A discussion guide for marketing in a complex world
Companies that can plan and manage more cohesive customer engagement programs across
multiple channels, media and organization touch points, will gain competitive advantage in a
Business has become considerably more challenging in a
contracted post-recessionary economy as companies compete for
a smaller piece of the pie, and the consumer has all the leverage.
The market dynamic has shifted from distribution push to access
pull, from selling to helping customers buy. Yet most companies still
operate in a push business model – pushing products, advertising
and promotion through distribution and media channels, reacting
to a rapidly changing market landscape.
The playing field has been leveled.
7Bridges is not a solution or a dissertation.
It’s a discussion guide for a conversation about how the market
has changed and how business needs to adapt rather than react.
It’s a re-evaluation of the role marketing plays in a pull economy,
by engaging customers in a meaningful way, making your brand
more relevant to their lives.
It is an aggregation of information, observations and concerns from
thought leaders and disruptive innovators who are challenging the
status quo of traditional business in a new market reality. The
intent is to open the aperture of consideration when planning
enterprise marketing programs that cross multiple channels, silos
This discussion focuses on the bridges that connect seven
foundational pillars of business – those that drive revenue and
brand value: customers, employees, communities, channels,
outsource partners, organization silos and media.
Starting the conversation
Business operates on a complex system of bridges
that connect companies with customers, across global
markets down to local communities – bridges that
connect management with employees, sales channels
and distribution partners, suppliers, agencies and service
These interconnected bridgeworks are built to
accommodate transactional, logistical, informational and
technical requirements of business operation, but the
thing that holds them together is the human connection,
reinforced by trust. All of these factors must be considered
when planning an enterprise customer engagement
With so many moving parts and interdependencies,
employing a disciplined, collaborative approach to
planning is crucial to business success in an increasingly
1. To customers
2. To markets and
3. To employees
4. To organization silos
5. To sales distribution
6. To outsource partners
7. To media and marketing
Starting the conversation
Knowledge is power. Mapping provides a visual guide.
The first consideration should be: What do we really know
about our customers? Not just transactional trending, but
a deeper investigation of the underlying emotions that
motivate purchases and drive decision processes. Where
does the organization touch the customer? Is there a
human engagement, or is it media? Mapping these points of
interaction and transaction provides a visual landscape from
which to begin the planning process.
“The purpose of business is to create and retain
customers. Without the customer there is no business.”
– Peter Drucker
“Holding onto a customer has never been harder –
or more important. Proprietary Gallup research
shows the key to winning customers isn’t price, or
even product. It’s emotion that creates a deeper
level of engagement.”
– Alec Appelbaum, Gallup 2001
Bridges that connect companies with the customers they
serve are the primary thoroughfare of business.
These are not stationary bridges; they are constantly
changing, multiplying and contracting, fueled by shifts
in media, social trends, and consumer attitudes and
behaviors. Building and sustaining meaningful connections
with a diverse customer base in a highly fragmented and
competitive market environment has never been more
challenging. The tendency is to react with a piecemeal
approach to marketing that too often focuses on immediate
financial needs, lacking an overarching customer strategy
and a master plan for execution.
Since the customer now owns the brand, the company
must own the customer. That requires a deeper level
Bridges between the
company and the customer
Shared insight is the glue that binds disparate factions
and channels to a common view of the customer and
a collaborative approach to marketing. The challenge
is gaining a deeper understanding of who our best
customers are and what makes them tick:
What are the rational needs and emotional desires that
drive purchase behavior?
What are the underlying fears and uncertainties?
How do your customers feel about your brand?
How is your brand relevant to their lives?
How have purchase patterns changed over time, and why?
What are the indicators of loyalty and attrition?
What life changes and events trigger purchase needs
To what communities, social networks or affinities does
the customer belong or participate?
How does media and social interaction affect purchase
More companies are investing in research and data mining
to gain better customer insight, but many are looking only
in the obvious places, through an analytic rather than a
Outdated research methods in a new market
Despite millions of dollars spent on traditional market
research, nearly 80 percent of new product offerings fail,
according to Gerald Zaltman, professor of marketing at
Harvard Business School and senior fellow at Harvard’s
Mind, Brain and Behavior Initiative.
