How to Create an Agile ‘Marketing Factory’

How applying the principles of industrialization rescued a bank’s dysfunctional marketing operations.

As happens with many chief marketing officers, Susan struggled with her marketing plan. As CMO for a super-regional bank, she faced daunting demands from her customers: the business lines. They were responding to increased competitive pressure across a dizzying array of channels and media formats. Customer segments were growing in number but decreasing in size. These changes reduced the effectiveness of mass-market campaigns. Both the business lines and marketing would have to deliver an increasing number of smaller campaigns. Each would target narrower segments, with varying priorities across a growing number of diverse channels.

This trend challenged marketing operations. Complexity would increase. Cycle times would decrease. Unless streamlined, planning and management activities would skyrocket.

Susan couldn’t rely on more staff as a solution. Marketing was exempt from bank-wide cost cuts, but a hiring freeze was in place. Susan had to make operations more flexible and productive, without adding staff. Marketing quickly had to become more agile.

Today nearly every type of knowledge work operation faces this challenge. These are businesses’ most highly skilled, highly paid workers. They work in finance, sales, customer service and other areas. They are armed with the latest technology, yet their operating processes have not changed in a century.

Factory work standardization launched an Industrial Revolution, but knowledge workers shun similar scrutiny that could transform their own productivity. As a result, they spend a third of their time on avoidable activities. These include rework, redundant tasks, over-service and others. These costs directly drain 20% from the company’s bottom line.

There is a way out, however, and Susan knew it. Before business school, she was a pharmaceuticals manufacturing engineer. New health plan rules then posed similar demands for production operations.

As the bank’s CMO, Susan assembled an Agility team (“The A Team”) to address her marketing challenge. This team envisioned the marketing organization as a “knowledge work factory.” Their “marketing factory” produced campaigns as its products. Susan set out to make this marketing factory as agile as her former pharmaceuticals plant.

The A Team first sought to analyze current operations data and set improvement priorities. Their search for useful operating data was fruitless. This became the first improvement priority.

Whether your challenge is marketing or some other knowledge work department, consider how you might adopt the following actions of Susan and her A Team.

Priority 1: Launch Operations Reporting

The A Team found more than a hundred management reports in marketing. Despite the massive volume, these reports delivered little value.

They contained almost no useful operations performance data. They focused heavily on budget comparisons: planned versus actual cost. And even that data was inconsistent. Different reports showed costs that could not be easily reconciled or understood.

The A Team needed useful data to analyze and manage the marketing factory. They wanted submission rates for campaign briefs, cycle times, error rates, changes, hold orders and similar data. Without standards and hard numbers, performance measures remained qualitative. That’s why some reports used “stoplight” charts to indicate status by color: red, yellow or green.

Applying their factory analogy, the team saw the nine marketing groups as “shops.” These handled branding, social media, digital channels, promotions and analytics. The team renamed each shop, reduced acronyms and posted signs.

For example, “Customer Journeys and Insights,” or CJI, became merely “Customer Research.” They assigned five to eight performance measures, or metrics, to each shop. These tracked productivity, service, cost and quality.

Finance and HR helped to ensure accurate data across reports. These included operating costs and production capacity (staff levels). The A Team and business lines reconciled major milestone dates: campaign plan submission, approvals, launch and completion.

Susan and her team created twenty-five new standard management operating reports. These replaced more than a hundred one-off, individually produced budget reports. A single sheet summarized performance. This sheet circulated widely.

Everyone, including the customer business unit, could see how the marketing factory performed. These “factory” operations reports were implemented within weeks. They began to collect valuable operating data right away.

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Priority 2: Design the Agile Marketing Factory

For the next priority, the A Team documented the existing marketing business processes – the ‘production lines’ – in painstaking detail. The goal was to gather enough information to design a standardized, simplified production plant for campaigns.

Working with employees in each shop, they mapped the flow of work activities and work products: forms, briefs and campaign analysis. They observed how the work was performed. They interviewed internal customers and external service providers, such as agencies and media outlets. After three weeks, they had an inarguable, wall-to-wall “CAT scan” of the current factory — warts and all.

They found hundreds of opportunities to simplify work products, activities and routing. For example, the nine shops in the marketing factory had more than 50 intake, or work order, forms. These forms were scattered across the marketing factory. None included instructions. The A Team reduced these to 12, developed instructions and created a central location to store, log, submit and request assistance.

They found numerous opportunities to simplify the process. Forty percent of legal and regulatory compliance reviews were unnecessary. Worse, they generated more, often conflicting work tasks. Without written guidelines for reviews, risk-averse employees submitted changes whenever doubt arose. In practice this meant constantly.

Together, the unneeded reviews added weeks to the average campaign. They wasted costly legal and compliance staff time. But they did little to reduce consumer claims and fines, which the bank had only recently begun to track.

The marketing organization prided itself on the use of time-saving templates for campaigns. These were stored in a central database. Marketing managers were supposed to use these standard outlines to accelerate campaign plan development.

This template database, however, was disorganized. No guidelines existed to categorize or even name the files. It was a dumping ground for old campaign plans. Managers found it faster to create a new campaign plan than to search for a needle in this chaotic haystack.

The A Team cleared this dumping ground. They replaced it with roughly 25 core campaign templates. They categorized the templates and furnished instructions. A numbering system ensured that template use was actively managed from initial submission through campaign completion.

The Results

Within six weeks of implementing the operating reports, marketing recouped more than 12% of organizational capacity, as measured by unit productivity. Over the next three months, the effects of simplification and standardization began to take hold.

Cycle times for large campaigns fell by almost a third. Smaller, simplified campaigns launched in half the time as before. After 10 months, marketing had achieved its goal of 25% more productive capacity with no added staff.

Marketing began to coordinate with bank operations managers to prepare for spikes in customer calls due to promotions. They aggressively managed the root causes of the bank’s external customers’ claims and complaints. This cut new marketing-related issues in half.

Susan and her A Team then turned to a final improvement. They created a catalog of standard campaigns. It included timelines, costs and likely response rates. The catalog helped to “market” the marketing group’s standard products and services to the bank’s internal customers. The catalog preempted requests for one-off, custom campaigns and media vehicles. Customers could “shop” for a limited range of products that the new, agile financial marketing factory could deliver.

In just 10 months Susan and her team had successfully “industrialized” knowledge work.

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