Be like water. Why adaptability is the key to getting marketing right and how to implement it.

It’s not the strongest or smartest that survive, it’s the most adaptable.
— Charles Darwin

We’ve all likely heard these words above before from Darwin. And yet, how easy it is to forget when we are under pressure, moving at the speed of light towards a specific target.

While adaptability is something we can all apply into our daily lives, when it comes to marketing it’s become a critical component to getting marketing right. With how quickly things are changing — trends, technologies, consumer behavior — and also how much information overload everyone is a must.

So what does this mean practically for marketing. Below I outline five key elements that I’ve found can make all the difference in doing marketing for marketing’s sake, or being effective.

1. Slow down, to speed up

When we are under pressure to bring in leads and customers, we often go straight into implementation mode. Yet this is often the worst thing we can do for our marketing efforts. Developing a strategy isn’t something we just do once. We have to continually adapt and tweak.

I was recently working with a non profit client on a giving campaign. The Executive Director came to us looking for a go to market strategy and support in implementing their end of year giving campaign. With two months before New Years, we didn’t have much time. Even though our initial instincts told us to go straight into Go Mode, we took a step back and developed a plan that gave us two weeks of planning time, including a one week audit to gain a deeper understanding of their mission and impact.

These two weeks of planning time were critical in the success of the campaign. It gave us time to set up the right framework and foundation including a messaging strategy, social media calendar, content outlines and visual templates. The end result? Our client had their best giving campaign to date and even surpassed their end of year goal by 110%.

2. Define the who and the what

Marketers need to be prepared to define what content means and be ready to adapt as those definitions change.
— -Simon Morris

Spending just a little bit of time defining and regularly tweaking who you are marketing to is a critical component of staying adaptable. Think about it this way. Which of these two messages resonates more with you.

So what does this mean practically speaking for your marketing? Here are a few parameters that we like to ask our clients.

The who: Who is this for and why should they care?

The more details you can give here, the better. We often ask this question and get really vague, broad answers. Trying to be everything to everyone is one of the fastest ways to fall flat with your marketing. Spending some time defining (on paper!) a few profiles of your ideal and best customers will help you craft more effective marketing messages and campaigns.

When crafting your messages, put yourself in your customers shoes and avoid talking about yourself. Think about centering your messaging around empathy.

The what: Defining your content and the art of storytelling

In these constantly changing times we are living in, how and where content is consumed is constantly changing. Regularly assessing and auditing your digital content is critical to staying relevant.

A critical part of tying your content together, is through the art of storytelling. Storytelling has become a buzzword in marketing over the last few years, and is here to stay. Infusing elements of storytelling in all of our marketing is not just smart marketing, its become THE way to market and connect with your audience.

And it makes good sense. Stories are a powerful way for people to resonate with what you are selling and a great way to sound less salesy and more authentic to your mission and brand. Regularly defining and tweaking your key marketing stories is another key component to staying adaptable.

Let’s get practical. What does this mean to you and how can you implement?

Videos are no longer optional, but a critical part of marketing and a great way to tell stories. As a marketing medium and channel, it’s also arguably the most effective way to connect with your customers. Videos are also increasingly becoming easier to produce and create.

3. Get creative

Creativity is something that makes you stop... Creativity is something that resonates. Something that, for a brief moment, makes you feel understood. Which means, at its root, creativity is honesty.
— Nicolas Cole

They say ideas are a dime a dozen. In the crazy times we’re living in where trends last months instead of years, we have to learn to keep up. Practically speaking for marketing this means get creative with your content.

I love what marketing strategist Nicolas Cole says about creativity. Creativity at its core is about honesty. And honesty is about communicating authentically and connecting with your customers. See tip 2 above for more about what this means practically.

4. Become like water

You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup... Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.
— Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee is one of my inspirations. Time and time again how he approached life and lived it resonates for me far beyond a personal state of mind and seeps into how I think about business and marketing strategy.