In his book How Customers Think, Zaltman makes
the case that traditional research tools simply
do not get at the deeper levels of insight that
drive decision-making processes, most of which
are subconscious. Using a process of “consensus
mapping” to identify contributing
and conflicting emotions, he offers
an interesting perspective on what
happens within the complex system
of the mind, along with societal
pressures, as consumers contemplate
their needs and evaluate different
1Bridges between the
company and the customer
“95% of all cognition occurs below
awareness in the shadows of the
mind, while at most 2% occurs in
the higher-order conscious.”
–Gerald Zaltman, How Customers Think
2Bridges between the
companies and communities
As product advantage has been largely neutralized, brand
preference is attained more by trust than image. And so
a company’s value system is increasingly important to
consumers, still harboring feelings of distrust resulting
from corporate greed and self-serving motives that helped
lead us to the past recession. It’s about being a good
company, not just selling good products. Good companies
have a social and environmental conscience, treat their
employees well, and give back to the community.
Marketing that reaches out to communities as well as to
individual customers is more likely to get to those deeper
levels of engagement and emotional connection:
Taps into a sense of belonging that builds brand affinity and
relevance – pull vs. push effect
Creates a brand presence within communities that builds
talk value and social reinforcement
Reinforces a corporate culture of integrity and social
conscience – rather than profit motivation
Makes the brand part of the social fabric of our lives, not
just purchase transactions – higher purpose
Emanates within the company and extends to the
community – employee engagement
Philip Kotler is one of the elder statesmen of the practice of
marketing, from an academic standpoint. A recognized guru
of marketing management, author and tenured professor at
Kellogg School of Management, Kotler’s tenure spans 50
years of market evolution. He’s also a long-time champion
of the 4 Ps (product, place, price and promotion), which
he now concedes is an outdated product-centric approach
developed for a “push” market.
by Hermawan and Iwan Setiawan, Kotler talks
about how companies must compete in a
customer-centric “pull” market environment. Digital
technology and social media have
propelled customers to a widespread
clustering effect, self-segmented by
special interests, desires, affinities
and beliefs – what he refers to it as
“communitization.” To compete in the
new market, he concludes, companies
need to take a more holistic approach to
business and marketing, adhering to a
values-driven model that connects not just
with the mind of the consumer but also
the human spirit.
Markets and communities are splintering into smaller
clusters while at the same time expanding geographically
to global markets, crossing over different cultures, beliefs,
languages and affinities. This complex and fractured
environment puts increased pressure on companies to
institute a more centralized approach to marketing that
bridges diverse markets down to community levels, making
customers feel they belong to something more important
than product utility. It’s about socializing brands, not just
Tap into community-owned web space to create a
groundswell at local levels
Employ web tools to track and monitor blogs and social
media sites – listening before talking
Encourage employees to extend into the community via
social networks, company-sponsored community activities,
family, friends and word-of-mouth
Support worthy causes, community events and initiatives –
get involved and give back
Demonstrate a societal and environmental conscience
and a commitment to making the world a better place –
Bring a higher level of cognizance to the human side of
business – focus on interactions, not just transactions
Connect with key influencers and opinion leaders within
Tap into the emotional need for shared affinities of beliefs.
Explore means for gaining a deeper level of insight in order
to engage customers on a socially connected rather than
individual, “one-to-one” basis
2Bridges between the
companies and communities
“Consumers want to be connected with
other consumers, not companies.”
– Seth Godin, Tribes, 2008
These bridges are in need of repair
The economic recession has been hard on employee
morale as the workplace is still reeling from massive layoffs,
hiring and wage freezes – all of which have contributed to
a culture of fear and uncertainty in many companies, and
a general distrust of management. Head-count reduction
has clearly demonstrated to employees that they are viewed
as a cost rather than an asset.
Companies need to keep in mind that employees are also
consumers who are wired into communities and social
networks and are sharing their views with the rest of
the world. Employees are more empowered and have a
significant impact on business results, in terms of customer
engagement and brand experience.
A “good place to work” is determined not just by salaries
and benefits, but integrity, social values and environmental
Research has shown that when employees don’t feel
valued and are not emotionally engaged, they tend not to
go above and beyond what is required. More important,
they do not advocate for the company or brand. Yet the
most impactful customer interactions are those personal
encounters with employees. This should put employee
engagement at the top of the list for CEOs, who must now
restore trust in the workplace.
