One on One with InnerWorkings’ Chris Dent

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A company can have the greatest marketing strategy ever devised, but it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on without a cohesive strategy to ensure all of the pieces come together. For many companies, that last mile of unleashing a marketing strategy is fraught with potential hiccups that could cause minor problems or derail the campaign altogether. Consulting caught up with InnerWorkings’ Chris Dent, Vice President, Client Engagement & Marketing Strategy, to talk about some of those hiccups and how InnerWorkings’ methods help clients bring their campaigns across the goal line successfully.

Consulting: What is InnerWorkings’ approach to consulting?

Dent: A lot of it is what you’d expect, based on knowledge of consulting, engagements and methods, so we take a project-based approach and try to be fact-based and data driven, to look at it in two different dimensions, internal versus external—focusing on what is happening within the organization today and comparing it to what’s happening outside the organization. The second dimension is qualitative versus quantitative. We look at the performance along those metrics, those five drivers, and how they’re doing against them.

Consulting: Did the timing of your arrival at InnerWorkings coincide with the start of their consulting practice?

Dent: I think part of the expected value from my background was that I could pick that up and expand it. The InnerWorkings approach to consulting is interesting because it’s new and it’s also old. Before my time we’ve had a group here whose sole purpose was to conduct assessments with clients, particularly with clients we were bringing on board as long-term enterprise customers. It was really establishing a baseline, getting a feel for how the market was operating. So we had some core depth of experience there as a business but we hadn’t necessarily developed the methodology and solidified it and turned it into something that could be offered to anybody regardless of whether they were a client.

Consulting: Will InnerWorkings’ consulting offering go beyond marketing?

Dent: We’re pretty focused on marketing because that’s our core competency. I wouldn’t claim to say we’re going to be the right partner for, say ‘what’s your advertising strategy’, or any of that big idea type of work. We really thrive in what we call the “last mile” of the whole marketing cycle. If you think about strategy, developing a roadmap and a plan for that, when you get into execution, that’s our focus and our area of expertise. So what we’re doing is offering a marketing execution assessment that really focuses on how well is a company executing a lot of the key drivers of marketing execution effectiveness we know are the big difference makers.

Consulting: What are those key drivers?

Dent: There are really five big categories that really make the difference in this marketing execution space. One is execution consistency, which is how well coordinated and consistent the companies’ marketing efforts across different channels and also internally, are the teams able to work in sync to get the marketing done. The second is complexity, which boils down to speed. We find a lot of marketing organizations might struggle to get campaigns out to market quickly enough or adapt them, so complexity is around that and whether they have the right vendors and partners to do that effectively. Third is what we call the ecosystem, that’s essentially how enabled is that marketing execution engine. That consists of the roles and responsibilities in that structure in the way the organization is staffed as well as the technology in place to support it. Fourth is efficiency and effectiveness, which is really the productivity of that engine. To me it comes down to visibility—we look a lot at can a company actually define and measure performance indicators and service levels around each step of that marketing supply chain. The last would be the innovation mindset of a company. How much room is there for creativity around campaigns and the execution itself?  We try to evaluate those very methodically and based on performance of those, whether it’s very ad hoc or well managed and optimized, you can benchmark an organization against its peers.

Consulting: What are some of the big stumbling blocks companies are encountering in that “last mile”?

Dent: A lot of the foundational ones are around the consistency and complexity. I think complexity is often the biggest one right now because if you just think about a marketing development process you get a creative brief for a campaign or program. You have to develop it, you have to design the materials, you have to then get that shipped, measured, and sent out to a store. If you think about that process for just one campaign and then multiply it by the number of brands a certain large organization has, the number of regions they’re operating in, you end up with this really complex marketing execution network. I think firms fall down at being able to manage and orchestrate all of those moving parts. You can have A+ strategy but if the execution is a C it doesn’t carry through. What we’re trying to do is work with executives to make sure they’re getting an A on that execution piece as well.

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