A while ago my wife was feeling weak, excessively tired, and had a mild cough, headache and sore throat. She endured these symptoms for nearly six weeks believing they’d eventually go away. When she finally went to the doctor she was diagnosed with a severe case of walking pneumonia and was immediately put on bed rest and antibiotics.

According to Mary Lawler, a medical expert at the University of Oklahoma, “Walking pneumonia patients are seldom ill enough to require hospitalization. But if left untreated, walking pneumonia can cause serious problems and even be deadly. This condition is at its most lethal when it strikes the very old or very young or when it’s left untreated for so long it reaches a crisis stage.”

Why does this matter to marketing leaders?

iStock_SickBusinessman_350 (1)After consulting over 100 brands, it has become pretty clear that, regardless of size (i.e. a small nonprofit organization or a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate), you likely have at least one brand steward who is managing talented teams of professionals, suffering with their own type of walking pneumonia. The root causes of their problem may differ but their common symptom is they are settling for “good enough” and failing to deliver, “great”.

The issue is, many professionals don’t actually believe they are sick.

Like my wife, these professionals don’t believe they are sick. They endure mild pains and inconveniences and are operating at far less than full capacity, thinking they are just fine. They tolerate such symptoms as lack of process, lack of role clarity, and lack of campaign accountability as they numbingly endure their daily grind, feeling uninspired or unfulfilled. They allow themselves to suffer intense moments of internal politics, turf wars, and have become largely desensitized to poor internal communications.

As the sickness takes hold…

Overtime, as a coping mechanism, they’ve adopted several bad habits that suppress creativity, destroy efficiency, and damage morale. Even worse, they fail to seek the needed help to correct flawed strategies or tactics they know are less effective. Instead, they opt to maintain status quo either due to fear or indifference. If these disturbing conditions persist, the best-case scenario is these talented people resign to pursue a healthier work environment. Worst case, they stay and contribute to the gradual decline of your company’s financial and cultural well-being.

mtvI mean look at brands like Quiznos, who along with structuring issues have lost their way and identity as a chain, or Red Lobster, that is losing brand loyalty like crazy. The once iconic MTV is even now plagued with issues; does the M mean nothing to their team? Low cost programming and mind-numbing shows like “Teen Moms” are a far cry from their once boundary pushing content.

So what’s the cure?

While ‘marketing pneumonia’ can’t be cured with bed rest or antibiotics, brand stewards should seek professional help STAT. It’s important that when the sickness begins to show, you tackle it head on. We at Cult have developed a program, affectionately called, “Marketing Rehab” to help marketing departments overcome their bad behaviours and inject new life and energy into the workforce. For this approach to work, it’s important that your “doctor” be able to work alongside all members of your team, allowing the medical professional to properly diagnosis the problems – not just focus on the symptoms to the underlying issues – and then prescribe the appropriate remedies to get the team healthy and functioning properly.

Get yourself the help you deserve, if left untreated it might be too late.

Self Diagnosis

Do your own check up and see if your marketing department is showing any signs of the following symptoms:

  1. Are you spending more advertising media dollars each year on mass channels or programming that is actually reaching fewer people?
  2. Do you focus more resources on acquisition rather than reducing customer attrition?
  3. Is your cost per customer acquisition significantly higher than it was three years ago?
  4. Is your brand reaping tangible benefits from word of mouth?
  5. Is your team doing things the same way it was done 4-5 years ago?
  6. Are you spending more and more on discounts and promotions to stimulate traffic?
  7. Is your employee retention lower than normal?
  8. Are some teams with measurable ROI minimized or underfunded in favour of mass marketing teams with more noticeable deliverables?

If you answered yes to four or more of these questions, you’re sicker than you think.

If you’re a really new company, or very old established company, your condition is likely critical. Just like with real pneumonia, the new and the old are the most vulnerable. New companies are so resource constrained they don’t have the luxury of running sub-optimally for very long. While old companies have the tendency to gradually grow dysfunctional, often requiring drastic treatment to shock the system back to the realities of high performing cultures.

Consult your nearest physician, or marketing expert.

Marketing pneumonia is a fun name for serious problem. I witnessed firsthand the problems that plagued Blockbuster Video, seeing how negative issues within their marketing team contributed to their demise. Working with Sears taught me that while dozens of people might know they are terribly ‘sick’, marketing managers can still be seemingly unaware of the extent of their illness.

I’ve seen dozens of clients led by marketing leaders with exaggerated egos waste millions on unaccountable sponsorships or television campaigns while CRM or SEM professionals, with amazingly actionable data aimed at retaining and growing customers, struggle to fund profitable initiatives. I’ve even seen smaller companies try to ‘act big’ by adopting organizational structures or advertising playbooks made popular from other brands and implement completely inappropriate structures for their unique needs.

Don’t suffer undesirable symptoms of lackluster marketing performance any longer. Seek professional help to diagnosis your ailments and prescribe solutions.

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