NASA Astronauts, Soviet Cosmonauts, and Autonomous Marketing Processes.
There's a story I heard years ago that I keep going back to when I want to refocus myself on the principle of keeping things simple. I don't know if the story is true or where it originated (It might have been a movie). I couldn't care less. It just makes an excellent point.
In the height of the cold war and the space race, NASA scientists worked day and night to create a pen that could work in outer space. They sweated over the ink that could withstand no-gravity, space temperatures, and harsh conditions. They researched different materials and devised and tested failure scenarios and use cases for using a pen on a spaceship. After many months of hard work, they sent the NASA astronauts beyond Earth's atmosphere to the ultimate frontier with a pen that could work in space. A space-pen. Success.
Soviet cosmonauts were given a pencil.
No wonder they got there first.
"Huston, we have a problem."
We are programmed to seek innovation from the moment early humans came up with the first tools as a solution to surviving or going extinct. We love new ways of doing things and gravitate towards experimentation and invention. It's in our DNA.
But we also love the complexity and tend to overthink solutions.
You must be familiar with @khaby.lame, who became a social media celebrity by ridiculing life hacks.
I think you get my point: often, we are so obsessed with making things faster and better that we create unnecessary complexity along the way.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
If you've ever worked with me, you know I love using this proverb, but I don't use it in its original meaning.
The original road to hell is paved with good intentions proverb means that it is not enough to simply mean to do well; one must take action to do well. A good intention is meaningless unless it is followed by good action.
Side note: I recommend you think hard about this proverb and follow its recommendation IF:
You believe in a higher power;
You believe in heaven and hell;
You believe hell is not a lovely place to be in; and,
You think you might, someday, find yourself in it.
Back to my point...
Nelly's meaning of the proverb: You may do all the right things and have all the best intentions and still find yourself in hell at the end of the road.
These days, while I am head's down building atrea, I use the proverb to demonstrate how task management solutions like Asana or Monday had all the best intentions for introducing simplicity, speed, and order to the world of work, yet ended up delivering software so complex, manual and chaotic that it is placing their users in hell (literally).
Take Monday, for example. I was an early adopter and a fan. Monday went through many pivots, but after a few years, when they finally got their product right, I was delighted to use the software to create marketing plans, assign tasks to my teams and even manage my marketing budget.
At first, I was in task management heaven. I could create a board for every project or campaign, quickly create a few tasks, assign team members, and get notified about progress. I was so excited that I spent hours learning the ins and outs of the software, investigated every capability, and proudly used all the available automations (mainly to move a task row from one board to another and calculate the final cost of a program).
Goodbye spreadsheets! Hello, automation! Hooray!
It was all good when I had a team of 3 or 4, and the company was small. But as I started scaling up and growing my marketing machine, my needs changed and the processes I wanted to manage became more complicated and complex.
Yes, processes. I graduated from managing a single-digit list of tasks into designing, setting up, connecting, automating, aligning, managing, and supervising hundreds of double and triple-digit task lists that made up a function, a role, or an initiative-specific process.
For example, creating a piece of content in the early days was easy. 2-3 people were involved, basic steps (brief, copy, design, done!), and the amount of manual work needed to update and manage the board was minimal and didn't take away my team from actually doing their job.
When the team grew, and our marketing plan included many more initiatives for multiple regions and channels and more people to run the process (approvals, reviews, input, etc.) - we quickly outgrew Monday.
A team member informed us that Monday added a new view or feature to the software every few weeks. We were happy to see more options and capabilities. But to use the new features, we sometimes had to redesign the process, or they just weren't significant enough to create efficiencies.
I remember when my team and I ended up having several meetings about executing a Webinar using Monday. Each member had their preference for designing the process and how boards should look. That's when I realized that we had three distinct ways of launching a webinar. The product marketing manager designed one, the growth marketing manager designed one, and I created one. We all agreed we were executing the same webinar, but how we were doing it looked different on Monday.
Three webinar owners, three different ways for executing it.
We all agreed that one, standard, way is better, and everyone said that they would not insist on their particular way of doing things if it will mean that our marketing team will have an efficient standard for launching webinars.
Too many cooks in the kitchen don't make a good meal.
When I stepped away from the day to day work about work and took a look at the main software my team and I were using to run our business, I realized I was in trouble. I noticed the hundreds of boards created by my growing team (For one marketing plan in one year). It's not that the team didn't try to be efficient ( no one wants to do extra work), and it's not that they weren't smart enough to build something that could work. It all worked, but we were paying a steep price in inefficiencies and time-to-execution because Monday wanted us to focus on the little details of task management instead of doing our work. In our pursuit of simplicity and order, we created complexity and a ton of manual work that had nothing to do with our actual role.
Monday wasn't - and still isn't - built to run a complicated and complex process. Its core components (workspaces, boards, tasks) were designed for simple ones. Every new feature is built on top of these core components, but the components aren't the right ones to start with. Not for running a marketing org, at least. Although I wish the company much luck and success, I question Monday's ability to execute its mission of building a workOS.
Monday had all the best intentions, but my team and I ended up in hell. We needed a pencil and ended up with a space pen.
What's a CMO to do?
The marketing tech ecosystem has a giant black hole in marketing work management software. The world around us is evolving, and all other functions in the organization are starting to use function-specific, best practices based, and automated software to run their business. Sales has Salesforce, Customer Experience has Gainsight, Product Management has productboard, HR has Lattice, Finance has Workday, and Marketing has... nothing.
Today, every department in the org has a unified execution solution that works in concert with other solutions. Companies invest in process-critical solutions and require customer-centric departments to work in concert. CMOs have nowhere to go. So they bring together a set of tools, patched up to create a work environment that will do. And end up in hell.
Today, there's no unified, marketing-first, cross-functional, autonomous, and user-friendly solution for managing the marketing plan and execution in a company. That's why I am building one.
atrea is the world's first marketing execution management solution designed for clarity, performance, and action, with a self-driving marketing plan at its core. Autonomous processes distill all the marketing know-how into autonomous processes that orchestrate marketing execution－ liberating marketers from manual busy work and enabling sales, CX, product, and HR teams to do marketing.
We're still in the process of building it, and my team and I evaluate every little step, feature, component, or screen we build with simple criteria in mind: will it take the user to heaven or hell? I'll see you in heaven. Soon.