Better marketing

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Better get better.

Congratulations on taking some time to step back and have a think about things – about your industry, your role, your career and your company.

We need to make marketing better. We need to make better marketing. These are things we might have been able to have as the theme for
a marketing conference at any time in the last 50 years. Who doesn’t want better?

But it’s more than that right now, isn’t it? Better is a survival strategy for businesses whose success relies on the power of their brand to grab customers’ attention.

Which brands survive and which die will depend on which are able to become better.

At Brilliant Noise we consider this knowing full well that we’re standing on a burning platform. What’s burning? Your ability to reach customers effectively. Why is the platform burning? Because too many brands and their agencies are failing to reinvent marketing.

Organisations are trying to reach customers, or claim to have customer- obsession programmes. Yet the majority of senior marketers don’t have clear customer personas, don’t understand their customers’ journeys and don’t have the in-house capability to plan their marketing around customer behaviour.

We need to build a new platform, but instead brands are dousing the timbers with water as quickly as they can, fire-proofing the executive quarters, and screening off the areas that have already collapsed into the sea. We need to build a better platform and cross over to it before it’s too late.

Let’s get real and ask; are we patching up the old model, or working on building a new one? Are we making do, or making marketing better?

Better Marketing is so close to our own focus at Brilliant Noise. Our belief in making marketing better is so strong we’ve spelled it out in a two-metre square illuminated sign in our reception. It’s the first thing we see when we come in; and an ever-present reminder of our mission.

This monograph lays out the urgent case for making marketing better. It shares insights we’ve gained over the last decade from working with brands looking to reinvent what they do well. It talks about who will win and lose in this period of change, and offers some first steps to starting or reinvigorating the process of transformation in your organisation.

Verbs beat nouns: Building better marketing.

There is a personal training studio that markets itself as providing a
12 WEEK TRANSFORMATION. Posters adorn nearby billboards of before-and-after customers who have gone from normal looking to terrifyingly buff, or a bit overweight to noticeably less overweight.
I’ve been going there more than 12 months and while I am much fitter, and pleased with the service, I have not undergone a dramatic physical change. Few do, apparently. The joke in the changing room among long- term patrons is “well they never said which 12 weeks it would happen in”.

One of the problems with the term marketing transformation – or indeed transformation – is the implied sense of a destination. There is a from- and-to promise in there – admittedly less brazen than the borderline misleading photos at the fitness studio – and it is a lie.

It would be better to talk in terms of marketing transforming; as in, “we are now a successfully transforming” organisation. But that phrase is ugly and requires too much secondary explanation. Luckily there is
a more useful description of what we need to build a better model of marketing – the flywheel.

Where’s your flywheel?

The flywheel metaphor was created by Jim Collins in his business classic Good to Great2. It was famously adopted by Amazon. This model is about sequential phases of work which logically support the next. The more you do them, the better you get and the more momentum the flywheel develops.

In his award-winning book about Amazon, The Everything Store, Brad Stone described the Amazon flywheel:

Drawing on Collins’s concept of a flywheel, or self-reinforcing loop, Bezos and his lieutenants sketched their own virtuous cycle, which they believed powered their business. It went something like this: Lower prices led to more customer visits. More customers increased the volume of sales and attracted more commission-paying third-party sellers to the site. That allowed

Amazon to get more out of fixed costs like the fulfillment centers and the servers needed to run the website. This greater efficiency then enabled it to lower prices further. Feed any part of this flywheel, they reasoned, and it should accelerate the loop.

Jeff Bezos and his team saw the flywheel as their secret sauce, an incredibly powerful framework for developing the business. It wasn’t a destination or a desired state. It was transforming, not a transformation.

“Make Marketing Better, Make Better Marketing” isn’t only the strapline for Brilliant Noise. It is our mission, and, by developing a hybrid consultancy and agency services offering, our business model. We teach and create better marketing. We refer to it as the flywheel, but not just our flywheel. We want want to bring it to life for all of our clients as well as ourselves.

