How to break down marketing silos
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How to break down marketing silos

Technology is bringing down the silos as teams within workplaces everywhere bid for a piece of the data action. Here’s how different disciplines can work together within an organisation to achieve a common goal.

In the workplace, the term ‘silo’ is a familiar one. It’s business jargon that has endured, having been bandied around offices for some 30-odd years, according to Forbes magazine, and its meaning – to isolate a system, process or department from others within the same company – provokes an eye-roll of frustration from many working in the increasingly tech-enabled cultures that dominate modern organisations.

“With the right technology, the walls between departments can be brought down,” says Anthony Botibol, group marketing director of customer analytics technology company BlueVenn.

“For instance, skill sets once the preserve of data scientists and analysts can be placed into the hands of the marketers to increase the capabilities of the marketing department. It used to be that the best marketing teams needed good dialogue with sales: now, they need to break down some of the traditional barriers with IT. Modern marketers have a closer relationship with data and data analytics than ever before.”

Michelle Soper-Dyer, head of marketing for electronic documentation company Transalis, has experienced first-hand the difference breaking down the barriers can make.

“When I joined the company last year, I was given budget to develop my team,” she says. “Instead of pure marketers, I employed a graphic designer and a front-end web developer. The difference it’s made is incredible – in previous companies, these were roles that either went through different departments or were outsourced and it could take weeks or even months to implement the simplest of changes. Now we can test an interface or create presentations and new marketing material on the hoof, and respond to feedback instantly.

“Increased communication between the disciplines excites people and helps them feel more engaged in the business – for example, our web developer wants to learn about SEO, which will intelligently inform how the website evolves. I can see a time where the silos becomes redundant and everyone gets involved in everything. In the digital age it’s entirely possible to do so.”

The inherent problem with silos is that each department is so preoccupied with its own workload that it barely raises its collective head to peer above the partitioned wall to see what the rest of the company is up to.

“We get around this mentality by using what’s called an ‘agile scrum’, from Jeff Sutherland’s book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time,” says Carlos Doughty, marketing director at Euromoney. “It’s a technique traditionally used in IT that we’ve found has great success in a marketing environment. It’s where you break down the work into bite-sized chunks to be tackled over the next three or four weeks, so that everyone involved is aware of what’s needed when, and who’s responsible for delivering.

“We make sure things stay on track by having short daily ‘stand-ups’, whereby each team gives a quick status update. It’s not to put people under increased pressure; it’s to make sure teams are talking to each other and that any blocks to achieving those short-term objectives are acknowledged and tackled. 

“This allows us to be agile, to escalate issues where appropriate and to move resource around if we need to; people are better able to prioritise their workload and take responsibility. Everyone is empowered and it gives quantifiable results straight away. That in turn creates a happy working culture – people are able to achieve goals and feel fulfilled, and collectively, we develop a rich appreciation of what it is others do.”

Breaking the silo mould can be difficult, as Anthony Botibol acknowledges: “It can be a daunting for marketers without SQL [structured query language, used to communicate with a database] or advanced Excel knowledge to get online, email and purchase data into shape for an effective campaign,” he says.

“Plus, it distracts from the creative ideas and lead generation that marketers do best. But while the perfect marketing team may carry more of the load than they have traditionally, increased collaboration and a deeper understanding of how different departments operate means an organisation is on the path to a single, more integrated vision that the whole company can get behind.”

Now that sounds like something worth ditching the silo for.

Claire Lavelle Journalist CPL
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