Saturday, February 26, 2011
Broken Windows and Marketing Culture
Many people are familiar with the "Broken Windows" theory from having read Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point.
The theory, not Gladwell's (click on "Broken Windows" above to go the the Wiki page), is that slight neglect or small crimes create a breeding ground for larger, more persistent issues. Consequently, if you want to eliminate major problems, you need to focus on eliminating minor transgressions.
The "Broken Windows theory" is named from an example provided: an unrepaired broken window in an apartment building leads to further neglect, vandalism and, inevitably, worse crimes.
But what does this have to do with creating a marketing culture?
Marketers are often seen as small-minded shrews nagging people to accomplish meaningless tasks.
• Entering contacts or updates into the database.
• Completing surveys after events.
• Taking the time to send out thank you notes.
• Researching people before networking sessions.
• Completing pre-proposal forms.
• Following up in 48 hours. (And then entering that into the database.)
• Reviewing subscription lists before mailings are sent.
• Updating online profiles.
• The list goes on.
We also find ourselves being vetoed by more senior people who let the high-perfomers off the hook ("They closed two big deals this quarter and you're worried about them entering a few marketing activities?!?") or allow special cases* to slide.
Letting your high-performers and special cases off the hook provides plenty of rationale for others looking to shrug off the marketing work:
1) Management doesn't really care about this effort, so why should I?
2) Those people are succeeding because they don't have to waste their time on this.
3) What makes him/her so special? I'm special, too.
4) Why am I the only team player here?
When people see that not everyone is being forced to do something (and it often takes only one example since people look until they find the single exception), they decide they are also off the hook. And then it's a slippery slope, since examples are easier and easier to find. Broken windows everywhere.
Look, I fully understand that we should only worry about the important things. That organizations can and should keep only three to five big goals in the center of their plate. And that everything else is a "nice to have."
So the real question is this: Is creating a marketing culture one of the "need to haves" of your organization?
If it isn't, then don't waste your time trying to get some of the folks to complete the marketing tasks. Certainly don't put an intermediary in the toothless role of nagging people in the hope that enough of them will do it.
However, if a marketing culture is a critical issue for your firm (and I would argue that it must be), then you can't let anyone slide. Not one person. Not for any one of the attributes/tasks you decide is part of this culture. When you do let them slide, you have a broken window. And we know what happens next.
In short: It's not an attribute of your marketing culture unless everyone is doing it all the time. And when any transgressions are met with sharp, high-level disapproval.
To end: Do you want a marketing culture? If so, then senior leadership must be willing to fix any broken windows quickly and publicly.
*Special cases are often simply "squeaky wheels" that are only special since they turn every skirmish into a siege … and who has time or stomach for that?