Marketing as a change agent (pt 2)

In my previous post, I asked whether marketing professionals are in a position to drive change within their organisations.
TL;DR: I think Marketing people are in a position to drive change. However in my experience they rarely do. Well not enough, anyway.

The problem with marketing, for me, is that it has become too business-focussed. A strange thing to say perhaps, but over the years the annual (monthly?) fight for additional budget to create those snazzy TV ads, new websites and social media doo-hickeys has led to marketing people becoming too obsessed with numbers – budgets, sales and ROI – and not nearly obsessed enough with people. You know, those people with whom we want to engage, acquire, convert and retain.

I say this only based on my own experience of course. Travel companies are generally slightly better at marketing than they are at user experience. But not much; and it’s not exactly a high bar for user experience. The constraints around marketing delivering more value may be different to those limiting user experience. Nevertheless good people seek out constraints, seek to remove them and do so successfully.

But back to marketing, numbers and people. My hypothesis is that the historic lack of common ground and understanding between the marketing function and the finance function – being typically pidgeon-holed as binary opposite, left-brain / right-brain activities – is harming both sides’ effectiveness. Marketing spend too much time justifying budget for campaign spend that has limited impact on the customer experience beyond some shoving largely unwanted messages down people’s throats. Finance spend too much time looking at costs and not enough on the value drivers within the customer experience that would help to deliver on the financial objectives.

So both functions need to be right inside the customer experience, to fully understand where the organisation is both creating and destroying value. The trouble is, both sides need to understand each other better first. There are examples of good and bad practice everywhere you look.

When you pick up the phone to pay your gas or electricity bill, you may be talking to a finance function – payment processing. But your interaction could have been prompted by a direct mail or email from the marketing function. When the person in payments processing speaks to you, do they use the same tone that you got in the mailer? Hmm.

Giles Colborne – an old boss and author of Simple and Usable – presents a great slide about how brand plays a critical role in delivering user experience. He puts up two images of credit cards. A Virgin one, and an M&S one. They both use the same “backend” = MasterCard. Functionally they do the same thing. But if you called each of these brands on the phone about your credit card, do you expect the same type of service? Each brand sets expectations for the nature of the communication and interaction.

And for good brands, this essence runs right through the company. From direct mail packs to call centres to human resources to those often-corruscated tools of corporate blather – vision and values. It is brain-washed into every employee from day one. In the nicest possible way, hopefully.

Finance can’t play this role – accountancy exams do not prepare one for leading this type of effort. Marketing know all about brain-washing (hopefully) but they’re too busy with satisfying Finance that they are doing the right thing. So that delegates things upwards to the boss. Is the MD or the CEO the right person to be leading change?

More on that next time

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