Why read this? : We look at how decision-making works in marketing. Learn the different approaches, roles and styles you can use to improve the way you make decisions. Read this for ideas on how 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 leading to bad marketing.
Decisions come up at every part of the marketing process :-
In small businesses, often 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. Different levels of expertise. Planing how you make marketing decisions makes life easier for everyone. Plus you make faster and better and faster. That’s a good thing, 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.
And that’s a miss. You need decisions to get anything done. Great decision-making sits behind every piece of great marketing.
In bigger companies, committees often drive decision-making. Teams of people with different expertise decide what happens and what doesn’t.
There’s usually an overall leadership team committee who make the most important decisions. Including 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. They’re 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.
These don’t help your business make better decisions. They inhibit creativity. People are wary of putting forward ideas which 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 3 questions you need to answer 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.
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 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.
Make sure you highlight why your brand identity matters so much. Non-marketers often don’t appreciate the depth of thinking that goes into building a brand.
Build good relationships with these other functional experts. Listen to their point of view, but also educate them on marketing. Learn how they think and what drives them. Build that into your plan to make your 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 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 decision 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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Yoga : Photo by Dane Wetton on Unsplash