Beware the Shadow

Is your company overspending in marketing? The answer may surprise you. If you work in a large technology company that has had revenue or profitability issues recently, Finance may have cut your marketing budget to align with the downturn. Marketing is always the first to go in such a situation. And on paper, it looks like a reasonable place to cut expenses. But what may be going on in the shadows of the organization is worth a second look. And it is likely costing the company MORE money. Yes, your company may be overspending in marketing without even knowing it—in fact, under the guise of cost cutting. There is a Big Company phenomenon out there lurking beneath the surface of the balance sheet. Shadow Marketing. Revenue is flat or down and the bean counters go into full cost-cutting mode. Target; Marketing. Heads start to roll and programs are cut. Vendor payments are pushed out to the next quarter.

When the dust clears, Marketing emerges as a tiny-but-mighty team that, with great gusto, goes about the business of accomplishing more with less. The good news about a small team is that alignment and consistency are actually easier. Communication is more efficient. And while bunker mentality may set in, team bonding is accentuated and the result is often a greater focus on focus—doing that which will actually drive outcomes.

But wait! What’s that hiding in the nooks and crannies of day-to-day business? What are those new titles emerging in the Business Units? How come the Field Sales team hired an agency? And where did that tangential website come from? Suddenly, all around, random acts of marketing are spotted.

These are the tell tale signs of Shadow Marketing.

In the face of a downsized team, spontaneous generation begins to take place and before you know it, there are more marketing people in the company than there were before the budget cuts. Only now, these marketing people are working independently at the direction of leaders other than marketers and proceeding to create new messages, drive new campaigns, organize new events and develop new marketing strategies all without the benefit of cohesion. And just as miraculously, budgets are allocated for these activities. But no one is tracking it as “marketing.”

All appears to be well in the Company Kingdom. Finance is happy. Business Unit leads are satisfied. Content is flowing. Projects underway. Shadow Marketing flourishes.

offset_149295But the tiny and mighty Marketing team is apoplectic. All the work that went into positioning and messaging is now being undermined with a barrage of new initiatives from various sectors of the company. Logos are misused. Old taglines unearthed. New websites created. A cacophony of messages fills the ether as everyone unleashes their inner marketeer. None of it coordinated. None of it consistent. None of it tracked. None of it part of the marketing automation program that was so carefully set up before the shit hit the fan. But all of it taking up resources and costing money.

The hidden costs of Shadow Marketing are very real. They could well exceed the budget that received the cuts in the first place. In addition to marketing dollars that disappear from the Marketing budget only to find their way into every other department by any other name, consider the intangibles that become victims as well: quality, consistency and alignment—not to mention the cost of rebuilding all of this when the good times return.

Recognition of what lurks in the shadows will likely save the company money in the long run. But it takes a rational mind and a vision of the future to stop the madness, step out of the shadows and enable Marketing to do its job. In short, it takes guts.