The Netflix Test: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo

Is KonMari a secret metrics masterclass?

April 9, 2019

The Netflix Test: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo

A couple of weeks ago, our sales and marketing solutions team came up with a theory: that Netflix has a secret policy of commissioning TV shows that send coded messages about the future of marketing. When we compared notes, we found the shows we were spending hours watching aren’t just entertaining us or helping us switch off – they keep planting ideas about what’s happening in our profession, and what we should be doing about it.

That’s when we came up with The Netflix Test. My team and I are each nominating a favourite show that we’re convinced doubles as a marketing masterclass. We’d love to know if you agree – or if you think we’re just spending too much time in front of the TV!

My nomination might seem a little unexpected to some. I’m convinced though, that the most important thing that Netflix has ever broadcast about marketing and sales isn’t Mad Men or Glengarry Glen Ross or The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

To the uninitiated out there, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is a show about rescuing messy people from the overwhelming clutter of their homes – or at least that’s how it appears at first glance. Fans know that it’s about far more: the true character of everyday objects and the sources of our emotional attachment to things. Marie Kondo is the Japanese tidying guru with a philosophy known as KonMari that has its roots in Shintoism and that religion’s interest in the spirit and essence of objects. KonMari doubles as an alternative name for Marie as well. To KonMari, a messy cupboard or drawer isn’t just an eyesore – it’s a tragedy. Hidden from view, discarded and forgotten, things lose their purpose and their value. And they rob people of their identity and energy in the process.

The joy of a single metric that matters

Fixing the emotional damage that clutter and chaos can cause makes Tidying Up with Marie Kondo very effective group therapy for TV viewers – and the show’s huge popularity has led people to argue KonMari should be applied to all kinds of things, from mental health and stress reduction to world politics. I’d argue that marketing could equally benefit from a dose of KonMari philosophy. The more complex the marketing landscape becomes, the more we need a philosophy for attributing value that we can believe in – and act on.

Although Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is about many things, it really all comes down to one – the liberating power of focusing on a single metric. It works because the metric KonMari chooses isn’t a restrictive one that takes away people’s individuality – it’s flexible enough to embrace all kinds of lifestyles and all of the different drivers that make people untidy. If you ask me, that’s very similar to the balance between strategic clarity and tactical innovation that marketers need to find.

After piling up clothes, books, paper, sentimental items and the objects from bathrooms, kitchens and garages, Marie Kondo gets participants to ask the same, simple question of everything in the pile: does it “spark joy?” If the answer is yes, the object stays in an uncluttered environment that enables it to fulfil its true potential. If the answer is no, the person thanks it for the time it’s given and everything it’s meant – and moves on. When I watch Marie Kondo, I find this emotional aspect puts a whole different dimension on the title of the show. This isn’t about tidying up homes. It’s about tidying up lives.

Could KonMari cope with marketing proliferation?

I believe it could very easily be about tidying up marketing strategies as well. For the clutter of people’s homes, think of the overwhelming amount of objectives, channels, campaigns and data that we can find ourselves trying to balance as marketers. Having so much to stay on top of can make it difficult to see the bigger picture of what we’re trying to achieve – and difficult to think creatively about how we can achieve it. Marketing and business strategies both get confused and weighed down with legacy activity because we don’t have clear criteria for deciding what’s delivering value – and what isn’t.

One of the most common mistakes that marketers make on LinkedIn is having too many campaigns running on our platform at any one time. Fixing this is one of the most frequent pieces of advice that our Client Solutions Managers give to the advertisers they’re supporting. Marketers who leave underperforming campaigns switched on end up fragmenting their reach and impact. What’s more, the campaigns that aren’t resonating with their target audiences drag life and energy out of the rest, by undermining the business’s relevancy score and making it harder to win the auctions that determine which ads appear in the LinkedIn feed. It’s the marketing equivalent of the overflowing underwear drawer. Items that you don’t really need end up burying those that you’d get a lot more value from, if only there wasn’t something else in the way.

How clutter constrains creative thinking

The dangers of clutter confusing value apply to wider marketing and business strategies as well. The reason that so many businesses struggle with digital transformation, and incumbents struggle to keep innovating in order to stay ahead of potentially disruptive competitors, comes down to overly complex decision-making. Legacy models and tactics get in the way of innovative thinking – and the fact that the strategy is so complex and embedded means it’s really, really difficult for most people in the organisation to have decisive, original ideas. You end up as a cog in a machine.

On the marketing side, clutter plays out in two ways. As an individual marketer, you can end up doing the same things you’ve always done – because that’s the way you’ve always delivered the numbers that your sales team or your CMO demand. There’s less opportunity to question what the end-objective really should be – and start investigating different ways of delivering it.