Making marketing better is about developing the capabilities and operational effectiveness of marketing organisations. Whether that’s developing better use of data throughout a planning process, creating an in-house content production function, or developing a customer- focused mindset for its leaders. The best way to learn and to improve these processes and capabilities is to exercise them. Making better marketing is about creating data-led, customer-first marketing programmes. By working alongside client teams, or supporting and evaluating existing teams, we learn what works better and what doesn’t.

What could better marketing look like?

Better will mean something different to every brand.
There are common threads and basic principles that apply to everyone – first among them, the integration of data and creative. While many agencies and in-house teams have tried to bring in data, it has been more of a bolt-on, rather than an integration. Creatives have baulked at being dictated to by data. Generalist marketers have too often been

insufficiently data-literate to see where it should fit in the process.

In-house your capability not your agencies

In-housing is a trendy answer to the need for data-led creative, but it’s a temporary fix.

Recently, Unilever claimed it had saved €500 million by bringing content production in-house and Vodafone say in-house media buying is overwhelmingly good’.

One Forrester analyst told us recently that some brands were benefiting from “de-coupling” the creative or content production process. Large production specialists or central clearing houses are able to produce bulk content and localise it far more effectively than agency networks.

Others have fired their creative agencies altogether and found themselves with large war-chests of budget to invest in test-and-learn, data-led development of new processes.

But; as discussed in a recent panel session at the Content Marketing Association, bringing an external agency “in-house” is only necessary because brand teams and traditional agencies don’t have the relevant skills for data-led, customer-focused marketing.

A recent study by McKinsey of global CMOs shows the evidence for true integration of data with creative:

…marketers who are what we call “integrators”—those who have united data and creativity—grow their revenues at twice the average rate of S&P 500 companies: at least 10 percent annually versus -3 percent.

CMOs say the skills gaps is a major challenge in their teams. But far too little is being done to actually build marketing capability. Marketers should be able to understand their customers but only 33.6% rate their organisation’s data skills above average.

Yet few brands are really building a data-led creative agency in-house. The predominant version is an external agency working in-house within a brand. It’s fashionable and faster but doesn’t nourish a team to be fit for the future.

An organisation can’t claim to be customer-obsessed if it doesn’t understand its customers or how to market to current and new ones.
But there’s a long way to go to transform the data-led creative marketing capabilities of in-house employee teams. The healthy solution is to address the capability skills-gap and focus on the reinvention of mindset and ways of working within teams. At Brilliant Noise, we believe that capability is the sum of people and processes – both need to be reinvented.

Networked not siloed

Although content is not a new trend in marketing it’s useful in breaking away from old models of working. Content sits outside of the media- creative agency mode of working, relying more on editorial techniques and earned attention than paid-media-first ways of working. It is often an area where brands create new silo-busting, innovative operating models.

As Brilliant Noise SEO expert, Phoebe Yates, told a seminar recently:

“One of our agency roles is connecting content people across the business. Often when we get people together to collaborate on a common issue like search or data, it is the first time all these content professionals have sat in the same room.”

Content and creative marketing talent in organisations often serve the same customer. If they barely know each other and have never worked together, it doesn’t take an expert marketing consultant to predict there will be a great deal of inefficiency, and as a result, customers are not likely to be served well.

More speed, less waste

What differentiates marketing organisations that are displacing older ways of working? Speed. Removing silos speeds up the cycle of getting great creative produced, distributed and the results analysed to elicit insights.

We saw this effect in our work with American Express. Creating new, global ways of working on content meant cross-functional teams had to form to collaborate on research, strategy, editorial calendars and measurement. Once they did, the speed of content production and executing campaigns increased dramatically – costs fell as delays and bureaucracy disappeared and customer engagement skyrocketed.

How great brands die.

1. Hubris Born of Success
2. Pursuit of More
3. Denial of Risk and Peril
4. Grasping for Salvation
5. Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death

There are warnings from the work of Jim Collins we would do well to bear in mind. Some of the “great” companies in Good to Great have diminished or disappeared in the years since the book was published. In his recent monograph, he explains:

– Take special note of Stage 4, Grasping for Salvation.

What “grasping for salvation” in marketing looks like is putting big bets on things that used to work, or the latest fad. Better to switch into a flywheel mode and discover better ways of working and redesigning the shapes of teams to reach customers more effectively.


