Helen has a PhD in marketing, an MBA from London Business School and is a partner at Passionbrand. She is a former PPA business columnist of the year
That demolition job in Liverpool a couple of weeks back made for compulsive viewing. Area cordoned, explosives charged, that poignant moment you always get before the towers collapse, and then… nothing. They stood. One defied three more attempts to bring it down.
Modern marketers will know the feeling. Faced with the edifices of the communications industry that have stood, like tower blocks, as a reminder of how stupid we all were in the last century, they have detonated their explosives – threats, pitches, budget reallocations – only to see the structures hold firm.
Not much longer, though.
The ramparts that separated marketer from creative team, media agency from digital developer and production company from just about everyone have started to crumble – as much from the corrosion of confidence on the inside as the efforts of marketers to ram home the benefits of open working.
Whitbread, owner of Costa and Premier Inn, recently announced an increase in pre-tax profits of 12%. Chief executive Alison Brittain was careful to credit frontline staff as the people who really deliver its brands and create value for the business. She’s right, but that won’t have been achieved without the close collaboration of marketing, HR and the customer experience team.
In a recent Forbes article, Jeff Jones, executive vice-president and chief marketing officer at Target, claimed: "The more I start with the guests, the less the way we’re organised
The ever-evolving Nike+ is the result of not just breaking down the internal barriers at Nike but close collaboration with the marketers and technologists at Apple. Now available for Android phones as well, the original 2006 launch consisted of an iPod, a wireless chip, Nike shoes that accepted the chip, an iTunes membership and a Nike+ online community. That’s a lot of collaboration…
So modern marketers can finally do what their predecessors could not – bring disciplines together to evolve seamless collaboration, inspiring sweetly unified communications across all channels.
This feels good but, like any triumphalist glow, doesn’t last. It only takes a helicopter view of the commercial terrain to see what a small achievement opening up the communications domain is. It is still a tiny ghetto in a dauntingly vaster landscape. Beyond the ghetto, the barricades and silos of corporate life still hold ominously strong.
That gives you a choice. You can satisfy yourself with being a world-class marketing communicator, one of the pioneers to claim at least to have been there when the walls came down. This is a respectable enough achievement. Or you can set your sights much higher: to be a world-class marketer in its widest possible sense – in which case, you will need to reach for the dynamite again.
The falling walls
First wall to detonate is the one that partitions marketing from operations. To them, you are the guys who negotiate with celebs and fiddle about with logos, while they get on with the serious business of running things.
The dialogue is never easy – but it is one you must master if you have the audacity to use marketing principles to challenge the very business model.
Next, you tackle HR, only to be surprised to hear them blasting at the wall from their side too. They’ve been working on their "customer service principles" and want these to influence marketing direction every bit as much as you are seeking to come at it the other way round. This is where marketers learn that collaboration is a two-way deal.
R&D is often so far removed from marketing that you might need a tunnel. The effort is worth it – the difference between being expected to make commercial sense of what they have come up with versus giving them the consumer insights, the marketing strategy and a focused brief to guide their strange genius.
There is a final wall and, perversely, it is one that modern marketers have hastily erected themselves: the divide that keeps the present oh-so-separate from the past.
If there is a weakness in the modern marketer’s psyche, it is that their zeal for the new leads them to debunk everything that came before – best evidenced by PepsiCo’s Brad Jakeman telling a packed audience at last year’s ANA Masters of Marketing Conference that the term "best practice" should be banned.
If you’re not ready yet to blast the wall down, at least kick out a couple of bricks and look afresh at what – and who – is back there:
The classical disciplines of segmentation and consumption theory, which still hold, and always will, as long as there is such a thing as human nature. The tools of conjoint analysis and hierarchy of effects funnels, which are still vital in the digital age despite recent Twitter traffic declaring them redundant. And the greats – Drucker, Doyle, Levitt – who still have so much to teach us, despite having lived and died in what we now perceive to be a Palaeolithic age.
When even that wall falls, modern marketers can put aside the explosives and light up the sky with the innovative, intuitive, socially generous, superbly targeted brilliance of their brands.