Retuning the Marketing ‘Orchestra’

This post is by Michael Farmer, Chairman of TrinityP3 USA and author of Madison Avenue Manslaughter: an inside view of fee-cutting clients, profit-hungry owners and declining ad agencies, which won the Axiom Gold Business Book Award for the best marketing / advertising book of 2016.

The marketing ‘orchestra’ needs to be reorganised and re-tuned. The orchestra players are highly skilled and totally dedicated. The problem is, they’re playing different scores, even if the music was written by the same composer. The first violins are playing a Bach fugue. The second violins are performing a Bach prelude. The cellos are holding their own with the Second Brandenburg concerto. The string bass players are improvising – Bach jazz-fusion.

And the conductor? Frustrated, he / she stops the playing. “Again, the Bach! From the top!”

Marketing’s performance, too, is less than stellar. Brand growth has been stagnant for the past decade, particularly for legacy brands. The portfolio of agencies has been increased, each agency “best in class” in its area of expertise — TV, radio, print, direct marketing, PR, events / sponsorship, website design, email marketing and social media – but there’s something missing in the way that the agencies play together, like the discordant Bach orchestra.

It doesn’t matter if you have the best players in the world — their playing needs to be coordinated.

One problem is the length of time that the orchestra plays together under the conductor. CMOs, who are blamed by CEOs for the lack of brand growth, turn over every 3-4 years, and their replacements tend to change some if not all the resident agencies.

Each CMO has a unique style, and it takes some time for CMOs to come to grips with the brand-growth problem and coordinate the marketing efforts accordingly. Often, CMOs are not in place long enough to make a difference.

A second problem is the nature of the Scopes of Work – the musical scores used by the individual agencies. With the increasing use of digital and social media, Scopes of Work are becoming more fragmented and distant from the Big Ideas that ought to define or influence their content.

Individual agencies are asked to carry out highly tactical, high-volume efforts that may not contribute in the slightest way to rekindle brand growth.

This shows up in the kinds of “missions” that individual agencies are given on behalf of their clients. Here’s a not-so-unusual mission for a digital agency, working for a new client in a highly competitive industry:

To be an innovator in the digital space. To go from channel extension to channel invention; to outmanoeuvre competitors and breakthrough in a cluttered environment.

The assumption is that more and better digital innovation of this type will eventually translate into improved brand performance.

The jury is out on that issue – it remains to be proven. Digital and social innovations hold great promise, but there are problems with these media forms, as well.

The more that the portfolio of agencies is fragmented by specialty, the more likely that agency “missions” will devolve into multiple tactical wish-lists that don’t add up to a coherent whole.

If improved brand performance is the goal, then the players in the marketing orchestra need to have the right sheet music in front of them. The master Scope of Work (if it exists), which covers the range of media types, needs to have an overall logic, just like an orchestral score. The competence of the individual players is not the issue – the bigger question is how do they sound when they play together, each mastering its part?

The results to date have been disappointing. Marketing Departments have not done a good job coordinating their ever-increasing portfolios of agencies and designing, with or without their help, master Scopes of Work that have a high probability of growing brands once again.

Portfolio simplification is an obvious solution. The fewer the agencies, the more likely that the agency voice can be influential, and agencies held accountable for broader, more strategic goals.

Deborah Wahl, CMO of McDonald’s in North America, went down this path last year, reducing her portfolio of US agencies from “many” to “one” by establishing a new multidimensional Omnicom agency, We Are Unlimited, and setting its strategic mission as “increasing guest counts and sales.”

Having a smaller and more coordinated orchestra of this type is no guarantee that the ultimate performance will be a success, but it’s certainly the right place to start.

Cartoon Credit: Jack Ziegler, The New Yorker, The Cartoon Bank. With permission

This post was first published on Media Village

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About Michael Farmer

Michael Farmer is Chairman of TrinityP3 USA and author of Madison Avenue Manslaughter: an inside view of fee-cutting clients, profit-hungry owners and declining ad agencies, which won the Axiom Gold Business Book Award for the best marketing / advertising book of 2016. He currently serves as Adjunct Associate Professor of Branding and Integrated Communications at The City College of New York (CCNY) and is at work on a new book about the challenges facing Chief Marketing Officers.

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