At Blue Feathers, we’re fortunate to work with some great clients, helping them build incredible brands with customer-centric propositions and brilliant teams. Within this, we have significant experience in designing and helping to implement effective marketing processes. The very things that underpin how teams work, letting them get on with the business of delivering best-in-class marketing.

Cheryl Calverley, formerly CEO of eve sleep and Marketing Director at the AA, has been working with Blue Feathers over the past year. Guy Chapman, also in the Blue Feathers team, spoke to Cheryl about what process means to her and how she designs processes to facilitate effective collaboration in marketing teams.

First of all, what does ‘process’ mean to you, in the context of marketing?

Ughm, it’s a heavy word isn’t it? Feels A LOT. But for me, the role of ‘process’ is really just about getting everyone to follow the same process. That’s half the battle.

Everyone naturally has their own ‘process’ – their way of doing something, which is undoubtedly highly effective for them. The challenge in a ‘marketing team process’ is to develop a set of coherent approaches, and a common language so everyone knows what’s happening, can support each other and collaborate effectively.

Everyone needs to understand what other people are doing and therefore trust that what needs to be done is being done. And to be clear on what they need and expect from others at any given moment.

So effective processes support collaboration and efficiency?

Yes, exactly. If everyone is trying their best but doing things in a different way, it’s so hard to reach a goal in an effective manner. I always think of it as a bit like carrying a heavy box with someone else. If you’re both trying to carry the box in opposite directions, you can’t get anywhere. But if you agree upfront that ‘left’ means ‘my left / your right’, you quickly get into your stride.

Process is about being clear what we mean, checking we’re all aligned on how to do something, and enabling people to help each other, getting on a roll together rather than pulling against each other.

If it brings all these benefits, why do you think some people get turned off by the idea of process?

Some people hear the word ‘process’ and worry that it’s about making things rigid, or removing flexibility and creativity. I totally get that – I’m definitely one of those people. I think this is especially true in marketing and innovation – disciplines that are full of highly creative folk. People are often specifically attracted to these roles because creativity, individuality and self-expression are valued. This feels at odds with ‘process’…

So people fear that a process is going to restrict them, stop them being themselves. I think that’s because processes are sometimes implemented poorly or even used as a ‘stick’ to beat people with. Everyone has experienced a bad process or a poorly-implemented one, that acted as a brake on action or was heavy and burdensome – so people come with baggage. Everyone’s been on the end of that ‘as per the PROCESS’ passive aggressive e-mail…

That’s why at Blue Feathers when we’re working on process projects we always start with a whole load of listening, to surface any concerns the team have, and properly understand the backdrop of the business – it’s important to get these out on the table at the start.

How do you get the balance right between a clear process with boundaries and guidelines, and allowing space for creativity, experimentation and spontaneity?

When a process is designed well, when it aligns with the organisation’s culture and when it genuinely facilitates collaboration and speed, people really enjoy it. That sounds odd, but the confidence a strong process can give you to go ahead and create brilliant work without fear of dropping a ball or going off track is wonderfully liberating.

Strong process lets the strengths of the team and business shine, and protects against the natural gaps or weaknesses a team may have. It understands the culture it’s working in, and is designed to leverage that culture to its greatest effect.

The key is being really clear on what the intended outcomes of the process are – what is it that the process is meant to achieve? To take a marketing example, we’re here to drive business outcomes through creativity. We exist to create commercial value, so our creative processes need to include clear commercial boundaries, and KPIs that then provide a framework for the activity – campaign creation, for example – to be developed within.

Within those boundaries, there has to be scope for experimentation and creativity – but an effective process channels that creativity towards the right things at the right time, so creative energy isn’t wasted.

Processes involve a series of different ‘ways of thinking’ or mindsets as they go along. A good process, for example an innovation process, signals to everyone when we’re in strategic thinking mode, when we’re in expansive ideation mode, and when we’re shifting to hyper-focused delivery and execution mode to get everything over the line – and therefore the time when brainstorming of ideas and creative pivots is over.

It does mean that there’s times in a process where people have to flex their personal style – for example, if you’re a naturally creative thinker being asked to work in strategic mode, or if you’re a strategic thinker being asked to focus on execution. But that’s the point of a process – it makes these things explicit and conscious, and recognises where people’s different strengths come into play.

