Join the Marketing Leadership Masterclass (April 30)

My online Marketing Leadership Masterclass in association with Marketing Week starts on April 30! This is your last chance to join at the special reader discount (you’ll save GBP 250).

The Marketing Leadership Masterclass isn’t about marketing. It’s about becoming a leader who inspires change, builds influence inside the firm, mobilizes colleagues, and leads teams.

Choose your own pace in this 12-week, 100-percent online class. Build your personal leadership plan with a workbook, readings, reflection papers, live Q&A sessions with me and a signed 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader book.

We’ll kick off the class on April 30. You can access all modules until July 31. That’s almost 100 days of learning, readings and live discussions for less than the cost of an ordinary marketing conference. UK participants can earn 33 CPD credits.

As a TryThis.Blog reader, you’ll get a special discount: GBP 1,000 /~ USD 1,350 /~ EUR 1,160. That’s GBP 250 off the full price.

Click here to book now. Use discount code “friendsoftom” but please, keep it to yourself.

I hope you can join me.

Try This >> Thrive in a matrix organisation

Do you thrive in a matrix organisation?

Here’s the essential matrix-fact: everybody is in charge. But nobody has all the power. The person who can tell sales what to do, hasn’t yet joined. The person who can tell product development to make amazing things, isn’t on that list. The person who can tell IT to be world class, hasn’t arrived.

The matrix is terrifying for people who produce ideas and then hope their boss will tell everybody to use them. What they are really saying is, I can’t be bothered to take charge.

But the matrix is great for people who have the skills to know what the firm needs, to know what colleagues need, and who bring ideas that really add value.

This skill is called: marketing.

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See your company as a market. Your bosses are your customers. Your colleagues are your customers.

Walk the halls. Find out how you could help people around you make better decisions. But don’t just ask. To earn your seat at the table, bring an idea, bring an insight. Add value first.

Then, start the marketing machine. Talk more about your idea. Bring your idea to more people. Win market share.

But here is an important rule. Don’t try to look smarter than your customers. Nobody wants to work with a smart ass. People want to work with people who make them look good. And if your idea helps them, they may be back for more.

Great marketers never complain that customers don’t buy their product. Instead, they try and do better marketing. In a matrix, the same rule applies.

(From my Marketing Week column)

Try This >> To make change happen, ditch your ego

Trust in politicians has evaporated. Consumer trust in brands is at an all-time low. And too many executives don’t trust their bosses.

What’s the problem?

Perhaps it’s professionalism? Brexit, for example, is a tough (and stupid) challenge – but the politicians in charge are mostly tenured and experienced. Most branded products have a rather high standard. And most bosses, at least on paper, are professionally qualified. So it’s probably not that.

Could intimacy be at play? It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know. That said, many politicians are well known. So are many brands. And many people spend more time with their bosses than with their spouses. It’s probably not that either.

Trust equals professionalism times intimacy, divided by ego. The trust problem of our times is ego. Politicians talk patriotism but, in reality, pursue career goals (watch any recent UK House of Commons debate and you’ll see it).

Brands warble on about purpose, then Nutella secretly adds sugar to save costly cocoa, Toblerone reduces it’s bar-size to raise the price, and Lufthansa sues passengers who don’t use all parts of their tickets (no kidding).

And bosses? Some take the corner office, show off in meetings, but hide when it’s their turn.

People can smell your ego from afar – and ego kills trust in seconds. And without trust, we stall.

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If you are an egoistic narcissist, and your main interest is your own success, ditch this column – it won’t make a difference to you.

But if you are in the business of change. If you desire trust and respect to make things better for your brand, for your company, for your community: ditch your ego. Make the corner office a team room. Let others present. Have lunch with those who lead your office – and those who clean it.

And if you find taming your ego difficult: talk about it. Everybody knows Toblerone must turn in a profit. Everybody knows you have personal goals too. Talking about your ego is the first step to taming it.

Beware the ‘binfluencer’

The internet is great. If you know something and you want to write a blog that 100,000 people read, you can. If you want to do a podcast that 100,000 people hear, you can.

