Marketing as a change agent (pt 3)

In the previous two posts in this series, I proposed that:

  • While it should rest with them, Marketing people are rarely effective at driving customer-driven change within their organisations.


  • Marketing people are often too busy arguing with Finance people justifying budgets and whatnot to get on with it.

The time has come for me not just to have a good old-fashioned rant, but to propose a solution. Or a way forward, at least.

It’s pretty common for the higher ranking echelons of the UX Community to see themselves as the God-given department or skillset to lead change. I don’t think this is a good idea.

Why? Well, I’m a UX guy through and through. I’ve obsessed over user interfaces and mental models and personas and research techniques and and and — for over 15 years. And while those are useful design skills, they are not the tools you need to lead people, and they are not the tools you need to change culture.

We’re getting into some pretty rarified territory here. If you pay attention to all those new-fangled LinkedIn posts about how some startup CEOs are more brilliant than the rest, or how some bosses of large corporations are better than others, there’s a few common threads emerging. None of them are really about customer-centricity particularly. They are about leadership, staff engagement, empowerment and enablement (sorry, horrid word).

If you want to build a truly customer-centric organisation – and you’re not starting from scratch – then you have to think fairly clearly about what is the value you provide to customers. In a world where (cliché alert) change is the constant, you need to continually ask yourself: “What business are we in here?”

I remember an enlightening conversation with a very smart marketing guy a few years back about a low cost airline. He said that if taking people from A-B doesn’t provide value to people, and if all the money you make is from expensive airline sandwiches and drinks, then really you’re a flying restaurant. And while that was a somewhat flippant remark, actually in hindsight I think there’s a lot in it. How would Ryanair act as a brand if they thought of themselves as a flying restaurant, as bizarre as it might seem?

So, while Marketing and Finance may be too focussed on what they are doing today or for this financial year to deliver the numbers, someone has to be asking the question how is the value we provide today to customers going to be either a. eroded by competitors or new entrants, or b. enhanced by the speed of our own internal innovation.

Therefore having a clear understanding of how the value chain in your company works is critical. This is about the mechanics and economics of the supply chain, the ability of your staff to adapt and learn, the flexibility of your systems to move with new demands, and the strengths and weaknesses of competitors.

The best way to cope with all that is certainly not to instigate or perpetuate a culture of ‘command and control’. You need to engage and empower people to take risks, use their creativity and make their own decisions. In larger companies this is incredibly difficult. Many departments in large companies employ people to become drones, to clock in at 9 and clock out at 5, and have each of their moves tracked and measured to the Nth degree.

It’s reflected in management consultant firms’ studies. Deloitte’s Shift Index report outlines how, over the last 20 or 30 years, firms’ focus on operational efficiency and productivity has been to the detriment of ‘return on assets’. It’s not as if companies haven’t invested in assets like technology and so on. They have been too focussed on squeezing every drop of productivity from staff to allow them to get to grips with the new tools. So, a different approach is needed.

Web people and start-up people talk all the time about innovation. As if innovation is some kind of magic wand you get when you move into a new office in Old Street, install beanbags and a foosball table, do meetings standing up and get everyone using Macbook Pros. It isn’t.

Innovation comes first and foremost from focussing on the value that you need to create from what you do for customers, and by solving the problems and issues you have in getting there. If ‘baby steps’ can be delivered towards that goal quickly, more’s the better. In fact you better do that because someone else may well get there before you.

So change isn’t about the Marketing person or the Finance person or the UX person. It’s about all of us. The top team, the bottom team, the people on the phones, the people who do customer service, the people who write content for the website and so on and so forth. They all have to ‘get it’.

The effort needs to be orchestrated, that’s for sure, however if you’re the only one singing from the hymn sheet, you’ve got other challenges on your hands. And they are not UX challenges.

With thanks, this time, to Adam Pisoni from Yammer, from whom I have blatantly co-opted ideas to write this post.


2 thoughts on “Marketing as a change agent (pt 3)

  1. Some good analysis over this series. Marketing/customer orientation should be more than what the typical marketing department now does – it should be at the core of the organisation’s strategy and delivery.

    (The Ryanair example is possibly a little unfair, though. It adds value through relentless operational cost-cutting, therefore meeting its customers’ requirement for affordable flights. Compare with Singapore Airlines’ VIP cabins and services, which are as much about luxury hospitality as the flight itself.)

    I think that part of the problem is that too many marketers have their eyes on their next job. They deliver exceptional CV-friendly *campaigns* but don’t recognise the value of feeding back and contributing to the wider organisation. Short-term ROI metrics simply reinforce this.

    It’ll take a major culture shift in many organisations to turn this around. These 3 things would help.

    1) Pin the IoM’s (or AMA’s) definition of marketing on every marketer’s desk: “Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably”

    2) Refocus on long-term continuous metrics such as customer lifetime values and customer satisfaction, rather than short-term discrete campaign metrics. Do this from the recruitment and selection process through to appraisal and reward.

    3) Reappraise the corporate strategy to ensure that it’s customer-focussed. Encourage and reward knowledge feedback to ensure that the strategy still has a sound basis and on-course.

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