Snapshot : The success of your marketing often depends on the quality of your marketing decision making. This week, we look at how businesses make decisions about marketing. Read on for ideas, experiences and recommendations on how to make marketing decision-making better.
Decisions, decisions, decisions.
Like it or not, a lot of marketing time is spent on decisions. Sometimes decisions you have to make, but more often decisions you try to influence other people into making.
Think about all the marketing activity you experience every day. It wouldn’t exist without decisions. No decision-making, no marketing.
Someone, somewhere decided that marketing activity needed to happen, so you’d experience it.
Marketing decisions inside your business
While marketers like to spend time talking about customer decision-making (like we cover in our review on the book The Choice Factory for example), ask a marketer how decisions get made inside their own business, and they’ll usually flounder.
Marketing decision-making just doesn’t gets talked about a lot. But it’s vital for marketing success.
In smaller companies, where it’s just the owner or there’s one or two marketers, it’s usually clear who makes marketing decisions.
The bigger the company, the tougher the marketing decision-making
It’s when companies get bigger, and more people get involved that marketing decision-making gets tougher.
In bigger companies with multiple functions, there usually a leadership or decision-making committee.
It’ll invariably have some sort of acronym.
SLT (Senior Leadership Team)
CMT (Commercial Management Team)
BNT (Big Nit-Picking Team)
Something like that.
It’ll meet weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Anyone who wants a marketing decision made comes in and presents. Decisions are made collectively .
Everyone generally dreads these meetings.
The decision-makers are usually a team of cross-functional senior managers. In theory, they aim to make the best collective decisions for the business. We can hear most of your snorting with laughter about that already.
Because in practice, their aim is actually more self-preservation. They want to make sure no decisions badly affect their team, and that their functional views are valued and heard.
And that means many ideas get killed, and many decisions focus on what NOT to do, rather than what to do.
What types of marketing decisions?
They for sure make decisions on marketing budgets.
If this sounds familiar and you need marketing decisions made, there’s three key things to consider.
- Who’s on the committee?
- How much influence do they have on the marketing decision?
- Do you actually need to go through the committee at all?
Who is on the marketing decision committee?
There’s two dimensions to the people on marketing decision committees.
The first is their area of expertise. What do they do?
The second is their working style. How do they do it?
Marketers would love it, if only marketers made decisions about marketing. But in most businesses, marketing can’t and doesn’t operate in isolation. Marketing decisions impact other functions in the business. The expert views of these other functions needs to be part of the decision-making.
Non-marketing subject matter experts
What types of functional expertise are we talking about?
Well, as per our recent creative approval article, you often need to being in legal and regulatory teams to review marketing decisions.
That benefit or claim you really like? It may not be allowed under the rules.
You need legal and regulatory people to guide you on what’s compliant and what’s not.
If you’re a manufacturer, and a marketing decision affects the operational or supply chain set-up, you need to involve representatives from those teams in the decision. Their expertise will help with the decision because they’ll know what’s feasible, how long it’ll take and how much it’ll cost.
If you’re a service provider, you’ll need to involve other functions like HR (for people led services) and IT (for technology led services). Again, they’ll advise on what’s feasible, and give the details on time and cost.
And of course, there’s always a budget impact with marketing decisions. You need to involve someone from finance in the decision.
The challenge for marketers
Here’s the challenge for marketers though. Those functional experts know their own areas, but they’re not marketing experts. But most of them don’t know what marketing expertise actually means. A key marketing skill is actually explaining marketing to non-marketers.
Those other functional experts usually find it easy to give opinions on marketing decisions, even if they have no expertise in marketing. Even though when it comes to decisions in their areas (legal, operations, supply chain and so on), they’d rarely think to ask the opinion of their marketing colleagues.
We know one business for example, where the regulatory team signed off on a new code of conduct, but didn’t consult the marketing team about it. The new code totally killed the brand’s communication strategy that had worked successfully for years.
We know another business where the operations team decide to limit factory capacity, when the marketing team was pushing out a big advertising and media campaign. If customers wanted to buy more, there wasn’t enough stock to meet the extra demand.
And of course, most marketing people have experienced the horrible moment, when the finance team decide to cut, hold or otherwise play around with budgets. The money’s already gone by the time the marketing team find out about it.
The opportunity for marketers
What all this means obviously is that marketers need to be on the front foot They need to understand how other functions work, what they need and how they make decisions. They are essentially internal customers for marketing.
Marketers should treat them the same way they do external customers. They should ask questions and try to understand what makes these other functions tick. (see also our guide to being a better marketer for more on this).
Newer marketers who only see the world through a marketing lens are often guilty of not taking these other functions seriously. They soon learn what a mistake that is.
What they should focus on is how different functional expertises can make marketing decisions better.
How acting within the regulatory code helps build the brand identity by making the brand more trusted for example.
How inputs from operations and supply chain can identify innovation ideas, or cost saving measures that can improve profitability.
