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How to improve marketing decision-making

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Why read this? : Success in marketing usually comes down to the decisions you make. But not many businesses think about how marketing decision-making works. Read this to learn about different approaches, roles and styles used in decision-making. And learn how to set-up your business to get faster and better marketing decisions. 

Decisions, decisions, decisions

Decision-making runs through everything that happens in marketing. No decisions, no marketing. Or worse, bad decisions and you get bad marketing. 

At every step of the process, you’ve got to make decisions like :-

man in a blue T-shirt looking at the ceiling

In small businesses, maybe one person (the owner) makes all the decisions. But in most businesses, decisions are a team effort. 

That can make marketing decisions tough.

Not everyone thinks the same way about marketing. People have different opinions and different levels of expertise. So plan out how to make better marketing decisions, and you make life much easier for everyone. Plus you make better decisions. That’s what you want, right? 

Marketing decisions inside your business

There’s some irony here. Many marketers think about how their customers make decisions (see for example our article on decision making bias). But very few think about how their business makes decisions. 

They should however because  you need those decisions to get anything done. Great decision-making sits behind every piece of great marketing. 

Committees

In bigger companies, committees often decision-making. Teams of people with different expertise come together. Together, they decide what happens and what doesn’t. 

There’s usually one overall leadership team committee who make the most important decisions. This includes big decisions on marketing like new products, new campaigns, price changes and how much money to spend.

These are not fun meetings.

 In an ideal world, this team makes the best  marketing decisions for the business.

But in reality, these are often highly dysfunctional meetings, full of :-

  • Biased opinions.
  • Different levels of expertise and experience.
  • Broken team dynamics leading to petty squabbling and political point scoring.
  • A focus on holding the status quo and avoiding risk at all costs. 
Woman wearing smart business suit in front of a laptop looking bored

These issues don’t help your business make better decisions. They inhibit creativity. People are wary of putting forward ideas that rock the boat. 

That’s a challenge because this committee often decides on your most important marketing activity. They sign off your marketing plan and decide whether to approve creative. They decide where to focus marketing innovation and where to spend marketing budgets

Those types of decisions make or break what you do in marketing. 

If this committee approach sounds familiar, you’re not alone. We see it hold many businesses back from making better marketing decisions. For us,  there’s three questions you need to ask to make it better :-

  • Who’s on the committee? 
  • How much influence do they have on the marketing decision? 
  • Do you actually need to go through a committee?

Who's on the committee?

Marketing decisions usually impact the whole business. You usually need to experts from other functions to help you assess that impact. 

That means you have non-marketers making decisions on marketing. If you’re the marketer, that means you need to understand these different areas of expertise. And you need to understand how different working styles change how people make decisions.

Non-marketing areas of expertise

Which experts you need depends on the context of the marketing decision.

With creative approvals for example, you need to include legal and regulatory teams to review marketing decisions.

For product changes, you need experts from operations and supply chain.

Small changes in the product design can have a large impact on production and supply systems.

Small metal statue of lady of justice holding scales

You need their expertise to tell you how much it’ll cost. How long it’ll take. Whether it’s even feasible to do. 

For changes to the services you offer, you need experts from HR (for people led services) and IT (for technology led services). Again, they advise on cost, time and feasibility.

And of course, all these marketing decisions have an impact on budget. So, you usually need to involve the finance team too. 

The challenge for marketers

The challenge for marketers is these functional experts aren’t marketing experts. They know their own area, but not marketing.

That means it’s important as a marketer, you can explain marketing to these non-marketers.

Make sure they understand the importance of market research for example. Customer needs should underpin all your marketing decisions.

Functional experts in other areas need to understand what customers need and want.

hand showing a thumbs down

Make sure you highlight why your brand identity matters so much. Non-marketers often don’t appreciate the depth of thinking behind a strong brand that connects with customers. 

Build good relationships with these other functional experts by listening to their point of view, but also educating them on marketing. Learn how they think and what drives them. Build that into your marketing and you’ll make your overall marketing decision-making stronger and more well rounded.

Look at their expertise as an opportunity to learn, not a challenge to overcome.

The opportunity for marketers

Think of these other functional experts as internal customers for marketing

Use the same skills you would for understanding external customers. Ask them questions. Ask them what they need. Find answers that meet those needs. (see examples in our guide to being a better marketer).

Don’t just see the world through a marketing lens. See marketing through the lens of other functions, and you’ll get better, faster solutions you can put in front of customers.