Repair work begins by reprioritizing and defining corporate
values with a purpose that extends beyond profit and return
on shareholder equity. That is the reward. Companies
attempting to align cultures with a pull market must start by
engaging employees to a customer-centric mission.
Employee Loyalty Plummets
In a survey done by the Center for Work-Life Policy,
a New York-based research and consultancy group,
over a period from June 2007 to December 2008, the
proportion of employees who professed loyalty to
their employers dropped from 75 to 30 percent. The
number voicing trust in the company they work for fell
from 79 to 22 percent.
“Companies that embrace and
foster an insular corporate
culture will result in having
employees lose focus of what
really matters – the customer.”
– Peter Drucker, 1954
Gerald Zaltman, professor of marketing at
Harvard Business School, made an interesting
observation in his book, How Customers Think,
that “consumers do not live their lives in the silo-like ways
in which businesses organize themselves.”
Organizations “silo” by nature; defining and protecting
one’s territory is instinctual human behavior. But today’s
complex business environment, with more specialized
competencies, functions and technologies, is causing silos
to splinter into even smaller factions, each with its own
narrowly defined focus, priorities and measurement that
are not always aligned to a common brand strategy.
Functional silos often spawn their own subcultures
within the broader organizational culture that is shaped
by the CEO. Those companies with a top-down control
and command management style tend to encourage
more territorial behavior and hierarchy as employees
compete for power and pecking order. This runs counter
to customer-centric organizations, which are bottom-up,
focused on those points where the employees touch the
customer, and where value is delivered.
Realigning priorities in the C-suite
for the CMO extend beyond marketing functions to include
cultural and operational issues that affect the customer
experience. With this expanded scope comes the need for
more authority, and a greater voice in business strategy
and policy making. It’s a job that has become increasingly
CMOs face significant obstacles in attempting to initiate
a more collaborative approach to planning enterprise
marketing programs that cross different functional silos, lines
of authority and profit centers. Without strong support from
the CEO, this can be a futile undertaking, which is probably
why the average tenure of a CMO is less than two years.
Marketing Sales Finance IT HR
In his book Spanning Silos,
David Aaker, professor emeritus
of marketing strategy at the
Haas School of Business, University of
California Berkeley, is emphatic about
unification. With the market as complex
and fragmented as it has become, he
states, it’s imperative that companies
engage employees in a common sense
of mission and focus that serves to span silos. This can
happen only by creating a more centralized planning
function, driven by a common strategic framework and
This collaborative planning process results in a collective
blueprint or roadmap for implementing more cohesive and
consistent customer engagement programs across different
channels, media and organization silos. Aaker outlines
some of the basic requirements:
Shared customer knowledge and insight
Clarity of mission and purpose
Getting the right people in the right roles
Communication and dialogue
Reaching out to internal influencers and thought-leaders
Breaking down or unifying silo subcultures within the company
The most obvious barriers are negative or even hostile
attitudes toward centralized marketing; difficulty in creating
cross-silo strategies and programs, since there is often too
much focus on tactical activities; lack of strong marketing
talent and leadership to drive change; and most important,
lack of CEO support and dedicated resources.
Is your company culture, management style and
organization structure encouraging territorial protectionism
and competition, or collaboration?
Is there a unified focus on the customer?
Create a customer “touch” map that identifies and qualifies
points of customer engagement across the organization
Engage influencers to foster more interaction and
collaborative planning processes
Build a centralized dashboard that includes both customer
and employee engagement metrics that correlate to
Communicate and socialize external marketing programs to
internal constituents across different silos, making them feel
like a part of the marketing process
Align compensation drivers and incentive-reward programs
to customer-centric behaviors
Is the organization viewed in terms of profit centers to the
company or value centers to the customer?
Look at your organization from outside-in; how does it look
from a customer perspective?
Identify which silos to break down and which to unify
Do marketing practices emanate from the needs of
the customer, or the company? How can these be
Are employees empowered to initiate action and make
decisions that enhance the customer experience?
Is the customer’s voice represented in policy making and
The days of proprietary, single-channel
distribution are over
Sales and distribution channels have long been the focus
of management in a push business model, fueled by sales
quotas, lead generation and conversion rates. Growth has
traditionally been driven by increased sales productivity,
expanded market coverage and by extending product lines.
