You are what you eat. You are the company you keep. And now a new maxim: You are the software you use.
Like all great maxims, of course, that’s more than a little overstated. But now that software and technology underlie almost everything we do — inside our our organizations, as well as in the media and vehicles we use to engage with prospects and customers in the outside world — it’s important to appreciate the ripple effects our choices of software have.
It reminds me of a scene from the movie Thirteen Days about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara is at the Pentagon when the admiral in charge of the blockade orders a ship to “clear its guns” (fire warning shots).
McNamara is furious that the admiral is escalating the situation without approval. The admiral brushes off McNamara by saying that they’re simply following the rules of engagement.
“The Navy has been running blockades since the days of John Paul Jones,” the admiral chides him. In the admiral’s worldview, it’s just standard Navy operations, nothing that warrants the Secretary’s interference.
“John Paul Jones!” exclaims McNamara. “You don’t understand a thing! This is not a blockade. This is language, a new vocabulary, the likes of which the world has never seen! This is President Kennedy communicating with Secretary Khrushchev!”
Marketing software selection — which impacts the capabilities, workflows, insights, and automations available to marketing — is not just “standard IT business” anymore. Analogously, it is a new kind of vocabulary for shaping strategy, culture, and brand.
Software embodies culture
See, software is not merely bits and bytes, logic statements and data fields. Software is the digital incarnation of ideas that its developers had for:
- how to define a problem
- how to solve that problem
Every aspect of software — features, workflow, UI, packaging, and even its business model — emerges through decisions made by its producer to solve what they see as “the problem.” Some of those decisions are made carefully, some not so much. But either way, the personalities, perspectives, and talents of its people — and the culture of the organization that bound them together — have a huge impact on the resulting solution.
This is not deterministic at all.
Ask 10 different software developers to write a program for any non-trivial purpose — be as exacting as you want in the specification — and you will get back 10 different programs. Some might see this as a negative comment on the state of software engineering, but I actually think it’s a spectacular endorsement of the field’s unsung creative power.
The best software has a vision. The best software takes sides. When someone uses software, they’re not just looking for features, they’re looking for an approach. They’re looking for a vision. Decide what your vision is and run with it.
You can compare different software packages by their features — those ubiquitous matrices of checkboxes for what one program does over another — but that’s like marrying someone based on their college transcripts. The real value software offers is that “approach” and “vision” that is personified in it.
You ignore that broader cultural dimension of software at your peril.
Cultural match (or mismatch) with software
Eric D. Brown, who passionately brings enlightenment to the IT department, has a brilliant post on technology selection and cultural fit. Eric points out that when making a technology choice, not enough people ask this question: Does the technology fit our culture?
Why worry about “culture” in buying software? Eric writes:
Organizational culture is a key driver of technology acceptance and adoption.
Company culture will dictate how much support for a new technology is required. It will make a difference whether your users will take it upon themselves to learn a new technology or expect to have their hands held through detailed training classes.
Culture will also determine how technology is used. Will the technology you select and implement be used in some new, innovative way, or will it barely be used for its intended purpose?
Cultural fit is just as important to an organization as functional requirements, but it’s an often overlooked step in technology selection.
In other words, if you choose software that doesn’t mesh with your culture — or present an approach that you’re willing to embrace — all you do is set yourself up for frustration. Eric illustrates this with a case study of a large organization adopting a new content management system (CMS) that failed, not because of technical issues, but because of cultural ones.
Given all of the disruptive innovation in both culture and technology in the marketing department these days, this is a lesson that is highly relevant to marketing managers and executives.
For instance, Adam Needles of Propelling Brands did a great 4-part series on the “Real State” of modern B2B demand generation, where part 2 was dedicated to the topic that technology, alone, is not enough. The big challenge in his view:
We implement technology to solve our B2B demand generation problems, but we fail to substantially update our underlying processes and roles; thus, we find technology by itself has not really solved our problems.
My takeaway from Adam’s post: if you aren’t willing to embrace the culture embodied in software — its approach and vision — you’re short-changing yourself of the promised value of that software. Buying the software is not enough. You have to use it. And in doing so, it changes you.
How software affects your brand
As marketers, however, the ultimate realization of this “software as culture” meme is that the software we choose impacts how we interact with our market.
Even so-called “back-office” software has effects that filter through our organizations to prospects and customers. For instance, our choice of web analytics software influences how we look at online interactions, what insights we will garner from them, and how those insights will translate into strategic and tactical changes to the web experiences we deliver to our audience.
But the impact is even more obvious in marketing software that directly interacts with the outside world. For instance, the design of a particular marketing automation software solution will nudge/guide/force you in certain directions for how and when to do follow-up emails, the rules of drip marketing and remarketing campaigns, and the way in which a prospect’s defined profile feeds the personalization of their communications.
Another example is my company’s post-click marketing software. Lots of software competitors offer landing page optimization solutions, but our unique approach emphasizes portfolios of landing experiences — dozens or hundreds of highly specific destinations for click-throughs — and multi-step experiences such as “conversion paths” that focus on audience segmentation.
If you adopt our software, you’re very likely to incorporate our philosophy — in your own way — into your landing pages, which directly impacts the experience your customers have with your web marketing. If you choose someone else’s software, you’ll likely go in a slightly (or significantly) different direction.
It’s a nexus of marketing, technology, and culture.
And it’s what makes marketing software selection a new dimension of marketing.
P.S. This is one of the reasons that I advocate so strongly for having technology leadership within the marketing department.