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Marketing’s Complicated—and it Really Shouldn’t Be

“Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?”

Avril Lavigne

In her catchy tune, Avril Lavigne laments to a friend how unnecessarily complicated their relationship has become. She could have been singing to CMOs who are getting increasingly frustrated that—as Avril puts it—their “life’s like this.”

The tune rang through my mind (because I have daughters and possibly sketchy musical taste) as I recently interviewed Monish Kumar, a partner and the head of The Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG’s) financial institutions practice in North America. Kumar was laying out the largest challenges that global financial services companies face. He mentioned complicatedness —complicated business processes, complicated organizational structures with unclear decision rights, and so forth—which he was careful to distinguish from complexity. “Actually, complexity by itself is not necessarily a bad thing,” said Kumar, who could have been advising CMOs.

Complexity is a necessary thing, given the rise of global business, the advancement of technology, and the growing sophistication of business processes (think of customer segmentation, channel marketing, and advanced analytics). Complicatedness, on the other hand, can be a very bad thing to CMOs, according to Accenture’s “CMO Insights” survey report: “In the face of increasing complexity in the markets and customers they serve, CMOs are struggling to keep pace with competing business demands, proliferating channels and partners, and a disconnect between the talent they have and the capabilities they need.”

This CMO struggle is about marketing’s response to complexity; too often, marketing is responding to complexity with complicatedness.

Given the recent proliferation of marketing channels (complexity), CMOs are marshaling an army of agencies and alliance partners and inadvertently fostering a highly fragmented environment  (complicatedness), according to the Accenture report. This research indicates that between 45 and 75 percent of marketing activities are managed by digital agencies, specialized agencies, and marketing service providers; traditional advertising agencies, management consultants, systems integrators, and public relations firms often are also in this army (extreme complicatedness).

While it may be of little consolation, marketing is hardly alone in its ineffective response to growing complexity. In a Harvard Business Review article, Kumar’s colleague Yves Morieux shares BCG research showing that complicatedness within companies (as measured by the amount of procedures, vertical layers, interface structures, coordination bodies, and decision approvals needed) increased by an average of 6.7 percent over the past 50 years. That’s 350 percent.

“This complicatedness exacts a heavy price,” Morieux writes. “In the 20 percent of organizations that are the most complicated, managers spend 40 percent of their time writing reports and 30 to 60 percent of it in coordination meetings. That doesn’t leave much time for them to work with their teams.”

How much work time do you invest with your marketing teams? How much time do you spend in coordination meetings? Writing reports?

Complicatedness is difficult to tame, which is why CMOs should recognize its negative impact, monitor its advance, and strive to keep it top of mind…like a catchy pop song.


Freelance journalist Eric Krell works with Mitel CMO Martyn Ethrington to produce DMN’s Diary of a CMO.

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