The internet is also great for people who don’t know much, but are good in front of a camera and wear a funny cap. Because it’s easy and free. I call these people ‘bin-fluencers’. They’re entertaining. But a little fact-checking will show that their content should go straight into the bin. Have a look at some of their claims.

“Success is all about great customer experiences” Well, United Airlines (the one that drags passengers out of planes and kills their dogs) has just announced a record year, flying the most revenue passengers ever. London and New York hotels have among the world’s lowest standards, yet they are packed. And every day, thousands of people queue up for the privilege of being humiliated by Spirit and Ryanair, just to save some cash.

Here’s a brutal truth: customers want more at a lower price. Companies want the same. People love a great experience but depending on the deal, they do without it. It’s not simple.

“Brand engagement is the new currency.” Well, guess who ranks among the fastest-growing food retailers? Discounters Aldi and Lidl. Customers don’t want to engage with the Aldi brand. To make people read an Aldi lifestyle blog, you’d have to pay them a lot. Many would rather hide the logo on the shopping bag. Yet they know that Aldi has good stuff at a good price – every time.

“In modern marketing your goal has to be to get people to spend time with your brand.” Really? Just look at one of the biggest consumer goods successes in recent times: Dollar Shave Club. It made a simple promise: spend less time with our brand.

Ever heard about the ‘elaboration likelihood model’? I might read your brand’s blog when I care; when your perfume, your cream, your gadget makes me look cool; or when the purchase is risky. But if you sell kitchen towels (like I have) don’t fool yourself: people want to spend as little time as possible with your brand. We don’t spend time with brands – we spend time with things we care about. Commercial offers don’t usually top that list, no matter what your content guru claims.

“Bricks-and-mortar retail is doomed.” Fun facts: Amazon is opening stores everywhere. Electronics chain Best Buy just reported a record year. And Tesla, mere days after announcing it would go ‘online-only’, made a sharp U-turn and declared that stores will stay. What we are seeing is the convergence of online and offline. You check out stuff in store, buy online, return it in store, pick up something else while you’re there, or vice versa.

Yes, customers have fallen out of love with House of Fraser, Gap and Sears. But retail is detail. In Europe, for example, over 80% of all retail is still bricks-and-mortar. And over the next couple of years, there’s still a lot of revenue (and profit) to be had on the high street. That is, if marketers get it right.

Here is the binfluencer’s dilemma. Most have a product to sell. They own agencies or consultancies. Selling is the only reason why they go online in the first place. What they say has to fit the product. That’s why, success is now supposedly all about ‘millennial engagement’ or ‘digital something’. To get the clicks, an influencer must churn out one, two or three messages every single week. And to cut through the clutter, every message must be big, new and dramatic.

But here’s the challenge: best-selling author Malcom Gladwell takes a day or longer to write just one page of a book. A great London Business School researcher takes a year or longer to find just one new marketing insight worth talking about. Binfluencers don’t have that time. So, they dress stuff up or, even worse, simply make stuff up.

If you take at face value a binfluencer with a funny cap, who sits in the back of a New York cab, and chats into a camera about millennials – if you pass this chatter on, what you become is a chatbot. Programmed by that guy (or girl) whose only goal is for you to keep following. And if you become a chatbot, one day someone will replace you with a better chatbot. Because chatbots can’t think. They are just tools.

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Real influencers don’t just have ideas. They have insights. To make a real dent in the market, understand the fundamental truths. The truths about customers, the industry, your client’s industry. Start at home.

What are the customer truths? The reasons why they are buying, how much they are buying, why are they coming back?

What are the brand truths? Do people care about brands in your space? How well is your brand doing? What perception change would really propel the business forward?

What are the advertising truths? Take media: Why are credibility-battling Google and Facebook doing massive print campaigns? Because people trust traditional TV or print ads much more than online ads – and consistently so since Nielsen started measuring in 2013. What’s the return of different campaign types for your firm? What’s the right balance of promotional advertising versus long-term brand preference building?

What are the industry truths? Are new players, new products and new offers coming in? What will the next shifts be? You’ll never know exactly. Start with the basic facts every stock market analyst has.

