“Don’t fence me in” is the mindset of most marketers and creative members of your team. The last thing we typically want is to have boundaries on our time, creativity and choices. Boundaries, however, are what keep you and I focused on the business of marketing and others focused on sales and still others focused on finance and operations. The ability to set, express, and maintain boundaries is an essential part of any healthy marketing department. Boundaries build “win-win” relationships by making clarifying needs and limits, while opening the field on what options are available for meeting marketing objectives. More specifically, setting marketing boundaries around both new and legacy marketing tactics allow you to focus on those things that matter and only pursue those ideas that pass through your well-established marketing boundaries, ensuring a higher degree of success.
What do marketing boundaries look like, and how can you know where and how to set them?
Peter Block, author of Flawless Consulting, says that “If you can’t say ‘no,’ your ‘yeses’ don’t mean a thing.” That’s so absolutely true. In marketing, if we can’t say “NO” to those things that seem to beg at our budgets and demand our time, we’re hamstrung in trying to accomplish those things that we’ve already said “yes” to. In order to keep our yes and no categories in check, there are five key boundary setting techniques that I recommend for all marketers.
Learn to say The Positive “NO”: Yes, you can say “no” positively. Knowing that your “no” answer leads to increased energy and focus on the “yeses” you’ve already committed to. To get a feel for this, look at where you should say “NO” right now. Sit down right now and identify the emerging demands on your marketing team, plan and budget. Identify 5-10 “NO’s” you need to say. Then, for each, ask yourself, “What would I be willing to say ‘Yes’ to in this case?” Choose wisely – only what you are willing to do, and can do with the same energy and focus that you’ve committed to apply to your existing “yeses.”
Establish “gate criteria” for new marketing vehicles and ideas: There’s a tool used in product development called the “Stage-Gate” method that includes a set of predetermined steps from idea to launch. By implementing a similar set of procedural steps in reviewing new marketing ideas, tools, tactics and technologies you will gain a clear understanding of what you should allow into your marketing mix and what’s destined for the “NO” pile. Just as you have a systematic process for evaluating candidates that you hire onto your marketing team, you need to establish rigor in what ideas make it onto the marketing plan.
Equip your team with boundary setting tools: The best boundary setting tools are of little benefit to an organization if all of the information and minute decisions are still run though the head of marketing. When working through the exercise on the “positive NO” and setting up your gate criteria, walk you team through the process and gather their input. When you get to the next iteration, walk through it with your team again and point out where their input is included. Repeat until complete.
Transfer ownership of boundaries to your team: Working through step 3, “equip your team,” will set the stage for ownership transfer. Once you’ve settled on an initial “NO” list and have your gate criteria and process established, it should become part of everyone’s job to ensure that everything is vetted through the new process and “NO” test before it comes up for discussion. This way you’ll have a team that’s always focused on the securing the win for each of your committed “yeses” but that also knows how to spot a genuine opportunity when it comes along.
Keep your freedom to choose: When you’re not clear on what you should say no to, it’s equally challenging on what to say yes to. By setting marketing boundaries, you’ll free up your thoughts and energy to focus on what matters most in achieving your objectives, while simultaneously freeing yourself to make smart choices using your new “power of NO” and ideas evaluation methods.
Once you’ve established boundaries, a system and criteria for new marketing idea review and delegate boundary management to your team, you’ll find yourself with more focus, energy and initiative behind those decisions that you have committed to and will have a fool-proof system for staying in step with the newest marketing trends without feeling like you’re being carried away on a tidal wave of runaway marketing ideas.