On the other hand, it’s easy to get sucked into following the latest tactical trend or hopping onto the next must-have marketing channel. Because we’ve no confident way of assessing whether new tactics are relevant or add value, we jump on them through fear of missing out, and then forget to de-clutter later. The danger is, you end up with fragmented budgets, and campaigns and marketers who are struggling to fulfil their potential.

Viral strategy from the sock drawer

Jonathon Palmer, who’s Global Head of Strategy for the agency Omobono, argues that the solution is “viral strategy”: a definition of the value that a business or marketing strategy is trying to achieve that’s so simple and applicable, that it enables high-velocity decision-making by everyone involved. It frees up people’s capacity for innovation. This is also the guiding principle of the agile management philosophies that many businesses adopt to help implement digital transformation. They focus on the simple question of whether each process, initiative or way of doing things adds value to the business’s end-customer or not. How cost-efficient it is, or how embedded it is within the business, becomes far less important than how effective it is at delivering what the business exists to do.

Palmer uses the analogy of Admiral Nelson banning complex semaphore messages between his ships during battles – and telling his captains to focus on one simple thing: getting as close as possible to the enemy. He empowered his officers, unlocked individual initiative and became nimble, unpredictable – and impossible to beat. However, I think an equally good analogy is a charming Japanese woman looking you in the eye and encouraging you to ask one, simple question of everything in your marketing strategy. Does it spark joy? Or, in marketing terms, does it create the one form of value that matters most?

What does ‘joy’ look like for sales and marketing today?

Ultimately, joy for marketing and sales comes down to revenue-based metrics like customer lifetime value and increased profitability. However, just as Marie Kondo allows for many different ways for objects around the house to bring joy, we should allow for many different ways for campaigns to contribute to our bottom-line bliss. We just have to be clear about how each campaign is contributing - and what particular type of joy we’re seeking from it.

The ‘joy’ delivered by a brand campaign won’t look like the ‘joy’ delivered by lead generation activity – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has any less value, and it doesn’t mean that value can’t be measured. As Shell’s Global Head of Integrated Brand and Communications, Americo Campos Silva argued at an Advertising Week Europe panel on data-led creativity last month, the important thing is to focus on the outcome that matters and then find the most relevant metric that relates to it. Sometimes a perfect-fit metric doesn’t exist – and in those cases we have to be smart about selecting the most appropriate metric to serve as a proxy. It’s hard to measure brand impact in real time. However, if you can analyse how engagement, for example, tends to flow through into leads, conversions and eventual customer acquisition, then you have a case for focusing on engagement as your measure of ‘joy’ for a brand campaign.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) can often make this process easier. Dell EMC’s Senior VP Marketing EMEA, Margaret Franco, argues that a carefully planned ABM programme makes it clear how engagement flows through into sales outcomes, customer acquisition and long-term revenues. As a result, her marketing team is able to focus on relevant, creative solutions to drive engagement with accounts in the ABM program. They’ve found a meaningful metric – and that liberates them to deliver on what the business really needs.

Thank you vanity metrics – how to move on from distractions

The flip side to finding your ‘joy’ metric is being clear about the metrics that have been distracting you from it. In B2B marketing that role is often played by cost-based metrics that are taken out of context. There’s no point focusing on cost per click (CPC) or cost per lead (CPL) if the leads you’re generating at a lower cost aren’t closing and delivering revenue at a rate that justifies the sales team’s efforts. You’d be far better off generating fewer, higher-quality leads at a slightly higher CPL, because their eventual net impact on revenue will be much higher (and you’ll be supporting the sales team in a far more effective way). Your ‘joy’ metric often isn’t cost per lead – it’s value per lead. Once you know this, it puts all your other metrics (including CPL) into the right context.

Once you’ve established a KonMari approach to what matters and why, you can start making much more effective decisions. As my colleague Gaurav Nihalani explains in our Confessions of the LinkedIn Insiders eBook, this can give you great insight when it comes to tidying up your campaigns on LinkedIn.

“Spend five minutes going into Campaign Manager and filtering or sorting all of your campaigns by a metric you care about,” he says. “It could be conversion rates, leads or click-through rate (CTR). Look at your average value for that metric and then look at the campaigns above and below that line. Then ask yourself a few questions: which campaigns do you want to lower the spend on or turn off? Why are the top performers performing as well as they are? Look for similarities, and then you can apply the learnings you generate to campaigns that aren’t performing as well.”

Clarity like this is a great starting point for thinking creatively about how to move the metrics that really matter. There are many different ways to spark joy for your business. You just need to decide what joy feels like first.

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