How to improve marketing decision-making

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Snapshot : The quality of your marketing decision making determines how successful your marketing is. Better decisions lead to better results. But many businesses don’t consider how to make better decisions. Learn from our ideas, experiences and recommendations on how to make better marketing decisions. 

Decisions, decisions, decisions. 

Decision-making is a big part of marketing. From deciding how to act on market research to building your brand identity and at all stages of brand activation, you’ll be faced with decisions. 

Some are easy, and you can decide those on your own. But most are not easy, and that means more people get involved. There’s often lots of different people influencing marketing decision-making. 

Decisions make things happen. From advertising to drive awareness to CRM programs to build customer loyalty, all marketing activity comes out of marketing decision-making. 

Marketing decisions inside your business

While many marketers think about how their customers make decisions (see for example decision making bias in our review of the book The Choice Factory), very few spend any time thinking about how decisions get made inside their own business.

Marketing doesn’t just happen. You need to make decisions about which customers to target. About how to build your brand identity. About what brand activation to do and where to invest your marketing budget. 

If you’re a small business owner, these decisions might happen in your head, but for bigger companies, marketing decision making is more complicated.

Leadership team decision committees

In bigger companies, it’s rare that one person alone makes the decisions. Teams of people with different expertise have to work together. Decisions impact multiple functions across the business. 

That’s why most big businesses will have a leadership team who meet regularly as a decision-making committee for the most important decisions. They make collective decisions on marketing activities like new products, new campaigns, price changes and where to invest budgets.

These are not fun meetings. 

In an ideal world, this team makes the best collective decision for the business.

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

  • Biased opinions.
  • Highly variable levels of expertise and experience.
  • Horrible team dynamics leading to petty squabbling and political point scoring.
  • A focus on maintaining the status quo and risk avoidance. 
Woman wearing smart business suit in front of a laptop looking bored

These don’t help your business make good marketing decisions. Most people in the business have a slight sense of dread when asked to present at this meeting. 

That’s a challenge because this leadership team often has the decision making power on your most important marketing activity. They decide on key actions in the marketing plan and whether to approve creative. They’ll make decisions on where to focus marketing innovation and where to spend marketing budgets

These decisions can make or break your marketing activity. 

If this happens in your business, there’s three questions you need to ask yourself to help you get better marketing decisions made.

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

Who’s on the committee?

For the people who sit on the marketing decision committee, you need to consider :-

  • their area of expertise. What do they do?
  • their working style. How do they do it? 

Marketing decisions have an impact beyond the marketing function in most businesses. This means you need to pull in expert views from these other functions to understand that impact.

Non-marketing functional area of expertise

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

For product changes, you’ll need to include experts from operations and supply chain. Even small changes in the product can affect production and supply systems.

You need their expertise to understand the cost, time and feasibility of any changes.

Small metal statue of lady of justice holding scales

For service providers, you’ll need to include experts from HR (for people led services) and IT (for technology led services). Again, they’ll advise on cost, time and feasibility.

And of course, all these marketing decisions will likely impact your budget. Most decisions don’t happen without some input from the finance team.

The challenge for marketers

The challenge for marketers is these functional experts know their own areas, but they’re not marketing experts. They often undervalue what marketing is and why it’s important. It’s important as a marketer you can explain marketing to these non-marketers.

Make sure you explain the importance of what your market research shows about customers for example. Make sure you highlight the depth of thought that sits behind your brand identity. These other functional experts are often unaware of how much thought goes into making good marketing decisions. 

It’s important to build good relationships with these other functions. You need to work with regulatory teams to develop valid communications strategies. You need to work with operations teams to make sure they have the capacity and capability to take on new product. And of course, you need to work with finance teams to make sure there’s enough budget to pay for all this activity. 

While these other functions won’t always agree with everything you want to do, you need their expertise to get things done. See them as an opportunity, not a challenge.

