I recently had a conversation with a marketing veteran, who came complete with an elite school MBA in marketing. I asked what he considered to be the purpose of a current marketing campaign. His response was “brand awareness.”
I asked, “To what effect?” The answer was “to become a visible thought leader.” I continued to prod, asking why that mattered. The response to that question?
“I don’t know.”
Problematic Marketing Departments
This conversation illustrates the main problem with most marketing departments. In many organisations, marketing team members are the “smart” MBA types who are good at analysis via PowerPoints and Excels. The marketing team often does not understand that their goal is to drive sales via the route of brand-building and lead generation. They can’t connect the dots between data and increased sales.
At Context Media, we’ve done away with our marketing department. It now falls under our sales manager, who has direct insights in to the messages and the tactics that are producing results, and who knows how to continually tweak them to improve our marketing campaigns. Our sales department manages all our marketing functions, from trade shows to direct mail campaigns to relationship management programs.
Why Startups Benefit
This tactic is vital for startup success. In a startup, it’s important for every single employee to take ownership of marketing. Everyone must be able to define the message and communicate it clearly — whether this is the product development team, the sales team, or the customer service team. By having a separate marketing team, you create a role that doesn’t fit into the lean operations model. Marketing, as a function, is an understanding of the audience, a definition of a clear product value, and the communication of this in the most efficient ways — a function that should be owned by each employee of the company.
Founder-led companies with clear missions and defined, coherent product values have already covered a lot of textbook “marketing strategy.” A team that understands the purpose and value of its product to its customers should be empowered to continually study the market and be responsive to messaging and communication channels that have proven effective. Startups should also allow product and sales teams to communicate consistently and work collaboratively to build a feedback loop of understanding, while also iterating and improving.
How It’s Done
But I’m not saying it’s easy.
We had a shock phase in our company when we decided to wipe out the standalone marketing team. It required tangible skills and an intangible psychological training phase. The sales team had to understand the true meaning of marketing — and the fact that they had control over marketing decisions. Eventually, we identified the skills of each team member and determined who could own certain marketing responsibilities.
There was an important educational process in which we defined what marketing meant to us and how we expected each person to contribute to this. Simultaneously, we broke down the specifics of marketing in tangible goals, campaigns, and metrics for our sales manager to lead. It’s still an experiment, but we are happy with the early read on the disruptive change we made to our organizational structure. Empowering the sales team to experiment with messaging — and channels to deliver the messaging — has not only improved their pitch, but also helped execute high-ROI campaigns.
We had to backtrack, but if other companies start this way, they will be more efficient in producing actual sales, while also motivating every employee to truly love the product. Most marketing is grassroots, anyway. Why wouldn’t you have the people most excited about the company — your current employees — dream up your next marketing campaign?
Shradha Agarwal is the Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder of ContextMedia, a leading media technology company that educates and informs consumers as they make critical decisions about their health. Shradha was named to Crain’s Chicago Business 40 Under 40 list, and she was the Stevies’ 2012 Female Entrepreneur of the Year. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Google + and Twitter.
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