Folks at The Sharp End

Jeff Bezos has claimed a large chunk of the written, spoken and viewed word over the past two weeks. Deserved or not, I’m not going to say. I will say however, that there is another practice of marginalising human potential and talent that is largely unrecognised, unreported and unattended. It’s condescension at its worst.

Peruse any job description of a junior marketing role today and you’re likely to come across the phrase ‘lead local implementation’ – or a variation of it (perhaps more true in Europe, but I’m making the point anyway). It sounds innocuous enough, and seems to bestow some importance with the operative word lead. Far from it, it is marketing speak for “do as you’re told.”

This narrow definition of what’s expected from local markets is not limited to implementation. It starts with marketing planning and carries on all the way to implementation. Consumer segmentation studies are limited to one market. Research conducted in one or a few markets is extended to all markets. Product testing – if done – is limited in scope. Brand equity is evaluated in one or two markets. Advertising is developed and tested centrally. There is really not much marketing left in an implementation role.

So what can you expect when selected for such a position? If working for a large organisation or on a well-established brand you can expect some opportunity to learn a new skill and get better at it, but don’t expect much growth in that role. And it’s not because you’re not good enough or that the role does not need it. It’s because the organisation hasn’t provided for it.

The structure is such that most of the responsibility is centralised and held in a location far from the actual markets. Experienced and qualified managers based here are tasked with making strategic decisions that will then be implemented in individual markets. It’s sensible division of labour, but there are at least two reasons to modify this approach.

First, by their very nature such decisions cannot be the best, or the most strategically sound, or the ones providing the maximum competitive advantage in each market. That’s perhaps not possible, even not desirable due to its attendant logistic complexities. Therefore these decisions tend to optimise rather than maximise, and I’m not going to debate that. But I will question why organisations don’t adopt a more participative approach when working with implementation markets, and why these markets are not given a more active role in shaping strategy. If implementation market talent is not involved in such decisions, how are they expected to learn these skills, or indeed display the skills they might already have, to earn promotion and growth?

Second, teams in implementation markets are at the sharp end, with their fingers on the consumer’s pulse, ear to the competitive ground, and their eyes on market opportunities. They live market realities, can deal with emerging situations more effectively, and are ideally placed to evaluate the impact of their marketing activities. Surely this provides centrally-located decision makers a powerful source of market intelligence and qualitative evaluation? Used effectively, implementation teams can help ensure centrally developed plans are more potent at the local level, and executed superbly. This will also enrich their actual job, and help identify talent that is ready for growth. Why would any organisation ignore this talent pool?

Around the time Jeff Bezos made headlines recently, I came across another ad for a marketing job at a major multinational FMCG company. This was for a junior brand manager role in a Central European country. Encouraged, I read further. Despite the promising headline, the ad went no further. It required the chosen candidate “to lead the implementation and excellent execution of centrally developed strategies and support material.”

Sigh! The devil is in the details.

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