Marketing That Soars Above the Competition

Marketing today is as competitive as any contact sport. “Do you have what it takes to stay on top?” Afterburner’s Scott “Intake” Kartvedt asked the audience this morning at the Verint Driving Innovation conference.

Kartvedt’s secret to gaining and keeping a competitive advantage is what Afterburner calls the Flawless Execution Model, which is all about setting and achieving “mission objectives,” or, strategic goals—and is based on strategies used by military professionals, including fighter pilots. The model includes four main elements: plan, brief, executive, and debrief.

Kartvedt, previously the first commanding officer of the Navy’s F-35C Stealth Strike Fighter Squadron and member of the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron, explained that planning should be open and include representatives from all of the areas in an organization that an initiative will touch; this includes senior leaders. The team should collaborate to set objectives that are clear, measurable, achievable, have a specific timeframe, and support broader business goals.

Next is the need to examine threats and potential obstacles. These include threats that are internal and external, as well as controllable and uncontrollable. In marketing an internal, controllable threat might be not listening to the customer. “Don’t put resources against uncontrollable threats,” Kartvedt warned.

Once you develop a specific course of action and tactics to achieve the mission objectives, it’s important to have other staff members not involved in the original planning evaluate the plan and try to poke holes in it. This way you can make improvements before launch instead of having to backpedal. However, it’s essential to plan for contingencies, Kartvedt said.

Integral to the process is to identify not only the resources available to support reaching your goals, but also any resource gaps, he said.  Resources could include staff and technology. Along with this, it’s essential to evaluate lessons learned from previous initiatives. This is one areas where the debrief comes in. “If you have an environment that encourages [debriefing], you can move continually toward best practices,” Kartvedt said.

Too many companies, however, skip the debrief. “Time and ego is why some [organizations] don’t debrief,” he said, adding that debriefs need to be nameless and “rankless.” In other words, in a debrief everyone’s opinion counts equally. Leaders should listen to their teams to get all perspectives. “It’s not who’s right, it’s what’s right,” Kartvedt said.

In marketing the debrief is often testing and analysis. “You need to debrief for continual improvement,” Kartvedt said.  “Execution never goes as planned, so if you debrief your execution, you’ll improve future executions.”

This approach provides “a 90% solution executable today,” instead of taking months to get to a 100% solution before executing, Kartvedt said. “Preparation is the key to flexibility,” he added.

According to Kartvedt, the best-laid plans can get derailed by what Afterburner calls task saturation: having too much to do without enough time and resources to complete it all. As task saturation increases, so do errors and missed opportunities.

One element of task saturation is “channelized attention,” or focusing on one thing, and then the next and the next, to the point of being so focused on each thing in that moment that you miss the big picture. To eliminate task saturation, keep going back to the one area you want to focus on most in your organization. Is it customer experience? Then focus primarily on that; and then shift your focus to a related area, then back to customer experience, and then to another related area, and back to customer experience, and so one. You need to keep coming back to main goal to keep focus on it.

“If you lose site,” Kartvedt  said, “you lose the fight.”

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