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14 July 2024

Get out of the silo to radically change the marketing culture

Silo-driven problems should be addressed in part through improved communication, trust and co-operation. (SUPPLIED)

By New York Times Syndicate

Years of corporate decentralisation with individual business units, or silos, managing regional sales or a small portfolio of products – have allowed flexible organisations to emerge, keeping their collective ears close to markets and customers. But more recently, such silo-based companies are learning that this approach can be counterproductive.

Successful marketing in an era of globalisation and the concomitant rise of large, multinational, multiproduct corporations requires that chief marketing officers "become more strategic, more connected to overall business strategy, as opposed to being tactical, the guy who merely generates sales leads or creates advertising or builds websites. As soon as you become strategic, you can start tearing down silos", says David Aaker, Vice-Chairman of a strategy consulting firm and the author of Spanning Silos: The New CMO Imperative.

How has marketing changed over the past 20 years?

There was a time when marketing departments in decentralised organisations could operate within their product and country silos successfully. Decentralisation is a marvelous organisational concept that was first formulated almost a hundred years ago. People working in individual business units were close to their products and technology and to the market, and they were clearly accountable for their results. In short, decentralisation made it feasible to manage larger organisations.

But these autonomous silos are not working anymore. Brands, customers and media are spanning products and countries now. Brands are spanning silos, and companies that continue to manage products or service brands and marketing programmes in individual silos are inviting nothing but confusion. Decentralised silos do not talk to one another because they have no incentive to talk to one another. And they foster a culture in which the incentive is to maximise the performance of the silo rather than that of the organisation.

Given these changes, how can companies improve their marketing and brand building?

First of all, make sure the firm has the capability to develop and implement marketing programmes that will scale. Second, develop an objective resource allocation process that has the power to fund the products, countries and programmes that have merit and defund those that do not. Third, find ways to create silo-spanning offerings that are desirable to customers who respond to silo-spanning brands, not individual products. Finally, create a brand management system that ensures brands offer a coherent, consistent vision while still being adaptable enough to support the business strategies of individual silos.

Can you give me an example of the kinds of problems different firms face?

Often, it depends on the sector the company operates in. In the consumer packaged goods industry, resource allocation has been a big problem. A key to the turnaround at Procter & Gamble Company was the ability for company executives to focus resources on the businesses of the future and the really large brands, rather than frittering away resources on small brands.

Many high-tech electronics companies, on the other hand, continue to be bound by their product silos, and struggle to move toward the kinds of silo-spanning, integrated systems solutions customers are looking for.

What's the biggest risk companies face in dealing with silo problems?

This kind of transformation is never easy. To people used to working in silos, a centralised marketing organisation is a major cultural change. It's not their mindset and it's not their incentive structure. Their incentive structure is always based on maximising the performance of their silos. Diverting resources to corporate marketing means their silos will take a short-term performance hit.

So inevitably, there will be tension and a significant adjustment period. You have to change the incentive structure and change what you measure and what you reward. You've got to start rewarding communication, co-operation, team-building and team solutions.

If the goal of the centralised marketing team appears to be to centralise and standardise, there is a significant risk of organisational resistance or even rebellion. Such changes can easily be perceived as threatening, and they can destroy what's great about decentralisation – vitality, flexibility, accountability and so on. So the goal should rather be to address silo-driven problems in part through improved communication, trust and co-operation. Harness those silos and make them work for you by turning them into a source of ideas and a testing lab for the best ideas. Don't just eliminate them. It may be that centralisation and standardisation will eventually be part of the process, but it should not be the goal.

How can the risks inherent in radically changing the marketing culture be mitigated?

That very much depends on how the CMO, the company's chief marketer, manages the transition. An aggressive change agent who takes authority and flexibility away from silo managers can be a recipe for failure. Instead, his or her task is to recognise that the objective of the transition is to address the problems created by siloed marketing, and not simply to centralise and standardise the marketing function. Given how entrenched these siloed cultures can be, that means he or she must assume a number of nonthreatening roles: facilitator, service provider, consultant. But all these roles must promote what I see as the most important activity of the CMO – to boost communication and co-operation.

If you have strong communication and cooperation, you'll be able to market silo-spanning brands much more clearly and consistently. You'll see opportunities for silo-spanning offerings. You'll be able to share and scale marketing programmes. And the organisation as a whole will be able to allocate resources much more efficiently. To that end, the CMO can develop a functional and usable intranet, arrange cross-silo events and form silo-spanning teams. He or she can go out and visit the silos to explain strategy and foster communication by gathering and sharing ideas. Without that kind of leadership, no effort to create a truly silo-spanning marketing effort will succeed.

- The author, Edward H Baker, is former editor of CIO Insight magazine, and contributing editor at strategy+business. New York Times Syndicate's global business perspectives