Using the analogy of a bullwhip, let’s discuss how a business’s functional groups should interact to create a successful marketing structure. Click here to read the condensed version on Entrepreneur, or keep scrolling for the full version of this analogy with extra details!
I was absolutely obsessed with bullwhips as a kid. Who wouldn’t want to be Indiana Jones? The first time I managed to get my grubby little hands on one, I had no idea how to actually use it. Of course, it was an epic failure and I ended up whipping myself in the face. Not being one to give up, I dug into it’s mechanics.
BEHOLD, THE PERFECT STRUCTURE TO MAKE A SONIC BOOM!
HOW DO WHIPS WORK, YOU ASK??
Whips generate force using the energy (momentum) of a loop travelling along a tapered strip of leather. Kinetic energy travels the length of the whip.
As it travels, the energy is focused on an ever-narrowing structure. This smoothly amplifies the user’s energy to drive the tip to over 30x faster than the initial motion in the handle. That telltale ‘crack’ of the whip is a small sonic boom.
Isn’t it crazy that 2000 years ago, man was able to break the sound barrier with just a strip of leather? Over 1900 years passed before scientists could mechanically reproduce it. Wild, right?
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO YOUR BUSINESS STRUCTURE?
While a bullwhip might not be the best toy for kids, I see it as the perfect analogy for how your entire business structure and all it’s functional groups (like sales, ops, finance, product, etc) should interact. However, the aforementioned groups are usually opera- tionally fairly solid. Speaking from my vantage point as a trade marketing consultant, I’ll focus this conversation mainly on marketing. In many organizations, marketing is the most operationally challenging division, containing many complex issues. Regardless of what season, campaign or product is being marketed, the best marketing structures are smooth, sleek and have results that break the sound barrier.
Does this sound like the description of your marketing structure?
TO UNDERSTAND HOW TO ACHIEVE THE CRACK AT THE END, LET’S GO BACK TO THE START... THE HAND
THE MARKETING WHIP STRUCTURE
The entrusted brand steward holds the whip. Traditionally, it was held by a collection of senior people lead by the CMO, with a singular focus on marketing. In startups, it is usually the founder. However, in progressive organizations we see the rise of the Chief Growth Officer.
A CGO is a catalyst for cross-functional collaboration and sustainable growth. The ‘Marketing Whip’ acts as an extension of the brand itself. Every strand braided around the core represents a functional group, wrapped around the brand and intertwined with the other groups. So, when the CGO brandishes the whip, the brand’s power and influence travels through every section, guiding all direction, strategy, and movement.
I see brand as the base where management, market equity and brand fundamentals are stored including brand ideology, identity, market positioning, culture and heritage. This is where brands begin to establish a market presence, cultivate consumer perception and attract their target audience. Your products at this point are merely proof that supports the brand’s promise. Like a bullwhip, the heaviest part of The Marketing Whip is the handle which influences the brand from the core throughout the structure. With just the slightest movement, the brand steward inputs all the energy required to travel down the whip and create a loud crack in market.
NOW IT'S TIME TO FOCUS THE BRAND'S ENERGY AND WATCH IT AMPLIFY!
THE THONG (...I KNOW)
Your functional groups are the system through which the brand’s energy flows, amplifying in speed and power while travelling from group to group. Like strands in the whip, the groups weave together to support each other, maintaining the perfect balance to allow for creativity and productivity. Most importantly, they strengthen the entire structure. If one strand breaks, you have no chance of making a loud crack. These groups are teams like sales, finance, product marketing, creative/design, content marketing, influence marketing, communications, media relations, promos, retail marketing, education, agencies, events, digital and trade marketing. I may not have listed them all, but you get the idea: you can slot in any functional group that contributes to your GTM (go-to-market).
As the body of the whip gets thinner, the motion gets faster and faster until it hits the market, and all the efforts of the functional groups get focused into sales tools.
