Breaking Down the Silos

Are silos the enemy of effective marketing? In a time of greater connectedness and integration, David Nothling-Demmer puts the question to leading marketers as they look to best navigate the nuances of modern marketing.


In our current business environment – the flexibility and digital connectiveness of Covid-19 aside – successful organisations are finding unique ways to champion internal communications, shared departmental responsibilities, and ultimately better collaboration within its structures. This as the need to present a united front is becoming particularly important in brand building. This is especially true of marketers, and the need to work with the likes of sales colleagues in their interaction with customers, IT for their data needs, which often involves legal teams – the list of collaborations goes on.

However, larger organisations often create silos in marketing to decentralise their operations and to encourage expertise in different areas. These siloed marketing divisions can and often do work largely independently on, for example trade marketing, brand marketing, customer and user experience relations, public relations and so on. 

From this perspective it makes sense for larger organisations to create silos for different functions, especially as they are often better equipped to have standardised and shared metrics and key performance indicators, and make use of customer relationship management tools etc. However, if the organisation is not well equipped (often in the case of smaller businesses), issues can arise, as silos block lines of communication, prevent knowledge-sharing and ultimately diluted or conflicting marketing messages. Differing goals in silos and a lack of unified direction can also lead to a competitive and demoralising environment. 

The same can occur when organisations outsource their marketing (or parts of their marketing efforts) to external agencies. Situations arise where the brand and agenc(ies) work in silos resulting in uncoordinated and ineffective marketing. 

Three main issues present: 1. How do organisations manage their siloed marketing efforts so to ensure unified brand message(s); 2. Is breaking down these silos the best outcome/ approach, and; 3. What strategies are external agencies – who are inherent in their siloed marketing – using to better work with their clients in this regard.

I chat with senior marketers and creatives on both the client/ brand side as well as agency about the challenges that come with marketing in silos, and what lessons others can take from how they and their organisations are managing these challenges. 

Customer first approach

For Lotto NZ Chief Marketing Officer, Annemarie Browne, it comes down to placing the customer at the centre of the organisation as opposed to specific departments. Browne is of the belief that organisations best manage their siloed marketing efforts when they break these silos down. The CMO has done much work in her short time at Lotto NZ to achieve this, and says that her efforts are driven by putting the needs of the customer first. 

“We constantly hear from industry experts about the importance of placing the customer at the heart of a brand/ business. If you, like me, buy into this belief, then the marketing team needs to be right there too. When you stand back and look at a business from a customer perspective, you will not see a whole range of different teams and divisions, you will see a brand. I firmly believe that when the marketing team is fully aligned, from strategy to product development, distribution and brand communications, a business will have much greater success in telling a consistent story to the right customers, elevating their brand above the competition,” she says.

Achieving this business/ brand alignment Browne says is not easy, but that organisations should be built around creating a holistic team focus around a single overarching goal. “You need to build a culture of trust and transparency. This ensures individual teams remain accountable for delivering their objectives, but also creates an inherent responsibility from the entire team to deliver against the big picture. This applies to agency partners as well. They need to feel that they have an equal voice and can bring their specialist expertise to the table, supporting the core team to achieve their goals.”

Large organisations like Lotto NZ and media group NZME face similar challenges when it comes to managing their various marketing teams so to ensure a synergy in their efforts. NZME Chief Marketing Officer, Katie Mills says that for marketing to work best, it must work right through the business. 

“We work hard to stretch across every function of NZME. We have been deliberate about raising the internal profile and function of marketing, demonstrating that we perform best when we’re along for the ride from the start – not at the end of the food chain where high pressure deadlines will lead to unnecessary expense, negative staff impact and a less than optimal output,” Mills says.

She is a believer that marketing teams need to lead the charge in bringing together this cross-functionality. “The function of marketing is about driving change of behaviour so who better than to bust up the silos? We need to be more pragmatic, more collaborative and more commercial than we have ever been as a function, to best  represent the brand and the customer.

“By fostering collaboration we have less communication gotchas and more efficiency towards a common goal. It also allows us to give team members the opportunity to flex their skills across different projects and skill sets which I think is mission critical for the younger members of staff,” she says. 

Building greater trust and a more dynamic team are other key benefits of breaking down these silos adds Browne. “This, in turn, reinforces greater internal trust with other teams as well as key stakeholders. When the whole marketing team is engaged and informed, then the message coming through from the organisation is consistent and clear. Breaking down silos also allows you to leverage marketing resource more effectively. As the whole team has a wide and deep understanding of the various brands and roles, people can easily step into cross-functional projects or cover short-term gaps.”

Browne says that the Lotto NZ marketing team, like many organisations, has over time undergone a number of composition changes and restructures. This resulted in a group of siloed teams working with a wide range of different agency partners. When she joined the organisation some two years ago, she walked into a team with a lack in long-term brand vision and a high level of inconsistency across teams. “Things had to change.”

