While most mid-sized companies have invested in dedicated, in-house marketing teams, many executives are not pleased with the return on investment. A survey conducted by The Fournaise Marketing Group revealed that 73 percent of CEOs believe their marketing team is not capable of generating enough growth. An astonishing 80 percent of the CEOs polled don’t trust their marketing teams. There is widespread concern that the marketing function is unable to deliver a positive ROI for the department’s spending. CEOs also doubt marketing’s ability to use data to make informed decisions. You may have some of the same concerns for your marketing organization.
Much has changed in marketing over the last several years, but its core purpose has stayed the same. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as the “activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” Despite the challenges of an ambiguous and rapidly evolving business landscape, marketers must drive growth and prove their value to their company. This can be accomplished by focusing on marketing’s core responsibility: delivering value to customers and stakeholders.
Applying an Agile Mindset and Approach to Marketing
Notice that the first two-thirds of the AMA definition focuses on execution. Great execution is critical for maximizing customer value. This is where many marketing teams are falling short. What is the key to improving your marketing team’s execution and its ability to deliver maximum customer value? Marketing agility.
In the first blog in this series, we explored how implementation of your growth plan is the most challenging part of driving growth. We also covered how increasing company agility is necessary to effectively react to changes in the marketplace and keep growth plans on course. In the second blog, we discussed how to build organizational agility and leverage market changes to create a competitive advantage and fuel growth.
Your marketing team plays a crucial role in executing your growth plan, so it should be a central focus when building organizational agility. Agility is the ability to react and change quickly and efficiently. Marketing teams must adapt well in a marketplace that is changing faster and more dramatically than ever. Marketers need to course correct fast and effectively when plans go off course or priorities change. With that, let’s dive in and learn about how to leverage an agile mindset and approach as a means of maximizing your marketing team’s ability to drive growth.
Mastering the Four Pillars of Marketing Agility
By following these four steps to building marketing agility, you can enhance your marketing department’s growth driving potential. Consider each of these pillars carefully – and think about how you can begin to apply them to your marketing team:
Increase External Focus – React Faster to Market Changes with Outside-In Thinking
Marketing must be the eyes and ears of the company – but most marketers don’t get out of the office on a regular basis. Every member of the team should observe your market from your customer’s vantage point. By engaging in this exercise, marketers are better prepared to bring the voice of the customer to the table when making decisions. Every key marketing decision and plan must be calibrated around the impact on the customer and focus on adding real value for them.
Keep an eye on emerging trends that could be opportunities for your company or present challenges to achieving company goals. Customer trends are clearly important to monitor. Changes in technology, marketing best practices, and broader issues like the economy are also important to keep tabs on.
At the same time, the department must track and learn from the competition. The better you know your competition, the better you will be able to serve your own customers. Studying your competition can provide insights into what works and what doesn’t work for your customers. Define your competitive set broadly. Consider both direct and indirect competitors. Keep an eye on potential future competitors as well.
Prioritize and Execute Projects Better – Increase Speed and Effectiveness by Doing Less and Collaborating More
There is always more work to complete than time and resources will allow. That is why it is critical that the marketing team does an outstanding job of prioritizing its project workload. Focus on the highest impact projects, and allocate the right resources to get them done well. Effective project execution is also critical. As discussed in the last blog in this series, improving decision-making speed and effectiveness, creating self-managed teams, and breaking down barriers to collaboration, can all materially improve execution.
Leveraging agile project management tools is also an effective way to improve marketing project execution. McKinsey published an agile project management step-by-step guide for marketers. The article outlines the essential elements of this approach. Agile project management tools are effective because they increase focus on goals, improve collaboration, and drive bias for action. Simultaneously, an agile approach provides room to act nimbly and creatively. Agile project teams focus on learning and improving through rapid testing and iteration.
Adopting agile project management practices for your marketing department is a big undertaking. It is best to ramp up slowly and be thoughtful about which projects you assign to agile project teams. It is also wise to establish an agile project “control tower” to track all active, agile marketing projects.
Mine Data and Act on Insights – Translate Data into Learning, and Learning into Action
All successful marketing teams are adept at using data to make informed decisions. Effectively using data starts with having the right performance metrics and easy to use dashboards. There are many key performance indicators (KPIs) to choose from. Try to keep your list as short as possible. Select KPIs that are essential for achieving your marketing and business goals. Most KPIs measure outcomes derived from a series of inputs or activities. Given that KPIs lag these inputs and activities, it can take some time to determine if your KPIs are on track. Create a KPI early warning system by using leading indicators that measure the progress of the inputs and activities. Lastly, avoid creating complex KPI dashboards that contain a sea of numbers. Simple and visual KPI dashboards make it easier for users to digest the data and identify key insights. Here's a great example.
Once you have your KPIs and dashboards in place, it is important to establish an action-oriented process for reviewing the data. Too often marketing teams review data with a passive mindset. Data mining should be a very active exercise in which marketers are aggressively searching for improvement opportunities.
The first step is determining how frequently to review each KPI: daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. When it’s time to look at the data, have your analytics team identify which metrics are off track and warrant attention. Leverage leading indicators to identify the inputs or activities that may be contributing to the shortfall. Develop a course correction plan to ensure the inputs and activities get back on track. Maintain a separate dashboard to track progress for all course correction activities.
Master Mar-Tech – Expand Marketing Capacity by Turning Technology from Foe to Friend
Technology should make our lives easier, but often it seems to add complexity. There are over 7,000 marketing technology tools that marketers can chose from. If chosen wisely, these tools can help unleash the full potential of a marketing team. If not, they can bog down a team in low-value work and piles of useless data. The following steps will increase the chances that your mar-tech tools will be your friend and not your foe.
The first step is to determine what specific functionality is required. It is critical to be pragmatic and think about true needs versus nice-to-haves. Most marketing technology tools can help in some combination of three areas: automation, data management, and synchronizing activities. Where does your team need the most help? The next step is to understand all the options that are available within your budget parameters. Cast a broad net at first. Then narrow it down. This approach will ensure you find the right tool for your unique needs.
The third and arguably most crucial step is to walk before you run. Don’t execute too many software implementations at the same time. It is also prudent to start with a less advanced software version and prove it out. Once you have maxed out the utility of the software, you can consider investing in a more sophisticated version.
Lastly, your marketing technology is only as good as the internal resources that leverage it. It is critical to invest in the right internal resources to support the technology. A robust set of technology platforms, without the right people to leverage them, is a waste of money.
Now that you have the tools to improve your marketing agility, get ready to dive into the final blog in this series. In the next article, you will learn how to increase your company’s learning agility and leverage it to accelerate growth. In the meantime, if you have questions or comments about this article or would like to discuss how to improve your company’s organizational agility, please give me a call or send me an email.