Take control of your marketing flow in times of disruption
Editorial

Take control of your marketing flow in times of disruption

What marketers can learn from the sharp end of disruption in the financial services sector, where challenger banks are outstripping heritage brands

Financial services is an exciting place to be these days. That’s not something you hear every day. And yet, it is a sector that has seen some of the widest disruption, both in terms of technological capability and consumer expectation. This disruption is to such an extent that financial services has become something of a case study to other sectors looking to navigate their own version of a disrupted market – anything from retail to entertainment, travel to transportation, direct to consumer to the sharing economy.

Being at the vanguard of such disruption, financial services’ marketers are on the front line. Having led marketing teams across several different types and sizes of organisations, including financial services from both a traditional and challenger perspective, however, I note that every sector has remarkably similar challenges.

In most cases, there has been a fierce competitive environment, from entrenched incumbents to tech savvy entrants, complex, ever-changing, regulation and the ebb and flow of quarterly financial results that determines all forms of investment, including that into the marketing function. In this sense, most marketing teams are under increasing pressure to do more with less, to think strategically whilst delivering flawlessly, to measure and track tangible outcomes and to help drive business growth.

Understanding your marketing function

What size of organisation and sector a marketer finds themselves in has a huge impact on factors beyond agility or budget sizes. However, in all of these situations, marketing leaders need to be aware of the state of their function and whether things are in or out of “flow”. A marketing function is in flow when the quality and quantity of marketing output is balanced such that customers, staff and colleagues’ expectations are exceeded.

Marketing can fall out of flow when demands outstrip capacity. This can happen in rapidly expanding businesses where opportunity is unlimited, yet resources are constrained. It can occur under concurrent and ambitious change initiatives, leaving finite resources to absorb extra demands, particularly when rapid change is demanded and expected. Quality of output can deteriorate as staff struggle to keep up. Clients can be the first to detect a drop in quality, therefore negative customer feedback such as ‘this isn’t relevant’ or colleague feedback such as ‘marketing needs to up their game’ are red flags. High staff turnover and/or low employee engagement scores further reinforce an out of flow state. So, how do marketing leaders know whether or not the marketing function is in flow?

Find the marketing flow

The first step is to diagnose the situation and the obvious place to start is with customers. The marketing department often plays the role of customer advocate, ensuring the organisation is delivering the best possible customer experiences. Customers have come to expect frictionless, seamless engagement, with data-driven insights underpinning the right content being delivered to the right individuals at the right time. This transcends marketing and includes any interaction, whether it be through sales, operations, finance or human resources. Each touchpoint is a branded experience and needs to be managed carefully and marketing is the natural place where sentiment is monitored and measured. 

As the natural guardian of customer experience, marketers need to be very close to customers to understand their true sentiment. Marketers can find this challenging as they may be too far removed from the front lines to interact with customers on a regular basis. 

This can be exacerbated when digitally based business models mean no customer facing interactions, no physical locations, service bots rather than client services staff. Marketers therefore need to consciously carve out time and space to understand what is happening with their customers if they are to properly monitor and adjust to ensure an optimal customer experience. 

Solution and execution

Once the situation has been diagnosed, marketing leaders can then think through solutions and execute changes to improve the situation. For example, if staff complain about volume of work and clients/colleagues complain about quality of marketing output, marketing leaders have several options to address this problem.

Budget can be allocated to outsource certain activities to third party agencies or freelancers who can essentially augment the core team. Technologically-savvy companies can implement SaaS (software as a service) solutions to help support marketing efforts. If these options aren’t available, marketing leaders may want to create more structure to improve strategic rigour to enable the function to deliver fewer things, better. This might include the socialising of a well-articulated strategy and plan to provide a decision-making framework and an ability to say no to requests that don’t align with the overall goals and objectives.

Every business is evolving, technology is driving change in customer expectations and placing more demands on the marketing function. Marketing leaders need to continually monitor the health of the function, not dissimilar to the way a pilot monitors the cockpit dashboard to fly a plane. The function will continually osculate between states, but conscientious marketing leaders will be able to detect, diagnose and act when the function is in or out of flow. This in turn will ensure better client experiences, satisfied colleagues and happier marketers, who are more likely to remain with your organisation for a long time.

This article was originally published in the Americas section of CIM's member-only magazine, Catalyst, in April 2020. If you want to gain access to more global insights from a range of international marketing leaders in quarterly editions of Catalyst magazine, find out how you can become a member of CIM for as little as £15 a month.

Michael Hunter Silicon Valley Bank Marketing Director
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