How to align people around your marketing strategies - ten common mistakes and what to do about them

alignment cartoon

My Marketing Manager friend recently confided, “All I seem to do these days is project management and alignment” I guess that he is certainly not alone. The problem is no-one really teaches you how to do alignment it tends to besort of thing you pick up as you go along.

With the increasing reliance on a myriad of specialist agency partners, the onset of integrated communications and more need to coordinate brands on a multi-national basis the need for alignment in extended marketing teams has never been greater. Yet in a fragmenting, busy world with budgets increasingly squeezed the benefits of alignment are more relevant than ever before.

If I had to sum up in one word why people don’t get aligned I’d say the most common reason is “ownership” or a lack of it.

So with that in mind here’s ten common mistakes that get in the way of true alignment in marketing and brand teams and what to do about them.

1.    No common destination

This might be a common vision for the brand, it might be a common “big idea” it might be a common aim for the business.

People find it easier to buy into a common understanding of where they need to align to if it is presented as a common future destination.

This is easier to buy into than asking people to merge right here right now. The mistake people make is not to allow the time for convergence in the plan.

2.    You have not allowed people to add their egg

By creating a common destination that has allowed all the parties to contribute to its development helps them to own the destination and their part in helping to get there.

Actually the important part is allowing their voice to be heard or at least have their say. There’s a big difference between expressing your views, having them carefully considered then being discarded and just being completely steam-rollered or presented with a fait-accompli.

Workshops are quite a productive way of doing this. Get everyone in the room and facilitate towards the goal.

3.    Pesky stakeholders lobbing grenades

Often there are important stakeholders in any process who are highly influential, and if they become disengaged they can be highly disruptive and even act as saboteurs.

The problem with these people is that they may not have the time or inclination to add their egg (see above) through your process.

My tip is to go and talk to them. Listen hard, ideally at the outset and show them that they have a voice.

4.    Insufficient momentum

In any alignment process there’s need for participants to believe that investing their time in this project is going to make a difference so it is important that these projects have a sense of attack and energy that draws in participants.

The mistake project owners make is that they often forget that there are plenty of other projects for people to spend their time on.

5.    What did you say was in it for me again…?

One of the main impediments to effective alignment is individual vested interest.

This can be exacerbated in the case of working with an extended brand team comprising multiple agencies if there is an immaturity or insecurity of agency partners and defensiveness.

The common mistake is not enough time spent explaining the benefits and allowing the benefits to accrue to all parties.

One trick I quite like for dealing with dissenters, or sceptics, is to give them responsibility for the objective evaluation of options. This has the effect of requiring them to be objective, it gives them a voice when often dissenters just don’t feel heard and it allows them a concrete means of ownership for the outcome.

6.    Lack of leadership

I guess that all these elements add up to what you might call leadership. Having a figure who champions the alignment process and takes the group with them.

I’ve seen alignment processes resort to authority in order to achieve results by asking the big boss to come out backing a preferred route. This is not what I mean by leadership, and has a habit of falling apart further down the track when fewer people are watching.

7.    Not enough space to move around in

Alignment takes energy and effort, time and space. If you don’t allow people enough time and space to get aligned it won’t happen.

The mistake is not to recognise that people are often too busy doing the day job. The trick is to make it easy for them by finding ways to create the space and time to give it the focus it deserves.

8.    It’s not always clear for each individual party how to get there

It’s all very well setting out an aligning on a common destination but if you don’t make clear how each party involved is expected to get there then you are asking for trouble.

By definition everyone will be starting out from a different point. The alignment process needs to take account of that and create separate plans for how to get there for each party.

9.     Get everyone in the room together

There’s a common misconception that you can achieve alignment in the remote and virtual environment through the use of conference calls and webinars.

My experience is that if the issue is important enough and you want to achieve lasting alignment you need to get people in the room together to feel the energy of common purpose.

There is nothing more energy sapping than a conference call.

10. Not enough independent perspective

When facilitating marketing workshops around the world I would often introduce myself as the Swiss Sherpa ie. I’m the one that ‘s going to guide you up the mountain towards your goal but in the end I’m neutral and I’m not here to take sides.

One of the mistakes teams sometimes make is to compromise the pursuit of an independent solution by trying to run the process themselves. A neutral facilitator can help alleviate the perception of bias or being sold a pre-determined answer.

Brand Fruition is a strategic marketing consultancy based in Marlow, UK. If you’d like some help getting your marketing team aligned then do please get in touch