In tough times the battle cry has been: sell harder and wider.
Today it’s sell softer and more focused.
The channel is also where customer relationships typically
reside – the human side of business that plays a crucial
role in developing long-term loyalty and sustained revenue
growth. The challenge faced by many companies has
been, and continues to be, controlling the channel – not
just managing sales reps, agents and dealer networks, but
creating a higher level of collaboration with shared access
to customer relationships. It’s a challenge made more
complicated in today’s customer controlled, multi-channel
The customer is empowered to circumvent or cross the
boundaries of once-proprietary sales and distribution
networks and buy direct. As the channel dynamic has shifted
from push to pull, it is the customer who has gained leverage
and control. As such, the basic function of sales channels
has changed from one of selling to access and facilitation:
engaging with customers and helping them buy, then
sustaining the relationship.
Companies may need to rethink the way they approach
channel management as part of a broader customer
engagement strategy. This requires more synergy and
continuity in the overall customer experience, with a
focus that extends beyond individual sales performance.
Compensation drivers need to extend beyond short-term
financial goals to longer-term customer metrics.
5Bridges between sales channels
and distribution partners
The flow has been reversed from distribution push to access pull, changing
the function of the channel from selling to facilitating purchase by building
relationships on trust through more personal interaction.
Provide the channel with insight and conversation-starters,
rather than traditional sales training
Use interactive tools that empower sales reps to engage
with customers in conversation rather than present to them
Target decision-makers rather than product users or
gatekeepers. Get to the people with authority to say yes,
not no, and those looking for the best value, not just the
Ask relevant questions to better understand needs and
emotional decision-drivers. Look past product features to
uncover what buyers really want – where is the itch?
Rather than trying to clone your best sales people, clone
your best customers
Integrating sales and marketing functions requires breaking
down some long-standing territorial boundaries. The line
that separates the two is increasingly blurred in a pull
market – both need to be focused on the same agenda
Extend and diversify customer relationships across different
value centers within the organization, rather than protecting
relationships to maintain leverage and control
Use social media networks to listen and learn
Find ways to create more interface between customers
Include sales reps and distribution partners in planning
processes and marketing campaigns
Breaking the 80-20 rule
The primary barrier to business growth has been Pareto’s
80-20 Rule, which dictates the distribution of inputs and
outputs. Sales productivity is predictably unbalanced,
with 80 percent of the revenue coming from 20 percent
of sales reps or distribution partners, and 80 percent
of repeat-purchase volume coming from 20 percent of
customers. As the cost of maintaining sales organizations
continues to increase, the economics of the 80-20 Rule
have become less cost feasible.
Companies can break the rule by refocusing channel
priorities and compensation drivers on key customers
rather than broad-based selling, and on creation of value
rather than sales revenue. It starts with attracting the right
customers and engaging them at a deeper level – by
chumming rather than hunting. This, of course, requires
the right chum.
of the customer’s needs and help them buy will be more
successful in a pull market. It’s a scratch in search of an
5Bridges between sales channels
and distribution partners
“The aim of marketing is to know
and understand the customer so
well that the product or service
fits the need and sells itself.”
Back in the day, companies could control media, and
audiences were captive. The media landscape was simpler
and more manageable because it was limited to broadcast
and print that was bought and sold in increments of time
and space, measured in reach and frequency, driven by
interruptive creative. Media planning was quantified
by circulation, viewers and listeners, as determined by
research from relatively small samplings of the mass
market. Content was determined by agencies and media
companies and pushed through the pipeline, with revenue
derived from advertising or subscription fees.
That was then. Now content is available from multiple
to share freely. “Content wants to be free” attitudes are
putting increased pressure on the media industry to evolve
new revenue models for a pull market. Budgets are shifting
from mass to micro, from passive to interactive, because
traditional advertising is no longer as effective or cost-
efficient as it once was, nor credible. Agencies are shifting
to digital marketing, but many are still attempting to apply
interruptive push advertising methods to pull media. This
may create brand awareness but does not contribute to a
meaningful brand experience – only a media experience,
which cannot sustain.
To be effective, media planning must be done within the
context of a broader customer engagement planning
process that incorporates multiple channels and touch
points. Companies that can listen and receive, not just
broadcast, with a strategy to move customers to human
interaction, will build a stronger, more sustaining connection
with the brand.
