Take a Lesson from the Marines: It’s Not Gear That Wins in War or Digital Marketing

I’m active in a pretty wide range of discussions about the future of digital marketing.  It’s astonishing how often these conversations start, and then stay on technology. This I think, is a disastrous error.

Let’s consider a nice tangible example of a group that gets things done: the United States Marines.

It’s not gear that makes the Marines a great fighting force – though I have no doubt they have awesome firepower. But one well-placed warrior could probably do more damage with a screwdriver then I could with a whole crate of explosives.  And the judgment of knowing when to wait for the shot is as much a skill as aim.

Build People before Systems
The same is true in marketing. People and strategy are prerequisites for even picking tools.  Two years ago, my team set the goal to be the best digital marketer in the legal industry at both paid and organic search.  This drove hiring, and  brought a stream of people with this expertise in to the firm. They identified creative tactics to help win at search, and then we built out systems to support that.

The people came first. This makes sense, because you need them to specify exactly what needs to happen, and to help build out new systems.  Consider our content team, which has migrated over 5,000 web pages to our new publishing system over the last two months.  They figured out how to get this done, and along the way have become experts on our publishing system.

According to ZDNet, 70 percent of IT projects fail.  Most are doomed from the start because they fail to really nail the business goals of the project.   The rush for results leads to systems that can’t deliver what the business needs.   Our recent web publishing project took six months to plan. That helped us make sure that what we built worked, was on time, and even hit budget numbers.

Getting the “People Layer” Right Drives Technical Success
Rushed shots that miss targets can be worst than shots not taken. Why? Missed shots burn through opportunity and resources. And failure degrades culture. There’s a reason the Marines are proud.  Their shots hit the target with alarming regularity.

The next-most frequent reason a project fails is a lack of communication and team skills.  See the pattern?  Technical success is determined far more by people than technology.  When a technology is fairly mature, getting the “people layer” right is the key success factor.

The difference between heaven and hell is personnel.
To the best web team in legal marketing. Thanks!If your goal is to be a world class organization, then a huge part of that victory is building people and culture inside a strategy.  As important as systems are, they’re just instruments for skill and strategy. Its your people who will pick up projects and carry them across the finish line.  And its your people who will use the systems you build. Your success is in their heads and hands.

5 Responses to "Take a Lesson from the Marines: It’s Not Gear That Wins in War or Digital Marketing"

  • Matt

    January 21, 2011

    Great insight here – well thought out!

    I think as a leader, even if you “miss a shot” it’s how you recover and re-align your sights on the next target that will prove just as important. If your constantly missing (failing) then you really need to reconsider the strategy and the folks trying to execute it with you.

  • Stephen Polinsky

    January 21, 2011

    Nice article, Dave. I agree, most buy and implement technology thinking it will solve their business problem on it’s own. Companies often make the mistake of reviewing technology solutions too early in the process. If companies do a true, comprehensive assessment by defining the problem and get a better handle on what process functionally works before committing to looking at solutions, I’d bet technology purchasing outcomes would generally look quite different. Today’s typical result of rushing technology evaluations yields low adoption and finger pointing.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by iVisitorGuide , Dave Wieneke. Dave Wieneke said: New post: Take a Lesson from the US Marines: It’s Not Gear That Wins in War or Digital Marketing. http://bit.ly/eYWkNb #strategy […]

  • Dave Wieneke

    January 22, 2011

    Excellent point, Matt. There’s no manual on how to take lumps, get smarter and persevere.

    And Steve, this is a team you helped put in place. ;> I’m sure you recognize some of the people in the photo. I’m starting to believe any project that doesn’t have at least a third of its time in planning and definition is starting at a real disadvantage. Clear plans cut through the fog of battle.

    Best to you both,

  • […] As an emerging leader in the digital marketing space, Sokolove has been an amazing place to work. The team has won accolades for organic lead generation, paid search dominance, fantastic social campaigns, even viral video.  Really, how many law firms can say anything like this? Here’s a post I wrote about this team not long ago. […]

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