When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the National Football League as an expansion team in 1976, they hired John McKay to be their head coach. McKay had been tremendously successful at the collegiate level as the longtime coach of the USC Trojans. Under McKay, the new Buccaneers lost all 14 games in 1976 and the first 12 games of 1977. After one of the games during that painful streak, a reporter asked McKay what he thought of his team’s execution that day. McKay’s reply: “I’m in favor of it.” Beautiful. Simple. Elegant. Witty.
The world of sports offers endless metaphors for the world of marketing. We aim for certain targets. We strive to achieve certain goals. We have wins and we have losses. Indeed, if we are lucky, we have a winning streak and, if we are in a tailspin, we have losing streaks with respect to our effectiveness. And then there’s execution. Nowhere do the marketing and sports metaphors hold up as well. All sports teams and their coaches develop strategies leading up to big games. Similarly, businesses and their marketing leaders formulate detailed marketing campaign plans as well. In both, sadly, execution is often where the plans fall apart and the real victories and defeats emerge.
This gulf between strategy and execution is surely part of the reason behind the often-quoted Bain & Company study (www.bain.com), which found that 80% of executives believe their company delivers outstanding value and a superior customer experience—and only 8% of their customers agreed.
The lesson: formulating an amazing strategy for customer engagement and customer messaging is only one step toward marketing victory. A plan that drives strategy all the way down to the level of execution is also essential. And execution involves connection at every customer touchpoint as well— including the real-live humans who interact with customers.
One recent example: there is an offsite parking lot near the Memphis airport. They do a great job getting me offers and I always park there when I fly. Their marketing messaging has been surprisingly sophisticated with emails, loyalty club, points and discounts. I recently returned home from a trip late at night. Apparently they had left their phone off the hook (or their operator was on a social call), so I couldn’t get through to their line to have the shuttle pick me up and take me to the lot. I watched as other offsite parking lots’ shuttles came and went. I was about to take a taxi to my lot when finally, by chance, my lot’s shuttle happened to show up.
When I reached the attendant at the pay station, I was surprised when she asked me to pay. “Do you really think I should have to pay the full amount given what just happened?” Her very annoyed response: “That’s not my job to decide those things.” The company, up until that moment, had executed customer relationship management flawlessly. But at that moment, the customer relationship itself was executed . . . as in killed. I’ll park elsewhere.
In fairness, it’s very difficult for any company to control the message at every point where the customer is touched. But I’ve found one regularly recurring source of execution breakdown. When different knowledge centers, databases or analytical intelligence drive decisions for different channels or product lines, a recipe for disaster is in place. We’ve seen scenarios in the news over this last year where financial institutions were extending generous credit card offers by mail to the same individuals who were being contacted by phone by the mortgage department of the same institution for delinquent loan payments. Frequently we, as consumers, see deals offered in display ads that conflict/compete with offers from the same company appearing in our email inboxes. Siloed strategies, siloed analytics and siloed execution ultimately lead to flawed execution from a customer experience standpoint.
So what are the lessons? First, customers don’t care how fabulous our strategies are. They only care about execution. Assuming that a great strategy will necessarily filter down into execution leads to disconnects, as evidenced by the Bain research we referenced earlier. Second, execution may indeed by hard. Coordinating messaging and service across all product and services lines and across all customer communication touchpoints is not easy – but it can be and has been done successfully by companies that don’t view situations through the prism of a particular channel or product. Third, the choice ultimately becomes a binary one for marketers. We must create and faithfully execute a strategy that places the customer relationship at the center of all messaging, or we should expect our customers to execute their relationships with us.
David Danziger is the senior manager of Innovation for Acxiom Corp.