Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Liam Brennan: Optimisation doesn’t mean streamlining

by Liam Brennan, Global Lead Consultant, MediaCom BLINK Consulting

My record collection has grown considerably during the pandemic. As too has my baby daughter, and her collection of toys, clothes, and other baby goods.

Sadly, my two-bedroom apartment no longer has enough space to store all her belongings in addition to my own, and with my record collection fast outgrowing available storage space, I needed to make some space over the Christmas break.

Rather than randomly selecting records to be put up for sale on eBay or Discogs, I developed a three-tiered approach to reduce the number of records in my collection to maximise re-saleability without letting go of too many of my favourites.

First, I removed the records I didn’t listen to, or were slightly embarrassed to own. Then, I moved onto the records that I didn’t listen to very often but could easily be resold. Finally, if I needed further space, I would sell the records that were worth higher sums of money that were stored away rather than being played.

Although I have ultimately ended up with less records in my collection, the overall outcome is a net positive as I have manged to free more space in my apartment and gained a much-needed pipeline of funds that could be re-invested into other priorities – which, knowing me, will most likely be spent on more records.

Optimisation doesn’t mean streamlining.

While optimisation may involve removing elements of working solution (e.g., a reducing the number of records in a record collection), removing these elements can open opportunities for growth in other areas (e.g., more space, income for re-investment etc.).

Optimising a record collection is relatively straightforward because the solution is scalable. You can remove individual records (i.e., reducing the volume) and still have ‘a collection’, and you can also re-invest gained funds into less, but better or more valuable, records.

You can’t really optimise, say, a chair, in the same way. If you wanted some spare wood, and shortened one leg to obtain it, you’d have a very unstable chair. If you completely removed a leg, the chair would basically be unusable. At some point you need to ‘re-invest’ the wood back into the chair to make it useable once more.

Removing elements of a working solution, but not re-investing that gain, is streamlining. Streamlining is a short-term solution for ‘quick wins’, and one that never leads to long term growth, let alone stability. 

I have come across many ad industry tales recently of streamlining being passed off as optimisation. Typically, these stories involve focusing solely on reducing the denominator without increasing the numerator i.e., we expect the same for less (people, quality of talent etc) to drive ‘growth’ without consequence. At best you get lucky and maintain the status quo, but more often than not, you’ll push a solution to its limits, and it will either no longer live up to its potential, or it will become unstable and unusable.

New opportunities for growth such as automation should be seen as an opportunity for an optimisation mindset. Investing in new technologies like AI and dashboarding can reduce time spent on more menial tasks, bringing down both hard and soft costs, and allowing for redeployment of talent and time to workstreams that drive growth.

You’ll see this type of optimisation delivering with great effect when you make a trip to your local supermarket. Although check-out workers have been replaced with automated or self-service check-outs, retailers often invest those ‘lost’ staffers back into more time spent on-floor in service roles or redeployed into new specialist services like pick-up.

Supermarkets may have shrunk the denominator, but they’ve driven new growth via optimising with a re-investment in the numerator – redeploying talent to deliver better service for customers, which in turn drives more business, or building new products that opens new revenue streams, often at higher margins.

Like optimising an out-of-control record collection, having a clear strategy for product, commercial and resource optimisation improves overall outcomes versus simply streamlining a successful solution, or trying to do more with less.

Placing greater focus on modernising product strategy, digitising and cross-skilling talent pools, applying technology that reduces workload and improves output and – most importantly – how these all come together – our industry will be better positioned to drive future growth.