May 21, 2012

Swim Lanes

In merchandising, some companies introduce the concept of "swim lanes".  This is a valuable concept.  Merchandise is forced to stay within a swim lane, to eliminate the myriad problems associated with redundant skus.  Merchants are assigned a category, and are asked to not interfere with the work of another merchant. Each merchandise category is allowed to grow and thrive, without interference from the efforts of an employee responsible for another merchandise category.  In theory, this helps simplify the purchase process for customers as well.

Now let's look at the failed concept known as "multi-channel marketing".  Everybody is an expert!!  The Chief Merchandising Office knows what email campaigns need to look like.  The Chief Operating Officer possesses distaste for affiliate marketers.  The Chief Financial Officer wants to trim catalog circulation by 30% (and would trim it by 97% if she could, because you just mail the customers who are going to purchase, right?).  The Chief Creative Officer thinks you need to "engage" the customer more via social media, and will work behind your back on developing a content-based strategy on Twitter, if necessary.  The Chief Inventory Officer wants to abandon paid search because it cannibalizes organic search results.  

The Chief Marketing Officer actively mines her network on LinkedIn, anticipating her next job.

Have you ever been in one of these meetings?  A half-dozen Executives all jumping out of their swim lanes to improve marketing performance?

I remember being at Lands' End in the early 1990s ... a profitable quarter was blown up, in part because somebody in Finance made some sort of mistake on currency exchange rates.  I remember the gnashing of teeth, because that mistake cost every employee a percentage of his/her annual bonus.  Nobody likes it when a bean counter is responsible for taking beans away from you!

I don't remember employees telling Finance how to manage money, however.  Money, even if mis-managed, was part of the Finance swim lane.

And you don't often see marketing leaders demanding a right to determine which robotics system to use in a warehouse, do you?

When it comes to marketing, swim lanes break down.  Everybody is an expert, right?!

A strong Marketing leader has facts to back up his/her claims.  A strong Marketing leader listens to Executives, then helps Executives move back into their swim lanes when appropriate.  A strong Marketing leader reminds every employee of the importance of Merchandise ... in other words, when business is down by 10%, the Marketer quantifies that Merchandise weakness is casing 9 points of the 10 point drop ... then the Marketer offers solutions to help the Merchant regain a few points.

A strong Marketing leader teaches Executives to respect each other.  A strong Marketing leader teaches Executives the limited potential of tools/techniques.  A strong Marketing leader teaches Executives the unlimited potential of creativity/working-together.

Finally, a strong Marketing leader reminds Executives about swim lanes ... reminding Executives about the importance of focusing on what one knows best.

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