Stop circling marketing’s transformation roundabout and enjoy the ride in 2019


Modernization will continue to be a key trend for marketing leaders in 2019, and it's time we reframe our approach to it, instead of nervously circling the roundabout, says Suzanne Martin, CEO of True Inflection.

One of my favorite scenes from National Lampoon’s European Vacation is when Chevy Chase drives the family car around a London roundabout and says with excitement, “Hey, look kids! There’s Big Ben! Parliament!” As hours go by and evening sets in we find him still circling, as he just can’t 'get left' and manically giggles while the family snores.

Does that sound like your marketing modernization effort? Can’t seem to get where you want to go? I get you, brothers and sisters.

In some ways it feels like the longest road trip ever to a destination that might as well be the moon. Much of my career, marketing has evolved strategically, organizationally and technologically, which is to be expected, right? All things change. Yet digital transformation initiatives (a buzz phrase for changing just about every aspect of how companies operate today) have generated alluring pictures of an amazing destination with a pretty poor map guiding how to get there or how long it will take... and an impatience to arrive. Are we there yet, Dad?

There is much planning and packing to get to this modern marketing paradise – data, technology, metrics, specialists and so much more. They are all very important and my intent here is not to imply that they aren’t. The trouble is that the expectation seems to be this is a straightforward journey. After all this time, the CEO and CFO would like marketing to just get it over with! But even the most well-planned family vacation has its twists and turns. Here’s another analogy to make this clear: consider the Ironman Triathlon. Sure, you can set a goal to complete one, but no matter how much money you throw at it you aren’t going to be ready to compete at that level without significantly changing your daily life and taking the time to train.

Maybe we need to reset our expectations. As has often been said, it’s not the destination but rather the journey that is most rewarding.

There are three things that I’ve learned enable successful modernization/transformation of a company’s marketing function. However, this isn’t a quick fix like the '5 ways to…' or '3 technologies that…' blogs you will find plenty of in your social feed. That’s actually part of the problem with our consumer culture. We assume everything will be ready when we demand it (dinner can be Door Dash-ed and miniseries seasons binged all at once!). This is about developing an ongoing practice or way of life that itself is transformative. As you kick off your 2019, consider how these concepts can become the foundation to your efforts. Stop driving in circles and finally get you where you want to go.

These three concepts aren’t easy, but the company that applies them and considers transformation a 'how' and not a 'where' will win. Marketing leaders are in a unique position today to drive these seismic business changes, as the role is less about traditional product promotion and more about driving long-term growth. CMOs should be excited about the game-changing impact they can make in your company.

  1. The Management team gets – and shares – marketing’s mission.

  2. The company culture supports – and rewards – change management.

  3. The customer lifecycle – not just purchase journey – is supported by every function.

Management gets behind the mission

Let’s start with management. The expectation that marketing drives growth is generally accepted, but the assumptions (and more importantly agreements) surrounding how that is to be done need updating. 

Today’s marketing function is less a silo and more a unifier driving engagement, advocacy and even employment. Additionally, the customer journey (more on that later) is marketing-enabled up front, and is optimized post-purchase by functions like customer success. Sales really needs to get that they don’t singularly own the customer relationship anymore. There is lip service to this, but in daily reality, sales still acts like marketing is there to support sales, not be a partner. Goals and incentives are still traditional and reinforce this status quo.

Another functional change in play: HR has increasing influence on how the brand promise is met through employee selection, education and reward systems. A closer operational intersection with marketing is essential for true company transformation across all the functions.

What metrics will functional leaders all commit to? NPS for example? Something to decide.

There is so much more to say, but my intent here is to get you thinking. As an action to make it real, I suggest holding a C-suite off-site, or at least a half-day, to define what marketing’s mission is for your company, and how each and every functional leader maps to and supports that mission. This is critical, and it will not be easy.  Transformation is messy and the only way to get through it is to have clear agreements not just on the destination but how to get there.

Company culture celebrates change

Now let’s talk culture. There is so much to say here too, but I will focus on ways to shift it to be more supportive of transformation initiatives. It starts with establishing agreements at a management level on what matters. What behavior is rewarded? What programs are deemed worthy of communication? What achievements celebrated? Talk isn’t enough.

I have found this concept difficult to operationalize, as culture is something built over a long period of time and the assumption is that changing it will take even longer. So the temptation is to not try, or to find short cuts. But really, it just requires focus and action. Tactical prioritization by management can drive the ripple effect needed to evolve culture much more quickly.

Communications plans should be thought through at team, management and company levels. It is essential to communicate regularly about shared goals, progress, achievements, personal stories, trends, learning, etc. and ensure the communication isn’t just top-down but peer-to-peer as well. Time should be allowed to collect and disseminate change-related content.

Change-centric behavior to encourage includes experimentation and learning. This can be built into how goals are defined, meetings are run, and celebrations are held. Rather than just 'not penalizing' people, it’s important to proactively encourage and reward experimentation and learning. This will consistently change culture over time.

Here’s a suggested action to get moving in 2019 on building a change-comfortable culture: Set one goal per employee related to your marketing change initiatives that encourages experimentation or applying a new learning. Reinforce this with your own goals and show your team you believe in taking risks too.

The customer is (and has always been) in charge

Lastly (or firstly?) let’s talk customers. Yes, we all know they are important. They are central to company transformation – the purpose for it and benefactor of it. While much effort is placed on defining a customer’s experience as the destination of transformation efforts, their journey is the path to getting there and more time should be spent on defining and optimizing it.

Documenting the customer’s journey is a great way to unify all the functions around a common transformation mission. It identifies the moments that matter, how each team should interact with the customer and each other, and helps establish shared ownership, outputs and metrics. This is important in the transformation journey so one function (often marketing) doesn’t get negatively penalized when the issues being resolved require a multi-functional solution.

Well-defined, the customer journey will guide persona-specific experiences and clearly identify for each functional team what is important for successful engagement. For example, marketing can narrow its focus on content development to answer the questions personas have at each stage of the purchase phase of the journey. Well-answered questions can help customers find the company in search and advance through the stages towards conversion.

Customer journey mapping and experience optimization is such a rich area that this article can’t do it justice. The main point is that it is foundational, and important to build the business around. Marketing can lead the effort to map it out and guide the functional connections needed to optimize what is ultimately the brand experience.

The action for 2019 is clear – if you haven’t spent time mapping your customer’s lifecycle and journey yet to identity key interactions, expectations and your readiness to meet them – get on it ASAP before your competitors figure it out first.

Create a transformation roadmap

None of the transformation concepts discussed here are easy. This is about changing your daily habits, priorities and definition of success. It takes time, too. You just can't get around that. But it is possible to get through marketing (or any other function’s) transformation initiatives more quickly and effectively with a unified management team, change-savvy culture and customer-centric operation.

Focus energy on the journey and not simply the destination, and you will definitely get off that never-ending roundabout and where you finally want to go. What a game-changing leadership opportunity for marketing.

The B2B Marketing UK Agencies Benchmarking Report 2019

This year's league table features a record-breaking 95 agencies, and is chock-full of analysis, commentary and interview with the agencies themselves and on the state of the market.

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The B2B Marketing UK Agencies Benchmarking Report 2019