It took 30 years for television to get
50 million viewers. It took the Internet
five years to get 50 million viewers.
It took Facebook five years to get
500 million viewers.
6Bridges between disparate
Are we chasing digital media technology in search of a
Are we pushing offers and promotional messages
through media channels, or engaging customers with pull
Do we have a measurement system that crosses different
media with common customer metrics?
Do we have a proactive social media strategy, or are we
jumping in because it’s the next new thing?
Are we managing campaigns in a cohesive and
Are we delivering a consistent brand message across
disparate media, using integrated marketing operations
and data management?
Are we all working from the same playbook?
Media does not engage, people engage – there is a need for
human voice in a digital world.
6Bridges between disparate
A Yankelovich study reports that 70 percent
of consumers are actively looking for a way
to block, opt-out of or eliminate advertising.
Consumer trust in advertising has plunged
41 percent over the past five years.
Chief Cat Herder
How specialization plays against marketing synergy and harmony.
The CMO’s task of planning and managing cohesive cross-
channel marketing programs is difficult enough without
having to manage numerous agencies and outsource
service providers – hundreds for some larger companies
– all of which are competing for their piece of the client
budget. A “best of breed” approach to marketing services
that focuses on specific media applications requiring
highly specialized competencies, proprietary technologies
and platforms, independent strategies, and performance
metrics, can make it inordinately difficult to orchestrate
synergistic campaigns with a consistent brand message
and cohesive customer experience.
Collaboration is crucial in an increasingly fractured,
disjointed marketing services industry.
This necessarily starts with shared insight, data and systems
integration, with a common strategic blueprint. It means
crossing over the digital divide to include offline as well as
online interactions. It also requires a central dashboard or
scorecard that focuses on the customer, not isolated media
metrics, thus allowing the CMO to quantify results across
Marketing cacophony exists when the finest instruments
are brought together, each playing its own music, in its
own key and time, with the highest level of proficiency.
But the overall sound is a collison, just more noise. It
puts a lot of pressure on the conductor.
7Bridges between outsource partners
Building stronger bridges between outsource partners
starts with a higher level of collaboration, communication,
shared insight and clearly defined business objectives –
working from a common playbook. This requires putting
the needs of individual partners second to the best interests
of the customer.
Who’s leading the charge? Leadership is essential in
creating a centralized planning function for cross-channel
customer engagement that brings together disparate
partners, internal stakeholders and organization silos to a
Do we have a means and process for communication and
Do we have a common scorecard that ties together
different campaigns and media applications?
Is there a way to link outsource activities to common
business objectives and performance metrics?
Define roles and accountabilities: How do we consolidate
and synchronize outsource functions, reducing overlap while
optimizing different competencies?
Are we giving partners a voice in campaign planning and
strategy, or are we giving them marching orders? Are
we tapping the intellectual capital as well as the tactical
Do we have an open forum for discussion, brainstorming and
whiteboard planning with agencies and service providers?
7Bridges between outsource partners
In his book Total Access,
Regis McKenna argues that
marketers must shed their
marginal role as image creators and
take on the brave new role of managing
a complex network of relationships and
infrastructures – the seven bridges. It
requires integrating the people and
technology tools necessary to deliver value to every
customer. Competitive advantage, he claims, comes from
engaging the entire business in this total-access network,
making marketing a mission-critical enterprise-wide
responsibility, rather than simply a departmental function.
The new CEO imperative is to turn the ship, facilitating
changes necessary to better align the organization to a pull
market, which the customer now controls. It is business not
But change does not come easily. Individuals and
organizations are resistant to change, since it is threatening
to the comfort of status quo. Many CEOs are reluctant to
initiate change that can be disruptive to the organization
and continuity of operations. It requires a redistribution
of authority with empowerment at those points where the
customer comes in contact with the organization. It’s a shift
from transactions to interactions, from profit to intrinsic
value, from building brands to customer loyalists.
This can happen only with strong leadership. It’s moving the
organization to a common sense of mission, to accept change
and disruptive innovation, creating a more meaningful
dialogue with employees and customers and making them
feel connected to the brand – not just the products but the
people. That requires a fundamental shift from distribution
push to access pull – from selling to helping customers buy
and feel good about their purchase.