Silverpop - Are "Best Practices" Dead?
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Are "Best Practices" Dead?

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
20 September 2011

In recent years, many industry thought leaders have been preaching that “best practices” are dead. The rationale is that in the marketing world, one company’s idea of a best practice might not necessarily be the best fit for another.

We at Silverpop have a few thoughts about the topic, but we’d also like to know what your take is. Head over to the Silverpop Facebook page and take our poll to see how you match up with your fellow marketers.

So, where does the best practices debate stem from? Well, it seems that whenever marketers ask whether one practice or another will work better, they usually get this answer: "It depends. Test it."

It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of universal best practices. And of course, testing is the right way to initially go about things. But that said, the anti-best-practices elite's argument goes off course in two directions:

1. You have to start somewhere. So while perhaps you might not have a universal best practice, you likely can begin with rules of thumb or foundational principles.

Then, test, tweak and ultimately determine what the best practice is for YOUR company and situation, which will probably change over time.

2. Although it might not be the detailed, specific practice that folks are looking for, most businesses or processes and procedures probably have an underlying principle that’s a safe place to start.

In email marketing, for example, these might include getting permission or optimizing your emails to render well on mobile devices.

From there, how and when you obtain permission or optimize for mobile devices is where "It depends" comes into play, with testing revealing nuances that apply specifically to your company.

So yes, it might be true that there is no single, universal "best practice." However, most marketers do need direction and guidance on where to begin until they can determine what THEIR best practices are.

Best practices are not dead. They've just evolved to become more directional rather than universal. They’re ever-changing and may only be "best" for your company.

What do other players in the marketing arena say? Below are a few comments on my related post on Google+:

  • Mark Brownlow, who publishes the highly regarded Email Marketing Reports newsletter, also advocates for a new interpretation of best practices: "I tend to split 'best practices' into real best practices, recommended/safe practices and myths. But I very much agree that much of the discussion is less helpful for those strapped for time and resources or just getting started. Hence the particular value of safe/recommended practices: might not always be the best possible practice, but they'll stop you screwing up."
  • Silverpop CEO Bill Nussey summed it up this way: "Perhaps the descriptor ‘Best Practices’ has simply been overused and gets applied to things that might be better labeled 'interesting ideas' or 'Try this at your own peril.' But I firmly believe that there will always be a core set of approaches that are demonstrably better than average that will apply in most, if not all, situations. Bottom line, the term is over-used but the concept remains as viable as it ever was."

What do you think? Post your comments below, then click over to Silverpop's Facebook page to cast your vote.



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