Can our marketing data and customer insights provide meaningful value without the practice of iteration? Maybe. But we are finding more and more that the answer is simply, no.

For many years, our marketing and communication efforts have pulled from a mix of evolving best practices, pop culture, creative inspiration, and whatever data we could get our hands on. We have assembled campaigns that have consistently broken through the din and found resonance, and relevance, with our target audience. As times and culture changed, our tactics followed suit.

We did not always have the copious mounds of data that we have today. So we took what we could get and relied on our keenly honed intuition to create messaging, positioning, and campaigns that would hopefully garner the attention of our customers. If it didn’t work, we simply tried again. We iterated — and from that practice, we produced campaigns and creative that are now regarded as art.

Today, we have at our disposal a staggering array of tools, methodologies, data points, and technologies to inform our work. Our capabilities and opportunities have multiplied by an order of magnitude. And, for all this sophistication, we seem to have lost the one habit that got us here.

If we distill it down to its simplest form, the only real measure of marketing success is how our audience responds. It’s not altogether profound or noteworthy, it’s just a basic feedback loop. That loop will tell us if we got it right or if we need to try again. When we eliminate the second part, what good is the first part? But we know this, so why do we do it?

Are we too trusting of our new tools and data?

Are we just so enamored by our key insight that we don’t care if it is completely wrong?

Have we forgotten there are humans at the other end of our outputs and they are finicky little bastards?

Or did we simply become lazy about our own R&D practice?

Maybe. But I have a theory.

Over the past few decades, we have developed an increasing tendency to grade marketing efforts as pass/fail. If our campaign didn’t achieve it’s primary objective (or even an ancillary one) it is seen as a failure. And, when that failure is addressed with consequences instead of opportunities, we kill the potential for iteration.

Unfortunately, this is not the only result. This approach turns risk into something to be avoided instead of a tool for differentiation. It creates a culture of fear that stifles the drive for innovation. It delays receiving vital feedback when we hesitate to launch work that we don’t feel it is 128% perfect. All of which adds up to an impact that can render a memorable brand mediocre.

Marketing is a practice — as if it were medicine or law. As with any practice, when done in earnest, it will provide a near-constant flow of new discoveries that provide a path to more consistent successes fueled by learning.

Our successes are too often measured by what we have gained without enough consideration for what has been learned. If we can adopt a renewed focus on iteration, we will make our short-term tactics more effective and our long-term goals more attainable. Which, in turn, makes all our efforts more sustainable.

Communication is a two-way street and when we employ more active listening and use that input to inform, optimize, and amplify our work, we will find greater successes and bigger opportunities. If we don’t, marketing becomes a struggle, not a practice.

For more on Iterative Marketing as a practice visit IterativeMarketing.net