Want to grow? Do less. Do it bigger.

Growing your business is not about having and pursuing dozens of great ideas. Growth comes from pursuing as few great ideas as possible, and making them as big as possible.

Typically, there is no shortage of great ideas in any given marketing department. A group of talented, motivated people working side-by-side is guaranteed to come up with an array of clever solutions and new areas to explore.

But having enough great ideas not the hard part when it comes to growth. The hard part is choosing the right ideas, then doggedly pursuing them until they reach critical mass. All too often the available resources are spread across too many initiatives. This leads to a lack of focus, employees getting stretched, and projects fizzling out—dampening morale and discouraging experimentation and innovation.

To avoid this unproductive spiral towards stagnation and frustration, any marketing and brand function needs to embrace what I like to call ‘liberating rigor’.

While this might sound contradictory, it is simply a disciplined approach to managing marketing. It is your best chance at unleashing the inherent creativity and energy in your teams while fostering a company culture where empowerment and experimentation can drive growth.

So what is liberating rigor?

The typical role of central marketing has been changing a lot over the last 10 years. More and more crucial capabilities—such as data analytics, digital marketing, and customer experience design—are becoming centralized. Rigor simply means having a clear and organized operating model to leverage these capabilities across the business. It means cutting red tape and stopping silo-driven behavior and making sure communications and expectations are transparent, reliable, and accountable. I typically break down the right operating model into six key drivers:

Clarity in structure: What is the optimal structure for your enterprise-wide marketing model, and is it being communicated clearly to all involved?

Prioritized programs: Do you have a strong grasp of which programs are driving your business strategy forward, and which you’re dedicating the most resources towards?

Agreed-upon common tools: What technologies are going to maximize the impact of your marketing initiatives, and are they ones everyone can actively use?

World-class capability: Do you have the talent and skills you need to meet market needs and drive growth, or are you being held back by knowledge gaps and/or staff shortages?

Transparent processes: Are the processes you’re using the most efficient for running your business smoothly, and is there an optimal mix of centralized and decentralized responsibilities?

Clear targets: Are you able to measure and define your success based on the appropriate levels of investment to encourage growth?

Effectiveness trumps efficiency

From an operations standpoint, the reasons for rigor are self-evident. A smoothly run business is more efficient and unleashes greater potential. But rigor is not about efficiency for efficiency’s sake, it’s about growing faster by getting results. That’s the top priority. Always remember that effectiveness is more important than efficiency in marketing.

The final product is what matters. If you’re able to get a message or campaign out there that doubles your sales, as long as you get there, the steps you take are secondary. Liberating rigor is about tightening procedures enough to see your best ideas to fruition, not over-optimizing to such a degree the creative process is stifled.

There’s obviously a benefit to this approach for the C-Suite: they can rely on any initiatives they pass down becoming a reality without facing constant roadblocks. But it’s also a boon to your whole organization—it will allow your teams to focus on the “what” rather than the “how” by streamlining and clarifying what needs to get done to achieve progress. On an individual level, it means people are working on a clear, achievable goal that you can fully focus on reaching, without having to worry about a bunch of factors that don’t contribute to growth.

Once you realize the personal and professional freedom that a rigorous operating model can enable, you can see how it is a natural partner to creativity. The biggest difficulty we see when marketing departments want to become more rigorous is procrastination. People are afraid to change, and would prefer to slog through a less-than-ideal situation than take a risk and try to change the way they work with other marketers in the business units. That hesitation can be fatal to your growth prospects. By taking steps to develop liberating rigor today, you’ll not only be cultivating healthier, more satisfying ways of working, you’ll be on the way to becoming a stronger, more growth-oriented company that’s fit to meet the demands of a more competitive global market.

To find out how to build a strong foundation for ongoing growth, download the Marketing Capabilities handbook:

Contributors

Chief Strategy Officer, North America