Shane Atchison and Jason Burby: An interview by Bob Morris

AtchisonAs CEO of POSSIBLE, Shane Atchison leads the the digital agency’s long-term strategic vision of working with leading financial service organizations, consumer brands, start-ups, nonprofits, and community-based organizations, helping each realize the potential of the Internet and its impact on their business. He continues his advocacy for creating meaningful, effective visitor-centric digital strategies through media and speaking engagements.


As President of the Americas Region for POSSIBLE, Jason Burby is responsible for leading the long-term stability and growth of the region. Jason has 20+ years experience in digital strategy. He is a long-time advocate of using data to inform digital strategies to help clients attract, convert and retain customers. He supports our clients and employees in driving new engagements and delivering great work that works.

Shane has co-authored two books with Jason: Actionable Web Analytics: Using Data to Make Smart Business Decisions (published by Sybex (May 2007) and Does it Work?: 10 Principles for Delivering True Business Value in Digital Marketing (published by McGraw-Hill (April 2015).

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Shane and Jason.

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Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while Does It Work? Please explain.

Burby: There were two recurrent observations that we heard throughout various studies and interviews – across regions and industries, marketers are struggling to consistently define success foe all initiatives up front. They all acknowledged the importance of defining goals and targets, but view said their companies/departments did it on a truly consistent basis.

The second big finding surprise was that in the analysis of some of the most awarded campaigns in the last few years that they didn’t have an impact on what they were clearly trying to accomplish. The best example of that is the fact that the Dumb Ways to Die train safety campaign in Melbourne, Australia that took of virally didn’t impact train safety at all…

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Burby: From a structural standpoint, it looks very similar to our original plan. But writing a book is about learning what you truly and deeply think about an issue. We started with eight principles, it ballooned up at one point to 13, spent most of the process at nine, and eventually became an even 10. Definitely the book helped us really blow out some ideas that we had on a cocktail napkin. How data can inspire creativity was a big one.

The interviews we conducted with thought leaders around the world as well as the study we commissioned with Forrester helped us shape and tune some of the thinking and principles. We also leveraged a number of POSSIBLE’s 1,300+ staff from around the world based on what they see with clients, their past experience at agencies and working with brands. It would have been disappointing if our views or stories didn’t change a bit as we worked through all the conversations and research…

Morris: How did the two of you work out the division of labor while writing the book?

Burby: It’s a great question, but having worked together for 15+ years we have faced this in a number of different areas of our business. It typically comes down to what each of us is most passionate about. While we are both big believers in the importance of culture leading to success or failure it is something Shane has written and spoken about extensively.

So in that case, he takes the lead on the general concepts for that principle and then we divide those concepts out to each to put our own viewpoints in place. Then we actively try to play devil’s advocate to make sure we are addressing all sides. And most importantly, we share our thinking and ideas with a number of others who often help us add more flavor and examples to the formulation process.

Morris: In your opinion, what are the defining characteristics of the reader who will derive the greatest benefit from reading Does It Work?

I truly believe that the principles in Does it Work? can be applied by people at both small and enterprise-size companies. While a lot of it is tied to marketing and consumer experiences, most of the principles can apply to a number of other aspects of business. It will be most interesting and applicable to people that are really looking to help their company and others drive change by breaking out of the typical business cycle.

Morris: There are dozens of passages throughout your narrative that caught my eye. For those who have not as yet read the book, please respo0nd to questions evoke by each of these passages. First, the Does It Work? philosophy (Pages 10-18) What are the core tenets of this philosophy?

Atchison: At its core, Does it Work? involves four steps:

1. We set goals and targets based on what success looks like for our businesses as a whole and for every initiative.
2. We use data to inspire creativity and give us a better idea of how to achieve our goals.
3. We create great work and then measure what matters.
4, We are honest about the results and use them to learn and grow.

This seems simple and logical, but it’s difficult and scary for a lot of businesses—and hard to implement completely. That’s why we have ten principles to support those steps.

Morris: Goal setting (20-47) What are the most important dos and don’ts to keep in mind when engaged in this process? Why?

Burby: It’s all about making sure the goals are actually tied to business impact. This is an obvious point, but it’s easy to ignore. If you’re simply trying to move popular metrics, that’s not enough. You can’t just get more eyeballs, you have to get the right eyeballs and make sure your efforts are driving real business results.

Atchison: I think the most important point to remember is that goals are not just performance evaluators. They are strategic tools for understanding what works and, especially, what doesn’t. To achieve that, you have to look at the “variance to goal.” For example, let’s say you think you should make $100 off an initiative. Now imagine you get $99. Do you shoot the team? No. You missed by 1%. It’s fine. But let’s say you overshot and got $130. That’s a variance to goal of 30%. It’s huge. In that case, you have a learning opportunity. You can maybe figure out that something worked much better than you thought it would. And you can use that information to have better results in the future.

Morris: Alignment (48-79) What specifically must remain in alignment and what is the single biggest threat to doing that?

Burby: Our chapter on alignment is the longest, which may seem strange for a marketing book. But alignment is probably the most difficult and important task we face. If everyone doesn’t know what your goals are, and how they can contribute to them, you’re never going to get the results you want. The single biggest threat to alignment is thinking you are aligned when you’re not. A lot of companies set great goals, pass them around, and then forget about them. Alignment has to be an active, every day, every meeting activity.

Morris: Creativity and big ideas (92-97) In your opinion, what are the defining characteristics of a workplace culture within which generation of “big ideas” is most likely to thrive?

Atchison: Equality and diversity, but not in the way most people talk about them. First, great ideas can come from anywhere, and you have to be ready to listen to everyone. No prima donnas allowed. Second, the more perspectives you have, the better. You want to have people from as many different backgrounds and skillsets as you can. That way, you have a really great discussion and clash of ideas—and many angles from which to solve a problem. Equality and diversity may seem like popular, obvious things to say, but they really work.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

Shane and Jason cordially invite you to check out the resources at these websites:

Does It Work? link


Follow Shane with this LinkedIn Influencer link

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