Logistics in this area can be extremely complex and time-consuming, and the teams usually have the least amount of time to execute their work. If your trade, event and digital marketing fail, all the previous work done by all the functional groups above is null and void. Without sales tools, your reps are dead in the water.
This is the spot where marketing turns into real sales tools in the digital and brick-and-mortar marketplaces. It’s the thinnest part of the whip, travelling at the fastest speed, with the most urgency behind it. Your sales tools are, in many ways, the pièce de résistance of your marketing strategy. They’re designed to attract and engage the target consumer. Examples include consumer sales promotions, staff promos, social media, videos, custom art, POP, window fronts, signage, banners, digital art, fixtures, displays and more.
Within The Marketing Whip, the popper is your intended effect, converting the target consumer! If you’re a consumer brand like Nike, it’s the sale of your new line of shoes. If you’re a non-profit, it’s donations and if you’re a medical facility, it’s driving consumers to book more appointments. You get the idea. Every time you run through your GTM, your sales tools should act like a loud crack in market, guiding the consumer towards your product and winning the sale.
Each time you ‘crack the whip’ successfully, it adds value to your brand, making the next sonic boom louder, faster and more efficient.
THE LOUD CRACK
Listen to the echoes. Every time you crack
The Marketing Whip, you’ll have an inordinate amount of data and feedback on what was successful and what wasn’t. You should learn something each time that contributes to your next GTM cycle. If you don’t listen to the sound of your cracking whip, you’ll be destined to make the same mistakes over and over.
THE FOLLOW THROUGH
After the ‘crack’, you need to make sure the hand follows through with the motion, so you don’t end up whipping yourself in the face like me. This means taking post-sale action on the consumer, market and operational data, issues and feedback you received from your product launch. The last motion from the brand should ready the whip for the start of the next cycle.
If you don’t follow through after the sonic boom, it’ll come back to bite you and put you at a disadvantage for your next attempt.
A perfect whip is made of high-calibre materials and carefully crafted by an Artisan: a weighted iron bar for the handle, sturdy strips for the core, the finest kangaroo leather strands, carefully braided with balanced tension.
Sure, you can find cheap whips with the same structure, but if the materials are cheap it will be hard to use, it will weaken with every use, and you will rarely achieve a loud crack. Similarly, your marketing structure needs to be of fine quality. The quality of your materials are paramount.
You need a super stable, well-maintained brand to be able to build, store and release energy into the marketplace. Then, you need highly-skilled team members that conquer every project, tools that deliver the goods through streamlined processes with automated points, and data strategies built on inclusion (not silos), all directed towards the growth of the brand.
- Ensure the person holding the whip has a holistic understanding of your organization, with the ability to align departments and create sustainable growth.
- Be confident in your brand’s vision and the values you stand for to maintain alignment along the entire whip structure. Make sure brand is at the core of every functional group, this will have everyone pulling in the same direction, producing an environment for smooth and easy cross-collaboration.
- Maintain a balance of skill and technicality between functional groups. Backfill any weak teams with the correct talent, education and tools.
- Overcome tricky logistics with automated, streamlined pipelines to avoid bottlenecks.
- Observe, analyze and act upon all insights, feedback and market data gained from cracking the whip.
The Marketing Whip needs to be able to crack repeatedly, no matter if team members come and go or how many whips you’re cracking at once. The best structures I’ve seen have a clearly organised operational data and defined automated process that produces smooth pipelines. It’s clear that the future of marketing begins with a system designed to streamline cross-collaboration, glean optimized insights from embedded metadata, and enable instantaneous decision-making with purpose built tools. You want people to hear the ‘crack’ from miles around, and the sound should increase in volume and travel further distance every time you brandish the whip. Get crackin’!
About The Author
Jamie Calon is a trade marketing consultant with over 20 years’ experience working with clients like Oakley, The North Face and Luxottica. He is the CEO and co-founder of Regulator, a trade marketing automation (TMA) platform, built to automate process and help trade marketing professionals deliver sales tools to the marketplace for a range of industries.