The marketing black box: Why radical transparency is key

Why does marketing not get the focus and support it truly requires? And how can we earn more respect for marketing as a function while delivering outstanding results at the same time?

Marketing is often treated as an ancillary activity of the organization when it should be the primary activity. The lack of proper emphasis on marketing—and the incorrect precedence placed upon it—leads to unreliable growth and shortened CMO tenure.

The key to solving this problem is transparency. Marketing teams must operate more transparently, both internally and externally, to realize their full potential.

As Peter Drucker famously said, “the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous.” Achieving this aim requires transforming marketing from a mysterious black box into a radically transparent organizational function.

It might seem like a buzzword or an HR initiative, but transparency is the missing link to sustainable growth.

The marketing black box

Marketing has a reputation problem. Most people outside of marketing see it like a slot machine in a Vegas casino. You sit down with a bucket of quarters, feeding the machine and pulling the arm repeatedly, hoping to win big. As your budget dwindles, you become frustrated that there hasn’t been a payout in what feels like forever.

Unfortunately, this is the general view of marketing: a black box that eats money and haphazardly spits out lackluster results on an unpredictable schedule.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Marketing operations is responsible for opening the box and showing everyone what’s behind the curtains. Doing this is the only way to earn the trust and support necessary for sustainable, predictable growth.

The benefits of transparency

When marketing organizations become more transparent, they can better articulate the effort and investment required to achieve the objectives and results set before them. But transparency can also help marketing teams operate more effectively and produce better results.

Here are five of the most impactful benefits of marketing operations adopting radical transparency:

Motivation and engagement

It may surprise you that most teams don’t know how the business performs. One study found that 75% of employees truly cared about the business performance but did not have sufficient insights to generate increased motivation and engagement. 

Marketing teams are no exception, primarily because of how often they operate in silos. Breaking down those walls and building a shared understanding of overall performance and trajectory can dramatically boost employee motivation and engagement. Creating deep engagement and aligning the teams is integral for encouraging cross-collaboration.


Marketing is an interdisciplinary function that requires the coordination and collaboration of many different people who each have unique skillsets. Including everyone in the process and sharing information openly is one of the easiest ways to facilitate cross-collaboration. A great example of transparency leading to cross-collaboration is pair programming, a practice common in the software industry.

With pair programming, two programmers with different areas of expertise share one computer and work on a single task together. There is no greater transparency than letting someone see exactly what you’re working on and how you approach it from start to finish.

Having two people do one person’s job may sound counterproductive, but it’s genius. The task gets completed faster and with fewer mistakes, thanks to the oversight of the second person. And the second person learns someone else’s area of expertise while developing a more holistic understanding of what their team is doing.

Creating radical transparency in this way can open the doors to more opportunities to cross-pollinate skills and provide a holistic perspective for your team. As marketing continues to evolve and grow with more platforms, technologies, and channels, effective collaboration among your team will be a byproduct of greater transparency.

Improved decision making

When everyone can see and participate in decisions, the result is a better decision. Not everyone should have an equal say, or any say at all times. But making decisions clear to the team, explaining the rationale, and listening to feedback are easy ways to raise awareness and the quality of decisions.

For example, marketing teams that embrace experimentation and testing often neglect to include others in the brainstorming process of what to test. Involving other marketers, even if they lack experience with testing, can lead to better ideas and more successful tests. Additionally, leveraging insights from people outside of marketing, namely customer service or sales, can also produce significantly more powerful results.

Transparency is the gateway to better observations, insights, and decisions. Marketing teams who accept this truth and build it into their way of working will make higher quality and more profitable decisions.

Less ‘failure work’

One of the biggest wastes in marketing is duplication of efforts, rework, or missing opportunities. These can be classified as failure work — work that didn’t happen as it should have. There’s no excuse for this to happen at all, let alone regularly, and yet it continues to occur in virtually all marketing organizations. 

The cure for failure work is transparency, because as the saying goes, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” The more we can expose problems and reveal the areas where things didn’t go as they should, the more successful we can install processes to address them.

Many costly and unproductive things are happening in the dark corners of your marketing operations. Before you can fix them, you first have to find them.

More efficient spend

How much budget do you think most marketing teams waste on any given day? Without proper checks and balances—and visibility—I can guarantee you it’s a lot. 

Creating an “open startup” dashboard is a smart move if you’re serious about improving spending and increasing performance. Companies like the email marketing platform ConvertKit have a public dashboard where you can view all of their key metrics, including their number of active customers.

This holds the team accountable and allows anyone within the organization or externally to view their real-time performance. How much closer do you think your team would pay attention to every dollar spent if their metrics were on public display for all to see? Now everyone can identify areas of waste or opportunities for improvement, and those conversations can now happen in an open environment.

This type of radical transparency can fuel the focus and accountability required for sustainable growth.

The clear path to growth

Too many marketing teams are operating as the epitome of “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” and continuing in this way is unacceptable. More importantly, too much of our marketing operations happen in the dark corners where time, budget, and effort are being wasted in various ways.

Radical transparency is a requirement for marketing operations to become more effective and reduce waste. But transparency in marketing goes beyond finding and resolving problems; it’s a requisite for reliable and sustainable growth.

The post The marketing black box: Why radical transparency is key appeared first on MarTech.


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