Fair Exchange: Marketing glitz & glam vs accounting & accountability
by Erna George (@) The action of doing things on one’s own to prove one’s worth is a treacherous path, as a process is often enhanced with the right contributors who offer different skills and roles. Woe betide the marketer who believes they must lead first and foremost without capability or the weight of the right metrics and accountability.
I have a little (no, actually, a big) frustration with the marketers who, without the benefit of experience or taking accountability, want to go it alone — be in charge or (the well-used term) empowered to make decisions. The number of times I’ve heard in an interview that “I’ve not really ‘owned’ a project from start to finish, so couldn’t show my ability.” Why not, may I ask?
Always someone more senior
The reality is that there’ almost always someone more senior than you in the system that you either need permission from, need to consult with or keep informed of (a RACI). In addition, I don’t subscribe to the thought that leadership or strong thinking is only possible from one who’s in charge; you can reflect leadership or leading-edge thinking at any time. Just because it’s not always acknowledged doesn’t mean it’s not noticed.
All brand activity fits within a portfolio, as well as within a broader plan. With finite resources, there are investment trade-offs made and, unless you have line of sight and responsibility for the whole, you can’t make decisions in absolute isolation. Unless you’re exposed to the discussion at exco level or justification of spend, and ROI review at year-end, your context may be imperfect.
I understand the frustration and that this seems like red tape. I’ve been (and still can be) frustrated by a roadblock or another justification conversation — and I ‘get’ the other side also. I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to and feel torn by the full context. All I can suggest is seek to understand so, when the lay of the land is known, you learn where your project fits in and how to navigate effectively.
Built over time
Trust and capability are built over time. You prove yourself by demonstrating ability and, with each demonstration, trust is built. I wouldn’t entrust a new grad with R1m without providing direction and hand-holding to teach them, but a seasoned senior brand or marketing manager can consult or keep me informed. That’s just the way it is (and needs to be) to manage the inherent risk involved. What may feel disempowering is actually the process of being empowered. The great thing is that, by your hand being held, you learn the ins and outs, opportunities and pitfalls within a safe environment. At this stage, soak it up; learn, learn and learn so that, when you’re given the opportunity to take more of a lead role, your capability is strong. While many want to roll their eyes when us ‘oldies’ reflect our experience or are an added tier of authority, if I had 10c for the times teams have said to me, “How did you see that?” or “When will I be able to do that…?” I’m by no means a genius but practice of a process does build proficiency and teaches what to look or ask for — be patient or be a fast learner.
The lack of commitment or desire to follow process, get into the detail and know the numbers concerns me. Teams will come to see me with the glitz of a new idea or tactic, their eyes bright and smiles even brighter. Then I ask how does this contribute to the brand objectives from the brand plan, fit the brand or meet the performance requirements with the budget — and I see the brightness fade away. A shiny idea is alluring but it can only make you famous if it works properly. The due diligence required to ensure executional effectiveness can’t be skipped. I appreciate that good ideas can be watered down so you must focus on not letting this happen (again, practice means easier navigation for you so you can focus on protecting the idea). Learn this process or the options for this due diligence; then you will be ahead of the game, pre-empting the questions and sowing the seeds of confidence in your capability and ability to see the whole.
The money you are spending is real, not just figures on an excel sheet. If you treat it as your own, you will be more efficient and effective:
- Have you considered the risks to the brand?
- Is the activation constructed well and efficiently eg the store list is reviewed based on outlets that offer the best value to the category?
- Have you compared this to other opportunities to check optimal investment and ROI?
Specific and measurable
As always, target-market consumer needs must be at the heart, so please don’t only look at reach in numbers; consider the quality of that reach in terms of your audience. Match to what the brand needs to deliver, the objectives to the brand plan. Ensure data-centricity and establish good metrics. Not a fluffy metric, like ‘we want to engage with consumers’. Every brand wants to engage — what does this mean for your brand in real terms? A specific and measurable format. Metrics provides a way for performance and progress to be reviewed, and this delivers a way for the business to evaluate ROI and this delivers accountability for the marketing function.
Are you a little scared by the output or consequences? If you are, you’re potentially on the right track for two reasons:
- big and/or relevant new ideas that can make an impact may create a sense of nervous anticipation (that tingle inside), and
- we have a healthy concern for the investment we are entrusted with.
If you’re not scared, beware of over-confidence or arrogance, as then you won’t be open to the possibilities of even better or seeing potential pitfalls.
Seek and be open to feedback so you may gain a unique perspective to unlock something new. Some of my best innovation enhancements and activation ideas have come from unpretentious and insightful observations from manufacturing or merchandisers.
Consumer and customer wants
If you get too busy with the glossiness or puffery, you won’t see or deeply reflect what the consumers and customers want. Remember the only reason consumers keep using your brand is that you have made an annoying problem go away or left them feeling amazing. RACI can assist with keeping on track and that the right eventualities are covered. Ensure the roles are clear, as this keeps the process robust and smooth.
Unless you have perfect information to own, develop and measure the process and are feeling confident enough to take full accountability:
- Maintain a healthy perspective and respect for the process and rules of RACI — that way you learn the rules and know how to best stretch the right boundaries
- Keep brand plan and objectives at the heart at the start and to evaluate at the end. Metrics to select and measure the approach deliver credibility
- While you get frustrated with the chain of command (RACI), either respond proactively and close gaps or ignore and then be willing to accept the consequences if something goes awry
Think, assess and then act — and none this has to slow the process down. Use the process and decision-makers well and then you can circumvent the process while managing risk and reward. Glitz and accounting sorted!
After starting at Unilever in a classical marketing role, Erna George (@) explored the agency side of life, first as a partner at Fountainhead Design, followed by the manic and inspiring world of consultancy at Added Value. She has returned to client-side, leading the marketing team in the Cereals, Accompaniments & Baking Division at Pioneer Foods. Her monthly “Fair Exchange” column on MarkLives concerns business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland.
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