Close up of a hand with thumb up

For example, work with regulatory to stay compliant. That make your brand more trusted

Work with operations and supply chain to identify innovation ideas that you can actually make. Work with them to find cost saving measures that improve profitability. 

Partner with the finance team so they support your forecast and profit and loss for your business case.  

These sorts of partnerships and joint decisions will make your marketing work better.

Decision-making styles

It’s not just what people know that influences decisions, it’s also how they make decisions.

Not everyone makes decisions the same way. Working out someone’s decision-making style is important. If you know how they make decisions, you can tailor your approach to that style. There’s more chance they’ll make the decision you want.

Decision-making style closely links to working style. Our go to source for working style is the Insights profile system, which we’ve covered on marketing, creativity and e-Commerce in previous articles. It’s relatively easy to understand and use. (compared to alternatives like MBTI and LSI).

Insights profile system

In simple terms, two factors drive your Insights style.

The first is where you sit on the range of introversion to extroversion. It’s where you get your energy from. 

Introverts get their energy from within themselves. They like to think and reflect. Time on their own is important. They’re energised by listening to their inner voice.

Extroverts on the other hand get their energy from other people. They enjoy working in teams and discussing issues out loud. Socialising gives them energy.

The second factors covers whether you prefer thinking or feeling

People who prefer thinking like tasks and actions. They prefer logical and analytical working with things rather than people.  

Feeling-led people on the other hand prefer emotions and empathy. They prioritise people over things.

Combine these two factors and you end up with one of four working styles. You’ve a preference for being either analytical, action-oriented, empathetic or energetic

Analytical

Introvert Thinkers are analytical. In decision-making, they want to improve the quality of decisions by looking at facts, details and evidence.

But it can take time to gather all these facts. And often they’ll try to avoid making a decision until they know all the facts. 

For them, no decision is better than a bad decision. 

If you can feed these types wit lots of market research and data, then obviously they help you make better decisions.

Person holding glasses in front of them against a blurry street background

But sometimes, you need to make decisions without all the facts. Analytical types hate this. 

Fast decisions with limited facts bring out the worst in analytical types. They can become negative and uncomfortable without all the facts.

The best way to deal with this is to stay objective. Share what facts you do have. Use proven models (like the Ansoff matrix if it’s an innovation decision) to appeal to their need for logic and process. 

Explain the consequences of not making a decision. Give them as much notice and space as you can. But make sure to set a deadline so they don’t let decisions drift.

Action-oriented

Extrovert Thinkers are action-oriented. With them on the committee, you get fast decisions. They like to get things done, and that means being decisive. You may not like the decision, but you’ll definitely get one. Which is why you need to manage them carefully to get the decision you want.

These types don’t like detail. They’re OK not having all the facts. In fact, they usually ask for one page summaries and action plans anyway. Their focus is on results. The faster the better.

It sounds good in principle, but there are downsides to this approach.

They’re not good with longer-term plans that require deep analysis. Plans that depend on subtlety, they don’t really get. Short-term pragmatism will win out over long-term creativity and cleverness with these types.

The best way to deal with them is to focus on actions and results. Show how the decision moves the business forward towards its goals. Be brief, be bright and then be gone.

Empathetic

Introvert Feelers are empathetic. In decision-making, they’re all about the impact on people.

This people focus can be both externalthinking about customers, and internalthinking about staff and agency teams. 

They focus on the people before they focus on the task. All marketing decisions impact people, whether that’s customers or your own teams.

So, having these people who think about the people impact helps you get better marketing decisions. 

Two people sitting at a table with coffee cups in front of them having a conversation

They’ll make you think about how the marketing decision may have an emotional impact. How the right decision can make people happier and more fulfilled. 

The best way to work with Empathetic types is to talk about people. Show the impact of the decision on customers and employees. How will it make their life better? Positive people-focussed decisions lead to better marketing.

Energetic

Finally, there’s Extrovert Feeling types who are energetic. Like the empathetic types, they are also driven by people, but it’s interaction with others that really drives them. It’s less about empathy for others, more about the positivity of influencing other people. 

These types get enthusiastic about decision-making. But that enthusiasm can lead to a lack of focus. They support bold innovative ideas. But, those ideas can often be impractical or irrelevant. They go for what’s new, rather than what’s right.

The best way to deal with these types is to focus on the change. Extrovert Feelers love change. They get excited when you show them new opportunities. Show them a shiny vision of the future and your marketing decision will get their enthusiastic support.

How much influence do they have on the marketing decision?

The next big question to understand how much influence each person on the committee has.

