Marketing Medicine: Internal Company Relationships
HG asks: I have been a Brand Manager in two different companies. I find it sometimes hard to make progress because of internal issues. Many senior people do not understand the value of marketing.
Chris replies: A management employee, in any discipline, has to accept that he or she is part of a conversation. A conversation within the company. Indeed that is why the basic unit of commercial activity is called a company, because it envisions a collaborative effort to achieve shared objectives.
That conversation has to involve people of many disciplines, some of whom will be senior to you, and many of whom do not automatically buy into the value you claim to offer. So one of your tasks must be to build your own value proposition for internal audiences.
Put yourself in the shoes of your senior colleagues. Make them a target audience. Their company has employed you as a Brand Manager. Thanks to the accepted idea that young people should be let loose on the company’s primary source of wealth. How nervous might that make them?
If you wish to succeed personally and professionally you must first and foremost establish a dialogue beyond your years with the CEO and his top team. Challenging though it may seem, the key will be to talk in plain language to the most senior people in the company. These people are the only ones who have a real overview of the business, and can decide whether or not to support the actions recommended by the Brand Manager.
Do not trust in jargon. Instead talk about results or anticipated results. And tell them how you will measure them. A weak Brand Manager shows his colleagues a list of planned activities and a budget, and expects that to be good enough. Other important relationships within the company include the leaders of production, sales, distribution, and finance.
Here a good Brand Manager should make the effort to walk around inside the company and understand what these different disciplines contribute. And while you are there, how about asking them if there is any way you can make their life easier? Much is made of Brand Managers being seconded to the Sales Force – an idea I support.
But in production they might also learn that 12 SKU’s are a real headache to manufacture, so perhaps consumers could be educated to accept 8. In distribution they might discover that an ‘outer’ sized 25% bigger would be easier to load onto ‘trunkers’. Have I lost you? Relationships inside the company give you business insights to inform your plans. They also create a base of supporters who believe in the value of your marketing effort.
DD asks: If our customer service team delivers really good service, how can our company make the most benefit from that in our marketing?
Chris suggests: There can scarcely be a modern African enterprise without ‘excellent customer service’ as part of its corporate mission. And quite right too. But brands that rely on service can be very tricky to market. The balance between over claim, realism or undue modesty is hard to gauge. A good starting point for us should be to define an appropriate level of service for your target customers.
Defining an appropriate level of service demands that you understand your customers’ service expectation very well. There is no need force the service centre to pick up calls within three rings, if the market norm is thirty. Having defined customer expectation and service context, we now need the marketing team to help us communicate an appropriate promise.
Here are three thoughts for you: Promise not to do something. The American restaurant chain Horn and Hardhat doesn’t promise ambience, because it knows almost every eating-place in the world claims it. So its marketing stance is ‘You can’t eat atmosphere’.
Talk about your philosophy. HSBC Bank has spent over a decade investing behind clear and simple philosophy - ‘to be the word’s local bank.’ But please, don’t promise to be caring. The moment you say ‘we care, we really do’ then the consumer’s mind searches for reasons not to believe. You may be an insurance company that cares, but many of your customers can point to a delayed settlement, or a badly drafted letter, or a curt telephone call.
Chris Harrison is a marketing and advertising practitioner of 30 years’ standing. From Nairobi, he leads Y&R’s network in Sub Saharan Africa. He’s ready to prescribe answers to your marketing questions, and you can consult him on Twitter @harrisoncj or at www.chrisharrison.biz