Even the finance team, well, someone needs to count all those beans. And if you involve them in decision-making now, there’s a better chance that when there’s more beans in the future, they’ll understand the importance of not cutting marketing budgets.
Beyond functional expertise, you also have to factor in the impact of individual working styles on marketing decisions.
Not everyone makes decisions in the same way. If you can work out how all the people involved make their decisions, you can adjust your strategy accordingly.
Decision-making style is heavily influenced by working style. There are many different working style type questionnaires out there. Most come with acronyms – MBTI, PSI, LSI and so on. But, we’ve found the Insights profile system to be the easiest to understand and use.
Insights profile system
We like it because it’s simple enough to explain, but has enough detail behind it, so it’s not overly simplistic. We’ve covered it in a number of past articles on how different working styles apply in marketing, creativity and e-Commerce, for example.
In very simple terms, these Insights styles are based on Jungian psychological principles where your working style sits across two ranges.
The first range covers Introversion and Extroversion.
This is where you draw your personal energy from.
Does it tend to come from within yourself? You like time to think and reflect. You’re psychologically more introverted.
Or do you get your energy from socialising with others? You enjoy working in teams and lots of noisy discussion. You’re psychologically more extroverted.
The second range covers Thinking and Feeling.
Some people have a preference for tasks and actions. They lead with thinking – logical and analytical behaviours
Others lead with feeling – emotions and empathic behaviours first – they’re typically more interested in people than tasks.
Each combination of these styles has its own strengths and weaknesses. If you know your own style, and the styles of decision makers, you can flex your style to bring it more in line with the decision makers.
When Introvert Thinkers are involved in marketing decision-making, the upside is you get better thought out decisions.
The downside is it usually takes you much longer to get to that decision.
These types like to know the facts. They want details before they make a marketing decision.
It’s not necessarily that they can’t be decisive, but to them, they’d rather make no decision than a bad decision.
Feed them the right inputs and analytical decision-makers are actually quite straightforward to deal with. They are predictable and objective in how they’ll make decisions.
The challenge is you won’t always have time to make analytical decisions. Sometimes you need to decide quickly, and make decisions based on limited information.
Analytical types hate this.
When this happens, analytical types can be very negative and uncomfortable. They’ll tell you, you’d be as well rolling a dice to make the decision if you don’t have al the facts. .
The best way to deal with these types is to stay objective. Focus on what facts you do have. Send them information in advance about the decision required, so they’ve got time to make their minds up. If there’s information missing or a deadline, take the time to explain why this is, and the consequences of not making a decision.
If you have an Extrovert Thinker on your marketing decision-making team, the great thing is they won’t hang about to make a decision. Extrovert thinkers like to get things done, and that means making decisions fast. You may not like it, but you’ll definitely make progress. Whether it’s the right progress though is a different question.
These types don’t really like detail. They love one page summaries and are OK with not having all the facts. Hand them a long presentation, and they’ll go straight to the summary of the actions.
Their focus is typically on the here and now. They want immediate and continuous results. They look for the best commercial return in the quickest possible time.
Again, not necessarily a bad thing. But, work with these types of marketing decision-makers for long and you soon start to see the downside of these instant decisions.
If there’s no time to consider or reflect, it becomes harder to look at longer-term impacts. It becomes harder to look at more subtle and clever ways to do things. Doing what’s the most pragmatic is good for short term, but doing what’s the most well-thought out works better long-term,
The best way to deal with these types is to focus on actions and results. Show how the decision moves the business forward towards its goals. Show how NOT making the right marketing decision will hold up the business.
Introvert Feelers bring a much more people centric view to marketing decision-making.
This people centricity can be both external – thinking about the impact of the decision on customers, and internal – thinking about the impact on other parts of the business.
This impact on people can often be overlooked by the other types.But think about it. All marketing decisions will have an impact on people, both outside and inside the business.
Remember what we said at the start? Every piece of marketing activity a customer sees was based on someone’s decision somewhere. So having someone who thinks about other people is a good thing for getting to better marketing decisions.
Internally, marketing decisions have an impact on other functions priorities and workloads. This obviously affects how people feel about what they do. Introvert Feelers are good at bringing these considerations into the decision-making.
Much better to make a marketing decision that benefits people in the business, and makes their lives better, than one which has the opposite effect and makes their life harder.
The best way to deal with these types is to focus on the people aspects of the marketing decision. Show how customers and employees will benefit from the outcomes of the decision. If they see a positive humanistic benefit, they types will be active and positive champions for your marketing decisions.
Finally, there’s the Extrovert Feeling types. Like the empathetic types, they are also driven by people, but the most important people to them are normally themselves, rather than others.
These types bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to making decisions, but that energy and enthusiasm often lacks a lot of focus. They are the opposite of the analytical types (who they see as dour energy-sapping buzzkillers).
They can often have wild and innovative ideas, but will often also lack the focus and pragmatism to make them happen. Marketing decisions can often lead off to random side-tracks when Extrovert Feelers are involved.
