Try, Tinker & Learn: A Review of “Hacking Marketing”

December 5, 2016 Andrea Fryrear

by Andrea Fryrear

Hacking Marketing book

If you ever feel like you’re “juggling an explosion of digitally powered interactions in a tornado of constant change and innovation,” you probably work in either marketing or software.

These two professions are converging like never before, and the implications of this collision course are revealed in Scott Brinker’s 2016 book Hacking Marketing: Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster, and More Innovative.

Brinker is a talented writer who knows when to unpack detailed particulars and when to stick with a bird’s eye view. His style is whip-smart without being overly academic, and his understanding of the forces that shape the marketing profession is practically unparalleled.

As if that wasn’t enough, he has a knack for making the complex concepts at the heart of agile marketing seem approachable and possible.

And, while he does cover the basics of agile marketing in considerable depth, this isn’t a book for novices only. Experienced agile practitioners are sure to find more than a few new ideas to take back to their teams (the Triage/Bumped/Killed Kanban add-on in Chapter 15 was a revelation to me).

To be clear, the goal of this article is to help you decide whether or not Hacking Marketing is worth an investment of your time and money, not to serve as a replacement for the book itself. With that aim in mind, I’ll be covering the central premises of the book and including some of the ideas that I found most exciting, but this shouldn’t be taken as a comprehensive overview.

Ok, let’s hack some marketing.

Hacking Marketing Premises

Scott BrinkerFor those of us longing to geek out on agile marketing, it’s tempting to jump straight to final two-thirds of the book, which is where Brinker dives into the four main facets of modern marketing management (agility, innovation, scalability, and talent) and reveals how we can harness digital dynamics within each.

But doing so would skip over Part I, which is a very insightful look at the current state of marketing and its parallels with software development.

As part of this section, Hacking Marketing makes a remarkably strong (and somewhat unique) case for the “why” behind agile marketing.

The argument is based on three premises:

  1. Marketing has become a digital profession.
  2. As a digital profession, marketing is now governed by digital dynamics.
  3. Software, being the first purely digital profession, offers deep and invaluable lessons for managing this new form of marketing, including and especially agile principles.

If you have any agile marketing skeptics that need convincing, you can find a wealth of arguments in these early sections.

Hacking Marketing book cover

Hacking Marketing’s Agile Definition

Agile is often equated with pure speed, but the metabolism metaphor that runs through Hacking Marketing is more accurate.

As Brinker baldly states:

“Just because your organization reacts quickly doesn’t mean it’s agile.”

If anybody would like to make a poster out of this, I will totally buy one.

Instead, increasing marketing’s metabolism with an agile approach is, Brinker writes,

“about dynamically reallocating our efforts more frequently, to take advantage of new information and innovations more quickly than quarterly or yearly plans permit. Yet it lets us do this in a considered and balanced manner, avoiding a chaotic, interrupt-driven frenzy. That’s agility.”

The Meat of the Matter: Agile Marketing

Brinker admits in the introduction that Part II is the “most comprehensive” section of the book, and he isn’t kidding around.

Hacking Marketing spends a wonderful one hundred pages on agile marketing, starting with its early theoretical origins and going all the way through ensuring strategic alignment on rapidly iterating teams.

The focus is almost entirely on marketing management

There are dozens of meaty ideas to pull from this section, and, as I mentioned, they aren’t all aimed at agile newbies.

But, it’s important to point out that Brinker’s focus is almost entirely on marketing management. He argues that it’s not the speed at which individuals perform their jobs that’s holding us back. Rather:

"What we really need to accelerate is our cadence of management—how we determine which activities we’re working on as an organization, to be able to nimbly adjust where and how we’re targeting our energy. Primarily, we want faster feedback loops, with the ability to update our plans fluidly based on what we learn."

This makes a lot of sense, but it does create a definite point of emphasis in the subsequent chapters.

Thoughts on Theory and Talent

This central part of the book, where Brinker gets into the serious details of implementing an agile approach for marketing, represents some of the best writing on the subject that I’ve yet read. For me, these chapters alone are worth the price of the book.

But later chapters offer up additional ideas such as bimodal marketing, platform thinking, and pace marketing that are worth taking in, even if they don’t produce the, “I can’t wait to go try this!” reaction of Part II.

Interestingly, the final chapter on marketing talent comes in as a close second for my favorite part of the book. Managers and new graduates alike should heed Brinker’s words here:

“In a digital world, people are the most important factor to marketing’s success. Finding, developing, and nurturing great talent is the ultimate source of competitive advantage in modern marketing.”

Whether you call it T-shaped, cross-functional, 10x, or full-stack, marketing organizations need to spend as much time (if not more) hiring their next employee as they do choosing their next software purchase.

It’s Time to Hack Marketing

Hacking Marketing is not your typical marketing book. It doesn’t include case studies from fancy brands, and it doesn’t offer a “get rich quick” scheme to fix all your marketing problems.

It does work very hard (and very effectively) to push us to find ways to do better marketing.

Technical terminology and software speak aside, Brinker’s version of hacking simply “celebrates the courage to try, tinker, and learn.” Give it a read, and you’ll definitely have the learn part covered. 

Try, tinker and learn


About the Author

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea is the Chief Content Officer for Fox Content, where she uses agile content marketing principles to power content strategy and implementation for her clients. She's also the Editor in Chief of The Agile Marketer, a community of marketers on the front lines of the agile marketing transformation. She geeks out on all things agile and content on LinkedIn and @andreafryrear on Twitter.

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