Every day I hear of marketing teams being made redundant – I suspect there are more to come. Of course marketing isn’t the only discipline facing redundancies, it’s across the board, but having been in marketing for years it feels personal.
Marketing is often the first department to take the hit when sales and profit are under threat, which is probably understandable. The operations team is fundamental, HR and finance need to stay to sort things out so if customers aren’t coming out to eat and drink, why bother marketing to them?
In my mind marketing has always played the vital role in a business of ‘putting the customer hat on’. The marketing team should understand the customer, how they are behaving, thinking and, in our sector, spending their leisure time and money. They should be asking the customer the right questions and listening to what they have to say. Critically, they need to translate that feedback into recommendations to the board.
I have come across many clients who say: “I understand my customers thank you very much and I don’t need marketing to help me.” Often they are right but sometimes their understanding of customers dates to when they were first involved with (or set up) the brand and is far from up to date. Unless a brand is going to keep the same customer profile across the years, it’s vital this understanding is constantly reviewed so the brand stays fresh and relevant.
Appreciating the customer point of view helps to keep decisions objective. Customer feedback should never be taken personally, although it often is and now I run an Airbnb property I can appreciate that sentiment – anything less than a five makes me lose sleep. Feedback needs to be gathered in a way that ensures it is relevant, meaningful, reliable and consistent. The board needs to believe customer feedback is valid and can be relied on for their decision-making.
On the whole, I tend to believe you can’t argue with customer feedback gathered in this way. It should put paid to subjective, personal judgments and decision-making and silence the one who speaks loudest in a board meeting and often gets their own way by doing so.
Who is going to speak on behalf of the customer if the marketing team is no longer there? It could be operations of course. They are closer to the customer than anyone else. They can collect and analyse feedback and data and make decisions using that information.
In my experience, though, and generalising wildly, marketing is less effective when it reports into operations. It can, in the worst of circumstances, simply be a resource for implementation of the marketing (or ops) plan for running social. We all know of highly paid marketing directors who have ended up designing and placing Facebook ads and Instagram posts, answering manager requests for POS and being totally reactive. Again, in the worst of circumstances they don’t have time to listen to guests or think strategically using their feedback. They just get stuff done.
What about HR? Could that department put the guest hat on? How about finance? I’m sure they have that responsibility in some companies but to be honest I haven’t seen it work.
Of course the risk is that with marketing gone or greatly reduced, no-one is listening to the guest. Everyone else, especially now, is desperately trying to keep things going, at least break even on 60% (or much less) of pre-covid sales, hold on to cash, and maintain jobs. If they can’t do these things, listening to the guest could be counted as a futile exercise. So who’s listening to the customer now?