The best way to deal with these types is to focus on the change that the marketing decision will bring. Extrovert Feelers are attracted to new ways of working. They like to feel they are in constant movement to the next thing. Presenting the impact of the decision as a “shiny” vision of the future and you’ll get enthusiastic support from them.
How much influence does each person have on the decision?
So, you understand the different functional expertise involved in the marketing decision. You understand the different working styles. But, now you need to put those together to plan how you’ll get to the decision you want.
The final decision-making process varies from business to business. It can be
- a democratic vote – everyone gets an equal view
- a weighted vote – some views carry more weight than others,
- an expert panel – one to three decision makers make the final decision.
Your job as the person trying to get the right decision is to prepare the ground ahead of the marketing decision.
For example, many decisions in business are made on projects.
Projects are fixed term pieces of work where teams come together to deliver a specific objective. Many decisions need to be made during projects, and project management includes many well-known tools to help you make better, smarter decisions. These tools can help you with marketing decisions.
The first of these is the RACI model.
RACI stands for Responsible – Accountable – Consulted – Informed. The model allocates roles to decision making on projects, and specific tasks within projects.
If you are responsible for a task, that means you are the person who does it.
If you are accountable for a task, that means you are the person who has to make sure it happens. But not necessarily, the person who does it.
A subtle difference, but an important one. Because, with accountability should come empowerment. It’s hard to be accountable if you don’t have the power to make the decisions that need to deliver the task. That’s why best practice is to ensure that only one person is accountable for a task.
This is where the model gets challenging.
Because, if you are accountable, you also need to factor in who needs to be consulted – asked for opinions and inputs into the decision – and who needs to be informed – told what the decision is when it’s made.
Accountable and consulted relationship can be tricky
The line between Accountable and Consulted is particularly tricky.
You want expert views, but the expert views aren’t accountable for the action. We’ve seen many occasions where a consulted role digs their heels in and blocks or holds up a project.
That can get very frustrating.
It’s important to stress that blocking decisions is not their role. It’s up to the accountable person to listen to their concerns, but also to get them on board.
This takes a lot of skilful influencing and negotiation skills. You want Consulted people to feel their views have been heard, but the accountable person still needs to make the final decision.
The role of project sponsor can often help with these sorts of challenges. This role acts like a high level trouble-shooter for projects. They help with approvals and negotiations, where they don’t get involved in day-to-day decisions, but come in and help remove obstacles and roadblocks.
So, clear roles in the decision-making, and an individual who can come in and make final decisions and clear barriers are two lessons from project management you can use to get to better marketing decisions.
And interestingly, those two thoughts lead us nicely into our final question on marketing decisions.
Do you even need a decision-making committee?
Many of the businesses we’ve worked with have these committees because they’ve always had committees to make decisions. Everyone is used to that way of working.
But that doesn’t always mean it’s the best way to make decisions.
Because committees slow down decisions, new methodologies for business decision-making have appeared in the last 10 to 20 years that greatly speed up decision-making.
The most common of these is the agile methodology.
This approach comes from the world of major IT projects (where decision making is notoriously slow), and is an attempt to take away some of the pain of making big decisions.
Their main focus is to move away from big tasks and big decisions.
The focus is on many smaller tasks and smaller decisions, on the basis that smaller generally means faster, and there’s a constant momentum of things being delivered.
These small mini-projects within the overall big project are called “sprints”. Small expert teams with one key empowered decision-maker (called the product owner) focus on delivering a very specific outcome in a short amount of time – typically one to two weeks.
(Check out our guide to marketing innovation for more detail on how agile methodology works)
Agile projects help break the deadlock of committee based decisions, because they make very clear how decisions are made, and who’s ultimately accountable.
Everyone on the spring team shares their point of view, but they all buy in ahead of time to the accountability of the Product Owner over the final decision. They all accept the final decision as part of their role on the sprint team.
The sprint team also agree to a common goal for the time they come together. This means it’s in everyone’s interest to work together to make the best decisions to meet that goal.
The agile process removes a lot of the functional politics that sit behind bigger projects. The team is naturally smaller and works together. If focuses on a clear delivery of an outcome is in a short period of time.
Product owner has power and accountability
For the Product Owner, there’s both power – the ability to make a decision, but also accountability – there’s no hiding place if the decision turns out to be a bad one. That means you put a lot of focus into making the right decision, and explaining why you made that decision.
It doesn’t work in every situation, but the agile (no committee) approach is worth bearing in mind as an alternative to the traditional marketing decision committee.
Conclusion - Marketing decision-making
Check out our guide to marketing innovation to read more about agile methodology.
It’s also worth checking out our article on how to be a more creative company for a different view of the type of people you’ll run into when trying to get a marketing decision made.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions on this topic, or would like specific support with marketing decision-making in your business.
Yoga : Photo by Dane Wetton on Unsplash