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Good times hide the truth from all of us.

Most digital marketing strategies are burdened by unnecessary complexity. Some are worse. Flawed bid automation, poor budget allocation, ineffective audience targeting, dodgy performance reporting and analytics are all in play today across wide swaths of media in market. Despite this, most programs enjoy profitability and productivity, not because they are sound, but because ad technology matches customers to vendors with incredible precision. There are lots of changes to be debated about how these technologies work, but from a pure performance perspective they are not credited nearly enough for their cold, quantitative effectiveness. In good times, if you have a strong underlying business, it’s difficult to fail with digital marketing.

So what is happening now that crisis has come?

Two powerful tailwinds – a strong economic trajectory and modern digital targeting – carried all but the most unfortunate companies or strategies. Now one of these tailwinds ceases due to a global public health crisis. So what happens to poor strategies, once buoyed by high times?

Fragile Digital Strategy In Two Charts

Digital marketing technology allows imprecise strategies – even strategies worse than darts at a board – to drive profitable growth in strong economic times.
When times are lean, not even the marvel of modern targeting technology can save a poorly aligned marketing strategy from itself.

The pattern above looks dire, but would effective strategy fare better? While even the most rigorous and sound approach suffers during a severe downturn, such investment strategies retain their fundamental performance through the worst of economic crises, and with some trimming and adjustment withstand the tide.

Sound Digital Strategy In Two Charts

A sound digital approach leads to abundant success and margin for error in good times…
And in bad times, adjustment is required but the fundamental returns remain.

As we enter into the teeth of what will be a trying 2020, most businesses will retract marketing expenses and investments in their current customers, but how many businesses will truly examine their approach, strategy, and execution?

Crisis Is Simply The Coin’s Other Side

This crisis isn’t due to a “once in a million” phenomenon, this isn’t even the first new coronavirus in the last 20 years. This variation is just unique enough to expose how few global resources we dedicate to prevention and preparedness. While it’s comforting to hear people say “no one could have predicted this”, sadly that’s a lie. It feeds our collective impulse against investing in the long term because it’s too hard, too daunting, or just plain inconvenient. The reality is this: we’ve taken far too much credit during times of prosperity and stability, and invested that good fortune into far too few efforts that build resilience.

Many Companies Aren’t Coming Back From This

“Catastrophic factors beyond our control” will claim thousands of businesses this year. Isn’t it funny that none of us has ever heard a company credit prosperity on “incredible fortune beyond our control”?

“Our success is simple: incredible fortune beyond our control.”

— No Business, Ever

If you’re customers convert 50% of the time they come into your store, what would happen if they suddenly convert 10% of the time? If you’re company needs 1,000 people in-market for your product to succeed – what would happen if there were only 100? Not everything is flexible, but resiliency can be built into business. If you are making 30% margins, could you use those funds to invest in a process that drives next year’s margin to 35%? Better yet, what if your capital reserves were sufficient enough to survive a period of no customers for a week – a month, or a year?

Many Companies Will Hang On, But Barely

The terrible employment numbers coming out show the painful truth on the ground – not only are companies going out of business, but businesses that survive are severely retrenching. This helps pay some bills, but it accelerates a spiral downward. The premise that you must simply “cut-costs, automate, and optimize” your way out of this misses the mark. Say you do everything you’ve always done, but with less people, a few more machines, and cut everything else. What will that leave you? A 5,000 person company down to 500? $100 million in revenue down to $20 million? A “retreat to profitability” – without re-imagining the needs, standards, processes, practices and operations of your business – is simply that, a permanent retreat to insignificance.

Change Occurs With Or Without You

These are just a few things – all of which would be considered inconceivable or simply impossible – less than a month ago. They are all now reality. Very little feels positive while we navigate the worst of this moment, but I do enjoy seeing the absurd refrain “we could never do that” laid bare:

  • We can re-purpose millions of manufacturing supply chains, but your organization can’t reconsider how to organize numbers on a spreadsheet?
  • Thousands of nurses and health professionals can work overtime in battlefield conditions, but your analyst team can’t be bothered to learn a new 2-minute routine?
  • Event centers can be turned into state-of-the-art triage facilities in weeks, But your chief merchant can’t use new data or insights for the next inventory order?

The truth is that you can change. Your company can evolve. That’s never been an issue. Change isn’t comfortable, change isn’t easy, and so the real question is are you willing to change? Can you commit to do what’s needed to evolve? Because change is coming with or without you.

Investing In Resilience

There is safety in continuous improvement and change. We see that process as an investment in resilience. Retreating and retrenching, or simply adding further efficiency to your existing strategy is a recipe for retraction and continued instability. Resilience investments enhance business stability during recession and defend your operation against many growing headwinds. At Bonsai, we’re passionate about “reducing waste today and risk tomorrow.” While we love seeing those efficiencies today, we know data transformation of any kind requires investment, commitment to change, and the stomach for challenge.

It requires coming to terms with many issues.

We are intimately aware that every process we deploy for our customers requires time and effort. It’s all quite daunting, frankly. Why would anyone be interested? Because we know that we aren’t the only ones who relish the challenge of creating lasting impact through things that aren’t easy. And while we specialize in data solutions and services, at Bonsai we know we are ultimately a resilience firm.

Change At Bonsai

No one is exempt from change – the least of which being us. Bonsai has invested the first two months of our existence [founded Feb 2020] trying to communicate and answer “who are you?”, and “why are you here?” I think to that end, we’ve done an okay job! Our first few connections and customers probably could say: we do business & marketing data solutions, we’re passionate about reducing waste & risk, and we believe in service and partnership.

I also think we’ve tried hard to listen to our pilot customers, and capture real-world needs. All of that is great, but one question we’ve answered poorly is painfully basic. We’ve heard it enough to have nightmares – it goes something like this:

“What, would you say, you actually…do?”

— Everyone

The message is loud and clear. We’ve sucked to date, and we’re committed to being way better. Today we’re taking some baby steps towards solving this:

 

Some final thought starters:

Are you inundated with reporting work, or data complexity? If you need better speed to action, we are here to help.

Do you have (not set) data in your reporting? Are you missing dictionaries, access, utilization, or process? Where data governance is lacking, we are here to help.

Are digital marketing budgets growing, but you’re not making your y/y targets? Do you have the right KPIs to deliver both efficiency today, and resiliency tomorrow? If data strategy change is needed, we are here to help.

Are you worried about data privacy risk, or retain capabilities with less tech overhead? We are here to help.

Resilience takes time. You can start today. Let’s grow together.

More To Explore

To Simplify, Learn.

I was recently asked to give a talk on data change-making. I shared a story at a very relaxed pace – probably something to either

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