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  1. Are your marketing efforts focused on the right results?
  2. Are you clear about what you want customers to do?
  3. Are you clear about the rich story you want customers to understand?
  4. Are your marketing efforts integrated over the entire lifecycle of a customer’s relationship with your company?
  5. Are you focused on internal marketing within the company?
  6. Does management allow its marketing professionals to succeed?
  7. Does your marketing department “get it done?”

It was a very snowy day, and little Billy stood just inside his family’s garage, shovel in hand, reluctant to start his chore. “I have to leave home in an hour,” his mother had said, “which gives you plenty of time to shovel the driveway.”

Billy was cold, and the snow was still falling. He shivered inside his parka, thinking about how cold his hands and feet would be once he started shoveling. “How are you doing Billy?” he heard his mom yell from the kitchen.

He pushed the shovel into the snow and took a step forward. Cold snowflakes fell on his face, so he hurriedly stepped back into the garage. He moved to the right, and pushed his shovel into the driveway, just next to his first tiny clearing in the snow. He had now cleared an area about three feet long and two shovel-widths across. He moved one more step to the right, adding a third tiny clearing next to the first two. Quickly, he repeated this a few more times, tossing the snow as far as he could to the side, until he reached the far right side of the driveway. “I’m doing great, Mom,” he yelled back. “I’ve made it the whole way across.” “Good job, honey,” she replied. Billy smiled.

And then his smiled disappeared. Billy knew what lay before him. He knew that he had just completed the easiest piece of his job, and he knew that it was only a matter of time before he had to plunge out into the cold, leaving the comfort of the garage. He stood at the far left side of the garage, took a deep breath, ran three feet out into the driveway to the end of his cleared area, and madly shoveled another set of small clearings as he moved to the right. Then, he returned to the garage and waited.

Billy’s mom came into the garage through the kitchen door. “Billy, I’m leaving soon, and you’ve barely started shoveling. You better get moving, mister!”

“Sorry, Mom, but there’s so much to do.”

“Billy, no excuses. Keep working, and make sure I can get out of the driveway.”

Billy turned and looked at his mom’s car, parked in the garage behind him. He imagined her backing out, with her wheels hitting snow after only a few feet of cleared driveway. He turned back and gazed out through the falling snow toward the street, which seemed a mile away, and could see why his mom was so disappointed with him. His meager six feet of cleared space was only an insignificant part of what lay between him and the end of the driveway.

Then, it struck him. As he pictured his mom’s car backing out of the garage, he realized that only her tires would be hitting the snow. He didn’t need to clear the whole driveway, just enough space for her tires to make it to the street. He lined up his shovel with her back right tire and made a mad dash out into the driveway, shoveling a straight path, tossing the snow to the side as he worked his way toward the street. As the end of the driveway became closer, he found himself accelerating his pace, working faster and faster until he finally reached the street. He didn’t even notice the cold.

Billy ran back to the garage, and immediately cleared a parallel path behind the back left tire. In only minutes he was finished, and proudly ran in to tell his mom, “You can leave now.”

One of the most influential business books I have read is Peter Drucker’s classic from 1966, The Effective Executive. One of the main lessons in the book is that the real key to effectiveness is not doing things right, it’s doing the right things. Did Billy do a perfect job shoveling the driveway? No. Did he “do the right thing” so that his mom could leave home? Yes.

I get a chance to look at many marketing departments, and many of them remind me of Billy at the early stages of the story, not sure what to do, awestruck by the amount of work they have to do, losing sight of their real goals. They may be doing each thing right – picking the best fonts, learning all about new social media trends, obeying proper market research techniques – but are they doing the right things?

Your marketing department is, no doubt, busy, overworked and understaffed. But how much of the work in your marketing department amounts to shoveling snow that isn’t in the way of the car? Is your marketing department confusing the task of shoveling with the goal of clearing a path all the way to the street?

In defense of marketing departments, our last issue discussed how a marketing team’s effectiveness is often compromised by micro-management from above. If you see a marketing manager shoveling a circular path to nowhere, there’s a good chance that she is acting on the orders of some senior vice-president.

But, C-suite meddling notwithstanding, is your marketing department set up to get the right things done?

I am 100% convinced of this: Creating a “to-don’t list” is the most important key to improving a marketing department’s effectiveness. Once Billy realized what he didn’t have to do, completing the job was much easier. Ok, so your marketing team can’t ignore as much of the snow as Billy did, but can they ignore enough of the snow so that they can make a major difference in their ability to get the right things done? Of course they can.

As I wrote in the first issue in this series, “one of the most common problems I see is a disconnect between the results the marketing efforts try to create and the results the business needs.” Create your marketing to-don’t list by using your company’s true business goals as a filter.

I did this exercise just last week with a client. By identifying the most lucrative areas of untapped latent profit in the business, we were able to make important decisions about marketing priorities. Some activities that previously seemed important lose their urgency when you realize that they really aren’t clearing a path to the end of the driveway.

As a general rule, marketing people are hard workers, and marketing departments put in lots of long hours. The key to marketing effectiveness usually isn’t a better work ethic or more late nights at the office. The key lay in Peter Drucker’s timeless advice: Do the right things.

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