“Firstly, from a motivational perspective, this approach brings a much more positive energy to the team. It also means that as well as helping each other through more challenging times, everyone gets to share in the successes. And, from a wider internal business perspective, it ensures the marketing team is valued for its full contribution to the business, rather than just being the team that delivered the ‘latest ad campaign’.”

So just how did Browne go about breaking these silos down?

One of the biggest changes she has overseen in the past eighteen months is the launch of the Lotto NZ brand. In order to achieve this, she says that her teams have had to be realigned from being ‘product’ led to ‘purpose’ led. “This change has been embraced and supported by the entire marketing team, and by demonstrating with consumers the meaningful difference Lotto NZ’s contribution makes to New Zealand communities, we have built greater trust and equity across all our brands. 

“Bringing the Product Innovation, Instant Kiwi, Lotto Family and Digital teams into one strong marketing unit has been transformational. Integration has moved marketing from being a small team sitting on the fringe, to a proactive and productive team at the centre of the organisation. This change has also enabled us to work more effectively and provide greater value to other teams across the organisation including data and analytics, corporate, retail, technology and customer support. There is a high level of trust and in many ways, they are now an extension of our team, ensuring our customers receive a consistent brand experience whenever and wherever they engage with us.”

Legacy silos

Breaking down internal silos is one thing for these larger organisations/ brands, but the external (to the organisation) nature of marketing often means that certain services need to be outsourced to external agencies – creating yet another set of silos. Creative and media agencies – despite their best efforts – struggle to escape the siloed marketing effect. Although larger agencies like Stanley St and Colenso BBDO NZ are too attempting to change their internal structures to be more diverse and agile in their offerings. The latter going as far as creating client desks within their its own building to facilitate better communication and synergy between client and agency.

Rufus Chuter, Managing Partner at media and technology consultancy, Together, says that Adlandia is largely built on legacy silos. “The agency world has been guilty of pulling disciplines apart in quite arbitrary ways, for example direct versus media, performance versus brand or media versus creative. Holding groups have been especially guilty of this in the past, with multiple agency brands for different pieces of the pie. It’s made marketing operationally complex and doesn’t reflect the joined-up needs of modern marketing,” he explains.

Head of Media at Stanley St, Andrew Reinholds, agrees in part, telling StopPress “the holding company structure is dying because it’s driven by separate P&Ls, and therefore there will be different agendas in the room.” He says that this has led his agency (and many other larger ones) to diversify their efforts in order to approach issues completely agnostically and come at it with a diverse set of skills.

Reinholds adds that it is fundamental to be connected and integrated as an agency. “For us as an agency, we have a journey to go on together. And although we have a long way to go there is massive potential with the existing services here, and the new ones coming in, which will help us diversify and give us a better opportunity to provide a complete solution to whatever the problem is.”

Although, Chuter says that this is further challenged by the many businesses who also have structures built around disciplines that are increasingly being brought together by technology. “Platforms like Salesforce bring technology, data and marketing together. Facebook brings corporate comms, data, content and marketing together. The increasing use of data and technology across marketing means these disciplines need to work together like never before.”

He is of the opinion that breaking down these silos isn’t necessarily the answer. “Silos can create specialisation that can be really valuable. But to unlock the benefits of modern marketing, organisations need to understand how to bridge these specialisms to create more joined-up marketing and experiences. As a result, we believe the role of translators and connectors like Together become even more important.”

The award-winning communications strategists says that he along with partner Kris Hadley, designed Together to help bridge the divides between client and agency, and between marketing disciplines by focusing on connected thinking – modern day communication planning – alongside expertise in the technology and data infrastructures that enable joined up execution. 

“We often play a translating role internally with clients, helping to create connections between CMOs and CTOs, and in several client engagements we also act as lead agency, integrating other disciplines through communication planning. This enables marketers to bring project-based specialists in and out of their operational model without losing the strategic spine that drives their plan and ensures integrated execution. Our goal is to provide the integration benefits of an integrated agency or holding group without the need for either,” Chuter says.

So while the large number of marketing channels (and technologies) available make it unlikely that a single in-house department or outsourced agency can claim ownership in all of them, silo marketing allows a company to decentralise its efforts by assigning specific channels to the people or agencies most proficient in their use. However, as experienced marketers on the ground tell me, silo marketing can reduce the efficiency of a company’s communications. The sheer volume of modern marketing leaves each channel competing for consumers’ attention. If marketing teams aren’t unified then messages don’t always tie up.

It all however comes back to Browne’s first point about satisfying a customer’s expectations of a brand. Organisations, siloed or not, need to align interactions to what their customers want and need, therefore, making the best use of not only the organisation’s time and expertise but also of the customer’s time and money. 

About David Nothling-Demmer

David Nothling-Demmer is Editor of NZ Marketing magazine.

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