How to become a lean, mean hunting marketing machine

By Neurothinking principal, Dr. Peter Steidl
By By Neurothinking principal, Dr. Peter Steidl | 5 August 2016
Neurothinking's Peter Steidl

In my last contribution I suggested that marketers – who used to be great hunters – have become settlers and have lost their drive to explore, their ability to use their intuition, and their willingness to break new ground.

Held back by a fragmented organisational structure, elaborate approval processes, legacy systems and staff who are great at some technical skill but have little marketing experience, supported by a fragmented set of agencies that pursue their own ends, they seem locked into a set pattern that leaves few degrees of freedom.

Radical change is needed and I reminded readers of the massive changes manufacturing went through to emerge as a lean machine. But where to start? There is nothing better to get the ball rolling than a zero-based approach.

If we were to design a marketing organization from the ground up, with the skills base and the information requirements and processes that would allow us to bring these skills to bear in the most effective and efficient way, we would start with the long-term strategic challenge that will determine our future success.

What is the long-term strategic challenge you are facing? To build global brands or to manage global brands? To disrupt and challenge leading brands or to maintain the status quo that benefits leading brands? To compete in a single domestic market or to enter and compete in global markets? To expand into new categories or to expand within your current category? There are obviously a multitude of strategic challenges but the point is this: the skill sets needed and the way these skills are organized most effectively depends entirely on the long-term strategic challenge you are facing.

Current marketing practice doesn’t seem to be aligned with this fundamental principle of organizational design. For example, when the digital revolution opened up a multitude of communications channels many marketers decided to hire technical experts. This ‘additive’ approach to building an organization, i.e., adding another staff member or unit again and again, naturally leads to silos and fragmentation. The result of this additive approach is that marketing organizations are often heavy with technical expertise but light on staff who have strategic competence and experience. The same principles apply to information.

If your strategic challenge is to manage a strongly established leading brand that is still in the growth phase you will seek continuity, and therefore may be happy to simply ask consumers and deliver what they want. But if your challenge is to seek aggressive market share gains, challenge leading brands or revitalize a leading brand that shows signs of maturity, you need to disrupt and surprise.

To do this, you need to turn to market research methodologies that can go beyond what consumers say. You need to explore new segmentation opportunities, apply disruption strategies, experiment and break new ground as the status quo is stacked against you.

However, given the volatile operating environment that is emerging, you will need a highly agile organizational structure, flexible processes and focused information to achieve this. What does this mean? Here are some suggestions:
We need to move from fixed yearly planning cycles to flexible planning as it will be impossible to predict likely market developments even just for a 12 months period.

We need to dismantle complex or time-consuming decision-making processes (often involving senior executives who have little marketing experience) to speed up our reaction time when unexpected opportunities or threats arise.
We need to allow marketing to share surplus funds generated through successful campaigns to encourage an enterpreneurial spirit rather than treating marketers like administrators.

We need to employ or develop multi-skilled staff that boost rather than drag down flexibility.

We need to ensure the information we gather is both relevant, reliable and timely, avoiding massive point-in-time surveys for much more nimble exploration and tracking.

We need to use temporary task forces and reward the best performers by offering them an opportunity to try their hand at different challenges, thus developing a well-rounded marketing competence.

And we need to communicate in a more targeted way rather than copying in everyone including the German Shepherd (remember GE’s Jeff Immelt’s comment from my previous contribution).

Another major challenge is to decide which skills need to be developed in-house and which should be farmed out. As a general rule strategy development needs to be an in-house capability. Advertising and design firms may be great at communications planning but they rarely excel at brand strategy. Furthermore, a marketing organisation cannot develop its most important competency – strategy development – when it does not have the required skills in-house.

Similarly, brand tracking should ideally be led by an in-house team as it needs to be flexible, fast, inexpensive (to afford employing it frequently) and closely linked to decision-making. More about this in my next contribution.

Naturally there is much more that needs to be said about the evolution from settler to hunter. I am hindered by a word limit strictly controlled by Pippa Chambers, the Enforcer. In my final contribution I will explore how marketers can build an Early Warning System – an important challenge as agility is essential but not sufficient to success. We also have to be able to sense change early to ensure we can leverage our agile skill base, structure and processes to score a win.

By Neurothinking principal, Dr. Peter Steidl

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