Blog post

Don’t Let Process Overtake Purpose in Marketing

By Jake Sorofman | March 31, 2016 | 0 Comments

digital marketing

I once worked for a brilliant and creative CMO—we’ll call him Frank—who outlawed process within his marketing organization. He associated any application of process with its worst mutated forms.

To him, process was a race to the bottom. It meant mindless adherence to doctrine where, over time, the emphasis would inevitably shift from the outside-in perspective of the product, the market, the customer, the business objective itself to the inside-out (or sometimes inside-in) world or rules, roles, policies and politics of the organization. Frank felt that process would make the company collectively stupid.

His views may have been extreme, but we can all relate.

We’ve all witnessed process that had lost sight of its purpose, where business devolves into a kabuki dance of corporate parody governed by the guiding force of sheer inertia, and where ineffectual bureaucracies overtake common sense and good reason in the daily conduct of work.

That sentence alone makes my teeth hurt.

But as unfashionable at it may seem, I’m actually a believer in process. Without a codified way of doing things, we end up wasting energy and effort in a cycle of perpetual reinvention. Clearly defined rules and roles help us scale efficiently by making decision-making and workflow predictable and repeatable. Anyone who has run a marketing organization—or any organization for that matter—understands the importance of rhythm and cadence. Without some structure it’s impossible to achieve.

But, to Frank’s point, process can also mutate into something more insidious. When we blindly follow process without critical examination of what it is we’re trying to achieve, we invite mediocrity. We lower the collective intelligence of the organization. This can damage culture and mortally threaten franchise.

That’s why we need both—process to streamline and structure how decisions are made and work is executed together with a culture of continuous improvement. This culture should favor data over instinct and, crucially, encourage what is perhaps the most liberating question in business: why?

You see Frank’s fear of the process monster was right on. Without a culture that continuously challenges the status quo, this race to this bottom is inevitable. But process itself isn’t to blame. We are.

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