As Bruce Lee says in an interview (see video below), water is resilient, because it flows. Resiliency is a key aspect of adaptability. So what does this mean from a practice perspective? How can we get into these flow states especially when we are busier then ever juggling multiple balls on a daily basis.

Learn from LeanStartup

Lean startup is a methodology and movement that startups and businesses alike are adopting. It ¨favors experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional “big design up front” development.¨ and its principles are at the crux of how we work with our own clients . The movement is also in line with the minimalism trend that is taking over and is a perfect way to help you get in front of your customers faster (perfect is the enemy of good right?), more consistently and with greater results. The key is to constantly be in a feedback loop of building, measuring, learning and refining. checking in, assessing, refining and publishing.

Practice mindfulness

In these times where mindfulness and minimalism is taking center stage (from eco conservation of water and our environment to decluttering our lives the Marie Kondo way, the less is more principle really resonates beyond just marketing making it a powerful storytelling principle to apply to your own marketing as well.


The simple power of less is more

Everything begins and ends with ¨Less is more¨

Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding in the meaningful.
— John Maeda

Before beginning any marketing activity, we like to begin with the following question: How can I create less to deliver more? And, before we hit the post or send button, we take a step back and ask ourselves a similar question: Can I take away (even more) to create more impact

In an age of visual, information, and distraction overflow, our minds and eyes crave simplicity. Simple color palettes, less clutter, more white space, intentional words. When combined, these concepts create a sense of flow and togetherness to help you deliver maximum impact for your message. 

The origins of minimalist design, and why it matters in marketing

Very often people confuse simple with simplistic. The nuance is lost on most.
— Clement Monk
Photo from  Antanas Kazilunas

While marketing is both an art and a science, the art of marketing is in how you combine visuals and words to create a story that will connect with your audience.

Design is a big part this. Design is much more than the visual look of something. It is a process of imagining and planning the creation of your idea. It is about putting yourself in the shoes of the person who is going to be using or reading or looking at whatever you are creating, and creating it with them in mind.

The concept that simplicity leads to good design is a phrase adopted in 1947 by architect and furniture designer Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, one of the founders of modern architecture and a proponent of simplicity of style.

Simplicity also connotes clarity of concept and ideas. When you’ve stripped something down to its essence, you’ve brought forth the most essential parts of what you are trying to showcase and communicate. I love what marketer Marc Schenker says about the minimalism design trend:

No discussion on minimalism would ever be complete without a reference to Japan’s traditional culture of Zen philosophy. When we say “Zen” in today’s terms, we often think meditation and calm; however, in design terms, Zen is the epitome of minimalism, especially the way Japanese designers use it.
— Marc Schenker

As Marc points out, one of the most important principles in Zen is the concept of negative space, or Ma, a Japanese word which can be roughly translated as a “gap, pause space, or the space between two structural parts.” Effectively using the empty space between different elements is an important defining element in effective website design, PowerPoint, and just about any other kind of design in marketing.

Practicing less is more: Choose wisely

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
— Hans Hoffman

Most marketing nowadays relies on visual content. The power of Apple’s simplicity in messaging, storytelling, and design has been a global example that has set the standard for the less is more marketing principle. Yet, according to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the average PowerPoint slide has 40 words. Imagining 40 words on one PowerPoint slide makes my eyes grow heavy and my head start spinning.

Our one tip to practicing less is more is to use restraint; choose every element wisely, and distill down to what’s fundamental and necessary. Simplify your content and adhere to visual hierarchy principles, including the Rule of 3 for effective communication. And as Albert Einstein so wisely said, if you can’t explain it to a six year old, then you don’t understand it yourself.

What is the number one secret to effective marketing?

What is the number one secret to effective marketing?

I’m sure depending on who you ask this question, you’ll get a range of different answers. Throughout my more than decade of experience leading marketing departments at both small and large companies, I have to come to realize that creating and consistently delivering on the the right content marketing strategies is they key to unlocking marketing.