Current Paradoxes in the Marketing Organization
In his 2014 article – The ultimate marketing machine – Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever, described the top marketing job as the one of an orchestrator, creating and fostering marketing teams with three core capabilities: thinking/analytical, feeling/sensing consumers, content/creative production. In this context the marketing organization is an extended one, as functions like IT, Customer Service and R&D, have customer facing responsibilities, and therefore become part of a new, extended and more agile marketing function.
Nearly three years later, in Cannes, during the Lions, the industry is still debating about the industry-defined conundrum between big data, tech and creative/ content production. As one would be negatively effecting the others, as if having a good understanding of the problem were not a necessarily condition to a creative solution, or as if creative content would not depend on the relevance identified by analytics.
The real paradox in the marketing organization
Amanda Rendle’s point of view on the marketing organization is today as relevant as it was in 2015 when it was reported. The then-CMO of HSBC, identified two types of paradoxes related to digital, which are still very common: first of all, marketing executives are building digital and ecommerce competences in silos from the mainstream function, and therefore we observe the emergence of separate marketing teams, ultimately hitting the same consumers and customers. Moreover, Ms Rendle claimed that we are so focused in filling our marketing gap, with the data-driven left-brain type of people, and the more creative, content-focused right-brain type of people, yet “[…But] what we are missing are the leaders of the future who are capable to straddling both to see the overall strategy, how we use digital and social channels. We need to train our talent to fuse the two.”
The gap between marketing strategy and execution is something that at Amati & Associates we have observed in our advisory work. And we believe this gap is also the effect of a generational dichotomy, which is starting to emergence as Millennials have entered the workforce.
Older generations, were trained to be strategic, and they learned to be so, during time of stable market conditions, when a quick solution to a marketing problem took months to hit the stores. And while they most likely started as assistant brand managers or product managers, working on channel-related promo mechanics, their core competence soon became to think in terms of concepts that could be translated in copy. They were trained to build brands through advertising, and to understand how to manage brand equity or when brands tend to dilute. This group of marketers is now trying hard to keep the pace of technology by ensuring there is no expiration date on their backs. Their most reoccurring issue is to prove they are not outdated, and the long term strategic thinking is often replaced by short-term, career-driven, focus on digital execution. They need to fit into a tech silos within the marketing organization, or they risk to be kicked out.
On the other end, younger generations, especially digital natives, were born in a very uncertain market places, where disruption is possible all the time. They understand the “mobile first” approach, master social media, which were built for them and around them. Yet they are known to focus on immediate satisfaction (i.e. measured in likes, views and re-twits), while completely disregarding the basics of brand and reputation building. I was once in a client meeting, in which the younger marketer was justifying a promotional action, based on the number of Facebook likes that particular promotion had generated. A galaxy far away from my first marketing challenge at P&G, where we spent significant amount of time and money in testing advertising executions, before actually airing advertising. Nowadays, the growth hacking approach is to test – in-market, with real consumers – the best 2 copies, to understand which one of the two converts better. What if the better converting copy is actually off-equity? What is the equity impact on a brand whose Youtube channel has 2 million views on cats videos? Who is actually daring to ask those questions?
Conversion, the new Holy Grail
As a matter of facts, the emergence of growth hacking and its obsessive focus on conversion, is purposively forgetting the point of view of the customer in the customer journey. To make this point I searched on Google for “top growth hacking tricks” and clicked on the first result. While reading the article, I found my perfect example at Growth Hacking Tip #11:
“Growth Hacking Tip #11: Send an “oops! forgot the link” email
When automating follow up emails, consider incorporating some “human errors” into your email sequences. One trick is to send one email that’s missing either a link or a file. You then automate a follow up email 1-5 minutes later sending the missing piece of the first email.
While open rates will likely remain the same, we’ve found that conversions for the second email tend to skyrocket.”
According to this growth hacking expert, sending two consecutive follow-up emails, one with a voluntarily “human error” and the second message – righting the wrong – increases the overall conversion of the message. “Ergo” this hack works and should be executed. But what is the impact on your brand? Aren’t brands trying to make a point they are better than their competitors? What about transparency? How does that fit with the purposeful branding young generations claim their brands must have?
More importantly who is going to play the brand guardian role? Who is going to say no to content which is unfit for the brand promise?
In conclusion: what’s next for your marketing organization?
“in my marketing organization I removed the word ‘digital’ from the team’s names and job titles. When they hear the word ‘digital’ people stop thinking about consumers and start dreaming about technology”.
And while this is a necessary condition – by solving the issue of creating independent silos within the marketing organization – it is not sufficient to address the leadership gap and the generational paradox under the umbrella of the marketing organization.
The later two require, not only better training, but also more flexible working conditions: teams should be built for specific initiatives – whether short or longer term – with an agnostic approach to technology, while at the same time providing tools for employees to identify the tech specialist within the organization and learn from them. The marketing law of diminishing returns, combined with the evolution of digital assets, toolboxes and channels, does not help predicting the future of media, beyond realizing that the leading technology of today is soon to be obsolete. Technology-based marketing organizations are always out of date and require more silos to fill the technological gap, whereas learning and agile organizations are better prepared to survive marktech evolution and disruption. This also helps addressing the generational paradox, as teams will need to combine – at all time – strategic thinking, consumer sensing and excellence in content and assets production.
 van den Driest, F. and Weed, K., 2014. The ultimate marketing machine. Harvard Business Review, 92, pp.54-63.