Why Six Sigma Doesn’t Work for Marketing


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Six Sigma is an increasingly popular approach to measuring and managing quality. Its ultimate aim is “perfection,” the concept being that with continuing incremental improvement, there can be a reduction in variation approaching zero.

Six Sigma is a process quality control tool, created by Motorola in 1985. It was designed as a manufacturing process tool. But it is increasingly applied to marketing.

And therein lie some very serious problems.

Process is important to marketing. But process is not the essence of marketing.

Effective marketing balances the imperatives of a continually evolving market place and an increasingly knowledgeable and unforgiving customer and prospect universe with the need to express a company’s/product’s value simply, clearly, and meaningfully.

And that’s a moving target.

Marketers abound. Throw a stick out your window, and you’ll hit one. But effective marketers are rare. These are the people who know when to ignore the rule book. These are the people who can discern when something new is called for. These are the people who are willing to take calculated risks – and who win more often than not. These are the people less concerned with perfecting a process than perfecting their aim.

To try to achieve a continuing reduction of deviation or variation in marketing processes takes your attention away from the marketing imperatives of nuance, experimentation in messaging, and the delivery of content effectively in an ever-changing and ever-growing number of media.

Think for a moment of the result if you were still tweaking the social media approach and process that you developed when Facebook and Twitter were new. Okay, you might well have reduced any variation in how you tweet and post to close to zero. But do you really think what worked then would work now, zero variability or not?

No, I am not saying we should ignore processes or neglect trying to make them better.

What I am saying is that, in marketing, processes are not the point. What I am saying is that marketing managers who embrace a Six Sigma approach will be continually chasing where the market place was yesterday.

In marketing, what is “perfection” – a brilliant on-target campaign that speaks directly to a prospect’s needs and impels action – will not be developed through a process.

Process will never supplant creativity or ingenuity – or the sophistication to know when the very process itself is the problem.

Emily R. Coleman
Dr. Emily R. Coleman is President of Competitive Advantage Marketing, Inc., a firm that specializes in helping companies expand their reach and revenues through strategy and implementation. Dr. Coleman has more than 30 years of hands-on executive management experience working with companies, from Fortune 500 firms to entrepreneurial enterprises. Dr. Coleman's expertise extends from the integration of corporate-wide marketing operations and communications to the development and implementation of strategy into product development and branding.


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