Are best practices useful or lazy?

Several years ago, a superior challenged me on best practices.  While I didn’t always accept expert advice as gospel, I was a little perplexed as to why my superior was so reluctant to accept such direction.  In fact, he even considered following best practices as lazy.

Best practices are tactics that are widely accepted to be effective, based upon expert review and observation across multiple situations.  It certainly doesn’t make sense to continually reinvent the wheel, and it’s advisable to learn and apply lessons from others.  However, is this always wise?  I have had to time to contemplate my former superior’s opinion, and I’ve thought about factors to consider regarding best practices.

Trust but verify

First, marketers who are promoting best practices are also selling something – from products and services to their personal brand.  Thus, they have an incentive to develop insights into best practices, and promote those insights. While this in itself is not bad, it’s important to ask these questions: What are their motives? Do the profit and prestige motivations cloud their claims? Do they have or have access to adequate and relevant skills to develop the best practices they are pitching? How does their applicable educational, professional, or personal backgrounds affect confidence in their pitch? 

A careful examination of the practice and their proponent is always warranted.   As the Russian proverb goes: “Trust, but verify.”

Different situations

Second, it is important to balance factors that make situations alike and different.  Ideally, data from varied sources should back best practices, but even when this condition is met, further consideration is wise.  How alike are the situations?  Are the differences between them significant enough to justify forgoing tactics?  This is where the art and science of martech come in; it just depends on the specific facets of any given circumstance. 

Cost v. benefit

Third, a cost and benefit analysis is certainly warranted.  Best practices are important because it’s simply inefficient to constantly reinvent the wheel and foolish to not learn from the successes and failures of others.  Fortunately, contemporary martech avails us of opportunities to test best practices before fully embracing them.  This is when piloting, proof of concept phases, prototyping, agile methodologies (with short work periods that include frequent opportunities for delivery, reevaluation, and iteration), multivariate testing, audience segmentation, and other similar tools can come into play. 

Fortunately, modern analytics provide ample opportunities to collect quantitative and qualitative findings which competent data analysts can help interpret when employing these tactics.  Further, legal and procurement practitioners can assist in arranging test periods and strategies for best practices incorporated into products and services. 

Vendor v. client expectations

Fourth, vendor and client metrics and expectations usually aren’t aligned.  An expert peddling a best practice likely has differing metrics from their audience.  For example, many services require clients to place a tracking script on their website, and this will likely affect page load time. 

The vendor, of course, emphasizes the value it’s offering, but the client shouldn’t necessarily allow the cost of the script to justify its benefits.  So, regardless if a shiny thing truly shines, the client is the one who is determining if a best practice tactic, product, or service justifies its cost.

Inhibiting innovation

Fifth, relying upon best practices can inhibit exploration, discovery, and testing.  Just because there’s consensus around a tactic or solution, doesn’t mean that they’re the only or best options.  It’s important that members of the martech community continue to try new things, explore different options, and test alternative hypotheses. 

That sometimes requires courage and perhaps some persuasion depending upon how risk averse an organization is.  Fortunately, that’s where the testing and prototyping options mentioned earlier can come in handy.  They will allow for sticking to proven methods while exploring more novel ones.

Don’t relax on performance metrics

Sixth, using a best practice can lead teams to relax on tracking performance.  Best practices are rarely suited for the “set it and forget it” approach.  For instance, implementing a tactic effectively requires commitment to establishing and tracking proper metrics to ensure that it is measuring up to the hype.  This requires planning, ownership, and metric creation and evaluation.  Does the team have the proper acumen to meet these requirements?  Once again, vis-à-vis a best practice: “Trust, but verify.”

Best practices are great ways to work efficiently while learning from the successes and failures of others.  However, reaping their benefits requires more than mere implementation.

This story first appeared on MarTech Today.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Steve Petersen is a marketing technology manager at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, Utah. He started on WGU’s marketing website team where he helped create and implement several initiatives including site redesign and maintenance, multivariate testing, user testing and mobile app development. Prior to WGU, he worked as a strategist at the Washington, DC digital agency The Brick Factory where he worked closely with trade associations, non-profits, major brands, and advocacy campaigns. Petersen holds a Master of Information Management from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Brigham Young University. He’s also a Certified ScrumMaster.

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