During the course of my career I spent a great deal of time wondering what separates the merely good marketing departments from the ones that are truly great—the handful of marketing departments that have the ability to directly and consistently contribute to organizational success.

Over the years, I identified four essential ingredients that truly great marketing departments share. And while many marketing departments might have one, two, or even three of these characteristics, the truly great ones have all four. Let’s take a look.

First, clear direction. Clear direction is essential. It provides focus. It helps everyone understand what is included, and not included, in the marketing mandates. It also provides tremendous insight into the marketing talent that will be needed and the organizational structure that will best support that talent. Clear direction depends on the chief marketing officer and the president not only being on the same page, but on the same sentence.

Clear direction, at its most basic, clarifies the primary responsibilities of the marketing department.

Note: Not sure about how to establish clear direction? Take a look at last month’s blog post, “The Purpose-Built Marketing Organization.”

Second, political support. Without political support most marketing departments will fail, or at best, be hopelessly sidelined and marginalized. Political support means that the CMO has a seat at the big table and is involved in key conversations and decisions. It also means that the CMO has the authority to hire, fire, and shape the marketing team and organization. Recognizing the inherent cross-functionality of great marketing, political support is necessary when marketing butts heads with turf issues.

While clear direction outlines the marketing mandate, political support gives the CMO the authority she or he needs to act on that mandate.

Third, talent. Truly great marketing departments are talent magnets. Highly talented people want to work in marketing departments that have direction and resources (see below), and that give them the opportunity to do their best work. Highly talented people want to be part of something great.

There is every likelihood that some of the talent you need is located somewhere else at the institution. Your job is to find them and bring them on board.

Finally, when you think about talent make sure you think well beyond titles. Some people have deep talents that have nothing to do with their present titles.

Nothing happens without talent. And while enthusiasm is important, talent is the driver.

Fourth, resources. In most cases, resources mean dollars. And while there is never enough money, clear direction will help focus your resources. In addition, the political support you have will help you execute some of your marketing mandates through other departments and budgets. (Remember the idea of “integrated”?) Finally, a commitment to measuring mROI (marketing return on investment) will help the leadership team realize that marketing budgets are more of an investment than a cost. In other words, many marketing resources are renewable.

As I thought about these four ingredients I realized that I had left out organizational structure. And while organizational structure is critical, the discussion about organization should only occur once the four key ingredients are in place. Too often we rush to reorganize when, quite simply, we are not sure what else to do.

It kind of reminds me of this joke about an outgoing CMO having lunch with his replacement. Anyway, there are three envelopes. . . .

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