Hugo Saavedra
Nov 5, 2013

Brand-building series: The hardest marketing skill to master

In our continuing series of brand-building articles, Hugo Saavedra, senior consultant with EffectiveBrands, reflects on the exhilarating, excruciating commandment to collaborate in order to achieve marketing leadership and success.

Brand-building series: The hardest marketing skill to master

If you’ve been following this series of brand marketing articles over the past nine months in Campaign Asia-Pacific, you’ll have hopefully picked up a few tips on how to craft a purposeful positioning for your brand, write a communications brief, evaluate creative work and other salient skills to make you a better marketer. But no amount of competence will compensate for a lack of understanding on why you need to collaborate in order to succeed. It’s the one soft skill you need to make the most of the hard skills you have.

Now you may be thinking, why devote an entire piece to something as simple to do as ‘collaborate’?

The fact is, collaboration is hard.

Collaboration is hard to achieve in multinational corporations

Global (or perhaps more fittingly for this readership, regional) marketers are mainly concerned about consistency in brand communications—while local marketers care more about what will work in their markets. 

We know that job satisfaction has a great deal to do with the balance between influence and responsibility. A local manager who receives centrally produced work, for instance, and is expected to vouch for its effectiveness in-country, is being given responsibility without influence. Is it any wonder that often local marketers aren’t proud of what they accomplish, while their global/regional counterparts don’t feel much accountability for results, just frustration at the “poor execution by the locals”?

What’s more, MNCs are traditionally proficient at doling out responsibility (think of all the memos introducing new initiatives and new teams with new responsibilities), but chronically deficient at taking it away (ever seen a memo announcing the things a team will stop doing?). The result? Overlapping charters, influenced by individual interpretation and initiative, that often result in resource duplication and unnecessary reworking of programmes just because “things are different here”. The chief casualty is trust.

Regional marketers have the added challenge of being caught between global bosses whom they need to support, and local ‘feet on the street’ whom they need to depend on in order to get the job done. It’s a bridge role, a ‘sandwich’ job cutting across functions and geographies. If you don’t play it well, you’ll find yourself between a rock and a hard place, be easily buried, and achieve nothing.

Collaboration is hard to achieve on the agency front

If you have good creative agencies, they’re probably not good implementation agencies (euphemistically called ‘network partners’). And vice versa. Any self-respecting agency exists in order to lead, not to follow. It’s not that people lack the equipment to collaborate; they lack the will to do so. Think about it: If an agency is getting no glory, no money, no satisfaction, no fun, no responsibility, is it any wonder that the work tends to drift toward the bottom of the pile on people’s desks?

Collaboration is hard to achieve with consumers

Today’s audience, empowered by advances in technology, can now dictate where, when and how it consumes the communications that companies put out in the hope that it will be picked up and acted on in compliance with advertisers’ wishes. Fat hope. If they don’t like what they see or hear, you won’t be the only one who knows about it. Thanks to the megaphone of the Internet, the whole world will know.

There is, however, hope—a mindset to adopt that can help to instil local ownership of global or regional initiatives, as well as behaviours that can get people focused externally instead of operating in silos and jockeying for budgets and influence.

1. Inspire your organisation with a higher purpose. Marketers can build the connective tissue within their companies by doing what they do best: delivering great internal communications and finding fun, creative ways to get people on board.

Redefine EPS from ‘earnings per share’ to ‘economic value, partner value, and social value’. Increasingly, companies that are ruthlessly focused on earnings risk being left by the wayside. Because in today’s world, it’s not just what you sell, it’s what you stand for.

2. Be very clear about the deliverables of the regional role. Think about distilling global priorities into an actionable strategy. Driving investment prioritisation and managing tradeoffs. Championing best practice sharing and adoption. Building marketing capability at the local level. And simply knowing when to let go and let country teams execute to plan. (Notice there’s nary a mention of being a ‘logo cop’.)

Joe Tripodi, executive vice-president and chief marketing and commercial officer at The Coca-Cola Company, talks about delivering 80 per cent of the solution to the field and letting them customise the remaining 20 per cent for their market. “The cost savings are enormous, and the level of quality has actually gone up.”

3. Become a convergence platform for partners, in-house and out. The traditional model of a single agency of record is becoming increasingly untenable in this day and age.

“The concept of a one-size-fits-all shop has become obsolete,” says Gannon Jones, chief marketing officer for PepsiCo’s Global Nutrition Group. "The idea of finding the best-in-class in each area and creating a commonwealth or multi-disciplinary team is the model that is emerging.” Make no mistake, it means a lot of work this side of the organisation. But find the right client, and agencies will actually have an easier time going forward.

4. Work on speed, and accept ‘good enough’. Marketing leaders should create opportunities for teams around the business to build collaboration by organising gatherings, setting up online forums, and establishing benchmarks around alignment.

Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign provides a model for success. Its digital team proved incredibly adept at pumping out tweets, videos, blog posts, and emails to build momentum in the movement. By election day, President Obama had amassed a base of 34 million Facebook fans in the United States, who in turn were friends with 98 per cent of Facebook’s US population—a powerful resource for sending out messages, recruiting volunteers, and fundraising. Teddy Goff, digital director for the campaign, attributes his team’s success to a structure that eschewed bureaucracy and empowered people to act at the fast pace of social media. “We were empowered to approve our own content with an honour code,” Goff says. “We had a structure that was built for speed.”

5. Live and work by the principle of servant leadership. Understand that there is no global market, but rather, many very important local markets. Global teams (and by extension, regional teams as well) must be assured that looking for similarities rather than differences has become local groups’ prevailing mindset. Local teams, for their part, must first be convinced that their market success is what drives the global team’s work. Somewhere along this global-local continuum is the point of interdependence. Here is where you should drop anchor, for it is the home of true marketing effectiveness.

Marc de Swaan Arons, the chairman of EffectiveBrands, likes to say, “If you’re a marketing leader, and you’re working with other disciplines, and you’re an orchestrator, what profile does that sound like? Ultimately, it’s getting much closer to the CEO job profile.” If we can move beyond mere coordination, if we can get past cooperation, and if we can get to true collaboration, we’ll not only move and improve our Influence Quotient (the ability to achieve our goals by working with and through others), we’ll also have a shot at the pinnacle of our marketing career.

Please see the other articles in this continuing series.

Hugo Saavedra is a senior consultant with EffectiveBrands, a global marketing consulting firm dedicated to unleashing global brand potential. Based in Singapore, Saavedra has experience with clients including Mead Johnson Nutrition, Johnson & Johnson, and Campbell’s.

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