Why marketing strategy doesn’t get implemented

  • by helga
  • 20/10/2013
Ring for slave
Bell at petrol station in the
Scottish Highlands
(photo by Jan Winkler)

A few days ago I went to see a presentation on implementing marketing strategy by Professor Brian D Smith PhD BSc (Hons) DipM FCIM Chartered Marketer. The title was ‘Turf wars, selfishness and the myth of managerial control’, thus dubbed from them on as the whingeing event.

Fortunately, the sensationalist title was more of a marketing device and there wasn’t much whingeing. It was a summary of an ongoing exploratory research with US and European firms, seeking to understand why companies fail to implement marketing strategy. The research unveiled evidence on how common management ‘best practice’ seems to reinforce the problem.

Armed with the results from the surveys and scientific literature on social psychology, intra-organisational conflict and cross-functional marketing, Mr Smith told us of a complex picture emerging where the goal-setting process at executive level doesn’t materialise into actions at an individual level.

According to Mr Smith, this is because the discretionary activity doesn’t get done. Individuals can still achieve their goals without implementing the strategy if they focus only on what gets measured.

As most marketers know, it can be really hard to measure what matters, so we go by proxy.  We follow what the technology is able to give us. We measure what can be quantified and tracked, what can be presented in a graph. Number of calls. Income. P&L. Brand equity, at a stretch. It’s much, much harder to put all these together and present an inter-connected picture, filling the gaps between customer contact points. It’s much harder to take a holistic view of the market and adjust the steering wheel to where we should be heading, especially if it’s going to be a long-term journey with less carrots at arm’s length.

Not able to build a deterministic machine where all our actions contribute towards success or at least to learning points, individuals are then left to implement whatever is adequate to their own short, medium and long-term goals.Belief in a reward and/or desire for it, belief in our own ability to fulfil the task, whilst interacting within a level of perceived intra-organisational conflict, are the main factors leading us to a certain level of affective commitment to our work. This affective commitment is actually what motivates us to do all the discretionary work required to implement marketing strategy. Now, how many people can boast of being really ‘affectively’ committed to their jobs?

In terms of conclusions around the new management ‘best practice’:

  • There is no evidence that a more collaborative approach using cross-functional teams gains more buy-in at an organisational level; on the contrary, it only seems to diffuse ownership over projects, with no real gain for marketing implementation effectiveness.
  • Creating a strong team spirit seems to be at odds with promoting organisational commitment; it creates an ‘us against them’ type of motivation, which is not always in the best interest of the organisation overall.
  • Setting up ‘internal customers’ creates status imbalances rather than effectiveness, promoting normative behaviours over affective commitment.
  • Typically matrix structures contribute to dispute over resources, role ambiguity, and ultimately to intra-organisational conflict.

So these types of management best practice contribute to what is known as ‘continuance commitment’ over affective commitment.  ‘Continuance’ is that feeling of having in a job just enough to make us stay – pays the bills, good salary, flexibility, the pension scheme, other perks. But no real passion or commitment to seeing the organisation’s mission succeed.

Now, let’s take all of this with a bit of salt.

Jobs, marketing, organisations, should primarily serve our interests – the customers’, the staff’s, society in general -, not the other way around.  To address the problem of marketing implementation (or lack of it), Mr Smith had to isolate it from other factors, but that doesn’t mean they’re less important.

I must also disclose that I gained a pet hate, when at some point it was suggested that this new organisational ‘best practice’ and its pitfalls had something to do with having more women in the workforce and in managerial positions. Because, as everyone knows, ’women prefer consensus’. Excuse me? Mr Smith forgot to present the evidence for that particular claim, but in either case I don’t see how we can plug it into solving this particular problem.

I would look at it from inside-out: why are individuals not motivated to do the discretionary work and how does the organisation and the marketing strategy need to change in order for that to happen? Perhaps we would get more meaningful insights than starting with a top-down approach as the default.

Slavery is obviously out of the equation, but no matter what we all still want to build those beautiful pyramids and tall temples. Even if they’re made out of crisps and electronic devices.


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