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Why Marketing Departments Are Inefficient – And What Marketers Can Do About It

In the course of my career, I have talked to literally hundreds of marketers and marketing departments.

Those chats have provided me with valuable insights into the structure and functioning of marketing departments across a range of different businesses, large and small.

One of the biggest surprises for me has been the discovery that many marketing departments operate using outdated, inefficient systems and structures.
Why was this a surprise? Well because marketers are seen as some of the most forward-thinking and strategic individuals in any organization.

Today I want to look at why the inefficiencies exist  – and what marketers can do to improve their efficiency.

How things came to be inefficient

Marketing has been around for a long time, of course, but digital marketing is relatively new.

Though the first email marketing blast was sent out as long ago as 1978 (it went to 400 people), only in the last quarter-century or so has email become common enough for it to become a useful marketing tool. (By the time the film You’ve Got Mail came out in 1998, email had moved from being a novelty to being a regular part of everyday life. For a brief history of email, see this story in the British newspaper The Guardian.)

Marketing started taking advantage of the ubiquity of email, and by about 10 years ago, digital marketing had evolved into a standard format, which consisted of two basic things: email campaigns and websites with landing pages.

Marketers put their efforts into creating emails and landing pages, both of which require coding, which marketers don’t generally do. So the marketers worked on what they do best – creating content – and outsourced the coding work or hired staff to do it.

Over the last decade, digital marketing has become more complex. Social media has been added to the mix – things like Facebook ads and Instagram influencers – not to mention the exploding use of video, GIFs and emojis. Add to that the use of things like Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) and the need to optimize display for devices of different sizes (laptops, tablets and smartphones) and you get an idea of the level of difficulty involved in creating smart and effective digital campaigns today.

But the outsourcing of the coding work continues.

The usual process for creating ads involves a long series of steps for each of these new platforms: creating, coding, and then back and forth between the creators and the coders all the way through the approvals process.

This is, to my way of thinking, incredibly inefficient. Coding emails for clients has got to be the lowest-value work an agency can do. It seems to me that work would proceed more smoothly and naturally if marketers could eliminate the people in the middle – the coders – and handle the whole process themselves.

But that’s not happening yet.

Why things have remained inefficient

So if the process is inefficient, why does it remain so?

There are a few reasons.

There is a lot written about why inefficient business processes develop, but I like this insight, offered by CGAP, a U.S.-based partnership of 30 development organizations. They are talking about microfinance here, but what they write applies to many areas, including marketing:

“Inefficiencies often remain undetected because they tend to quietly pile up, as a natural consequence of strong institutional growth. New branches, products and services get ‘tacked on’ to existing structures and systems that were originally designed to support smaller, simpler institutions. Over time small inefficiencies accumulate, with their costs remaining long-hidden, especially in booming markets or phases of strong institutional growth.”

Marketers are creative people, but they are not always good at technology. So they are not necessarily inclined to put their energy into technological solutions, particularly as these become more complicated as technologies and platforms evolve.

In the case of marketing, the current way of doing things works, even if it’s cumbersome. People keep doing it because they are used to it and no one has yet proposed a viable alternative.

It’s all about inertia. Because they’ve been outsourcing technical work to an agency for the last 10 years, or because they’ve gotten used to hiring tech experts for even the simplest things, marketers keep on doing so. And they pay good money for the privilege – hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

The way of the future

Does it have to be this way?

No.

Over the next few months, I want to use this space to explore the next steps in the future of digital marketing.

I’ll be talking about our own product, of course, which I think is part of the solution.

But I’ll also be looking at how to improve efficiency not only in creation of digital marketing products, but in processes as well. There are a lot of stakeholders in any marketing campaign, and I’ll be examining how to improve efficiency in the approvals process, for example.

And I want to keep an eye on best practices, which of course are always changing as work, society and technology evolve.

To me, the path forward seems clear. It’s all about technology that will liberate marketers and digital marketing campaigns from the drudgery of HTML and coding. Technology that will free marketers to do what they do best: be creative.

Inefficiencies create opportunities for people with the vision to see a better way of doing things.

As this article in Wired notes, the desire to improve efficiency has underpinned a lot innovation, from the invention of the assembly line to the design of a kitchen “such that the number of steps in making a strawberry shortcake was reduced ‘from 281 to 45,’ as The Better Homes Manual enthused in 1931.”

At the start of today’s post, I recalled how I’ve talked to a lot of people involved in marketing.

One conversation stands out. It was with the owner of a start-up who in his previous job had been the chief financial officer for a large company.

He related how finance departments (his area of expertise) were structured for maximum efficiency. Not only did people have clear jobs, but they also had the tools they needed to do those jobs effectively and efficiently. That made every people in the finance departments very productive.

But now, having started his own company, he had to oversee a marketing department in addition to everything else.

And what struck him was the incredible inefficiency of his own marketing department. 

He was looking for ways to shake things up, to change the way things were done. 

That company executive needs answers to his questions. I hope he, and others like him, will find some of their answers in this space. Stay tuned.

Brendan Farnand is a career enterprise marketer who’s passionate about making great, modern marketing accessible to everyone. Brendan’s real job is being a husband and father of five, and he is proud of his dad jokes even if his family isn’t. He’s also a major car nut.

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