CMOs to the Marketing Org: Tear Down Those Walls

Marketing Challenges

CMOs need new skills and new structures to succeed in tomorrow’s always-on digital world.  

First step: Blow up the joint.

Digital is at the core of everything in marketing today—it has gone from “one of the things marketing does” to “THE thing that marketing does.” This is having profound ramifications for the business of marketing, the people who practice it, and the organizations that rely on it. We’re doing an interesting white paper with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services and CMOs about the shift to a new era of engagement marketing—and what that means for the organization of the future. In advance of the paper’s release, I thought I’d write here about a few of the central themes that we’ve been seeing.

Recurring Symptoms

Not long ago, I bought a new car and—as new car owners are want to do—I phoned my insurance company to arrange for coverage. Once I finished parroting off my information, the agent, dutifully trained in cross-selling, asked whether I was also interested in hearing about life insurance or their credit card product.

“Thanks for asking, but I’m good,” I replied.

End of story, right?

Two days later, I received a piece of direct mail from the same company—trying to sell me on the credit card again. What gives? I already told them no!

This is what happens when marketing teams, living side-by-side in separate silos, remain in ignorant bliss of what the other is doing. If there’s no communication, there is a guarantee of needless duplication, which jeopardizes a company’s relationship with the customer. At best, the company wastes money by running irrelevant programs—and, at worst, annoys a customer to the point that they want to work with another company.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Too many companies across a range of industries—from retail to finance to higher education to healthcare and beyond—are making similar mistakes and creating artificial walls between marketing groups. As executives and marketing leaders, how do we solve this issue?

Vertical vertigo

We all got here incrementally. Marketing departments originally organized themselves around traditional channels like TV and print. If you can think back that far, you’ll remember that the limited number of channels in the pre-Internet world made it a non-issue for different parts of the marketing org to talk with each other. However, when the Internet showed up and consumer behavior changed dramatically, the number of channels exploded.

Whenever there was a new way of reaching consumers, CMOs scrambled to hire people with expertise in that specific vertical. Soon, they were overseeing specialists in email, other specialists in social networking, some that focused on website and SEO, still more specialists in mobile—the list got longer all the time. But at the end of these multiple chains of command, it was just a single consumer being hit with disconnected messages. The problem is that the consumer is “channel-less”.

That last point was consistently overlooked. After years bulking up to stay current with the latest innovations, CMOs wound up with specialized teams working within specific domains, largely disconnected from other parts of the business. The results speak for themselves: fragmented teams stuck inside narrow specialties, struggling with low job satisfaction, and consumers unhappy about receiving disjointed and disconnected communications.

Imagining a new org structure

While we got here incrementally, we may need to get out more dramatically.  I met recently with the CMO of one company who tore down all the silos in her entire organization, replacing them with people who could think about messaging across multiple channels from television to digital to social to email and beyond. Instead of having a TV marketer for Product X, she instead had a Product X marketer who had to think across all channels, including TV, digital, and so on. This is the “hub and spoke” model, which features centers of excellence or service bureaus that all of the company’s marketers can turn to when they need help. In the process, the team was able to take out two entire layers of inefficiency.

That’s the smart approach. Specialty silos proliferated because there were specific skill sets that the organization needed, but we can do better than that with the hub and spoke approach. For instance, instead of creating content in silos that don’t talk to each other, the shared service model eliminates any chance that similar content might get duplicated since there’s a central point of editorial control monitoring what goes out.

If you build out the organization horizontally, you also foster marketing teams that are thinking about their particular products and solutions across channels and you reduce the risk of `silo-ization.’

S.O.S. for the new DaVinci’s

Ripping up the old org is just the start. You also need to find marketers with the skills who can flourish in this new world. I call them the DaVinci’s because they will need to possess renaissance-esque talents—to be generalists—that let them span multiple channels and multiple modalities.

Now that’s easier said than done.

Up-and-comers with the right skills have amazing options in this new labor market. But they are in short supply. Many CMOs and digital marketers tell me that it’s harder than ever to fill jobs in their organizations because supply and demand is so out of whack. That mismatch is a travesty because there’s such great need and yet we can’t find enough people with the right skills. At Marketo, we’re working with universities to create a curriculum to teach these new skills to more college kids. But, that’s largely a topic for another post.  More joint ventures like this across the industry will help but it’s going to take time.  In the meantime, CMOs need to look not just to the market, but internally for their DaVinci’s who have just not had the opportunity to flex their broad muscles because they were locked into a siloed structure—and, invest in them.  They are there, trust me.

Change or be changed

This change is inevitable. A study that we did with the Economist revealed the fact that 80% of marketing leaders think they will need to restructure their organization to meet future business needs. My fellow CMOs who realize the need for organizational change have an opportunity to shake things up, but they must light the fire soon. Once you decide that your company must move faster, it’s up to you to act.

Now, while I highlighted an example of a radical change approach above, this may not be a switch that you can flip. More likely for you, it will involve a deliberate crawl, walk, and run strategy. The crawl and walk elements will require you to figure out where the silos are and the specific problems they’re causing. Then, identify the solution(s), tackle the problem head-on, and start running.

In a lot of industries, CMO’s have realized that while it may be painful to drive that evolution internally, it’s even more painful to have your entire business and company disrupted by another company. So find a way, and begin to invent your new org of the future.

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