“If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It” – Dangerous Words

You are probably familiar with the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. On the surface this folksy phrase seems to encompass wisdom gained by experience. One can envision the wise elder in her rocker holding forth to the young’uns on how to live an effective life.

The problem is, this is wrong. And dangerous.

In a world where achieving a steady state of survival is the goal, this homily works . I am sure it held up well in our agrarian past.  Focus your attention on those things that could cause disaster, the wisdom goes, and leave what is working well enough alone.

But in today’s digital marketing world this approach doesn’t work. Following this advice might even cause you to fail.  Here’s why.

There are three common trends in today’s digital marketing world that make this approach dangerous. The first is that if you are in a real company that is acquiring customers, it will usually be easier and faster to get better at what you are doing well rather than fix something that is struggling.

The second is that in an auction-based media world volume is the reward for the absolute best performance (as measured in customer value and conversion rate). Therefore getting to be really good at converting an audience can be more powerful than getting off the ground with something quasi-effective.

The last is that digital is in constant motion.  What works today is not always going to work in the future. Being complacent about the things that work today might sneak up and bite you down the road.  Complacency is a killer of digital campaigns, so not paying attention to what is working is dangerous.

Marketing is moving too quickly to “build and forget”. Instead of trying to fix what is broken, one needs a structure that surfaces opportunities. That involves both the improvement of what is working and testing entirely new options. This structure needs to accept and support the changing landscape of digital while not allowing for complacency.

The alternative: Continual Improvement

One reason we’re an Agile shop is that the Agile framework allows us to embed innovation into our daily practices while forcing us to revisit both prioritization and improvement of our work processes. There is nothing like daily and weekly prioritization to force conversations on how to increase performance. The Retrospective (my favorite Agile meeting!) embeds a discussion on how to improve in all areas of performance into daily life.

Retrospectives are scheduled meetings that ritually ask three questions: What is working? What can be improved? What are we going to do differently? Because these questions are measured against hard goals (profit, volume, engagement, etc.) it is hard to ignore ways to improve an existing process, campaign, or channel vs. trying something new or addressing something that is struggling.  The “Opportunity vs. Investment in Time” equation becomes clear and central to the discussion.

Life in the modern digital marketing world is anything but a steady state. Moving from complacency and set best practices to a framework of continual improvement is both powerful and necessary. One must accommodate change and fully take advantage of auction-based opportunities to succeed. Maybe we need to change the phrase to “If it Ain’t Broke, Make it Better”.