When there is a 50:50 chance of transformation efforts failing, how do you give your marketing capability programme the best chance of success? A good start is to be aware of where others have failed. The following are things we have seen slow or end efforts to change marketing at major brands:

1. CX window-dressing.

It’s easy for leaders to proclaim grand ambitions to “put the customer at the heart of their business” without following through on the hard work of redesigning their ways of working. When teams realise the vision is hollow they lose motivation.

2. Quarterly jitters.

Real capability change can be a two year project. But if sales look shaky and the pressure is on, it takes real will power from leaders not to pull back resources from capability development and plough it into the diminishing but historically certain returns of old-school marketing tactics.

3. Organisational immune response.

Organisations reject change. Without the right conditions to change behaviours, laudable goals and visions will flounder on cynicism and self-interest.

4. Tech solutionism.

Where technically-minded stakeholders have the upper-hand in developing digital capability hopes, budgets and resources are ploughed into tech platforms. It usually takes a year or two to realise no one is using the shiny new system. Our friends at the leading marketing technology vendors say 90% of their functionality is wasted because marketers don’t change their ways of working to make the most of it.

5. L&D ghettoised.

Because capability is mis-read as skills and therefore training, it’s delegated to learning and development teams who, lack the budgets and power to get process re-design and culture change underway, no matter how ambitious and well devised their solutions may be.

Nine things we’ve learned about making marketing better.

Every organisation’s capability needs are unique. However, we’ve learned nine lessons that seem to apply to almost every global brand we’ve worked with.

1. Actually obsess about the customer.

Create clear, visual customer personas and customer journey maps. Get them on the walls to get the customer into the heart of every brief and planning conversation.

2. Find the bright spots.

Identify and celebrate the success that’s already there. Capability building can be about scaling and making habits out of things that already work.

3. Secure commitment from leaders.

Capability building is implicitly a transformation programme – it will succeed if leadership makes it a priority and keep it a priority. Encourage leaders to be role models for change in order to continually drive momentum.

4. Create the big story for the brand.

Put the brand’s core beliefs centre stage in a way everyone understands and can tell and re-tell. It has to be true and it has to be inspirational, because people need to commit to it with confidence and pride.

“I think that is perhaps the No. 1 thing that leaders have to do: to bolster the confidence of the people you’re leading.”

— Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

5. Make and measure the hard business case.

There are numbers people and stories people. Numbers people
are the ones who kill projects that don’t make sense in terms of numbers. Set out with the intention to create unignorable wins – big, unambiguous numbers that say “this new way works”. Best to get these wins in early to protect progress and reinforce the decision of its leadership sponsors to back it.

6. Create instances of change.

The first challenge is to create momentum and belief in the capability approach. This can be through pilots, or small projects that show the power of new ways of working and thinking. Pilot with pride – picking small but visible fights you can win and inspire others with.

7. Develop your people’s customer-focused mindset.

The most important thing people can develop is an attitude and approach to problem-solving that works in the digital age. Carol Dweck of London Business School developed the concept of

“growth mindset”, showing that people who believed they could learn and change were more successful than those with a “fixed mindset”. Beyond developing the capacity to learn, there are approaches to work and key concepts that will help us make things better.

8. Build change communities.

Many transformation and capability building programmes focus on a big learning event or a solitary exercise, clicking through an online learning platform. Connecting people for the longer term can provide support as they disperse back to the departments and territories. These networks also help erode silos and encourage the use of cross-functional teams.

9. Keep telling stories of change.

Bright spots aren’t just a tactic for the beginning of capability programmes. Build the habit of finding and telling inspiring stories of change. There’s not a metric for it, but instinct tells
us that stories are better than intranets for sharing knowledge. Stories have been around as long as humans have – the urge to tell and hear a good story is about as hard-wired a human need as eating and sleeping.

And there we have it.
If we were to give the Too Long, Didn’t Read of this:

1. Consumers are turning away from brands’ attempts to reach them.
2. These changes will be brutal on brands that adapt slowly.
3. To survive, your brand will need to create a flywheel of better campaigns and capability building.

We’d love to debate these ideas with you. A slide version and ebook copies of this monograph are available for you to share with colleagues. Just fill out your email below to download these for free. If you would like to discuss further then contact us.

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