FutureTalks Portland logoWhat do foxes and hedgehogs have to do with marketing? And what, for that matter, does marketing have to do with software engineering? These questions and more were explored by Isaac Wyatt, director of marketing operations (“MarketingOps”) at New Relic, at our latest FutureTalk in Portland, Oregon.

Having established that the audience was comprised of both marketers and engineers, Isaac introduced himself as similarly constituted. “I consider myself a hybrid,” he said. If pressed, though, he feels more at home writing code than copy. “Which is probably how I ended up in MarketingOps.”

To carry out effective MarketingOps, he explained, you have to think like an engineer. Consequently, the skill sets of MarketingOps practitioners today are less distinct from those of the folks in DevOps than you might think.

thinking like engineer slide

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Along came the Internet

But what exactly is MarketingOps? For Isaac, it means running the systems that allow digital marketers to do what they need to do. That includes managing technology, automation, enablement, and analytics—all the data- and software-based stuff behind the slick artwork, slogans, and calls to action.

“In the Mad Men days of billboards and print advertising, there wasn’t as much data to use,” he said. As a result, analytics didn’t play much of a role. But then the Internet came along and changed everything.

“All of a sudden, marketers had to become technical.” Advertising had to be reimagined and redesigned from the ground up—a process that is still very much underway.

One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the core purpose: maximizing the overlap between achieving company goals and creating customer value. Doing so requires striking a delicate balance between maintaining stability in order to increase scale and managing creative disruption.

Foxes and hedgehogs

hedgehogTo explain how that balance might be struck, Isaac quoted ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Hedgehogs, Isaac said (speaking metaphorically, of course), resist innovation once they have established a reliable method of creating value. Foxes meanwhile prefer to mix things up, always looking for new ways to get what they want.

An example of a hedgehog, according to Isaac, is Bill Gates and Microsoft: “guardian of process, slayer of inconsistency—but vulnerable to disruption.” Uber founder Travis Kalanick, on the other hand, is “an innovator and a destroyer of bureaucracy—someone who builds value through creative destruction.”

Both companies are successful and vulnerable in different ways, with each in a position to learn something from the other. The lesson for both DevOps and MarketingOps? Find a way to be both hedgehog and fox—to balance stability and scalability with innovation and creativity.

Put another way, in the words of Isaac’s friend Venkatesh Rao, founder of the Ribbonfarm blog: make a commitment to “repeatedly rediscover the sacred amidst seemingly profane change.”

Isaac suggested three broad strategies for achieving that goal (including a quote from a famous basketball coach), plus a couple of specific tactical ideas that have worked for him. To learn what they are, and see Isaac answer questions about what lies ahead for MarketingOps, watch the full FutureTalk below:

What’s next for FutureTalks?

Join us in December when Josh Marinacci from PubNub will be in town to discuss Data Stream Networks. For more information about our FutureTalks series, make sure to join our Meetup group, New Relic FutureTalks PDX, and follow us on Twitter @newrelic for the latest developments and updates on upcoming events.


Hedgehog image courtesy of Shutterstock.com. Note: Event dates, speakers, and schedules are subject to change without notice.


Christian Sinai is the Community Relations Manager for New Relic in Portland, Oregon. He is the community lead and liaison for our local outreach efforts, and manages initiatives such as the FutureTalks PDX technical speaker series. View posts by .

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