What is the biggest marketing issue facing companies today?
Some might say it’s developing new approaches as the traditional mediums become increasingly obsolete.
Others might say it’s demonstrating marketing’s ROI.
While others might even say that given the world economy it’s simply a basic need like keeping a job.
All of these are great arguments but in my opinion there is one that’s still bigger.
Marketing people at many companies are hostages of their own profession.
The trouble with silos
In working with some of our larger clients, one of the bigger challenges we are usually faced with is the silos of organization. The organizational flows and micromanagement tend to slow down decision making, and it makes it difficult (sometimes impossible) to reach an agreement on critical issues such as brand values, communications strategies, new offers, and messages.
The silo—the disconnect, often exists between marketing and other functions, such as finance, HR, sales, and operations. Yet there are even silos within marketing itself—usually between research, communications, and creative. Sure the ads look pretty but if they missed the mark they’re useless and they’re a complete waste of everyone’s time & the company’s money.
As outsiders with fresh eyes the results are usually obvious to us, as the organization proclaims different messages based on different strategies from its various groups and functions. Corporate management, public relations, advertising, sales, and investor relations each tend to create messages that address their respective audiences, but they generally fail to take the extra step and marry them with common themes that best reflect the value and essence of the business in its totality. In other words, the brand.
The result is that companies rarely speak with one coherent voice. And the consistency of the brand—one of the key drivers of value, is undermined.
And marketers, assigned with the task of developing and executing clear positioning and communications, end up spending an enormous amount of time struggling against the many voices within the company, often begging and pleading with everyone to agree.
How can you solve this problem?
The solution to this problem can be found first by recognizing the need to have a coherent message. This unified voice creates the perception of leadership that naturally allows others to gravitate towards.
Through the course of communications, be it public debates, speaking events, press releases, social media, etc. messaging can being taken to a dynamic and more strategic level through better research techniques. Rather than testing messages in isolation on variables like appeal, current and potential messages can be tested in head-to-head comparisons against current or potential opposing messages. Then after being exposed to the pro and con messages, respondents can then be asked to choose one—an approach that gives a vastly more accurate and precise picture of public attitudes.
By flushing out a number of view points simulating all the expected paths the issue might take, the company is then in a better position to see how client/prospect attitudes will play out, often before the first message ever comes out.
So what is the structure and process that makes this approach successful?
I am by no means a political expert, but an example of a successful approach can be drawn from politics. (Yes politicians have managed to do something right!)
In a well-run political party, there is “the communications team.” The communications team includes people from management, research, strategy, policy, speech-writing, advertising, and PR. They all sit at one table to decide the strategy then decide how to execute on the strategy in the most effective way using each of the different communications channels as a tool. Everyone at the table accepts the reality that “everything communicates,” which means they have to agree on one message.
This consolidated organizational structure for managing communications is intimately involved in the research process itself. Everyone on the communications team can, and is encouraged to, suggest strategies and messages. This full range of perspectives is then put into the research, in an open and transparent process. That way, everyone gets their ideas tested and, when the research comes back, they know what messages won and lost. And, most importantly for attaining buy-in and agreement across the group, everyone knows their ideas had a full, fair, and objective chance.
The results are powerful, crisp communications that have an enormous impact in projecting competent leadership, building reputation, and enhancing brand value.
Our self-imposed Catch-22.
Through old habits, fear of change, and inertia, most companies have their marketing people using aged techniques. They still judge messages against historical, and largely irrelevant, benchmarks. As a result, the CEOs and other senior executives, lacking accurate and reliable information to guide their decisions on messaging, are (rightfully) reluctant to make the organizational and process changes needed to let the marketing team own and guide the full spectrum of the communications agenda.
We need to adopt the latest and most effective research techniques and in making the commitment to align communications around research results.
Better research and organizational changes are the 2 inter-related keys that would allow marketing to escape from its silo. If companies, and marketing organizations in particular, implemented these 2 simple techniques, they would find their organizational cultures far more focused, effective, and respected; and brand communications would realize its full potential.