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Don’t Sack Your Marketing Team Just Yet

25 November, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Even before brands faced today’s budgetary age of austerity, a populist meme was gaining traction: that while marketing is a necessary function, perhaps we don’t need a large, dedicated team to deliver it.

Mike Hutchison, writing for the blog Unlimited, argues this very point in his post Hitting Your Mark.  Hutchison’s cites an oft-quoted piece of industry lore of motorcycle manufacturer Ducati sacking its marketing department and delegating responsibility throughout the organisation.

The super-objective Hutchison craves – where individuals up, down and across an organisation take real, tangible responsibility for marketing the brand – is the right intention but the dramatic headline is unhelpful; we might have fantasies about eliminating marketing departments, yet actually doing so creates a number of acute, real problems that cannot be so easily reduced to theory.

The Professional Marketer

Marketing is a discipline; we study and practice it as a craft. And though we may use open source marketing techniques to enable and activate our customer communities, planning and strategy are still necessary components for long-term success.

Of course all employees should be focused on delivering value for their customers and, in a sense, this is marketing. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

Hutchison asks, “Imagine a church having a religion department?” Yet it does have a religion department: those individuals who, by choice and discipline, give an expert, learned voice to the order. They have perspective and share their knowledge with their brothers and the world; these individuals write, speak and teach.  They are the ‘interface’ to the study because they are able to translate the language of religion to those unfamiliar.

It seems superfluous to quote Smith, but some minds and skill sets are more efficiently put towards tackling the mechanics of marketing, the same way some minds have the discipline to enjoy cloistered, ecumenical education.

Needs of the Business

Even were a fully integrated marketing function possible, it exposes a logical flaw: each department within the company is looking for the best, most talented people – people good at a specific function. It could be a developer, a sales person or an HR administrator. The qualities which may make these individuals successful in their functions are not necessarily the same which make them effective marketers for the brand.

Should the business compromise the quality of its other functions for the sake of having someone in account management who understands FriendFeed?  Of course the account management team – along with everyone else – ought to understand the tools we use to communicate with customers, but it is not the only skill set to consider.

Moreover, the tools are changing daily, with new and better services popping up all the time. It’s difficult enough for our marketers to stay current, much less the guy in sales drowning in PowerPoint.

Romance

The vision of breaking up the marketing department is romantic: it would be great if all our marketing was a free-flowing confluence of customer ideas and creative imagination. Yet some tasks are simply not glamorous: orchestrating a cross-media, multi-discipline, global campaign in many languages and cultures takes hard work, discipline and professional craftsmanship. These are not background tasks.

The best marketers build relationships. They connect with customers, suppliers, internal stakeholders and other key influencers (the filters, facilitators, firecrackers and fanatics defined by McConnell and Huba). I like this and consider it a professional and, yes, somewhat traditional approach.

I take Hutchison’s view as a philosophical argument rather than a literal one: ultimately the power lies in changing the behaviour of our business ecosystem, increasing its awareness of customer service and product development. It is a long-term investment but one worth making.

Hutchison is right: the form and function of the marketing department is changing, the ‘disconnected’ team will cease to be relevant. But we still need educated, trained marketers, those who can draft strategy and connect activities across a sea of collaborators, lifting the brand to fulfil its promise. It is surely not something to be left to amateurs.

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