I’m bad at sports analogies but let’s give this a try.

Imagine you’re a coach and you meet your new track team: Usain Bolt, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Jesse Owens and Florence Griffith Joyner.

But there’s a problem. You’re really a wrestling coach and have no idea what to do with your amazing team.

Here’s another take:

Anita Brearton, CEO and co-founder of Cabinet M recently told the story of a marketer who acquired a new marketing automation system and he “felt like someone had dropped off an F-16 fighter jet and told them to go ahead and give it a spin.”

What we’re describing here is what a lot of marketing managers have been facing with the pressures of digital transformation. They are skilled marketers, but they haven’t yet figured out how to pivot to the new rules of the marketing game.

It is this group that Scott Brinker speaks to in his book “Hacking Marketing: Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster and More Innovative.”

Changing the Rules of Engagement

Many people know of Brinker through his ChiefMarTech blog. Many others know him as the provider of the fuel for their nightmares and their eye doctor’s dreams in the form of his annual Marketing Technology Supergraphic.

This book will not help you pick between the 3874 technologies represented in that image.

What it will do is help marketing managers create teams that can work with, act on and take full advantage of the data and insights those tools can offer. 

For those who think the “digital transformation” comes down to shopping, you’re in for an awakening. Brinker makes an impassioned argument that digital transformation extends as much (if not more so) to the people and processes as to the technology underlying it.

While the parallel between software development — hacking in the positive sense of the word — and marketing management may not seem immediately evident, Brinker makes a convincing argument for why marketers would benefit from following software  developers’ lead. 

“Running a digital profession by the rules of nondigital management imposes artificial limits on what we can do and leads to organizational dissonance.”

Brinker will be speaking during CMSWire’s DX Summit today on these very questions.

‘This is Not a Workbook, But a Guide’

Hacking Marketing reads at times like a manifesto and at times like a guidebook. The book is broken down between five clear sections: introduction, agility, innovation, scalability and talent.

Brinker could easily repurpose the introductory section as a standalone pamphlet for all members of the C-Suite and management to gain a better understanding of the dynamics forcing changes in marketing (and in the organization as a whole). 

Just See What Works

Here we have the manifesto — Brinker’s call to action (and make no mistake, this book is all about taking action) for marketers to discard their year-long campaigns, their long deliberations on which approach is right. 

Because the speed in which current marketers operate and the data available to them make these deliberations moot. 

Learning Opportunities

Part of the inspiration for the “hacking” in the title originates in Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s SEC filing, in which Zuckerberg describes the company’s culture to prospective investors as “The Hacker Way.”

“Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what the best way to build something is, hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works.”

A Little Bit Manifesto, A Little Bit Guidebook

For anyone familiar with Brinker’s ChiefMarTech blog, you know his talent of explaining complex ideas clearly and with humor. This book is no exception. 

You do not need to be a technologist developer to read this book (though Brinker might argue that you are a software developer). Brinker explains the concepts in language that a layperson can understand.

Sections two through four — the meat of the book — is where the guidebook comes in. Brinker tackles a core topic in each section and offers frameworks and diagrams throughout to put these approaches in action. 

This is where Brinker really rifles through the developers tool box, bringing out Scrum and Kanban and their breakfast-pastry sounding mashup Scrumban, sprints and iterative marketing.

While this may sound abstract, all of these tools are just that, tools, methods to embed a more agile approach in your organization.

“…  don’t underestimate the cultural shift that may be required to adopt agile marketing.”

Learning From Others

My criticisms of the book were minor. While the basic premise, of borrowing the agility, the action-orientation and the sense of exploration and testing of software development and applying it to marketing is compelling, at times the parallels to software development felt forced. The chapter on bi-modal marketing being a case in point for me. The underlying lesson makes sense and Brinker argues clearly and passionately for the push, the language does the argument a disservice. 

I also am a fan of case studies. While the book is exploring territory that is clearly very new to organizations, I wished at times to see any organizations putting these practices into effect on a large or small scale — and any takeaways from these success stories of how they made the dramatic cultural change. In particular, I would like to see how any company, with already overburdened marketing teams, convinced leadership that not pushing all levers at 110 percent would actually benefit them in the long run.

But again, these were minor points within the broader whole of a compelling, engaging and fast reading book. When's the last time a marketing book made you laugh out loud?

Now if only the front section was perforated so marketing managers could share it with the C-Suite ….

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