Process is one thing that shapes the way we work – organisational culture is another. How do you design and implement processes that align with a particular organisational culture?

The most important thing is to understand what makes your business or your team powerful and effective in the first place, and to create processes that support that. It’s not about trying to impose a standard, external model on everything. Building on strengths has been shown time and time again to be a more effective route to success than correcting for weaknesses

As an example, my previous business was a very creative, fast-moving organisation, so the processes we implemented there had to enable and enhance that creativity. Prior to that I worked in a larger, more established and more complex organisation, with a wider group of stakeholders to navigate. So process there was about manoeuvring effectively through that culture, keeping communication consistent and succinct and allowing people to know their specific value add at each stage – it was a completely different set of needs.

Again, at Blue Feathers a key part of the work we do at the start of a project is to understand the organisational culture, getting a clear handle on what the underlying needs of the business are. We dig deep and listen to what’s going well and can be built on, and what’s getting in the way of greater success – we can then design processes very consciously with those things in mind.

Sometimes it can be as simple as ensuring that people are using common language so that they aren’t talking past each other; other times, people are having great creative conversations but missing out a key stakeholder and then having to deal with curveballs down the line. So we listen first, before developing processes in response.

What are your top 3 tips for designing an effective process?

First, start with a clear idea of what will change when the process is working, and what improvement you want to see – it gives you a north star to aim towards, and a shared ambition for everyone involved in what can be quite a hard piece of work. It needs to be something more specific than, for example, ‘We want to be more collaborative’ – it could be something like ‘We want to build trust between the teams who work on X and enable clearer baton passes between them so there is less time wasting and duplication’.

My second tip is to draw out your process physically, on a big sheet of paper on the wall – or if you’re not a dinosaur, feel free to use a screen…though you can underestimate the power of a whiteboard marker. If you can’t see the whole process overview when you’re designing it, it’s remarkably easy to get lost in the weeds, and lose sight of where the different people and parts play their role.

And my third tip, especially for a big organisation, is to think about the other processes that sit alongside your process – this can be vital for the success of what you’re trying to implement. Even if you can’t change them, you need to understand how they interact, the timelines, stakeholders, deliverables, dependencies – you’re not working in a vacuum.

And finally, what are your top 3 watch outs for process design?

Don’t get sucked into the detail too early on – people love to get into the knotty detail very quickly, and that can derail things if you’re not careful. It’s important not to get dragged into debates about detail until you’ve got clarity on the overall process, even though these debates are important in the long term.

My second watch out is that you can’t design a process by committee. It’s vital to get stakeholder input and feedback, but ultimately someone needs to be the architect – the person with the overall vision, a clear understanding of the implications of various choices, and in charge of detailed thinking about how the process is going to work.

And lastly, be mindful that different people will interact with processes in different ways – some will just want to get an idea of the big picture in a simple visual format, others will want to engage with the granular detail. Process exposes people’s individual communication preferences in quite a stark way and it’s important to recognise and cater for that. It’s sad when a great process doesn’t land because not enough attention has been given to how it’s communicated – at Blue Feathers we support our clients with process implementation as well as process design, as we know how vital this is to the success of a project.

In summary

Effective marketing processes bring a range of benefits – helping teams collaborate better, bringing clarity and structure, and ensuring everyone is clear on what they’re doing and why. They don’t have to feel onerous or restrictive – as long as they’re implemented well, taking organisational culture into account, they are an incredible springboard for creativity and collaboration, and genuinely make the day job more fun!


Author: Cheryl Calverley

Cheryl is an ex-CEO and CMO, specialising in brand and business transformation, coaching of culture and leadership, and developing marketing effectiveness. Known for her passion, creativity, clarity of thinking and down-to-earth approach, Cheryl has rejuvenated brands ranging from Marmite, Axe, Birdseye and The AA through to eve sleep, and had a guiding hand in the strategies of Tapi Carpets, Lovecrafts and Sous Chef. She is now building her own youth hospitality start up, THE DEN. She’s a Fellow of both the Marketing Academy and Marketing Society, with multiple IPA and Effie awards to her name.