5 Ways The Best Digital Marketers Are Like MacGyver

Unless you slept through the 80’s and early 90’s you’ve heard of MacGyver – the resourceful agent for the fictional Phoenix Foundation in Los Angeles on the TV show of the same name. MacGyver was unlike secret agents in other television series and films because instead of relying on high-tech weapons and sophisticated tools, he relied on his brain and creative problem solving to outsmart enemies. Typically with only his Swiss Army Knife and whatever else was around he was able to fashion a solution to the problem at hand.

The show was a pop-culture phenomenon, leading to the popularization of the phrase “to MacGyver something” the meaning of which is implied. While the character was of course fiction his approach to problem solving is pretty critical for modern marketers.

Here are 5 ways the best digital marketers are like MacGyver:

1. Ability to get results with the bare minimum

Just like MacGyver was able to work his way out of any situation with the simplest of tools, the best marketers don’t need a whole lot to work with to achieve results. For example, the best social media and SEO professionals don’t really need expensive monitoring solutions or bloated apps. They can work with just the bare minimum (perhaps simply Basecamp to stay organized, WordPress to publish, Google Analytics to track and Excel to plan: basically Excel + a web browser) and dominate. Of course the mix of tools will vary based on initiative – but the point is that MacGyver was able to creatively work with less to accomplish more. Notice great digital marketers aren’t always chasing new tools anyway because they don’t need to. If a new tool is that good, it will likely find us.

Further, it’s not about tools or technology, it’s about ideas and creative application of them. Less is almost always more. This is something I’ve also experienced with audio production as the tech behind it advances: more effects, plugins, etc. doesn’t necessarily lead to better results.

2. Undaunted by any situation, able to put together solutions under pressure

MacGyver wasn’t daunted by any situation, no matter how implausible success seemed. He was able to rationally think through each situation and piece together a solution bit by bit. He formulated a plan and didn’t ask permission – just got it done.

In digital marketing, this isn’t much different. Many situations seem impossible – you can’t get your technical team to execute. No one has time to contribute to the blog. The C-suite won’t fund your SEO program (yet will throw tons away on advertising). The point is these are your problems: solve them. Can’t get results for a new initiative? No problem, test it on your own and report back results of a pilot campaign. Can’t get an expensive monitoring tool? Who needs it – get scrappy with an iGoogle dashboard and some feeds.

You need to be able to piece together solutions within the limits of what you have to work with (team members, budgets, time, etc.). This is actually a good thing as it forces creativity and a focus on just the essentials. I am calling BS on your excuses because I’ve seen teams with less than you (really, teams of one) dominate many categories. If you say you can’t do it – I’d say you’re lazy. You can if you choose to. As Louis Gray advises:  be smart, not scared.

3. The “go to” person for strategy and tactics

Throughout the show, many high-ranking officials called upon MacGyver to help architect a plan. Concurrently, MacGyver was thrown into situations where he had to make it up as he want along and execute, execute, execute. The point was he was equal parts strategist and tactician (and skilled at both).

As a digital marketer it is also vital you can play the role of both strategist and tactician. The two go together. It is essential to stay active at the edge in order to keep your skills sharp and experiment enough on your own to understand modern, relevant digital strategies. Digital marketers who leave the front lines are going to find their approaches less relevant every day.

4. Teacher, mentor, leader – but also student

One of the recurring themes in MacGyver was the fact that he was a teacher, mentor and ultimately leader to others within the show. He would get into situations where it was a requisite to have someone else help him out (and in many cases that person was unmotivated). However MacGyver persevered and found an angle to reach even the most unwilling of students. Concurrently, in many episodes this was flipped and the student ended up teaching MacGyver something too leaving him impressed, and ultimately inspired.

Digital marketing is the same, in that leadership is a requisite as there is still a clear digital divide in most organizations. But at the same time, digitally savvy leaders need to be open to their team’s thoughts. This is because on the web, creative and articulate communications skills are ultimately what matter most and this transcends digital-savvy.

5. In inbound marketing and for MacGyver, brains trump budget

While enemies in MacGyver always had a significant technological advantage MacGyver generally was working with purely his intellect. This is the essence of inbound marketing: that a brand with a larger budget can be outrun by one with more creative efforts.

Further, MacGyver never used guns (he didn’t believe in them). This can be analogous to internet marketing if we consider guns similar to advertising. Yes, you can pull the trigger on a gun to take down an enemy, just like you can pull the trigger on an ad campaigns and flood your site with traffic. I’m not arguing that both can’t be effective – they can.

But there is something elegant about outsmarting your enemy and using non-violent means to bring them down. The results of this generally don’t involve anyone being hurt and instead, being brought to justice. Similarly, there is something elegant about an inbound strategy that trends up traffic metrics over time in a sustainable fashion. It may take more careful planning, but offers increasing returns.

While the character of MacGyver was fictional: I’d say some of the best digital marketers possess many of the skills the character portrayed in the show.

And for your moment of Zen…here’s the MacGyver theme song: