Building a marketing program isn’t for the faint of heart. The way we communicate has gotten orders of magnitude more complex over the past decade. And, strategies that once needed a knowledgeable resource or two, now require entire teams of strategic, creative, and technical experts, as well as a project manager tying them all together. Reaching new customers while staying within your resource limitations in this new environment is possible, but it means you’ll need to pull an elephant sized-rabbit out of a teacup-sized hat.
If you need the expertise of a full marketing team, but are struggling to build one, you’re not alone. Juggling your organization’s marketing goals, strategy, and resources is a common challenge for executives in most verticals these days, and a particularly poignant one for those trying to do so on a budget. Understanding how modern marketing teams have evolved to deal with an omnichannel world is the first step; knowing how to bridge the gap between marketing aspirations and resources is next. In this post we’ll explore strategies for building a high-functioning marketing team without breaking the bank.
In a frictionless world, our products and services would fly “off the shelf” forever in a state of perpetual growth, driven only by the slightest gust of advocacy and good intentions. Unfortunately, the buyer’s journey is filled with roadblocks, from concern about wasted time and money to the quality of after-sale support. Our goal, as marketers, is to cut through the noise and position our products and services as the best solution to a unique problem. To do it, we leverage a wide range of value propositions, brand promises, reasons-to-believe, et al in order to push past buyers’ fears, clear the path-to-purchase and foster the type of long term relationships that drive loyalty.
There, of course, are many ways to accomplish that. From brute force campaigns that leave audiences annoyed, but aware, to humorous messaging that disarms, but scores lower in overall recall. In an increasingly attention-constrained world, the one thing an effective strategy absolutely has to do is reach critical mass – that is the necessary volume and quality of word of mouth to drive sales.The process often requires more than a well-placed billboard or PR campaign, though. That’s not to say that channel-based efforts can’t make an impact; they can and do. It’s that we live in a world so saturated with people clamoring for our attention that reaching buyers means meeting them on all the platforms, channels and devices where they now spend time.
Organizations who want to grow quickly need to go a step further by turning what otherwise would be disparate types of messaging into a single contiguous storyline. If effective multi-channel messaging takes a team of subject matter experts, seamless omnichannel storytelling takes a deeply integrated marketing machine. Done well, the approach can be used transcend awareness altogether and start building positive sentiment before the buyer ever even sees the product. Doing it is challenging, takes time, and has, historically, reserved for enterprise brand, but its not out of reach for other organizations. It just starts with the right experts, operational framework, and approach.
Your first marketing hire will almost certainly be a leader. If not a full-blown manager, director, or officer, then someone who has innate curiosity about what factors that influence your audience’s decision making processes. One of the most common traps for hiring managers at this phase is looking for a marketing “unicorn” or “ninja” – someone with universal expertise in every discipline you’re interested in leveraging. The best marketing leaders generally aren’t multi-faceted prodigies, though. They’re often operations junkies with deep emotional intelligence, an analytical mind, and the ability to use conceptual thinking to weave various types of communications into a single compelling story.
In fact, you’d probably be surprised at how little understanding of a specific channel, vertical, or business ecosystem a great marketing leader actually needs to be successful. The most valuable use of their time isn’t building pay-per-click campaigns or writing social media posts; it’s helping the people that do specialize in these areas be more efficient, reach their target audience more often, and convert more when they do. It’s about continually shaping your brand to align with the target audience through messaging that reaches the right people at the right time with a unique solution to their specific business or personal challenge.
If you don’t have the resources to bring on a full-time marketing leader just yet, don’t worry; you still have options. You can use platforms like UpWork or Fiverr to find an SMB marketing consultant capable of customizing a strategy to your unique goals. Since they’re not an employee, you won’t have to worry about ongoing costs. You can use these same platforms to source subject matter and platform experts that specialize in your target niche or channel. You’ll be overseeing your own program for awhile, but the strategy is often enough to bridge the gap between where you are and having the resources to employ a dedicated marketing leader. Other alternatives include an SMB marketing agency or even a fractional (or part-time) CMO. Both usually have some amount of strategy and project management resources built into their offering.