My list isn’t complete. My list isn’t right for you. As an influencer, you find your own truths. You make your own list. Once you have it, spread the word to people above you, to your clients, to yourself.

But watch out. In a noisy binfluencer world, people like you – influencers with substance – might get the label ‘boring’. If being a real influencer will make you less sexy, so be it. You could still wear a funny cap.

(From my Marketing Week column)

Try This: Three ways to be a bolder leader

Brave leaders change the world. Air traffic controller Anthonius Gunawan saved the 160 souls on board Batik Air 6231, by staying in the tower, so the plane could escape minutes before the earthquake struck. Berta Cáceres led the protests that stopped the Honduras Agua Zarca Dam being built, which would have destroyed her people’s livelihoods. And Xulhaz Mannan gave hope to the LGBT community of Bangladesh by publishing the country’s first LGBT magazine.

Companies need brave people too. People who climb the masts and fix the cables. Women who push for a seat in the boardroom. Marketers who push the door open to new markets.

But being brave is risky. Gunawan died in the earthquake. Cáceres and Mannan were murdered. And while firms claim they want brave leaders, each day unnamed executives get fired or sidelined for taking brave action.

Bravery equals purpose minus fear. This gives you two things to play with. Building more purpose and managing fear. Neither is easy. Both are powerful.

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To make change happen, build your brave. First, pick your battles. In companies, changing things is notoriously difficult. It’s hard to be brave on all fronts so select the cause that’s truly worth fighting for.

Second, build your change-purpose. Imagine if someone was trying to take your child, your partner, or your friend away. Would you be braver than normal? I guess so. We are braver when things matter to us. So, for your change project, raise your emotional involvement. Why does the issue really matter to you? Paint the picture, write the story. Building purpose is the fastest route to bravery.

Third, manage your fear. What could happen? Play out the worst-case scenarios: getting shouted at, getting sidelined, getting fired, etc. What would happen next? What would you do? Is there a life after these occurrences? If you’ve taken out a big loan for a Porsche, you may have to suck it up and be brave later (high burn rates produce corporate wimps). But most likely, your worst-case scenario won’t kill you.
More purpose or less fear? What would make you braver?

P.s. To find your brave, take The Marketing Society’s Braveometer test and get your free report. It closes on 31 March.

(From my Marketing Week column)

Try This >> Walk the halls to drive change

You are in the business of change. In fact, we are all in the business of change. We try to get customers to accept our offer. We try to get colleagues to support our cause. We try to get friends to join our Saturday dinner. Making change happen is what most of us do, most of the time.

But change doesn’t come easy. Change takes people from the familiar to the unknown. And perhaps the familiar isn’t that bad. So why take the risk?

Getting people to change takes effort. You can’t make important change happen by email. Instead, you have to pack your bags, walk the halls, talk to people, gather feedback and build support.

In Japan, there is a term called nemawashi, which means “going around the roots”. The original meaning stems from agriculture. To move a tree, you take some dirt from the new land and sprinkle it onto the tree’s roots, so the tree gets used to the new land. In Japanese firms, people call the informal process of building consensus nemawashi. It isn’t easy. It isn’t fast. But a bit of nemawashi goes a long way.

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For your change project, go around the roots a bit. Meet the key people one-on-one. Share the idea (if you can, use a story of hope). Get feedback. Don’t promise things you can’t keep; you can always promise to take note of their ideas. Build the feedback into your final plan. After all, 70% of your idea is accepted, is much better than 100% not accepted. Once you’ve made your decision, go back and explain it.

Walking the halls won’t make you run faster – but further.

(From my Marketing Week column)

Why marketers struggle in a rational world

Can you ‘feel’ a brand? Can you ‘sense’ what customers want? Did you ever think ‘I’m different from the other people in my firm’? You may not be alone. Many marketers are more sensual, more emotional than their colleagues. And if you are, life in firms can be rather tricky – unless you know how to communicate.

You might know the story of Eros. He was the youngest god on ancient Greece’s Mount Olympus. Eros had one irresistible skill. He could make someone love anyone he wished by wounding them with one of his arrows. Eros’s unique powers made him popular in Greek mythology.

