—along with a more accurate understanding of the people they’re marketing to. By interpreting their deepening wound as a lesson to learn from, they became a case study for antifragility in marketing.
At some point, PointCard realized they were blending in with the fintech crowd. Muted, neutral tones were the bread and butter of their minimalistic peers. Assessing their less-than-ideal positioning in the fintech space, they turned the original misstep into results by taking a bolder approach to brand than their peers.
To the tune of a 240% increase in CTR and a click-to-install conversion rate growth of 275%, they proved that brand can make the difference between growth and stagnation.
Stay with us here. For all the legitimate grievances consumers have with airlines, the engine they run on (aviation) is antifragility at its sharpest. Airlines are built to allow for small errors that exist independent from one another: A malfunction on one plane calls for an inspection of all identical models, sometimes even the whole fleet. If something is found to be wrong, the systemic source is identified and corrected.
The whole system emerges stronger through its response to a single error, as the discovery of one prevents future errors of that type. A systemic solution means they may even prevent errors they hadn’t anticipated in the process.
Recessions come and go, but many businesses stay the same. They build teams and models that only stand when the tide is low, and watch in horror each time it rolls back in; reducing them to mounds in the sand. They build it back up exactly as they did the first time, and kick out a lawn chair waiting for the inevitable.
There are ways to not only circumvent, but actively grow from the stressors of the market. But marketing teams won’t find them using the old M.O. of pushing creative marketing teams to the point of breakage. Brand is instrumental in carrying businesses through tumultuous times, and the business’ creative marketers can only do so much in-house. Progress requires a creative team that’s firing on all cylinders, and buttressed by dedicated design partners that ensure fast, quality creative at every turn.
Your brand has tremendous power to reignite/realign interest when margins are low. With the right marketing creative support in your back pocket, you can open new doors at a time when so many are closing theirs.
Amrita is a veteran B2B SaaS marketer and the VP of Marketing at Superside. Besides preaching to everyone and their mother about how good execution is the ultimate differentiator for your company, she hosts our monthly Gather & Grow series featuring leaders from Adobe, Dropbox, HubSpot, Intuit, Shopify and more. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter and say hi!
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