Marketing can often feel like shouting into the void—try systemic marketing instead.
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In the old days, the compartmentalization of marketing seemed logical. Linear marketing funnels mirrored a linear customer journey. One of the most famous of these is AIDA, which splits the customer journey into attention, interest, desire, and action. Marketers still use this model today.

For models like AIDA, different experts were in charge of each phase. Ad campaigns filled the funnel by generating awareness (believed to be the major sales contributor), and other marketing disciplines followed suit. This traditional marketing approach centered around messaging and cutting through to the customer against ever-increasing media noise. Broadcasting from the brand to the customer as frequently as possible was the answer.

But technology has shattered the linear funnel. Customers can buy whenever and wherever, with attention, interest, desire, and action all happening within ten seconds or over months. Phases can even repeat, with customers moving back and forth in their journey.

So why is modern marketing still divided into the different marketing disciplines’ belief systems (brand marketing, activation marketing, digital marketing, etc.)? By aligning all marketing disciplines within one holistic system, businesses can harness marketing’s full potential and elevate it from the fringes to the core of business.

It is time to bring the different belief systems under one roof and make them work together. And with systemic marketing, it’s easy.

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What is systemic marketing?

Systemic marketing is about establishing a customer-centric culture of learning and collaboration driven by data-informed common objectives that still protect human empathy.

A systemic marketing approach interprets all marketing disciplines as part of one holistic ecosystem. It then aligns them along the customer journey with one objective: to convert the user into the next phase. Because the customer and their needs are at the center of these efforts, there are no divisions between departments. Instead, clear, measurable objectives drive each discipline to integrate and contribute.

Next, those objectives are assessed through data derived from the marketing ecosystem. This creates fast and continuous optimization. Thus, all marketing activities become part of a constant learning process, optimizing the ecosystem and aligning with ever more personalized customer journeys.

But there is another value to systemic marketing: the data and intelligence gained give marketing a birds-eye view of the whole business mechanism. It helps management drive their decisions using customer data. This elevates marketing from support to leadership.

6 Principles of Systemic Marketing

The following six principles will help you evaluate and restructure your organizational setup towards systemic marketing.

1. Culture of learning/systemic thinking

We can only learn if we let go of the conviction that we know how things work. Viewing marketing as a system means analyzing how it works and how to make it work better. With a systemic approach, every initiative becomes a theory worth validating. In this way, you turn opinion-based culture (in which “who is right?” discussions dominate) into a learning-based culture (with “did it work and why?” discussions).

IKEA illustrated this culture of learning in 2019. While affordable products deliver its vision to “create a better everyday life for the many people,” IKEA realized that people with special needs were often not included. ThisAbles, a range of add-ons, upgrades IKEA’s products to make them more accessible so that people with disabilities don’t need help in their own homes.

2. Customer-centric

Recognize the customer as the reason for your business’s existence. All efforts should focus on understanding your customers and their expectations in order to deliver products/services that match and exceed those expectations.

Flipkart, India’s largest e-commerce retailer, identified a deeply entrenched cultural shortcoming in online shopping: one cannot haggle. While online discounts are appreciated, engagement is lacking. Teaming up with Google and Dentsu India, Flipkart developed a voice-based mobile experience that allowed live negotiations with an AI-powered chatbot.

3. Common objectives

Define clear, measurable, and shared objectives that everyone (team members, stakeholders, partners, etc.) can understand and identify with.

The Xbox Design Lab offers a customized Xbox controller, which is expensive due to its individualized production process. To make the controller more affordable and involve customers more, the Xbox Design Lab invited gamers to become entrepreneurs, assisting in designing and selling on the platform. The more people buy the design, the higher the earnings for the gamer.

4. Data-driven

Data informs you of progress toward your objectives. It represents your customers’ behavior, needs, and wants, as well as your performance against these drivers. Without data, learning cannot be generated, and the value of marketing cannot be established.

Burger King recognized an unmet need in Mexico City: being hungry while stuck in traffic. Given the gridlock in the city (daily commutes of up to five hours), this became a business opportunity. Hungry, traffic-jammed drivers ordered food with an app, and then Burger King tracked their movements to deliver quality right to their car.

5. Team collaboration

Marketing ecosystems are complex. To act fast and be nimble, a multi-disciplinary team needs to collaborate in real time for quick decision-making. Trusting your colleagues is critical to achieving this. We all need to overcome silos, egos, and opinions for the greater goal: business success.

One good example of multi-disciplinary collaboration is a project between The New York Times and Google Cloud. They’ve made time travel possible by digitizing NYT’s treasure trove of historical photos dating back to the 1870s. The cloud-based photo library allows storytelling on an unprecedented level for journalists and the public alike.

6. Keep it human

While thinking about efficiency and optimization, don’t forget that you want to understand and relate to customers as human beings. So protect your human empathy—let it shine both internally and externally throughout your marketing activities.

Aeroméxico refocused on the human element when it realized that traveling isn’t just about the destination. Primarily, it’s about the people at the destination. So they changed their booking engine and ticketing system to let customers choose the person they want to fly to instead of the location.

How to Implement Systemic Marketing in 9 Steps

Even following the six principles, there are still many ways to introduce systemic marketing to an organization. But here is one basic approach in nine steps.

1. Conduct an audit on the six systemic marketing principles.

Where do you stand today? Which processes, tools, and technologies are in place? What are your best practices, and where is there room for improvement?

2. Set your vision for your organization’s systemic marketing.

Which disciplines do you believe should evolve, and by when? What are the barriers to developing these disciplines? What are the actions you need to take to get them to the desired stage?

3. Create marketing objectives from the company’s business objectives.

Explore the bigger picture first (i.e., business purpose, five-year plan), then break it down into shorter phases (monthly/quarterly objectives). Next, begin creating objectives for each marketing discipline. They should impact business objectives directly and be continuously measurable.

4. Relate systemic marketing to business objectives.

Illustrate how systemic marketing, rather than the status quo, will improve the disciplines’ potential to achieve your marketing and business objectives. Show which investments are required and illustrate how quickly they will pay off.

5. Set a marketing development roadmap.

Define which actions need to be taken and by when to transition to a systemic marketing approach and achieve the marketing objectives set for each discipline.

6. Get explicit leadership buy-in.

Confirm time, money, resources, and official endorsement upfront.

7. Define how to measure progress and leave a margin for error.

How will you know when you’ve achieved your marketing objectives? How will you know if you’ve truly implemented systemic marketing?You will likely have to adjust as you go along. Account for that from the start.

8. Help your team execute your systemic marketing roadmap.

Try things, learn from mistakes, and optimize the system. Be the team coach. Provide help, not answers.Give them confidence (and resources).

9. Review regularly.

Step back to steer. Review the roadmap against its objectives. What’s working? What requires change? Make results visible and celebrate them. Direct the team, eliminate roadblocks, manage stakeholders and management, and illustrate success through data.

Systemic Marketing: Your Business’s Future

The six systemic marketing principles outlined here will help you restructure your marketing setup and get ahead of competitors. With a more responsive marketing organization and better customer understanding, you’ll have new and powerful data at your fingertips. That data will take you beyond the linear marketing funnel and elevate marketing from sales to a business-leading function.

Utilize systemic marketing, and you’ll steer your business towards a successful future.

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