But Eros’s talent came with problems. The other gods saw Eros as something like a wild boy. What he did was often seen as weird. Eros also showed no respect for authority. That’s why, despite his unique skills, the other gods never considered Eros sufficiently responsible to play a full part in the ruling Olympian family. Does that sound familiar?

As part of our research for The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Patrick Barwise and I asked an INSEAD Business School psychologist to look at our data. It was a big file with profiles of over 1,000 CMOs from over 80 countries. When we met again, the first thing she said was: “Marketers are like Eros.”

What she found was striking. Many marketers and agency executives have an Eros-type personality. Over 90% describe themselves as open and creative. It’s the highest of all the numbers we’ve measured. Meanwhile, 85% believe they see the big picture well and understand the connections. If, for example, someone makes another person angry, marketers will see what’s going on – and care.

Like Eros, many marketers enjoy the emotional side of life. They love the future, new ideas, creating connections. Most importantly, marketers have that special Eros skill all CEOs value: they know how to create desire.

But marketers are Eros in a world ruled by Logos  – the ancient Greek concept of order and knowledge. And that’s where the trouble starts. As an Eros marketer, there’s a high chance that your CEO isn’t that similar to you. In fact, most people in your firm won’t be like you – and many may struggle to understand you.

In the business world, Logos leaders dominate. They prefer facts and rational arguments. Logos leaders enjoy power much more than Eros people, and worry less about other’s feelings.

A typical firm has plenty of Logos jobs. Take production, or finance, or IT. You’ve got to love facts to run these. The factory team needs clear guidelines and processes to make products that are perfect every time. The finance team must dig into the numbers in detail. The IT folks must enjoy data to organise complex systems. And many CEOs have to ruthlessly deliver the numbers each quarter, to keep the show on the road. It’s got to be that way.

When Logos meets Eros, it’s a clash of cultures. It’s brain versus heart. It’s power versus feelings. And too often, trouble awaits.

Take a typical marketing issue: How good is that marketing campaign? An Eros marketer might say ‘customers love it’. A Logos leader might respond ‘show me the numbers’. And too often, the Eros leader can’t.

Our research bears this out. Only 57% of marketers say they are really good at aligning their teams with business targets and goals. Performance management just isn’t Eros’s passion. And only half of all marketers believe they are role models in their firms. Not a big surprise for people who feel they are different.

Bosses go even further: only 48% say that marketers ‘behave appropriately’. Well, Eros wasn’t seen as behaving appropriately either. In fact, he even sometimes enjoyed creating chaos.

If you have an Eros personality, surviving in a Logos world isn’t always easy, but it’s very possible. You just have to know the rules, and communicate differently.

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First off, realise that Logos people – and that could be the majority in your firm – need facts, figures, logical reasons. Don’t ignore that need. Marketing return on investment (ROI) is a good example. Don’t assume Logos leaders will love you when you say stuff like ‘this campaign really strengthened our brand perception’. Words like these create a warm feeling in a marketer’s breast. But a Logos leader may simply roll their eyes.

When it comes to numbers and proof, team up with Logos. Ask which facts people need in order to believe you. Here’s a trick: rather than proving your marketing success to Logos leaders, bring them on board. For example, ask your finance team to figure out marketing returns together with you. Logos leaders may be better than you at doing the numbers.

The Eros-Logos struggle is even bigger when it comes to power. When Logos leaders meet, you’ll often see power rituals. People speak out loud, cut each other off, etc. Many Logos leaders won’t even notice. They are used to it.

As an Eros leader, you may find these rituals a waste of time. But if you want to be accepted, take them seriously – and claim your seat at the table. In meetings, for example, don’t stay silent. Here’s another trick: speak first, before others jump in. State a strong point of view early on. Establish yourself with some force. Getting in early on purpose may feel odd at first, but don’t worry: Logos leaders can handle this. In fact, chances are, they’ll like your presence.

The organisational psychologist inside me says: hang on, there are way more personality dimensions than Eros and Logos. What I’ve been writing here is too simple, too stereotypical. Of course, it is. That said: in our research, almost 80% of all marketers had an Eros-type profile, so there’s clearly something going on here.

