Horizontal Marketing

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Warning: this going to sound self-serving:

Marketing has to stop being a vertical within the business and must become horizontal across all business lines. Period. End of sentence. Businesses, fundamentally see the concept of social business as a fad. As if, suddenly, the employees within the organization will no longer be connected to one another and no longer engaged on a smartphone or tablet (meaning they are not only hyper-connected but completely untethered). It’s somewhat laughable that you have businesses that block their employees from channels like YouTube and Facebook, when all the employee has to do is put their hand into their pocket to be connected on those channels. From the public facing side, consumers are beyond having expectations for a business to be social. In fact, if a business isn’t social, it’s a non-starter. Do you do business with any companies that treat you like a number? We still do (think about banks, cable companies, airlines, telecommunications and a few others). They’re doing their best to become more social, aren’t they?

Why does it work for some and fail for others?

While this is painting very broad strokes, it comes down to vertical integration versus horizontal integration. When a business claims to be moving in the direction of becoming a social business, the brands that fail are the ones that have a social media department within another department (usually marketing and/or communications) and their work is predicated on things like campaigns currently in market or individual initiatives. This, in essence, is the ghetto-ization of the social business spirit and will, ultimately, lead to failure. When it’s implemented horizontally, you have a top-down and bottom-up seismic shift that becomes a value-based system by which the corporation is governed. In plain English: everyone has skin in the game. It’s not a campaign, it’s who you are. It’s a statement to the world that our business is made up of people and our consumers are people, too. People do magnificent things in business when they can have real interactions between real human beings.

Someone has to make the call.

A marketing director wanting to implement social components into their business is unlikely to change the world. It has to come from the top. Social business touches everything from human resources and operations to business development and product development. The major record labels within the music industry are making their struggles even worse because they don’t have a social business framework. They were always in control (of the artists, of the music’s distribution channel, of what the fans would hear) and they took that power on with the pretentious attitude of management that is similar to how kings used to rule their lands (the rest of us were merely loyal serfs). When the c-suite makes the call, everything changes. Don’t believe me? Just ask Michael Dell over at Dell or Tony Hsieh over at Zappos. These two business leaders (and there are many more) didn’t sell social business through their organizations as a marketing and communications initiative. They sold it through as customer service. We’re not talking about customer service in terms of the call center, we’re talking about the core of customer service: why are we in business?

We are in business to serve the customer.

Nothing more. Nothing less. The more we attempt to resist social business models, the more painful these next few years (and decades) will be. We can expect, more local, more mobile and more socially-enabled consumers. Does anyone debate this? Does anyone think that this is a fad? This Blog post isn’t about making a case for social business, this Blog post is about opening up all of our eyes to the reality of the future: all businesses must be social. If we don’t turn marketing into a horizontal that runs pervasively throughout the organization, I worry that our competitors will. And when they do, they will not only eat our lunch, but they will marry our beloved consumers.

I think we all love being horizontal… it’s time to make our marketing horizontal as well.


  1. So dead on. This has been at the core of what I try to do every day with clients, and clearly some get it and some don’t. Whether it’s breaking down silos, or understanding the need for online/offline integration, or even understanding that it’s about customer service/experience, and not marketing.
    I’m hoping that this is the next big shift, because too many businesses, marketers, and yes, consultants, see social media as “marketing” and their eyes light up. If you approach it from that perspective, you’ll fail, you’ll become disillusioned, and you’ll miss out on something that can be pretty great.

  2. Mitch,
    Social business is definitely where we are headed. But, just like the mindset of social media has taken about 7 years, I believe it will likewise take at least 3 more years for social business to be more mainstream. I blogged in December 2011 that 2012 is the year of social business. But, I was not really expecting that to be reality. Like you, I’m interested in raising awareness of social business for customer service in a horizontal manner as you point out. I love what IBM, Dell and Zappos do. We need many more with that mindset. Let’s keep rising this tide together as a collective voice!

  3. This post puts me in mind of something Paul Hawken called “hybrid vigor”, whereby “cross pollination” of people, skills and departments create a resulting sum-of-the-parts-is-greater-than-the-whole.
    Words, terms and buzz words are what catch people’s attention, so when we use terms like “social media, marketing, HR” etc., people already have a preconceived notion…and it’s a silo notion.
    I agree with your post and with Ken: breaking down silos and departments to create “hybrid vigor” is what I work with my clients to achieve: like a neighbourhood where people actually talk to one another, chat over the fence, help each other snowplow and know each others’ names. Cheers! Kaarina

  4. I couldn’t agree more. “Social” at most companies means “Facebook” and “Twitter.” Social needs to be an interaction with the customer which impacts all aspects of the business.

  5. spot on mate, best of your blogs by far that I have read.
    It’s not just the big corps that dont get it, but a lot of the SME’s I deal with who technically should find this an easier concept and also much easier in terms of implementation.
    There is a a weird disconnect between how they are living their lives and how they are living their businesses.
    The point you make about a company fire-walling Facebook etc on the desk computers but not being able to stop the employees from using their smartphones is equally true in the boardroom as on the shop-floor 🙂

  6. I think there is too much emphasis on ROI in Social Business. We seem to forget that people buy from those they know and trust.
    I have not met Chris Brogan.However,should I have to purchase something from Chris Brogan,sight unseen,I would not hesitate to do so.
    Same goes for Dell and Zappos!

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