Marketing and Business Transformation – How involved should marketers be?

For most marketers business transformation seems to be either a matter of inconvenience or something they fear because the change will mean a further round of budget cuts!

This is understandable, to some extent, as the steps that have probably led to the business transformation intent have often already been preceded by and involved across the board cuts, often hitting marketing budgets to the tune of 20% or more. Maybe this has also happened a few years on the trot.

These cuts have not been linked to any great insight within the business, or marketing itself, that 20% or more can be saved….it was most likely just a directive.

A lot of the ‘savings’ have been made by either cutting spend at the expense of brand activities (yet revenue growth is amazingly still expected), including cutting media spend and also agency fees directly, but still expecting similar quality creative outputs.  

With the latter the full cost of that action is still permeating through with the quality of strategic/creative thinking impacted and therefor the all important ‘big ideas’ for the brand the worse off.

Let’s face it, most business transformations are not just driven by the desire to interrogate their business model to make it best practice and future fit, but also to look for cost savings within the business. Probably why, understandably, the initiative is often driven through the business by the finance and procurement teams.

Given the importance for businesses to deliver growth, as well as cost savings and profitability, it screams out for marketing to be proactive and heavily involved in the transformation.

1)  How should Marketers be proactive in the process and outcomes?

Marketing must have a clear voice and use the transformation as a reset opportunity, to determine how to best deliver the growth objective, the changes that need to be made….and of course, link this to an acceptable cost to achieve this, as one eye has to be kept on profitability.

Marketers need to see this as an opportunity and not an interference. If you are not proactively involved you will just end up being on the receiving end of  efficiency and effectiveness targets made by a well meaning, but often ill informed, transformation team who don’t understand how marketing works, or the brand(s), as well as you do!

There are many areas that need to be looked at in great detail with an open mind and an eye on the future too. These will drive efficiencies, effectiveness and cost savings potential. A few of these areas that need to be thought about are as follows:

  • You’ll need to interrogate your suppliers, taking into account your spend with them, their skills (what you use, what you don’t and what you’ll need in the future).
  • You’ll need to define what suppliers you have/need around in a hierarchy  of strategic, specialist and general capability in order to streamline your roster.
  • Clear, understood and practiced, systems and processes (preferably a digital platform with a digital asset management system) in place across your team, the business and agencies.
  • Do your team have the right skills and is the manpower emphasis on the right areas given the shift to the digital channel and new technologies? Are you focused on legacy versus the future in terms of products and services given the shifting business?

The above isn’t exhaustive but touches on a few key areas for marketers, but I think you’ll agree that you couldn’t have any part of the business other than marketing to be transforming these areas!

2)  What role should the Brand play in all of this?

The role of brand is a really interesting aspect to consider.  This is partly because many organisations don’t operationalise their brand internally. Hopefully, however, if they don’t use the brand to guide everything they do, they should at least have a vision, mission and values in place to guide the way the organisation operates and presents itself. And hopefully bring that to life within the organisation.

The brand, or organisational values, should be at the centre of how any transformation process is managed and how the decisions/actions taken are implemented.

As an example, I worked for the Mars organisation for many years and one of its Five Principles is ‘mutuality’. I’m sure you can appreciate that this principle would be active in guiding transformation actions and how they are implemented, such that the impact internally or externally, fits with mutuality considerations.

I recall many healthy discussions where one had to consider the tension between cost savings initiatives and negative impact on long term supplier and consumer relationships. Within the Mars organisation, mutuality requires you think about the right ways and wrong ways in conducting business ……so marketing needs to have a voice to make sure you do right by the valued, strategic partners and consumers.

It is key that marketing helps guide the transformation and intended outcomes to ensure that the changes do not go against what the brand, or values set within the organisation, stand for. In some organisations this will require working hand in hand with the HR team too, ensuring actions and behaviours are in line with the brand, or established values.

To not do that would lead ultimately to confusion within the organisation and employees with repercussions to efficiency, effectiveness, employee turnover and, importantly, profitability.

If there is some challenge to the brand or values of the organisation then it needs a proper discussion at the highest level to deliberate on the implications and make appropriate decisions….does the brand need to change given the business transformation direction? Does that fit with consumer needs and wants? Or is it an alarm bell to not do that under the current brand? It may require a new, different brand or new business entity, for example, if it’s a stretch too far.

A final few words…..

As marketers we all have a choice, where we can choose to sit back and just let things happen to us, or, we can get involved, plan ahead and be at the forefront of the organisation’s transformation.

Marketing should be adopting the latter attitude or it’s reputation and brand guardianship responsibility is severely at risk within the organisation.

Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s work that should be part of any medium to long term planning process anyway and the rewards of doing this will make it all worth while. It will make life a lot easier in fact once done….more time to do what’s right, with suppliers in place that understand your brand(s), the right skills in your team working synergistically on the right activities that drive growth, profitably.

If there isn’t a business transformation taking place in your organisation and there’s no interest from management…. then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t just focus on transforming marketing itself.

Happy transforming!

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