The only way to fail at marketing faster than a bad strategy is an under-resourced strategy. Neither is ideal, but for the same amount of money, a mediocre team with a bad strategy can still drive more recall through brute force than a great strategy with no resources to back it up. The moral of the story is that before hiring a marketing leader, part of your arithmetic should be the resources to support their vision – whether that be through tools and platforms, expertise, or even ad dollars. No organization is drawing from a bottomless well, but a good rule of thumb before going into the hiring process is to have double your leader’s salary on hand (or in anticipated revenue) as a starting point for what they’ll need to be successful.
If this sounds like an impossible commitment, you’re not alone. There’s a delta between the need for a skilled integrated marketing team and the resources needed to power one, and it’s been growing for over two decades. The good news is that once you’ve brought on a leader, there are several ways to approach supporting them based on your organization’s unique resources, maturity, and growth strategy:
Channel-based teams are generally mixed marketing executive and an amalgam of various disciplinary specialists (copywriters, developers, paid media contractors, et al). The strategy is popular with small for and nonprofit businesses as well as early stage startups where the approach can be used most effectively to build campaigns that create a toehold with a niche audience or platform. While these teams are flexible, efficient, relatively low commitment, they are usually limited to a fairly narrow scope of deliverables and are difficult to scale. Building a channel-based team can be a trial-by-fire in why working with marketing teams is so important.
Hub-and-spoke teams generally consist of a central in-house marketing expert and multiple agency partners. In this style, the leader is dedicated and each partner team usually has an internal strategy and project management apparatus that allows the leader to focus on both brand and campaign strategy The strategy is popular in the startup, nonprofit, and B2B spaces, where it allows managers to build multi-channel campaigns that reach audiences throughout the journey. While this style allows leaders to scale quickly, it also tends to end up in a scenario where partners compete for your marketing dollar, rather than work together to amplify it.
Fractional marketing teams allow growing brands to focus on the depth and breadth of their team by employing a large group of experts for a small amount of time each month vs hiring a fewer full time experts without the scope. This is a newer strategy becoming more popular with organizations that don’t want a marketing footprint and usually accomplished through the auspices of a full-stack (or full service) marketing agency partner. It also allows them to stay flexible and avoid committing to a big in house marketing team for a little extra or no net cost/ While fractional teams offer a lot of expertise for less cost, they need to be deeply embedded with your team in a way that allows them to become an extension of it.
Dedicated marketing teams represent a more traditional – and enterprise-focused – model where many types of resources, from creatives to technicians are pulled in house. These teams tend to be more effective at creating deeply integrated or omnichannel messaging and by nature of a common work environment and having the budget for marketing operations specialists like project managers, analysts, etc. These types of teams are expensive and carry a lot of commitment however and as organizations grow into this structure, many of their early gains are often pumped back into acquiring the additional inhouse resources they need to be successful.
The most important thing they don’t teach in business school is that the purpose of a marketing team isn’t to sell things; it’s to act as the tip of the spear in creating an audience so passionate about your product and services that they sell things for you. That may seem self-evident on its face. Yet, many organizations still put marketing in a silo, getting frustrated when they put a dime in one side of the business and a dollar doesn’t automatically pop out of the other. In reality, exponential growth is the exclusively result of marketing, product, sales, support, and business intelligence teams working together to amplify word-of-mouth by creating unimpeachable brand experiences over and over and over again.
Likewise, marketing to everyone, everywhere, all at once is a quick recipe for burning a lot of cash quickly. In the early stages of your marketing team’s journey, one of your most important jobs will be to conserve cash by focusing on those audience’s with the tightest possible product-market fit. To do this, you’ll need to have more than a cursory understanding of your target audience. Most company’s idea of a branding process is the development of a brand or word mark (a logo). In reality, the branding process begins well before and expands far beyond these first steps. The better understanding your marketing team has of the audience, what they value, their personal style, and what makes them tick, the less expensive and more successful their outreach will be.
Growing an organization in this business environment can, at once, feel exciting, impossible, and maddening. Communicating with customers practically requires a full-time marketing team but those same teams are out of reach for most. Catalyst can help. We’re an integrated marketing agency purpose-built to help growing organizations scale smarter. If you’d like a hand reaching your goals, lets talk.
Omnichannel marketing offers communications leaders a powerful strategy for creating relationship-driven brand storytelling . It can be enormously effective at growing a loyal following, but delivering on that promise is often more complex than it first appears....