Is your marketing team delivering
or are they “just doing stuff ”?
I was having breakfast recently with the CMO of a major US-based software company when he said something that really struck a chord…we were discussing how his team are operating and he commented, “it feels like we’re ‘just doing stuff’ at the moment but aren’t really delivering the outcomes that we’re looking for.” This immediately resonated with me given my own experiences of running marketing teams, as well as many conversations I’ve had with other marketing and business leaders. Does it sound familiar to you?
We often get caught in the trap of ‘just doing things’ – running events, creating content, developing campaigns, etc – going around in circles not getting anywhere…focusing on activities rather than outcomes. We find ourselves grabbed by the inertia of “this is what we’ve always done.” We lack a clear and consistent understanding of whether, how, or crucially why the things we’re doing actually make a difference for either our customers or our businesses. The result – short-term gains that don’t have material impact on creating great ongoing customer experiences or adding sustainable value to drive business growth.
The following infographic highlights the dichotomy of ‘just doing’ versus ‘actually delivering’.
So, how do we get out of "just doing stuff" to actually start delivering meaningful outcomes for our customers and thereby our businesses? We have to fundamentally change the way that our marketing teams operate:
1. An evolving approach to strategy
Marketing has traditionally been beholden to long-term, inflexible plans; whether it’s the behemoth ‘Annual Marketing Plan’, 6 / 3-month plans, or even at a campaign level. These provide little scope for adaptation and innovation. More often, our daily activities are dictated by short-term incoming demands and ‘fire-drills’ rather than having any strategic direction. As we implement our long-term plans, they therefore quickly become out-of-date and irrelevant.
Strategy, essentially, comes down to choice. It creates a framework by which we decide what we will do and what we won’t. How much we adhere to that framework dictates the success of our strategy…the delivery of the outcomes that the strategy is intended to produce.
We need to move to an emergent approach to strategy. One where we set our long-term goals and vision, but then allow flexibility within the strategic framework to take into consideration new information and conditions. In this way we can adapt to find more optimal paths to success. We do this by connecting our long-term marketing roadmap with a short-term cadence of work. Short work cycles, aka ‘sprints’, provide rapid feedback and create natural pauses when we can re-evaluate and re-prioritise what we’re doing to make sure our ongoing efforts are both being effective and on track to reach our strategic destination.
2. Iterative testing and improvement
Key to this emergent strategy is a mantra of iterative testing and improvement. Instead of viewing activities in isolation, we look at how we’re progressing in the delivery of our strategies and towards the achievement of our long-term goals. Sprints allow us to do this in increments and iterations, breaking our plans down into small steps so we can test, see how things perform, adapt and improve.
Testing gives us an empirical view as to what’s working and what’s not. It removes the debate and takes us away from decision-making based on opinions and assumptions. These can be especially hard to resist when it’s the ‘highest-paid person’s opinion’, colloquially referred to as the HiPPO. If it’s coming from above, it can be tricky to argue. Yet, by constantly running tests to validate our assumptions and measure our activities we find better ways of doing things.
It means less risk, quicker results, and ongoing improvement.
3. Continuous learning
As teams keep going ‘just doing stuff’ they lose sight of their primary performance driver – are they actually making the lives of their customers better? Are they delivering remarkable experiences and adding value that’s meaningful in the minds of customers themselves? This isn’t just through a piece of impactful marketing, but on a sustained, ongoing, ‘always-on’ basis.
The customer is our ‘North Star’ – they are the ultimate judge of whether what we’re producing meets the mark. Yet today’s customers are constantly changing. Their make-up, beliefs, expectations, demands, perceptions, attitudes and behaviours are moving all the time. It’s not just a question of being in touch with them, they expect us to know enough about them at any point to be able to deliver an experience that’s relevant and tailored.
No longer can we rely on periodic, deep-dive market research to give us the insights to steer our marketing. We must stay in tune with customers continually if we’re to meet their requirements and surpass their expectations. To do this, we need to be constantly learning. We need every touch point, every piece of customer communication and engagement to be feeding back into the system so we build our knowledge and create the platform to act. This is as much about how we manage our human processes as it is our technology - the two have to go hand-in-hand.
As we move from ‘just doing stuff’ to delivering meaningful customer outcomes, it’s imperative that we have an always-on perspective for what our customers need, how we’re meeting those needs, and what we can do to improve.
4. Simplicity first
Steve Jobs said, "That's been one of my mantras: focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."
Everywhere we look there’s increasing complexity in marketing: an explosion of customer touchpoints, fragmentation of channels, acceleration in markets, expectations of more sophisticated customer experiences, the demand for data-driven optimisation, etc. All these factors have made marketing today intrinsically more complex.
This complexity results in teams spinning wheels. Doing things because they can do them, rather than they should. We race to keep up, but we’re not necessarily moving in the right direction.
We therefore need to simplify our approach. Strip back to what’s essential to our strategy and eliminate waste. We do this by having absolute clarity on what our priorities are at any point in time as directed by our long-term strategy, but also taking into account change. Creating short-term work cycles gives us the opportunity to review, adjust and re-prioritise our activities on a frequent cadence, providing focus and certainty of what we’re doing.
Simplicity also comes from avoiding over engineering. As marketers, we’re guilty of engineering more and more complexity into our plans – adding different media, channels, creative executions, tactics, even audiences into the mix. Instead, we need to take a ‘Minimum Viable Promotion’ approach – get to market fast, gain feedback, learn, iterate and hone to improve performance on an ongoing basis.
Simplicity allows us to “see the wood for the trees,” to maximise what we’re NOT doing so what we do has more impact and effect.
5. Servant leadership
Finally, marketing leaders need to understand and accept that they’re not best placed to make all the decisions. Things are changing too fast and there are too many moving parts for them to decide everything. Top-down decision making quickly becomes a bottleneck and inhibitor of progress.
The team are at the frontline, able to continuously observe directly what’s going on with customers and the market to provide fast feedback and insights. They’re much more attuned to the changing conditions and therefore able to make more informed decisions quicker.
We need to trust, empower and then support our teams so that they can more readily apply their skills, knowledge and experience to achieve the desired outcomes. This inspires confidence, creativity and entrepreneurship to push performance forward.
As leaders, your focus becomes doing whatever is necessary to support and enable the team, from acquiring resources to removing obstacles that hinder momentum. Simon Sinek explained, “A boss who micromanages is like a coach who wants to get in the game. Leaders guide and support and then sit back to cheer from the sidelines.” They champion, they don’t manage.
All of the above principles are encapsulated by the Agile Marketing movement. Think of it as the new ‘operating system’ for marketing. By adopting the methodologies and practices of Agile Marketing we can change the way that marketing teams work so that they become more empowered, accountable and driven to produce experiences that stimulate and excite customers, and deliver sustainable growth for businesses…to get away from ‘just doing stuff’ to doing the right stuff, at the right times, and in the right places in order to deliver meaningful outcomes.
To find out more on Agile Marketing and see what it can do for you, then drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.