“Marketing-driven” sounds attractive. But then so does “market-driven”. And if you ask a project manager or accountant how they think the company should be driven, they’d say “project-driven” or “profit-driven”. Talk about blind-siding silos! So consider this: is “driven” about activity, or about direction? If you’re driven, you might speed down the highway with an unknown or misdirected destination and accomplish nothing. So it is, all too often, with “driven” as a mantra.
Driven implies a focus on activity without perhaps thinking through the long-term implications, lacking strategic direction and balance. When Marketing finds itself on a never-ending treadmill of tasks, or as a one-trick pony serving a single stakeholder such as Sales and quarterly revenue cycles, then it’s not set up to sustain success. Proving ROI in this mode is tough: typically there is a lot of waste that plays against up-ticks. This mode leads to self-preservation or self-aggrandizement, and re-inventing the wheel due to burnout and turnover. We could safely call this “marketing hell”.
On the flip side, “marketing heaven” happens when you’re a company that’s considered a darling by customers. Aligning the company with customers’ needs organically builds customer fans, produces greatest customer lifetime value, and grows both top-line and bottom-line value to the company. Funny thing, but “customer-centered” rallies all the functional areas in a company to a common purpose. It provides strategic direction for all.
Intelligence for Agility
Marketing is in a good perch to see what’s going on in the market, and hence, to take on cross-functional leadership to help every function optimize toward the needs of the customer. Marketing should be key to establishing the direction strategically, not tactically marching along. Establishing the direction strategically means enabling other functions’ collective success through marketing’s business intelligence.
Synthesize: Most companies have lots of data, but lack ability to synthesize it to make good decisions. Someone needs to take initiative to nurture and integrate input and insight – from sources both inside and outside the company – for timely intelligence that’s actionable by each functional area. Keeping the synthesization customer-centered magnifies the usefulness of business intelligence with shared strategic direction.
Be Inclusive: Often the data is not representative in its use: it may be used by a single or a few functional area(s), and overlook others because of the way business intelligence processes are set up. Organizations that would normally be left out of the loop could benefit from business intelligence. For example, HR could support customer-centered goals by using business intelligence that guides their hiring, onboarding, training, compensation and other responsibilities in harmony with the promises that marketing makes to customers.
Transparent Mental Models: Data may be used primarily by senior decision-makers for acquisitions and to bless strategic assumptions. We may be afraid to question management, but if we can help bring their mental models to the surface, there could be more critical contributions, support, and buy-in to decisions. Instead of providing some inputs at the beginning, and waiting for the black box to spout out an outcome, surfacing management’s mental models enables people to be whole-hearted in their support because they’ve seen how the decision has evolved.
Shifting Marketing into the Driver’s Seat
Advocating on behalf of the customer first and foremost will help marketers change the game. To get into the driver’s seat of mobilizing business intelligence for your company’s agility, you’ll need to:
Amass customer-centered data from relevant sources
Organize the data into a taxonomy that’s meaningful for everyone
Stream the intelligence in a timely, useful method that allows functions to be agile
Take on greater ownership of knowledge management across the company
Additionally, getting into the driver’s seat means taking responsibility for building business cases for what marketing is striving to do. This is critical. According to a study by the Association of National Advertisers, 7 out of 10 financial executives said they don’t use marketing inputs or forecasts in financial guidance to Wall Street or public disclosures. When finance usurps marketing’s role in characterizing the market opportunity, the tail wags the dog, and a seat at the C-table is lost. Define metrics based on the interests of your various audiences. If you don’t define your metrics, the metrics will be defined for you. Become very accountable and transparent in how marketing operates.
A Few Ideas for Making the Shift
Don’t get hung up on activity metrics
Don’t assume agreement, secure it
Don’t cow-tow to a single stakeholder
Don’t be afraid to assert leadership in synthesizing data, establishing taxonomy, and managing knowledge
Decide to be centered on customers, and craft everything you do accordingly
Decide to be strategic, and push back on tactics (shiny objects) that aren’t within the strategic context
Help senior management surface their mental models (practice transparent decision-making)
Strive to make it easy for other functional areas to use business intelligence for internal alignment and for external agility
Lynn Hunsaker is President of Marketing Operations Partners, a consulting firm that guides marketing organizations to become a value center by mastering emerging market opportunities through marketing accountability, alignment, and agility.
She is co-founder of the Marketing Operations Future Forum, which was designed per the advice of top executives at Fortune 100 companies to resolve chronically elusive Marketing Agility, Alignment & Accountability challenges. The Forum’s solutions, which are not readily available elsewhere, enable immediate on-the-job application of fast-track insights.