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I'm a partner in the advanced analytics group at Bain & Company, the global management consulting firm. My primary focus is on marketing analytics (bio). I've been writing here (views my own) about marketing, technology, e-business, and analytics since 2003 (blog name explained).

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July 29, 2009

(Re-)Thinking Marketing Silos

I've been wondering lately about the social marketing boom, the timing of its inevitable commoditization (via Adverblog, parodied here, warning -- possibly NSFW) and where its useful boundaries are -- at what point does it stop making sense to talk about a social media campaign per se, and to start thinking about social media elements in integrated campaigns.  (For example, how do you classify a social "forward to a friend" capability in an email campaign?)  The issue is broader of course.  Integrating the "customer experience" is widely acknowledged as a good thing these days across many channels, not just with respect to social media.  

Silos in marketing organizations are widely acknowledged as a principal barrier to realizing this objective.  So, three questions are worth asking.  Why do they exist?  What organizational model would be a better choice?  And, practically speaking, how do we get from A to B?

At an operational level, silos today are most commonly defined by channel.  That is, for example, offline channels vs. online channels (in retail, the folks who run the stores vs. the folks who run the website; in media, the folks who run the print magazines vs. the folks who run "interactive").  Or, within "online", email vs. web site vs. social media.  

These definitions get started because even though what folks share in common may be really important -- knowledge about a customer segment's habits for example -- the specialized expertise  required to mechanically execute campaigns in the medium is very different.  Even when these roles are combined, individuals or small groups may still think "channel first" because of the concentration required to think and execute mechanically.

The channel-defined definitions persist in part because the vendors who supply the tools for those channels have an interest in continuing to fight commoditization with new, complex features rather than with simplicity, which though virtuous, sadly accelerates commoditization rather than staving it off.  (The exception -- Apple -- proves this rule.)  Also, vendors have historically made integration hard, though this is changing.  Further, there is a vendor-sponsored event ecosystem that pulls-channel-defined specialists together more often (and in nicer places, with better schwag) than, say, audience-segment-centric conferences might.  And finally, just as cucumbers rarely survive their encounters with barrels of brine, folks steeped in particular media begin to think differently in ways that shape their abilities to think across channels.  Someone with a lifetime as an auteur of 30-second TV spots may find it harder to think about "conversations".

What alternatives might be better, and when?  If different target customer segments had radically different media usage patterns, you might cut things that way.  Or, if the media used to  attract, engage, and convert customers were similarly distinct, you might slice efforts by stage of purchase funnel.  But things have begun to blend: old folks are using Facebook and Twitter as much as young folks (who increasingly think these media are uncool as a result), and what do you call a retail checkout experience that stays on an affiliate's site?

So, the answer may be ad hoc task force overlays to today's channel-defined silos.  These can be reinforced by experience-wide metrics, analytics, and perhaps even evaluation and compensation frameworks for the members of these task forces.  But perhaps the most important first steps are awareness of what customers experience, a firm's business strategy  for choosing and serving (what products, priced how?) the ones they want, and mutual communication and education about how different folks approach and do their jobs in their respective channels.

To what degree do silos constrain you today? How are you adapting to overcome their challenges, and improve target customers' experiences?

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