Why read this? : We look at the different approaches, roles and styles you can use to improve marketing decision-making. Learn how to reduce the frustration and make smarter and faster decisions. Read this for ways to start improving your marketing decision-making right away.
Decision-making underpins every part of marketing. No decisions, no marketing. Or even worse, bad decisions leading to bad marketing.
Examples of common marketing decisions include :-
In some businesses, it might be just the owner who makes all the decisions. But in most, decisions are a team effort. Which can make marketing decision-making tough.
Why? Because not everyone will have the same level of expertise. And they may have different agendas, leading to conflicting opinions. So, having a plan for marketing decision-making helps you make smarter and better decisions. That’s good, right?
Marketing decision-making approaches
There’s some irony here. Marketers like to research how their customers make decisions (e.g. see our article on bias). But few consider how their business makes decisions.
It’s an easy mistake to make. But you need decisions to get things done. So you need to plan how to approach to marketing decision-making.
In big companies, it’s often driven by committees. Teams of people with different expertise decide what happens. There’s usually an overall leadership committee who make the biggest decisions.
In an ideal world, they make great decisions in the best interests of everyone.
But in reality, these are often highly dysfunctional meetings, full of :-
- biased opinions.
- different levels of expertise and experience.
- political team dynamics leading to squabbling and point scoring.
- a focus on keeping the status quo and avoiding risk at all costs.
That’s challenging because this committee makes decisions on your most important marketing activity. They sign off your marketing plan and decide whether to approve creative on new campaigns. They decide where to focus marketing innovation, when to change prices and where to spend marketing budgets. These decisions make or break what you do in marketing.
If this decision approach sounds familiar, you’re not alone. It slows up marketing decision-making in many businesses. The best way to plan for it is to answer 3 key questions :-
- 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. So, it’s common to pull in experts from other functions to help assess that impact. That means you have non-marketers making decisions on marketing. So, marketers have to understand these different expertise areas, and how different working styles change how people make decisions.
Non-marketing areas of expertise
Which functions you need depends on the context of the marketing decision.
With creative approvals for example, you need legal and regulatory teams to make sure your approach complies with relevant laws and rules.
For product changes, you need operations and supply chain to be involved.
Small design changes in the product can have a large impact on production and supply systems.
You need their expertise to tell you how much it’ll cost. How long it’ll take. Whether it’s even feasible to do.
And of course, all these decisions usually need a budget. So, you need to involve finance too.
The challenge for marketers
The challenge 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.
For example, make sure they understand the importance of market research. How customer needs and wants underpin all marketing decisions. Plus, why having a consistent brand identity is so important to driving growth.
And of course, listen to their point of view in return. It’s about building good relationships. Learn from their expertise and see it as an opportunity to make your marketing plan and marketing decision-making stronger and better informed.
The opportunity for marketers
You should think of these other functions as internal customers for marketing.
Use the same skills as for understanding external customers. Ask them questions. Ask what they need. Find answers that meet those needs. (see examples in our being a better marketer guide).
Don’t just see the world through a marketing lens.
See marketing through the lens of other functions, to get better, faster solutions for your customers.
For example, work with regulatory to stay compliant. That make your brand more trusted.
Work with operations and supply chain to find innovation ideas you can actually make. Work with them to find cost saving measures to improve profitability. Involve the finance team, so they support your forecasts and profit and loss.
These sorts of collaborations improve your marketing.
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 adapt your approach. That helps you get make the outcomes you want.
Decision-making style links closely 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, 2 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 reflect, and value time on their own. 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 prefer emotions and empathy. They prioritise people over things.
Combine these factors and you get 4 working styles :-
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 these. And often they won’t decide, until they know all the background.
For them, no decision is better than a bad decision.
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 them 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.
Extrovert Thinkers are action-oriented. With them on the committee, you get fast decisions. They like to get things done. 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 these types too.
They’re not good with longer-term plans that require deep analysis. They don’t get plans that depend on subtlety. Short-term pragmatism wins 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 towards its goals. Be brief. Be bright. And then be gone.
Introvert Feelers are empathetic. In decision-making, they’re all about the impact on people.
This people focus can be both external – thinking about customers, and internal – thinking about staff and agency teams.
They focus on people before they focus on task. All marketing decisions impact people, whether that’s customers or your own teams.
So, having people who think about the people impact helps you get better marketing decisions.
They 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.
Finally, there’s Extrovert Feeling types who are energetic. Like the empathetic types, they’re 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 about 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 ask is how much influence each committee member 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
The decision-making approach is usually agreed when the committee is set up. Most work that goes through committees is project-based. Good decision-making is key to 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 make better decisions. For example, the RACI model, which allocates 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 get in your way.
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.
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 there are many cases where you don’t. Committees have their uses. But there are other ways to make decisions. Other, newer ways of running projects which greatly speed up marketing decision-making.
The most common 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. Instead, a series of rapid and small decisions.
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.
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 politics which 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 power – the 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.
(see our marketing innovation guide for more on sprints).
Conclusion - Marketing decision-making
To improve marketing decisions, you have to think about how your decision-making process works.
Consider who makes the decisions. Think about their expertise and the decision-making style which sits behind those decisions.
Consider how much influence each person has. Look at new ways of working such as agile.
Decide the best way to decide and you make the right marketing decision faster and more easily.
Yoga : Photo by Dane Wetton on Unsplash