Enterprise marketing management tools, such as those offered by companies with the catchy names of Emmperative, KickFire, Teamtoolz and others, serve as browser-based platforms that make it easier for widely dispersed project teams, including internal marketing executives and agencies, to collaborate via intranets or extranets. Documents, marketing plans, digitized ads and notes for revisions are stored on secure servers, so the most recent ads or comments on ads, for instance, can be accessed by anyone with the proper password.
Such systems also let brand managers access stored data, images and video files of brands' past ad campaigns or market research data. For companies like P&G and General Mills, they can even access video footage of consumers in their homes going about their daily business, which can be used to help new develop new products.
Neither vendors of the new technologies nor the companies adopting them are eager to portray them as ways to reduce headcounts. They highlight the new technologies' power to complete projects faster and spread information across project teams better. "It gives you a chance to have real-time meetings and time-shifted work, because if everything is in the system, the work can actually move. What's being finished in the U.S. one day can be picked up as you work around the globe," said Emmperative CEO Hunter Hastings.
The reality is that as the economy slows, many marketing departments are contracting, particularly in package goods, where earnings disappointments and a wave of food industry consolidations have created the imperatives or opportunities to get leaner. P&G and Coca-Cola, two of the early adopters, are in the midst of reductions in force that include marketing executives among others. New technology may not be driving layoffs, but it does make them easier.
"We improve personal productivity," said Mr. Hastings, a former P&G brand manager and head of Emmperative, the enterprise marketing systems joint venture launched earlier this year by P&G and Mr. Hastings' former company, Worldwide Magnifi. "The individual user spends less time on administrative chores and process, and our research shows that can be anything from 50% to 65% of their time. And so we release them to do more creative thinking and more strategy work that they entered marketing to do."
Mr. Hastings acknowledges, however, that in some cases, the goal may just be to release them. "For the chief marketing officers we talk to, one of the big [objectives] they get from their CEOs is increasing organizational capacity," Mr. Hastings said. "What that means is they either get the same with less or get more with the same. ... There certainly are opportunities in headcount restraint. We think of this as an investment in creativity and productivity, and the savings are in administration and waste."
Sheryl Tullis, brand manager for the Personal Blends process, said using the system helped cut through the clutter of "e-mail ping" in which messages fly so furiously, it's hard to tell which is the most recent. "You would know you had the most current document on the platform," she said. "It really helped bring a lot more clarity to the process and avoid a lot of rework. And then as new people rotated into the business, it really helped bring them up to speed."
P&G also joined General Mills recently in backing a new online market research platform, zTelligence, from MarketTools, that aims to foster faster adoption of online research inside and outside the companies. Gayle Fuguitt, VP-consumer insights at General Mills, acknowledged that online research can reduce staffing time, but said that's not the primary goal.
"The cost savings are in the amount of time it takes to analyze the data and in the amount of people-intensity it takes," Ms. Fuguitt said. But the primary benefit of online research is doing research faster, she said. Ms. Fuguitt estimates that General Mills has been able to reduce its product development cycle by 20%, though she wouldn't comment on how long the average product takes.
Online research generally and the use of standardized survey formats in particular "without a doubt" reduces need for staffing, said Bill Schlegel, president-CEO of MarketTools, particularly in the areas of creating and deploying surveys and reporting the data. "It's our best estimate that [those functions] are 25% to 30% of the total time required to complete a sophisticated, end-to-end research project. You still need somebody who creates the design element of the survey and the structure of the questions on the front end, and you still need somebody to analyze, interpret and write the report on the back end."
Such organizations as P&G and General Mills, which have traditionally handled most research functions in-house, have the biggest potential for labor savings, he said, though others should see costs and time savings from their providers.
Barb Lindsay, director of consumer market knowledge at P&G, said the goal of using online research isn't to reduce staff, but to save time. "First people to get a product to market typically have a first mover advantage," she said. "So we've moved to the online research to let us interact with consumers quicker, get data quicker and make decisions quicker."
While new marketing systems primarily eliminate administrative chores, they can also be used to store knowledge that was once entrusted to-or at least imparted by-senior managers.
Much of P&G's stake in the Emmperative venture comes from putting its marketing know-how, such as procedures for developing and commenting on ads, into the system for use by all takers. For a monthly subscription fee the parties won't divulge, "the P&G way" can now be accessed on your desktop, though the system is customizable for the Coke way, Philips way, BBDO way or any others.
Among the tools is what Emmperative calls a "Strategy Wizard."
"This allows marketers to input relevant data about their target audience, about the benefit, about the reason to believe, and, in an iterative process, gets them to write better strategies for their brands," said Dan Mauer, president of Emmperative and a former P&G information technology executive.
Such tools already exist in many companies, including P&G, he said, "but they exist in many different places. Some of them exist in filing cabinets. Some of them exist in the knowledge that people have. Some of them exist in the experience of the organization." Now they also exist in the hard drive.
At P&G, as at many companies, the strategy wizards traditionally were senior managers who reviewed the work of junior ones. But the company's current restructuring is weighted toward the senior management. Chief Financial Officer Clayton Daley in a conference with analysts earlier this year said separation packages will be richer than in past P&G restructurings because of the more senior executives involved. While P&G hasn't specified exactly where cuts are coming, the ranks of marketing directors, general managers and VPs are expected to be among those thinned the most.
Generally, downsizing in package-goods marketing ranks is being driven not by technology but by consolidation, which reduces the need for executives, particularly in such support functions as market research, said Michael Hoye, a former VP at Colgate-Palmolive Co. and now a management and marketing consultant with Hoye & Partners, Danbury, Conn. Systems can't replace top managers or replace the analytical skills of marketing executives, but they can, like managers, help instill discipline, he said. "I think [such systems] would provide consistency in approach," Mr. Hoye said. "It would probably rope in a couple of cowboys who want to work outside the system."
But he added that marketing department headcounts aren't really major expenses in many companies, and that no system can be a substitute for good marketing executives.
"Garbage in, garbage out still applies," he said. "Regardless of what kind of template or format you've got, at the end you still have to have some people with experience and knowledge and judgment about issues."