Alright, I’m getting back into blogging.

Along with the usual frontline marketing tips, I’ll be tackling some higher-level issues as well. Nowadays, in Nanjing Marketing Group, I tend to deal less with the details of campaigns and more on strategy and management.
One of the most common areas I deal with is how to setup a China marketing team. In our case, this always involves at least two companies – our own and the client’s.
We’ve been building the team on our side since 2009, and we need to make sure that we can integrate with client teams quickly and effectively.
This is a big topic, so I’m breaking it into at least 3 posts. First I’ll talk about using an investment-philosophy in marketing, then move on to the details of goal setting & team structure.

The Mindset of Success

Imagine you’re in charge of the Chinese marketing efforts for your company (if you’re reading our blog you likely are!). What kind of management practices will really help you win?
Although most of what I write is about the work done by myself and my company, I’ve had the chance to work on hundreds of projects, and talk to thousands of people entering the China market. I’ve seen some amazing managers, but most are less-than-awesome.
I see one key factor that seems to separate the so-so marketing managers from the very successful ones: A great manager views marketing as an investment, NOT an expense. This philosophy drives them to learn how to estimate marketing investment returns, how to measure results, and how to manage a team to achieve those results.
To show what I mean, let’s take a look at the philosophy of ‘marketing is an expense’ first. With this mindset, the person in charge views marketing as an expense that should be decreased. When it comes to choosing partners or employees, their thought process goes like this:
  1. Find several options for filling marketing functions (people to hire or agency partners).
  2. Try to fit these options into similar categories to compare ‘apples-to-apples’.
  3. Choose the comparable option with the lowest expense.
 This method is cognitively easier because it requires little thought about the end result. It also doesn’t require the thinker to engage in strategic thinking about how their marketing team will compare against others in a competitive, real-world environment.
Viewing marketing as an expense will help you minimize your marketing losses… Are you playing to lose?
An awesome marketing manager views marketing as an investment. They play to win, and their goal is to maximize their returns.
Instead of trying to choose the lower-expense option, they’ll try to evaluate how much of a return they’ll get on their various marketing spend options.
Of course, this is more complex. The buyer doesn’t only need to consider cost, but also to estimate results. Unless they have a crystal ball to view the future, this requires deeper thought about the environment, the marketing options they have available, their own company, and how to integrate it all together.
The awesome marketing manager’s thought process works something like this:
  1. Find several options for filling marketing functions (people to hire or agency partners).
  2. Guess the potential return on each option separately. This involves a lot more research & discussion. Note that they do not to compare these options as ‘apples-to-apples’.
  3. Choose the option with the highest estimated return. This may be defined as ROI, profit or some other metric that takes into consideration both cost and benefit.

An example from the agency point of view…

Here’s a real example.
It’s not only marketing managers that should be choosing the right employees & agencies. Good agencies like us also want to choose the most awesome marketing managers to work with. Why? Because they will lead the project to success, which earns more for them, more for their company, and more for us.
We have a new salesperson on board and I’ve been teaching him which potential clients are the best to invest our time on, and which ones are probably time-wasters.
Yesterday we had the chance to compare two potential clients.

In ‘Company A’,  the marketer is quite busy, and now wishes to target the China market as well. He hasn’t considered how to localize their website into Chinese yet – it’s currently still only in English. He’s contacted a bunch of agencies, but he doesn’t have time to engage in phone or face-to-face meetings.There’s lots of competition in their industry. They hope to spend a set amount of $X,000/month on pay per click marketing and see how it goes.

They want to know if we can provide our service for cheaper, because (suprise surprise), there’s somebody on the Internet that can sell a similar-looking service for cheaper!
In ‘Company B’, there is a team of cross-functional experts each assigned to help plan the China efforts. These experts include marketing, logistics, IT and customer support. They haven’t figured out the team structure yet, and don’t claim to have. They’re considering multiple options related to hiring in-house staff and agency partners.
They’ve attempted to translate their website and have made some progress. It’s not up to our standards for SEO or readability, but they seem to be on the right path at least.
They’re always asking questions that are focused on results, not just costs.
They want to know what kind of results we can show for comparable clients. They hope to interview some references too. Most importantly, they want to talk to our team a lot to get a sense of how we will work together.
Comparing Company A and Company B, I would definitely choose to invest our time communicating with Company B. They are by no means perfect, and have many challenges ahead. But I can see they use the investment mentality when it comes to marketing. Company B is trying their hardest to choose a marketing investment that will provide results, and they see the cost of getting those results as an investment.

How an awesome marketing manager talks

Here are some real examples of what awesome marketing managers say. Let me know in the comments – which camp do you belong in now?
Expense-mode Guy
Opening email remarks:
  • “Hello,” (no personalization).
  • “Please send me your pricing”.
  • “We’ll need to get this running within 3 weeks.”
  • “I’ve done AdWords in USA, but I just need some help with setup and translating keywords.” (Oversimplifying work.)
  • “We aren’t planning on translating our website yet, but will if we get enough leads.” (Not investing in all components necessary for success.)


Investment-mode Girl
Opening email remarks:
  • “Hello Nanjing Marketing Group team!”
  • “I’d like to learn more…”
  • “Would you have time to…”
  • “How do you think we could work together?”
  • “Would it be possible to meet the account manager we would work with? I’d like to see how we get along.”
  • “Can you walk me through a similar project you’ve worked on?”
  • “What else am I missing? Besides what we’ve talked about, what obstacles do you see for us to be successful in China?”
Investment-mode Girl is a much more challenging person to talk to. She asks tougher questions, but I believe she’d have a higher chance at success than Expense-mode Guy, I’d be more willing to focus my own time on communicating with her.
To work with Expense-mode Guy, an agency merely needs to present a commoditized service and provide a cheaper price. To work with Investment-mode Girl, an agency needs to be able to convey the value of their services.
Investment-girl will demand more from us, but value it more highly. And since she views marketing as an investment, she’ll make sure to give it the necessary support and resources.

How to make sure the marketing manager in your company is awesome

Is there an inherent difference in awesome managers & so-so ones? Or, are there organizational factors that can be improved?
I think both.
On one hand, the philosophy of the marketing manager is very important. The type of person successful in running Chinese marketing most likely sees their time, money and energy as an investment in general. They’ll reflect this in their communication style. They show respect and interest in other people, and generally invest enough time in everything they do to make it work.
In Chinese, we can say that the person should have good 素质 (inner qualities).
That being said, having the right person in your organization isn’t enough. They also need to have enough time and resources.
It’s common for us to talk to marketing managers who already have 50 hours of work to do in a 40-hour work week, and now they’ve also been tasked with running marketing in China. To fit this into their schedule, they feel forced to cut corners.
To solve this, before assigning the internal roles for China business efforts, a company should take a step back to properly figure out how much time & money the effort will require. Perhaps they might also engage external consultants in an early stage.
What do you think? How do you and your company go about choosing partners & employees for marketing?
Next week I’ll be posting the next part in this series, on how to focus your whole team by setting a clear marketing goal.


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