The old adage is that the cobbler’s children have the worst shoes, is something similar is happening in corporate-marketing land?
In case it has escaped attention, digital marketing is everywhere and has been the hot topic that steadfastly refuses to cool. There is barely a CMO out there who does not confidently predict that corporate digital adspend will overtake conventional channels by the end of this year. Adverse Google analytics, limp social media metrics and insufficient Facebook “brand friends” are the stuff of modern marketing nightmares. Even that staple of office life, inconsequential water-cooler chat, is more likely to revolve around whether the late Steve Jobs was really an epochal genius or just a very talented bloke with a limited colour choice in polo-necks or how to deal with the unendurable sense of isolation caused by the BBM messenger failing to perform one particularly bleak Wednesday afternoon.
But given this near obsessive interest in digital why are client marketing systems so uniformly disappointing? Countless numbers of fine marketing businesses with stellar and deserved reputations for excellence are largely hamstrung by clogged mailboxes, byzantine approvals chains and a pervasive uncertainty on exactly what is the status of the current campaign under development even in the most basic term — costs, timings, who needs to do what next and are we all even looking at the same materials?
I have yet to meet the international marketer who will not readily admit that the effectiveness of marketing output would not be transformed by a simple and effective system on which to store stuff in a sensible and flexible way, help overcome the approvals nightmare and give all participants in the marketing process a fair chance to see what others are doing. Recently one leading marketing CMO estimated that 40% of his central brand team’s time was taken up in pushing paper, or at least its digital equivalent in a vain attempt to keep themselves and the local subsids abreast of what is going on. It is enough to make a strong man weep!
But the causes of this conundrum are less easy to name and shame. It is not the availability or even the usability of the technology: there are myriad systems which elegantly solve the issues at dramatically plummeting cost. It is not that marketers are wedded to mundane bureaucracy like so many latter-day Sir Humphreys; they rightly view the mind-numbing tedium of getting things done as the major downside in an otherwise interesting and worthwhile job. It is not even that there are unfathomable new skills to be learned; it is no longer much more difficult than ordering a book from Amazon or any other consumer shopping site.
Sadly, the truth is both prosaic and somewhat depressing. In a spectacular feat of corporate self-harming, it is marketers themselves who are largely responsible for this enduringly unsatisfactory situation. Unusually, not because of what marketing has done but by a seemingly wilful denial that building and maintaining an efficient infrastructure with which to enable international marketing is anything whatever to do with them. Instead, many are waiting for IT to come to the rescue, while others, in a triumph of hope over experience hope that the ad agency might take matters in hand. As if!
The inescapable reality is that it is for the marketers to sort this out for themselves. It may be a bit dull and not the stuff that “Marketer of the Year” awards are made of but something that is capable of transforming process effectiveness and allowing large numbers of precious people resources to actually do what they were hired for is too important to be relegated in the “someone else’s problem” file.
So, what to do? A great place to start is to put some measures around what the lack of a first-class marketing technology system is actually costing. Some will be relatively easy such as the cost of internal inefficiency measured by headcount cost or the actual cost of “re-inventing the wheel” by duplicating activities across markets and constantly re-making marketing assets because no-one knows that much of it already exists albeit somewhere else. More difficult, but still possible is the task of monetising the impact of faster approval cycles and ensuring that all clearances (corporate affairs, trademarks as well as statutory mandatories) are watertight and logged, and that an audit trail for all significant activity is readily available. Of course this is unlikely to include some of the most important but intangible benefits such as the impact on brand value of having consistent and compliant communications in all markets or the opportunity cost of freeing up valuable marketing time and reducing levels of frustration by significantly reducing the morale-sapping admin burden.
Having gained re-assurance to the value of upgrading marketing tech, it is wise to spend some time reviewing both how other leading marketers are tackling fundamentally similar problems while gaining an understanding of the suppler options and which model is likely to work best. Unsurprisingly, the sector is rapidly evolving while costs are steeply reducing. Using this recently-gained sector knowledge, some robust benchmarks and clarity on the starting-point it is not hard to develop a business case which will graphically illustrate the hard and soft benefits, the resources required and an outline road-map showing key phases and timings.
In 12 months or so technology can transform the mechanics of marketing allowing the marketers and their agencies to devote more time to producing better and more innovative messaging secure in the knowledge that wastage in time and money is dramatically reduced counterbalanced by an reciprocal improvement in quality and consistency.
And those apocryphal cobbler’s children can finally high-step in their Manola Blahniks.
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