Five Ways To Avoid Marketing Transformation Failure

07 Jun 2021

Research by McKinsey has determined that approximately 70% of marketing transformations fail. While this isn’t great news if you’re considering or engaged in such a transformation, it’s never too late to learn where others have gone wrong, and what you need to do to ensure you avoid being part of the 70%. 

In our experience, one of the fundamental things that can go wrong is the failure for transformations to recognise the culture required that allows individual departments to thrive. A finance department is very different to a marketing department and they must not be treated as the same homogenous entity, where only the bottom line and productivity are metrics for success. Marketing operations are a complex ecosystem made up of people, processes, partners and platforms. 

Whether it’s a marketing transformation, designing a new eco-system or managing the performance of your marketing function, we believe that businesses need to protect the creative capital of their marketing operations so that they can build a culture where creative mind sets and lateral and innovative thinking thrives. Marketing is a creative endeavour and you need to create the environment and stimulus for creativity to flourish. This must not be overlooked. 

No matter what the change or transformation, our approach is about ensuring we protect the creative capital in the marketing eco-system to ensure that the change gives you the successful outcome you need. Creative capital should not been seen in isolation of the core principles of transformation but, combining it together with understanding some of the major hurdles ahead, you could put yourself in a position to help mitigate the risks posed by transformations, giving you the best chance for success.  

A clear vision, business case and plan

As with any complex or multi-faceted marketing effort, one of the core factors that will dictate success or failure is the clarity and cohesiveness of your vision and plan. There needs to be a strong and well-defined business case behind any change to marketing operations, and this needs to be explained and communicated to any and all team members involved in the process.

It’s particularly pertinent to ensure board alignment across all functions from the earliest stages of ideation and planning. A successful marketing transformation is likely to cut across many, if not all, areas of the business; strong comprehension and buy-in at the C-level will be vital in ensuring that each facet of the organisation is able to work in tandem towards a clear common goal.

Ongoing demonstration of tangible value

It’s not only vital to communicate goals and ensure wide-reaching buy-in early in the process; a successful transformation needs to consistently demonstrate tangible value to both customers and the business.

Transformations are more likely to succeed if they hone in on the most easily-achievable and measurable metrics for success from the start.  A ‘Minimum Viable Product’ approach is often highly effective; finding versions of products, processes or platforms with enough features for early-adopters to make effective use of them easily and provide measurable insight and feedback, which can then be used to make larger changes. 

With this approach, it’s easier to measure and demonstrate the tangible impact and effectiveness of change. This insight can then be used to expand the scope of the transformation, embracing more complex and creative opportunities with the broader business goals in mind.  

Stimulate commitment through communication

Unfortunately, the immortal words of Kevin Costner in Field Of Dreams don’t apply to marketing transformation. If you simply ‘build it’, there’s no guarantee that ‘they will come’; commitment to change is something that needs to be stimulated and nurtured across all levels and departments of the business. This means having a test and learn, test and fail, test and succeed mentally and permission weaved in.  Having an effective internal communications strategy is key to taking people on the journey.

This needs to be tailored to the practical realities of the organisation, taking into account team size, location and roles. It’s also worth noting that effective communication doesn’t need to be complex or oversaturated with repetitive or overly-frequent meetings and memos. Instead, it’s a case of working out what needs to be communicated, when, to whom and by whom for things to work effectively. 

Equipping people for change: Processes and Platforms

The practical realities of a marketing transformation mean that, to at least some extent, the processes and platforms involved in the marketing operations are going to change, but it’s how people are equipped for those changes that can make or break a project. Many transformations fail because they are well-designed but poorly implemented.

This usually comes down to ensuring adequate levels of structured training; it’s one thing to purchase a Ferrari, but you need to make sure that the driver knows what they’re doing. 

Build new capabilities to enable change: People and Partners

A successful marketing transformation will converge many elements of the operational mix and, most importantly, the ‘left and right’ brains of marketing: Creativity and originality (in terms of output as well as on a cultural level) and analysis, and effective use of data and technology. 

The reality is that, from the CMO downwards, an effective transformation will need to ensure a precisely-balanced mixture of people and partners to achieve harmony between the different requirements of the change. This will inevitably mean hiring new teams, individuals and agencies; the choices made here will be vital, and engaging in effective pitches and hiring processes will be the key to successfully embedding these new capabilities. 

In summary

It would be reductive to suggest that all of the potential pitfalls of a marketing transformation can be avoided by simply accounting for the steps above, but collectively they point to a core theme: any significant transformation to a business’s marketing operations will involve changes to the people, partners, processes, and platforms involved, and the impact of these changes on the teams involved need to be accounted for. Protecting the creative capital of the organisation will be key in any marketing transformation change. 

At the heart of this lies good communication, comprehensive buy-in from the top levels of the business down, and a cohesive and considered approach to making effective, measurable changes with a clear, defined vision guiding every decision. 

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