Committee decisions don’t always work the same way. For example, the decision process might be :-

  • a democratic vote – everyone gets an equal say.
  • a weighted vote – some views carry more weight than others, 
  • an expert panel – a small team of decision makers make the final decision.  

Allocating roles on decision-making

You usually decide which approach to take when you set up the committee. Most work that goes through committees is project-based. Good decision-making is a key element of good project management.

Projects are fixed term pieces of work. Teams come together to deliver a specific objective. Project management includes many tools to help you make better, smarter decisions on your project.

For example, there’s the RACI model which allocates team roles on decision-making. RACI stands for Responsible – Accountable – Consulted – Informed.

If you’re responsible for a task, you’re the person who does it. If you’re accountable for a task, you have to make sure it happens. But it may not be you who does it. 

To be accountable though, you need the authority to make decisions. You can’t make things happen if other people have power to stop you going ahead. 

However, that doesn’t mean you have free reign. You need to work with those :-

  • in the consulted role – asked for opinions and inputs into the decision
  • in the informed role– told what the decision is when it’s made.

The consulted role

The connection between the accountable and consulted roles can be tricky to manage.

If accountable, consulted experts give you their best advice. But that advice only covers their area of expertise. The onus is still on you to make the overall decision, based on all the advice.

This means you often have to go against the consulted advice.

This can be tough for the consulted person, if they feel they haven’t been listened to.

Man with hands behind head and a frustrated look on his face

The accountable person needs to explain the reasons for the final decision. Strong influencing and negotiation skills can help manage difficult conversations.

The role of project sponsor can often help too. This role acts like a high level trouble-shooter for projects. They help with approvals and negotiations, and help remove obstacles and roadblocks. 

Allocating RACI roles in advance helps you understand each person’s role and influence. Having a clear “final” decider and a sponsor to help you get past decision road blocks also helps. 

But there’s one slightly more controversial question to consider. 

Do you even need a decision-making committee?

Most people assume you always need a committee to make big decisions, but that’s not always true. 

Committees have their uses. But there are other ways to make decisions. Other, newer ways of running projects that greatly speed up decision-making. 

Agile decision-making

The most common of these is to use an agile approach to running projects.

This approach first came up with major IT projects (where decision making is often slow) to make decision-making faster. 

The principle is you break big decisions into smaller tasks. Smaller accountable teams make the decisions on these smaller tasks.

By making it smaller, you get faster decisions. You get more momentum behind the process. No waiting for one big decision, but instead a series of rapid and small decisions.

Woman in exercise gear sitting cross legged on a yoga mat and twisting to one side

Sprint teams

These small mini-projects within the overall big project are called sprints. Small expert teams with one empowered decision-maker (called the product owner) focus on delivering a specific outcome in a short 1-2 week burst of activity.

(Check out our guide to marketing innovation for more on agile working). 

Agile projects help break the deadlock of committee based decisions, because the team work together. There’s one clearly accountable decider. 

Everyone on the sprint team contributes and shares opinions and expertise. They commit to a common goal at the start of the sprint. They work together to deliver it. And they support the accountability of the Product Owner on the final decision. They accept the Product Owner’s final decision even if they don’t agree with it.

The agile process removes a lot of the functional politics that come up on big projects. Smaller team work better together. They focus on delivering the goal within the agreed time. 

Product owner has power and accountability

The Product Owner has both powerthe ability to make a decision, and accountability there’s no hiding place for bad decisions. Good product owners make good decisions and explain the reasons for them.

For agile to work, you need to be able to break big decisions down into smaller ones. You need to trust the sprint team to deliver what they say they will. They also need the authority to make decisions within the scope of the sprint. 

Conclusion - Marketing decision-making

To improve marketing decisions, you need to think about how your decision-making process works.

Consider who makes the decisions. Think about their expertise and the decision-making style that sits behind those decisions.

Consider how much influence each person should have, and look at newer ways of working such as agile methodology. Working this out helps you make faster, better marketing decisions. 

Those are the ones that are easiest to support. 

Wooden law gavel on a plain white background

Check out our guide to marketing innovation for more on agile. Or check out our article on creative approvals for more on decisions about creative work. Contact us if you need help on how to improve your own marketing decision-making.

Photo credits 

Wooden Gavel : Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Man looking at ceiling : Photo by Anton Danilov on Unsplash

Justice statue : Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Thumbs down / up (adapted) : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Glasses : Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

Conversation Image : Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Frustrated Man : Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash

Yoga : Photo by Dane Wetton on Unsplash

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