Is specialization driving a wedge between commercial imperative and effective customer experience?
Just like many marketing companies, at KEXINO each of our people are skilled in their own specific disciplines. We have copywriters, public relations specialists, designers, illustrators, technologists, and web developers.
However, unlike the majority of marketing companies out there, we’ve made a conscious decision to expand everyone’s knowledge and capabilities outside of their individual specialization. That means that, if necessary, a designer can turn their hand to SEO, for example. Or one of our motion graphics artists would be capable of writing a media release if push ever came to shove. We all think it’s important for everyone in the company to be able to (at the very least) understand the fundamentals and intricacies of the various elements of the business.
Greater Business Process Understanding
Why do we think this is important? Because marketing isn’t a single competence. Marketing isn’t (just) designing an advertising campaign, developing brand language, or (today’s current marketing darling) conversion rate optimization. Depending on the needs of the business it could be all of those things, and perhaps a lot more too. Understanding how the many facets of an integrated campaign come together and – increasingly – interconnect, gives us all a better understanding of the goal at hand.
Businesses used to be about specialization at the expense of seeing the big picture. I remember back in the days when I was Director Of Marketing for a software developer, when we’d be making a proposal pitch to the heads of multiple departments within an organization. The product we were selling often crossed departmental lines. It wasn’t just a solution for Jim’s section. There were implications for the teams headed-up by Alice, Tony, and perhaps Heather too.
Knowing Just Enough To Be Dangerous
The crazy thing was, in many occasions, our discussion meeting was one of the only times that these interdependent-yet-separate divisions ever talked to each other. Yet as a business, they were all supposed to be pulling in the same direction. That doesn’t mean that Ted needs to know all the details of how Lucy works. But he should certainly know enough to be dangerous.
Scottish economist Adam Smith, regarded as the father of modern economics, wrote in his book The Wealth Of Nations about what can be described as the economic effect of specialization. “The division of labor,” he said, “so far as it can be introduced, occasions, in every art, a proportional increase of the productive powers of labor.”
Much of the power and scalability of the Industrial Revolution and today’s manufacturing processes have roots in Smith’s thinking. Dividing the same amount of work into smaller, precisely-defined tasks for workers has the effect of the same number of people being able to produce more stuff at the other end. Think of the automobile production lines of Henry Ford’s Model T or, more recently, the Agile methodology to project management.
Such thinking is evident in businesses large and small: the continued rise of the ‘specialist’. Holding companies may have diversified their offerings just as they continue to build departments within departments. It’s got so fragmented that, even within a specific discipline, we have separate-yet-specialist versions of what were once the same job: Marketing Manager, Product Marketing Manager, Digital Marketing Manager, and so on.
You could be forgiven that, with all of this specialisation, the general trend within business is for greater and more efficient productivity, right? But there’s a growing body of evidence that concludes the opposite happens.
As companies are compelled to drive for more revenue from selling more products or services, these individualized silos aren’t holding their own. Moreover, taken as a single entity (which is how customers see the organization) many businesses are actually serving their audience less well than they used to. All this specialization has simply fragmented business into a gazillion pieces.
Specialization: Too Many Single Points Of Failure
There’s an argument for the return of what we could call the “informed generalist”. Someone who can see the big picture and design the right customer solution, without being hampered by an army of specialists. The return of individuals whose obsession is driven by the outcomes they create, as opposed to the output they make. Who can make sense of the data from a higher viewpoint, and deliver a solution across time and space. Someone who can separate the wood from the trees.
Such a person should be the CEO, or maybe the COO. In practice, however, it’s not – especially in today’s tech-driven marketing landscape. For example can your CEO slice and dice the numbers from last month’s Google Analytics data, in a way that separates ego numbers (e.g. pageviews) from relevant metrics (e.g. conversions)? Of course not.
Of course there are individuals out there (specialists, you could argue) in terms of consultants. But isn’t this a symptom of of the problem, rather than a proposal for the solution? The bigger question that needs to be asked is whether continually adding headcount and specialization is the answer.
Businesses look towards marketers to create demand, in order to drive a sustainable business. They expect every business unit – marketing, sales, customer service, R&D, etc. – to help grow the business and solve commercial issues. They want solutions, not problems. That has to mean an integrated approach.
It’s time to stop fragmentation and get back to your original goal: growing a business by getting more people to choose you, and use you more often.
Whatever that ends up looking like.