The opportunity for marketers

It helps you work with these other functions if you understand what they actually do and how they do it. The better you understand their needs, the easier you’ll find it to work with to get to better marketing decisions. 

Think of them 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 these other functions in the business and you’ll get to better, faster solutions you can put in front of customers.

Use compliance with regulatory codes to help make your brand more trusted for example. 

Work with operations and supply chain to identify innovation ideas and cost saving measures to improve profitability. 

Partner with the finance team so you have the right level of expertise to support appropriate levels of investment in current and future marketing activity. 

All these actions will help 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 in the same way. If you can work out someone’s decision-making style and tailor your recommendation to it, you have more chance of them making the decision you want.

Decision-making style closely links to working style. Our go to source for working style is the Insights profile system. It’s relatively easy to understand and use. (compared to alternatives like MBTI and LSI).

Insights profile system

Though this system is fairly simple, it has a good depth of psychological thinking behind it. It’s also very versatile. We’ve applied it to marketing, creativity and e-Commerce in past work, for example. 

In simple terms, your Insights working style comes from where you sit in terms of two psychological ranges. 

The first range covers Introversion and Extroversion. This is where you draw your personal energy from. 

Introverts get their energy from within. They like to think and reflect by themselves. They’re energised by being focussed and listening to their inner voice. 

Extroverts on the other hand get their energy from other people. They enjoy working in terms and lots of noisy discussion. Socialising gives them lots of energy.

The second range covers Thinking and Feeling

People who lead with thinking have a preference for tasks and actions. They prefer logical and analytical working with things rather than people.  

Feeling-led people on the other hand have a preference for emotions and empathy. They prioritise people over things.

This choice of Introvert-Extrovert and Thinking-Feeling leads you a preferred working style that’s either analytical, action-oriented, empathetic or energetic. (note, you won’t be this style all the time, but it’s your most common style that you use).

Each style has its own approach to decision making. 

Analytical

Introvert Thinkers are analytical. When involved in marketing decision-making, they’ll help you improve the quality of your decisions. But often, they’ll slow down the speed of your decision making.

They like facts, details and evidence. They seek these out before making decisions.

But if they don’t have those things, they’ll often push to wait for these things before making a decision.

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

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

If you have the right systems and processes to feed them with market research and data, then obviously you’ll get better decisions.

But sometimes, you won’t have this. You may need to make a decision quickly with limited information. 

Analytical types hate this. 

Fast decisions based on limited information bring out the worst in analytical types. They can become negative and uncomfortable when they don’t have all the facts they need.

The best way to deal with this is to stay objective. Focus on why you need a fast decision and what facts you do have. Explain the consequences of not making a decision. Give them as much notice and space as you can, but set a deadline so they don’t let decisions drift.

Action-oriented

Extrovert Thinkers are action-oriented. When they’re on the marketing decision-making team, they’re happy to give you 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 really like detail and are OK with not having all the facts. You can get them on board with one page summaries and action plans. They’ll never read the details in a long presentation or report anyway. Their focus is on results, and the faster the better.

Again, not necessarily a bad thing. But, there can be a downside to these instant marketing decisions. 

They may struggle to focus on longer-term plans that require more consideration and reflection. They won’t buy into plans that rely on subtlety or cleverness. Short-term pragmatism will win out over long-term smartness. You can end up stuck with a lack of imagination and creativity in your marketing. 

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. Be brief, be bright and then be gone. 

Empathetic

Introvert Feelers are empathetic. They bring a people centric view to marketing decision-making.

This people centricity can be both externalthinking about customers, and internalthinking about people in the business. 

Task-focussed thinkers can often overlook the people impact. But think about it. All marketing decisions have an impact on people, whether that’s customers or people inside the business. 

Having people who think about other people helps you get better marketing decisions. 

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

They can help highlight how a marketing decision will make someone’s life better, rather than worse. They can help you find ways to make people feel good about the outcome of decisions.

