The challenge for the CMO office is to create marketing and brand building that is both exceptional and efficient in the face of country, product, and functional silos. To study that problem, I interviewed over 40 CMOs and asked about silo issues and what works to address those issues and reported the results in the book Spanning Silos: The New CMO Imperative.

Autonomous Marketing Silos Are No Longer Viable

One finding was that autonomous silos are simply no longer viable. They inhibit brilliant silo-spanning marketing, cross-silo offerings, brand consistency over products and markets, disciplined organization-wide marketing resource allocation, and the development of marketing excellence centers for capabilities such as social media or events. The surprising finding was that the solution, with exceptions linked to crisis situations, was not centralization and standardization which too often led to either ineffective efforts or a total flame-out.

The solution, rather, is much more likely to be based on replacing competition and isolation with collaboration and communication between silos. What then will achieve that objective, will advance the ball? Five suggestions.

1. Define the Role of the CMO Team

Define the role of the CMO team, in the absence of a crisis, to be a facilitator, consultant, or service provider instead of being a central consolidator and decision maker. Such nonthreatening roles can avoid organizational stress and CMO flameout while still going a long way toward creating a collaboration and communication processes and culture and thus addressing many of the silo-driven issues.

As a facilitator, the CMO group at Nestle operates centers of excellence around topics such as the Hispanic market, mom & kids, and Walmart which are shared across silos. As a consultant, the CMO group at VISA gives advice to the country teams on how to interpret and take action on tracking studies. As a supplier, the CMO group at BP became the go-to source of segmentation studies as early efforts were clearly useful and influential. All these roles can lead to a seat at the strategy table, an invited seat rather than one forced on the silo executive teams, and to opportunities to link silos both strategically and tactically.

2. Use Teams

Chevron used a global brand team formed with top-level operating people representing country and product silos charged to sponsor a process that would lead to a coherent brand portfolio and brand management system. Pharmacia had a global team representing regional silos that met to coordinate marketing globally and to coordinate new product planning. P&G’s uses a category management team for each of its major categories to manage the business over brands, over countries and regions, and over functional areas including, R&D, and manufacturing. The teams can not only address silo problems and access opportunities to create synergy but also develop relationships and open communication channels that span silos.

In fact, team building can be the primary objective. For over a decade Seagate Technology has hosted the ultimate team-building experience—Eco Seagate–where 200 Seagate employees gather in New Zealand’s South Island for a weeklong team-building experience.

3. Develop and Exploit Silo Spanning Programs

The idea is to develop concepts and programs that have traction in the marketplace across silos and use the implementation to create collaboration and communication.

MasterCard create a series of task force teams to manage one of its major sponsorships the soccer World Cup that changed the way that silos viewed and interacted with each other. Programs that span silos such as Pampers babycare, Tide Fabric Advisor, Avon Walk for Break Cancer all involve a breakdown of silo barriers.

4. Identify and Leverage Great Ideas

Too often silos are constrained and fail to create brilliant offering or marketing innovations. Or there is the ultimate silo tragedy that an all too rare home run product or marketing program is developed in one silo unit and remains hidden because there is no mechanism to leverage it or even to make it know to the rest of the organization. Three organization capabilities are needed to change this.

  1. The silo groups need to be empowered and motivated to create offerings and marketing programs.
  2. There needs to be mechanisms to identify and share the existence of winners either through cross-silo meetings or through staff facilitators.
  3. There needs to be a process to test and roll out the winners.

Firms with this capability have seen a big payoff. Consider that McDonald’s “I’m lovin it” came from Germany, Pantene’s “Hair So Healthy It Shines” came from Taiwan, and Nestlé’s ice cream sack Dibs came from the US. Consider also the learnings for P&G from the Pampers Baby Car web site and the VISA learnings from promoting the Olympics in the US.

5. Get a Common Planning and Information System

Both are the basis for communication and both are nonthreatening in that they do not impose the same strategy on all. With a common planning system, silo units can more easily and naturally be exposed to the strategies of other silos either in formal retreats or through other forms of information exchange.

And a common information systems, if user friendly, and regularly upfreshed, can capture and make available a wide array of information and provide a vehicle to exchange best practices. Several firms use the Intranet as a prime vehicle to provide knowledge of successes and failures that can be adapted and tested. Collaboration and communication as opposed to competition and isolation is a good path to dealing with destructive silo problems and barriers that is non-threatening and thus avoids the risk of a flameout. The five suggestions all have been shown to advance these objectives. Any others come to mind?