Breaking down the internal barriers is the start of growth.

Breaking down the internal barriers is the start of growth.

Customer centric results are rarely delivered by company centric processes, yet, while all companies are scrapping for growth and reaching out to customers with new initiatives, a lot are struggling to deliver the experiences that they devise for their customers, because the corporate mindset is not aligned.

Marketing and brand people are frequently collating customer learning and insights that identify fertile growth areas. Something then goes wrong. Their internal machines work on a company centric or channel centric or silo centric premise and process. Us and them. Me not we. Competitive not collaborative. Yesterday not tomorrow.

Companies have been used to driving shareholder returns often by maximising efficiency and cost cutting to an extent that these are now deeply ingrained in the corporate psyche. Each part of the company has had a distinct role in delivering these bottom line successes. These different elements of the organisation have slowly become separated into big business units – often led as a separate mini organisation. They have layers of bureaucracy and tell their own versions of the company story. They’ll have their own separate advisors (often advising on the same thing as other units) and work to different KPIs. Communication is great up & down the separate Units but poor across the company. Top down is the only channel – and often with messages for the ears of the analysts waiting for the next quarterly profitability reports.

To drive customer driven growth, many companies must change on the inside before they succeed on the outside. They must move from the mentality of “the business we do” to that of “the business the customer needs”. The old marketing thinking, dominated by Mad Men, was to create desire by telling beautiful stories in advertising. Making the customer want your products. 21st C branding is all about making products or offering services that customers need.

The whole company needs to have the customer in their focus in everything they do. The company purpose and culture will be driven by the customer. The internal processes will need to change to be customer centric.

This kind of change is tough. Big and small companies are good at what they do and that’s easy to be the prime focus. Marketing is one area that perhaps can help this change.  Communication and collaboration are the fundamental basics of a marketing approach. Insight and messages are the bread and butter of the customer dialogue for brand led growth. Bringing these skills into the company processes with the outside in view that marketers have can help. Bringing creativity and collaboration is the best way to break down the silo mentality.

Trialling new, small cross functional teams with a customer driven objective will begin to create something new that can show success to the rest of the organisation’s separatists. Learning to think differently as a team, in a collaborative environment, with the blessing of top management and without the restrictions of the day to day, quarter by quarter focus, is achievable quickly if you pilot it. Aim at a few, short term outputs. You shouldn’t outsource creativity or collaboration. Learning to do it yourself bring huge benefits and allow success to positively infect those around these teams.

Just as importantly, whatever the objective of these pilot groups, whatever the outputs they are tasked with, the voice of the customer must be there throughout. Use customers in these creative sessions. Ensure the outputs are shaped with the customer or end user throughout – not simply as a check or box to tick at the end. Today this is possible with advances in online research. This is possible with the rapid advancement of social media platforms that allow private communities – staff and/or customers to upload their own content, share information, blog and chat or have sessions like webinars and programs to encourage collaboration and sharing. Community thinking works with staff as well as with customers.

A culture of trialling changes on the inside via small, well supported pilots will feed back into the organisation and become a lighthouse across the silos, a sign of things to come. By leading with the customer’s outside in view, driven by those with the customer insight (sales, brand, telesales, marketing, stores – whatever) will bring the platform for growth that is eluding companies hampered by internal barriers. Alignment and cooperation will be the outcome of these pilots, plus the customer driven outputs of each pilot group. A focus on finding successful customer initiatives break down internal barriers and creates an culture where all staff are empowered to deliver value to customers, independent of which department they belong to.

Changing on the inside with the customer driving the change will turn the fertile areas for growth into a reality.

Marketers Action Plan …take some.

Marketers Action Plan …take some.

This morning, I met Stuart Pocock, managing partner of The Observatory, a global agency search and selection organisation. Stuart has a great insight on global trends facing Marketers and their agencies as we turn and face 2012. The Observatory believe that while clients who engage them have made a decision to change an agency roster, the solution maybe to fix a relationship (on both sides), before undergoing a selection process. Deciding on what is the best option clearly depends on each situation, but there are common issues that can help clarify why a decision needs to be taken.

Overall, many senior marketers are feeling increasingly constrained by being time starved and resource stretched. Their budgets are being reduced yet expected returns on these investments are increasing. Their own teams are being reduced while their agency rosters have increased. Senior marketers have to prioritise where they focus their time with a main agency(s) and often have to delegate others to look after other disciplines, sometimes not changing that focus as one discipline’s importance for the brand increases.

Bigger clients have extended their agency partners to handle new disciplines or countries. Each agency has a team made up of talent and account people, juniors and seniors. Their team’s make up are often procured on an FTE basis (full time equivalent people with % of timesheets being allocated to an account and costed) rather than on people basis (to create the best outcome, quickly). Too many junior people without the experience to cut through instinctively and create solutions. Too many assistant brand managers with the power to say no, rather than, yes.

The broad team structures mean that the processes are inefficient and slow. Too much duplication and checking in rather than creating and doing together. Making things truly integrated is hard when there is a distinct lack of collaboration as too many people have conflicting goals & KPI’s to be judged against.

There are too many silos affecting brands – inside a company and outside with the agency rosters. Silo’s who become disconnected to the customer journey they are meant to be supporting. Making that journey inconsistent and focused on a company rather than a customer.

Stuart’s summary answer to my original question about what’s keeping Marketer’s awake is telling…”Everything!”

Fixing everything takes too long. Worrying about everything causes inertia. Worrying about what to do in the unknown face of another recession will add to the fear. As Dale Carnegie suggested, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” Taking action is vital. But what? We suggested some a couple of weeks ago on Double Dip Marketing.

What will help is to create a few, small, incisive actions – with an immediate next step and a way of capturing, and then sharing, that learning. Actions that that can stimulate a brand with the customers. Actions that can change the way you do things inside your influence sphere. Create a small, senior team from your agency and team – and deal only with them. Recreate your brand story to ensure all touch points inside and outside your organisations are on song together. That way means collaboration, which is the best way to integrate. And the best way to create.  And use both of these actions to innovate at warp speed.

As Marketers face up to 2012, there are many things, fuelled by media headlines, that are causing fear and inertia. But there are still unlimited opportunities out there for brands to take action and start a momentum that will help them grow and gain significantly as markets turn again, which they will.