Why should the marketing department need a different approach to the use of technology than the finance, HR, or manufacturing departments? It's all down to processes and innovation, according to the recently published 'Guide to the Agile Marketing Department' from Marketing Improvement and Chiasma Research.
In the past three decades there have been enormous investments in the information technology, manufacturing, design and production systems that support the tasks and processes required by most corporate departments, but very few (other than CRM) directly affected the marketing function.
Perhaps the main reason for the absence of these kind of investments in the marketing department is that each other department has a systematic and consistent business process underlying its activities, while the marketing department needs to be more flexible.
At the same time, the business outcomes from the other departments can easily be measured, monitored, and captured within a system, and that data can lead directly to changes in the department's behaviour and processes. But in the case of marketing, this is rarely the case. A marketing department thrives on continuous, persistent innovation. It also tends to be populated by people who are looking for creative ways to communicate rather than to improve the efficiency of communication by a target percentage per annum.
Right tools for the job
Each department has an IT-based system or application suite, too. In manufacturing it's called ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), while in retail it's Quick Response, and in the supply chain it's SCM (Supply Chain Management).
Of course, that does not mean that there are not tools for marketing. Analytic suites, campaign managers, specialised databases, creative packages for collateral creation and, of course, the inevitable CRM suite. However, the majority of these tools are "point solutions" for a specific marketing need, such as analysing customer data, tracking campaign expenditure, or monitoring the results from a web site. Only with the advent of the CRM suite did marketing departments attempt to create the kind of process-oriented management that other departments have seen.
Difference in approach
In most cases, the result of implementing these systems for the marketing department was not exactly a success. Unwittingly, the techniques of process management, data integration and task automation - so successful in other business functions - failed painfully when exposed to the realities of the marketing environment. While a production department relies on consistency, stability, and incremental improvement against a relatively stable set of criteria, a marketing department demands both innovation and agility in the face of changing markets, channels of communication, and competitive actions.
To orchestrate technology to serve a marketing department is a very different challenge to the automation of a finance or production process. Selecting the right application can enable a marketing department to exploit the benefits of the technology while not being constrained and hampered by the strictures of overly prescriptive processes. So, to put technology to work requires three basic elements:
- Placing the applications within a well thought-through architecture;
- Selecting providers that integrate easily;
- Ensuring that the vendors provide the outcome that is required, rather than simply installing a set of functions.
Choosing marketing technologies
With well over 3,000 providers of applications, services and consultancy in the UK alone it is not a simple task to select, acquire and deploy a coherent portfolio of marketing technologies. There is not one answer to the question, "What should we buy into?", because every enterprise's circumstances are different. The location and culture of a supplier may well be more important than any particular capability or clever piece of technology.
In particular, it is important to avoid the assumption that the biggest supplier is the best. The market tends to focus on size as a measure of success. While this can be important in terms of commercial viability, it is not always a perfect guide to the service that will be received - and an objective assessment of current needs will often deliver a better result than an aspirational purchase of the most sophisticated solution available.
The 'Marketing Improvement Guide to the Agile Marketing Department' was compiled to guide companies in the unbiased selection of marketing technology solutions and vendors, and is available on request from Marketing Improvement.