Do marketing communications teams have a future?

I was intrigued to read this post by Paul Worthington at Wolff Olins blog earlier today. Especially the idea that he raises in the third and fourth paragraphs where he poses two questions: what is it that really makes Google Googley (to paraphrase the idea) and, if its usefulness does the brand trick all on its own, does this challenge presumptions about the elevated status of brand?

(Focusing on those two paragraphs doesn’t reflect a lack of interest in the whole purpose of the post, by the way. I’ll be very interested to see the outcome of the exercise that Paul’s describing and the conclusions that Wolff Olins draw from it.)

It’s a similar train of thought to my post a year or so ago on signature interaction and chimes with ideas like Alex Bogusky and John Winsor‘s Baked In.

However, the reason I was all the more intrigued by Paul Worthington’s post was because, yesterday, I delivered a lecture about Bringing a brand to life to an inspiringly sparky group of final year students at Kingston University’s School of Art, Design and Architecture.

During the course of the lecture, I ran through my favourite model of brand dimensions offered by Wally Olins – whose name still adorns Wolff Olins’s own business although, these days, Olins is chairman of Saffron Consultants – in his brilliant book The Brand Handbook.

I’ve posted the relevant visuals from the lecture at the top of this post but the gist of it is that I introduced the group to the model, then took a look at the things that were affecting the traditional process of manufacturing marketing communications – the financial crisis and the loss of consumer confidence in general corporate behaviour, the rise of mobile platforms and devices, and the advent of the social web – and then came back to the Olins model again.

In the process of doing so – both in preparation for the lecture and during it – it struck me that the status of marketing communications teams as an organisational function is not just fragile; instead, the prognosis for them appears to be terminal.

So too is the traditional nomenclature for product or proposition marketing.

It seems counter-intuitive to me that traditional organisational structures can persist in the face of a radically changing communications environment in which the consumers of their products or services exist. That’s not to say that specific expertise in communication or product design isn’t required, it’s the general approach to organisation of that expertise that isn’t required.

In other words, it strikes me that if – as Bogusky and Winsor suggest – we are entering an era where marketing communications and product development are ‘baked in’ to a product or service, then the only thing that organisations need to concern themselves with is cradle-to-grave interaction design. Gone is the need for permanently embedded professional cohorts and in comes a flatter, more agile, mash-up of multi-disciplinary approaches resembling project management methodology – in terms of gathering and dispersal of expertise – but with its focus on outside-in experience rather than inside-out requirements.

So it is difficult to see how, as organisational entities, the disciplines of marketing communications and product marketing can avoid convergence with customer service and information technology; especially when – to consumers of their products and services – the boundaries between those functions are indistinct and irretrievably intertwined.

For instance, is a response to a comment posted by Joe Public on a brand’s Facebook page promotional? Or is it simply a question for customer service? Or one for PR, or even a web team? The reality is, it’s likely to cut across each of those disciplines in one way or another.

In fact, it is already becoming difficult to see the join between products and services among leading brands whose reputations have, historically, been as product manufacturers.

Where, for example, does the iPhone stop and its functionality as a service start? And at what point in the consumer journey does Apple stop being a product manufacturer and transform into a retailer?

To use the well-worn comic device: ‘How many marketers will it take to change a lightbulb?’.

‘Possibly none.’

Not a joke, though; potentially a truism.

 

One thought on “Do marketing communications teams have a future?

  1. This raises some fascinating conversations around who owns a company’s communications. I think it’s perfectly fair to say the rules are changing.

    I can still see a need for a Comms team as a function but, as you suggest, it would need to shift its focus to firmly embedding and communicating the values of a brand. This is as important as ever with the more virtual touch-points that become possible with the social web.

    With this, clear and flexible parameters need to be established that reflect the brand’s core values so that it’s understood by all employees up and down the organisational structure. Spotting new communication opportunities and understanding the channels to deem what’s appropriate is another aspect. And then there’s PR and understanding the business vision and strategy to create consistent messages to the outside world. There seems to be some argument for even more integration with Human Resources so that you’re truly embedding the brand philosophy.

    A role that I’m seeing more of recently is the Community Manager. This (in a nutshell) is someone that listens, informs and responds to sentiment and conversations about a brand. This role can provide the feedback loop that is so often missing between a communications team and the sales force in direct contact with the customer. In an online world, sentiment can be so hard to track that you could have someone dedicated to monitoring and reacting to just that.

    However, is it now possible to outsource all these services. Can it be done successfully without appearing disperate? With the right partnerships, yes it probably is.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.