Operational Marketing

Brand Delivery Fail

Lying on the floor while talking to my insurance company shows why marketing must be involved with operations.

Brand Delivery FailIn the past week I did business with a bedding retailer, which indirectly led to filing an insurance claim on my car. The bedding company’s operations were a disaster – they got precisely 0% of our order correct, causing my wife and I to camp on surplus mattresses placed on the bedroom floor, checking The Sleep Guide’s mattress protectors tips. Their late-arriving truck hogged the street, causing a passing vehicle to clip my side-view mirror. Unlike the bedding retailer, the insurance company (Geico) executed perfectly, from a well-designed web claims form to nearly instant claims analysis, body shop appointments rental car reservations and more.

The contrast is stark. The bedding company experience after the sale (and to a lesser degree, during the sale) was a study in manufacturing customer frustration. The salesmen and delivery people were not themselves evil, but provided no operational effectiveness. Bed frames were two different models. Remote controls did not work. The mattresses were not the ones we ordered. All this caused a week of floor flopping. The net effect is that I will be a negative buzz influencer for this company, perhaps forever (for the last decade I have kept people from buying Sony products given their horrific tech support on a defective laptop I once bought).

Since customer experience and the buzz it creates impacts brands and recurring revenues, marketing must, at very least, have insight into operations, if not actual influence or control. Operations impacts brand, brands impact buzz, buzz impacts revenues, revenues impact paychecks. The questions are when, how and how deeply marketing should be involved. Marketing pros are not operations pros, nor should they be. But operations are part of the whole product your company delivers, so it is part of marketing’s responsibility. Spanning these corporate divisions is politically tricky and your level of involvement is determined in part by the CEO’s cultural direction.

In other words, meddle at your own risk.

The three levels of meddling are:

Monitoring: In most organizations, marketing can get away with monitoring aspects of operations, at least from external sources. Watching customer satisfaction, social buzz, surveying are all normal ops monitoring activities. Yet there is a wealth of internal data from bookkeeping, product development and even operations itself that expose how customers perceive the whole product you deliver and how they perceive your brand promise.

Defining as policy: Marketing defines many things, from brands to messages to new product development. Often though, they have little direct influence. In some marketing driven organizations, marketing departments define official policy and have the power to call-out divisions or individuals who master or fail marketing policy, such as brand champions or customer service slackers. The control aspect is still influence, but influence that top executives have blessed as organizational imperatives.

To make this work though, marketing has to be perfectly clear about over which elements of operations they have policy authority, what is to be delivered, and what quality of execution is expected. With monitoring you can complain when things go wrong, with defining policy you get the top boss to drop his hammer if necessary.

Defining and controlling: Rarest of all is when marketing has direct control over one or more operational aspects. Typically found in matrix organization (yes, a few of those still exist) marketing can direct the activities of select people or groups who directly touch customers. In such arrangements, marketing is a boss or co-boss and has to behave like a boss – clearly establishing expectations of performance and providing employee incentives and disincentives to make the right things happen. Do note that this level of involvement is so rare that you will likely never have the chance to make it happen (only once did I do so in my career, and it was limited to tech support and customer training).

If you are not monitoring aspects of operations that impact your brand, start today and tiptoe around the internal political landmines. But do not be detoured. Your job is to grow the brand, and you have to see the weeds you must pull in order for your brand to thrive.


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