The best way to work with Empathetic types is to highlight the people aspects of the marketing decision. Show how customers and employees will benefit from the outcomes. If they see a positive people-focussed benefit, they’ll be active supporters of your recommendations. 

Energetic

Finally, there’s Extrovert Feeling types who are energetic. Like the empathetic types, they are also driven by people, but it’s the interaction with others (and what it means for them), that really drives them. 

These types bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to making decisions, but that energy and enthusiasm often means a lack of focus. They’ll come up with bold innovative ideas, but which can often be impractical or not relevant for the task at hand. They’re easily distracted by what’s new, rather than what’s right.

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

How much influence does each person have on the decision?

The second big question to ask once you understand who’s on the committee and what their expertise and decision style is, is how much influence each person has. 

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

  • 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.  

Allocating roles on decision-making

You usually decide which approach to take when you set up the committee. For on-going activities, this is usually already set in place, but it’s worth looking at how it works when the decision is on new activities. 

Often, these are projects, and setting up good decision-making is usually a key component of good project management. 

Projects are fixed term pieces of work where teams come together to deliver a specific objective. Project management includes many tools to help you make better, smarter decisions over the course of a 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 the task. If you’re accountable for a task, you’re the person who has to make sure it happens. But not necessarily, the person who does it. 

A subtle difference, but an important one. If you’re accountable, you need the authority to make decisions to make sure the task gets done. You can’t be accountable if other people can make decisions that stop the task happening. That’s why best practice is to always have only one person as accountable for a task. 

This is where the model gets challenging. 

Because, if you’re accountable, you also need to factor in who needs to be consultedasked 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

The connection between Accountable and Consulted people can be tricky to manage.

If Accountable, you want to consult experts to get the best advice. But the onus is still on you to make the decision. You may not agree with or believe the advice you get. You may decide the best decision goes against the consulted advice. 

This can be confronting for the consulted person, if they feel they’ve been ignored or not heard.

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

The Accountable person needs to explain the reasons for the final decision, and the Consulted person needs to access them. Strong influencing and negotiation skills can help manage these types of difficult conversations.

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. 

Allocating roles in advance helps you understand the level of influence each person has on marketing decisions. Having a clear “final” decider and a sponsor to help you get past decision road blocks also helps. 

But there’s one final thing you need to consider. 

Do you even need a decision-making committee?

The final question to help you get to better marketing decisions is whether you even need a decision-making committee at all. 

They have their uses, but there are other ways to make decisions. Committees typically slow down decisions. You should consider new ways of working that greatly speed up decision-making. 

Agile decision-making

The most common of these is agile methodology.

This approach comes from the world of major IT projects (where decision making is notoriously slow), and is a way to make decision-making faster. 

The principle is you break big decisions and tasks into smaller pieces, and let smaller accountable teams make the decisions on these smaller pieces.

By reducing the scale, you get faster actions and decisions. There’s much more speed and momentum behind the process. You don’t wait for one big decision, but instead make 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, and there’s one clearly accountable decider. 

Everyone on the sprint team contributes and shares opinions and expertise. They commute to a common goal at the start of the sprint, and work together to achieve it. But they buy in to 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 sit come with bigger projects. The team is naturally smaller and works together. They focus on clear delivery of an outcome in a short period of 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, and trust the sprint team to deliver what they say they will. You also need to give them the power to make the right decisions.

Conclusion - Marketing decision-making

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

You need to consider who makes decisions, and the expertise and decision-making style that sits behind those decisions. 

You also need to consider how much influence each person should have, and consider newer ways of working such as agile methodology. 

Wooden law gavel on a plain white background

Check out our guide to marketing innovation for more on agile, and our article on creative approvals which covers how to get to better decisions get made on creative work. If you want to improve your marketing decision-making, contact us for a conversation on how our coaching services could help.

Photo credits 

Wooden Gavel : Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Justice statue : Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm 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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