What is marketing leadership?

Marketing leadership is about mobilizing the organization internally so that it keeps improving, innovating, adapting, and delivering, while externally focusing relentlessly on customer needs. Our research shows that leaders who apply this dual leadership focus achieve more business impact and career success.

The most successful marketing leaders in our large global study (see box) are those who help their company maximize the overlap between its own and its customers’ needs. We call this overlap the “Value Creation Zone”—or “V-Zone” for short. Successful marketing leadership is about maximizing the V-Zone.



To understand what’s inside the V-Zone, let’s first look at what’s outside it. Suppose a marketing leader spends most of her time acquiring new customers (who all enjoy the generous new-customer incentives). But, in top management’s view, the business would profit more if the customers they already had enjoyed a better experience, stayed longer, spent more money with the company, and recommended it to others.

That kind of disconnect would spell trouble. The leader be working outside the V-Zone, because what she (and some customers) care about most and what the company’s top team cares about don’t match.

When leaders work to maximize the V-Zone, they create value for their customers (products and services that meet their needs), value for the company (revenue and profit), and value for themselves (greater influence and better careers).

In our research, among those marketing leaders who mostly focused on customer needs and technical marketing skills, 35% said they had a successful career and 67% believed they created high business impact. But among those who focused on both customer and company needs—with good internal mobilizing skills as well as technical marketing skills—65% said they had successful careers and 93% believed they created high business impact.

Many leader naturally focus on customers (doing marketing). But in all companies, people from different departments need to work together to design and deliver a great customer experience. It ‘s only logical, then, that in order to succeed, an exclusive focus on customers is not enough. Leaders must also understand how to serve the needs of the company, of colleagues and of teams.

The key to long-term business performance is profitably meeting customers’ needs better than the competition—day after day. Maximizing the V-Zone—the overlap between customers’ needs and the company’s needs—is the key principle behind successful marketing leadership.


The Marketer’s DNA Study

For the book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Thomas Barta and Patrick Barwise undertook a comprehensive study of chief marketing officers and other leaders. The study can be divided into three parts:

  • In the first part, 1,232 senior marketers completed an extensive self-assessment of their personalities as well as what they know, how they lead, and how successful they consider themselves in terms of their impact on business performance and their personal career success.
  • The second part looked at CMOs and other leaders through the eyes of others. We analyzed 67,278 existing 360-degree assessment responses (from superiors, peers, and direct reports who rated senior marketers as well as leaders in other disciplines (for example, finance and sales).
  • In the third part, we developed insights from interviews with over 100 CMOs, CEOs, and leadership experts about what it takes to succeed as a senior marketing leader.

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