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 / Summer 2012 / Issue 67(originally published by Booz & Company)


How to Be a More Coherent Marketer

In developing right-to-win capabilities, distinctiveness is critical. Two companies competing in the same industry can end up with completely different positioning in the market. A big part of Apple Inc.’s success, for example, is that the company combined four core capabilities — consumer insights, innovation, product and interface design, and digital marketing — to establish a coherent customer-facing identity that incorporates the company’s values and feeds its trendsetting image in the marketplace. Each company needs to tailor its choices to its strategy and positioning.

Companies also need to know when to walk away. For example, social media’s mere popularity should not automatically make it a priority for every organization; marketing leaders should weigh how important social media is to their company’s overall strategy and allocate an appropriate level of investment. The chief marketing officer at a global beverage company perhaps said it best: “Marketers must often be charged with saying ‘no’ to change, by building a clear positioning and staying with it.”

Putting the Right People in Place

Seventy-five percent of our respondents said they plan to build their marketing capabilities in-house, and 58 percent of our respondents indicated they will turn to outside partners for help. Either approach will require marketers to place more emphasis than ever before on attracting and cultivating the right talent — to drive change internally or to manage a growing network of outside partners. Yet finding people with the right skills ranked as the second most daunting challenge to building the kinds of capabilities that marketers need to succeed today.

One of the refrains that came out of the survey interviews is that senior marketing leaders, in their recruitment efforts, are struggling to find an appropriate balance between specialists and integrators. Marketing organizations need specialized talent for areas such as digital marketing, social marketing, and multimedia, but specialists often lack broad management skills. Integrators may not have knowledge of new marketing functions and activities and may not be as responsive to increased industry complexity, but their critical and creative thinking skills, combined with their ability to collaborate across specialties, are integral to the success of many marketing efforts.

Leading marketing organizations address these challenges by employing talent management systems that identify workforce requirements for delivering on their chosen business strategy. Southwest Airlines Company, for example, has made a name for itself in customer service, a differentiating capability that stems from its “hire for attitude, and train for skills” philosophy. Southwest hires people for specific roles, but the company’s cooperative culture and structured incentives encourage them to collaborate and embrace a “work hard, play hard” mind-set.

Many of our respondents pointed to the importance of developing senior marketing executives with traits that will enable them to evolve as the scope of their responsibilities changes. For instance, best-in-class senior marketing leaders demonstrate a collaborative and participative leadership style. They tend to be approachable and informal. When making decisions and solving problems, these leaders demonstrate an ability to combine creativity and decisiveness, and are comfortable with complexity and ambiguity. Success comes from encouraging behaviors that yield the desired results. Google Inc. understands this better than most companies. To encourage innovation and agility, the company requires employees to spend 20 percent of their time on projects of their own choosing.

But attracting the right talent is only one part of the equation. People need to see how their roles will evolve over time if they are going to stay with the company and remain productive and creative contributors. Survey respondents who described their company as a leader in its respective market were more likely than self-described market followers to be focused on providing a competitive career path for marketing employees. For example, in shifting its talent system to address a shortage of leaders, Royal Dutch Shell PLC identified talent within the company by focusing on technical skills and leadership ability. The development program was customized for frontline, midlevel, and executive staffers, and was incorporated into the company’s university relations and diversity initiatives.

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