Holding You Back

“We are not keeping up. There’s too much change occurring within online marketing and I’m concerned that we are not moving fast enough to apply all we learn.”

This remark came from a Senior Marketing Manager who has been a Permission client for a number of years. We had just finished briefing him and his team on the changes recently released from Google that were relevant for their situation. It was not a small list.

Feeling overwhelmed with the pace of change is a sentiment I think that many business owners would share. Google especially seems to be on a fast track of product development this year. Whether it’s from their advertising system – Google AdWords – or their comprehensive Website Analytics offering, it all seems to be in a constant state of updates.

Thankfully there’s a handy piece of management theory that can be applied to help those struggling. When applied correctly it provides insight to isolate which areas of change can be selectively ignored and which require focused attention.

The Theory of Constraints is an area I have talked about before on our blog. However with the pace heating up and with the growing overwhelming feeling I thought it was time to visit the theory again.
(Here’s the link to the Wikipedia article on it to pick up on its history.)

In its simplest form the theory states that there are very few constraints that are responsible for holding back a system from performing at its optimum level. And by very few I mean – one. So while the complete system may be made up of many intertwined parts – such as you find in a manufacturing system (where the theory has its roots), or say an online marketing system – there will usually be just one part of this that will be holding everything back.

Just knowing that one item is holding back the lot can be enough to make most sit back and breathe a big sigh of relief. That’s it – just one – not four, six or thirteen. Everyone can focus their energy on one area at a time. Trying to achieve the same for the remaining six is the issue.

Knowing this, the task moves to locating the troublesome area and then fixing it. And once this is sorted – guess what – another part of the process steps forward to claim the prize of holding the rest back.

Here’s an example of how this theory works in practice. This month we had a client come through who had taken up our initial review process. This is where we pull apart their Analytics, Paid Advertising and overall Website Conversion work and score them out of ten for each. Then we take them through what they need to do to achieve 10/10 scores for each area.

They came to us with an e-commerce store in trouble. It was loaded with thousands of products being marketed to a wide range of consumers across multiple regions. They had been reasonably active in the online marketing space so there was a lot to review. Thirty five slides later we were all ready for a strong coffee.

Their Analytics was in good shape, as was their search engine rankings. Paid advertising needed some help but nothing too dramatic here either. So overall traffic looked good – the right types of people were arriving, but that is where it seemed to come to a halt. Their real problem area was conversions – or lack of them.

So hunting for that illusive single constraint we dug into the conversion space to find what was at fault. We dismissed the shopping cart process itself. A high proportion of those who started the check out process went on to complete it. The problem was further back from there – people just weren’t putting enough products into carts to start with. This was the real constraint of the site. Lots of people browsing but very few wanting to even start the buying process.

Knowing this the client could ignore any tactic that didn’t affect a change here. So off the list comes – Search Engine Optimisation, Mobile Marketing, Paid Advertising, super smart Display Based Re-marketing and even my old faithful Email Marketing. Discount these areas and you naturally remove a good 85% of the noise of change that comes across a desk.

This left items such as product selection, product merchandising, product descriptions and images, and general site navigation. Any research or insight in these areas needed to be poured over in detail to solve this current constraint.

This is not going to be an easy task to solve. And when starting out with a client we usually face big chunky issues like these. However, as these are solved they are thankfully replaced with problems that are less strategic and more granular. For instance going from no one adding any products to a cart to now lots of carts being filled, but a troubling amount not being completed due to the confusing design of the form on the last page of the shopping cart.

The Theory of Constraints works when you have the luxury of looking at the whole process from start to finish. Fortunately our approach to online marketing fits with this well. So when we go hunting for the constraint we look at all facets that make up the complete online marketing system. It’s a different approach from those whose attention may focus on finding the problems just within the area they specialise in – say search engine optimisation. These could be valid problems but changes applied here may not affect the result of the whole system. In comparison we are not really that fussed where the constraint is located we just need to find it quickly and then get to work fixing it.

Call us today if you would like to kick this process off.