Why Marketing Leaders Should Be Cautious of ‘Team Mentality’ and Encourage Dissent
We casually throw around so many words and analogies in the business world, and the marketing industry specifically, that sometimes their true meaning doesn’t even register with us.
Take the word “team.” Your agency has likely introduced the team working on your account. You may be trying to build the right team within your marketing department. Heck, the group chat software we use at MECLABS Institute is even literally called Teams (from Microsoft).
But do we ever really stop to think about what “team” means and the kind of mentality it fosters?
‘Team’ Has Many Positive Connotations
There are many good reasons to use the word team. Effective marketing is a collaborative process. Quality marketing requires many different skillsets — from data to technology, creativity to project management — which means you need a group with a diverse set of talents filling these positions and working together; in other words, a team.
Looking back at my own writing, I’m often guilty of using the word, as well — like with this headline: “Aligning the entire team around the unifying vision is an integral part of project management.”
But One Element of a Team Is Fatal to Quality Marketing
It is essential for your marketing department to put the customer first — before the team — so you don’t become irrationally attached to your brand, your campaigns, your website. Be an impartial and impassioned judge of all marketing and company activity, based on how it will impact the customer. And drop any concern of being labeled “not a team player,” when that customer advocacy requires pushing back against marketing campaigns, website redesigns, product changes, company policies and organizational initiatives.
And this is equally true of your agencies. I’ve been on both sides of the agency-client relationship. On the agency side, it can be difficult to challenge your client’s blind spots when their creative brief simply lets you know they’re the “industry’s best,” with nothing to back up the claim. On the client side, there is no shortage of agencies that will fill your ads and press release with puffery written with an audience of one in mind — not the customer; but rather, the CMO.
A Successful Marketing Department Is Filled With Customer Supremacy and Civil Dissent
In marketing, dissent is strength. And that dissent is essential to break out of “group think” and advocate for the ultimate decision-maker — the customer.
Here’s a nice example from Jeff Beer’s recent profile of Wieden+Kennedy in Fast Company:
“Sometimes that strong point of view ‘rubs clients the wrong way,’ says one senior big-agency exec who requested anonymity in discussing a rival, ‘but it’s probably the reason why their work hits more than it misses. Most other work today is made to keep clients happy, and that’s why most of it is forgettable.’”
Make Sure the Customer Is the Captain of Your Team
The word “team” isn’t disappearing from marketing departments any time soon. Nor should it. But here are a few thoughts for embracing the collaboration and division of labor that teams can bring without getting swallowed by the insular “you gotta support the team!” thinking that will sink any brand.
- Just Tell Your Team — So many management issues are swept under the rug in business organizations. Talk frankly with your team — internal reports and external vendors – about your own struggles trying to balance loyal alignment on corporate decisions with fierce, but respectful, advocacy for the customer.
- Showmanship — Make sure the customer is a member of the team. It all depends on your management style, but you can add a little creative flair to your customer emphasis. Put a picture of the customer on your desk next to the pictures of your family. Or hang a portrait of a customer on the wall in an open office area. Meeting rooms in Airbnb’s offices take design cues from actual rentals listed on the site. Jeff Bezos famously left an empty chair in every meeting to represent the customer. On the PowerPoint slide that introduces the team at the start of a new project, add a picture of the customer with the title “boss.” Whatever creative technique can grab your team’s attention in a fun way, even if your tongue is firmly planted in your cheek.
- Use Empathy-based Tools — Build a methodology or use tools that have empathy for the customer baked right in. With empathy for marketing leaders in mind, we just so happen to have created free tools and methodologies at MECLABS Institute. Like the “Introductory Guide to Developing Your Customer Theory,” the “CRO Cheat Sheet” and the “Conversion Sequence” heuristic, a patented methodology that can help your team analyze any conversion objective through the eyes of the customer.
Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.