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Why Marketing Change Management Fails

My daily “grind” is helping complex marketing organizations with change. This could be change in the way they work, who they work with, how they measure the output of their work, and so on.

It’s rarely just one thing that triggers the need for change. It is almost never “Our agency/agencies suck, can you help us find a new agency/agencies?” More often it is a combination of lack of results combined with a marketing structure and process that is no longer fit for a purpose (but rather has organically grown into whatever it is today), as well as a marketing ecosystem stuck in neutral. They often have questions about the effectiveness  marketing dollars and how they are deployed.

Let’s start with a platitude: Change is hard. It is even harder when it is supposed to correct for poor performance. Patience is not exactly a marketing strength; results need to be delivered every month, every quarter and every 12 months, rolling. 

Lack of patience is getting worse rather than better; short-term results trounce everything. Because other parts of the organization nowadays move fast, or give the illusion of moving fast with implementing changes (sales, CRM, online marketing, etc.), the expectations of implementing marketing change, especially by those without marketing experience but with results-driven performance metrics hanging over their heads, are often grossly unrealistic.

Having been “inside” many different companies of all shapes, sizes and industries, I have learned a thing or two about factors that impact the outcome of a change management process.

If you can address these issues before you set off on your change management journey, you’ll stand a much better chance of delivering results.

Align all parties before you start. Aligning does not mean telling them what is about to happen. Aligning means ensuring all parties understand what is going to happen, why, in what time frame, and what their role is in the process.

Use “their” language. Refrain from using marketing gobbledygook, and instead use either simple language or the language of the company. If it smells like a “marketing initiative,” other departments and parties might feel as if it’s your journey, not theirs, and they don’t need to be actively involved.

Similarly, explain what the benefits are for each party. Make it about “wins,” not just about “change.” If they understand what they stand to gain from you taking production in-house, or changing their way of working, they’ll be more likely to actively participate.

Start small and build it out, rather than tackling the whole deal at once. I have seen “everything at once” succeed only very rarely, and that was when a company was going through a profound change like a merger or a significant downsizing. Under all other scenarios, it usually pays to go slower.

Build incentives into the process of delivery. If teams can win by playing ball, they will. Incentives for delivery, teamwork or implementation of new tools and processes will pay dividend in the long run. It also shows that senior leadership is serious about the change because they are measuring the organization against implementation success. The incentives should be levied across all departments involved, not just marketing.

Good luck. Change is hard, but not impossible.



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