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Is marketing trying to annex the organization?!

In the past few weeks the world has been bombarded with striking images of Russian troops marching into land owned by the Ukraine.  Although these maneuvers were accompanied by a “vote” and Russia proclaimed the people of Crimea wanted them there, most of the world viewed this activity for what it was, an invasion and a grab for land.  Observing this type of predatory behavior reminded me of the power grabs I have seen in organizations.  Clearly, in business settings the stakes are much lower, but territoriality continues to play a role.

In a 2011 article in the McKinsey Quarterly, the authors titled their piece “We Are All Marketers Now”.  The article made some excellent points about how the social and digital revolution had changed business and how the role of marketing had expanded. They talked about the power of engagement, the need to do more outside of the traditional marketing function. They said clients do not separate marketing messages from  experiences.  They proclaimed that “in the era of engagement,  marketing is the company”.

I thought the essence of the article was correct, it was simply the language and headline that spooked me.  Clearly, the McKinsey consultants who wrote it had a bias toward marketing.  At least one of them is now a CMO.   Thus, despite the excellent points made on the need for councils and partnerships, I could not help thinking that it sounded a bit like annexation by Marketing.

Would a CHRO have had the same perspective or used the same language?  Unfortunately, I do not think that in the intervening years the rhetoric has changed much.  While honing their craft externally with clients, I believe a lot of marketers continue to send the wrong messages internally.  Furthermore, some exhibit behaviors more appropriate to conquerors than colleagues.

Thus, despite recognition that social media marketing demands transparency, teaming, and an end-to-end strategy,  too many marketers simply do not play well in the sandbox. On an intellectual level they seem to recognize that they must work with their cross-functional peers to succeed, but in reality there is more jostling for control than is good for the organization.  So while collaboration gets lip service and small projects are worked on together, the ideal state of cross-functional integration remains a pipe dream.  And, whether it is truly their objective, or simply perceived as such, many in other functions view marketers as trying to take over everything.

So, what can be done to fix or prevent this problem in the first place?  Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Marketers should take a cross functional approach from the very beginning.  Invite members of other functions to participate in brainstorming discussions as well as review and provide feedback on new ideas.
  2. Partner with other functions (e.g. HR) when creating initiatives on social media so that these platforms provide a mutual benefit  (i.e. LinkedIn and Facebook can be used for purposes of both employment and product branding.)
  3. Do not create new large scale social media programs without informing or working with key internal stakeholders.  Remember employees will see these and react to them.
  4. Understand that encouraging internally facing employees to communicate externally, or create publishable content, changes their roles and responsibilities.   Include HR and relevant line management in these discussions and decisions.
  5.  Collaboratively develop and implement social media guidelines and social media training where appropriate.
  6. Work with senior management to encourage teaming through the creation of physical work areas or online spaces that enable interactions of employees from different areas. If feasible, have informal cross functional events to celebrate joint success.

For some marketers the need to quickly engage in social media marketing and fend off competitors is so strong that they reject the notion of dealing with any internal negotiations that may slow them down.  But in the end, the long term benefits of working cross functionally will not only create better programs,  these actions will enable an organizational culture of openness and engagement and facilitate social business.

If speed were the only relevant issue,  marching in and taking  over might be a good  strategy.  This approach, however, seldom leads to long term success. Diplomacy and its organizational counterpart, collaboration, take time and effort.  But, as history has taught us, avoiding war is usually a good thing.

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