The good news is this: marketers are masters of communication. With customers, marketers know how to create desire. Why not shoot some of your Eros arrows inside the firm and create desire for marketing too? (If you want to learn how, join us in April).

(From my Marketing Week column)

Try This >> Tackle big issues

Hard work is appreciated. Or so people hope. That’s why they put in the long hours, go the extra mile, give their best.

But then, things go nowhere. The big meeting gets cancelled, budgets get cut, friendly voices disappear. Working hard is commendable, but it’s just the entry ticket to a game called relevance.

“What matters most?” We sometimes forget to ask this central question. Some months ago, I challenged US marketing managers to write down their CEOs’ top three priorities. We had to break the meeting for calls, so people could fill in the blanks. The group made a disturbing discovery. Not half of their marketing work mattered to the company’s agenda. No surprise their budgets got cut.

Nobody gives you credit for hard work alone. People give you credit for work that matters. No matter what your job description says.

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If you want your work to be meaningful, tackle big issues. Find out what really matters for customers, the company, the community, and yourself. Then, imagine how you could make the biggest contribution.

Here’s the real test. Ask yourself: “Would people happily pay for this?” Nobody likes to pay – unless it matters.

Perhaps you can’t change all your work today. But knowing what matters will set you on the right path. Because know-how is good. But know-why is key.

(From my Marketing Week column)

Try This >> Join the Marketing Leadership Masterclass

I have created an online Marketing Leadership Masterclass that starts in April 2019 in association with Marketing Week. Sign up by March 15 for a special reader discount (you’ll save GBP 250).

Successful marketers and agency leaders aren’t born. They’re made. The Marketing Leadership Masterclass isn’t about marketing. It’s about becoming a leader who inspires change, builds influence inside the firm, mobilizes colleagues and leads teams.

You choose your own pace in this 12-week, 100-percent online class. Build your personal leadership plan with a workbook, readings, reflection papers, live Q&A sessions with me and a signed 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader book.

Over 1,000 people have attended my 12 Powers live classes. The results? More impact, more career success, and, quite simply, more fun. Together with a BBC journalist and a great director, we’ve worked for months to bring these leadership lessons to marketers. (I’m going to miss my makeup artist).

We’ll kick off the class on April 30. You can access all modules until July 31. That’s almost 100 days of learning, readings and live discussions for less than the cost of an ordinary marketing conference. UK participants can earn 33 CPD credits.

As a TryThis.Blog reader, you’ll get a special discount: GBP 1,000 /~ USD 1,350 /~ EUR 1,160. That’s GBP 250 off the full price.

Click here to book now. Use discount code “friendsoftom” but please, keep it to yourself. You’ll have to hurry. The code expires March 15.

I hope you can join me.

Try This >> Use the power of the bottom right-hand corner

Why is the finance department so powerful? Does it bring in clients? No. Does it invent new products? No. Does it produce revenue? No. In fact, to every business, the finance team is a cost. Still, it has the CEO’s ear. Why? Because finance leaders create something incredibly powerful: transparency.

Who has this week’s highest sales? Who’s overspending the budget? Who’s ahead of plan? Finance knows. And that’s why, when finance calls, every CEO listens.

The power of finance holds important lessons for change leaders. Making improvements happen can be tough though, whether it’s customer service, IT tools, HR processes. And often you won’t have the power to drive change on your own.

Learn from finance. Use the power of transparency. Imagine you want to improve the customer experience. What if, each month, you could put a simple chart in front of the CEO showing how customers rate every department, every touchpoint, every product of your firm? In the top left corner, those who get the highest ratings. In the middle, those who do ‘okay’. In the bottom right-hand corner, those with the poorest customer ratings. Would your CEO want to see this chart? You bet. Would such a chart give you power? You bet. Why? Because no department leader wants to stay in the bottom right-hand corner.

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To make change happen, shed light on the issue. Measure customer feedback, costs, time wasted – whatever your currency is. Make sure your data is solid. Praise those in the top left corner who are doing well; no need to shame those in the bottom right-hand corner – the chart will do it for you.

(From my Marketing Week column)

Try This >> Build someone’s confidence

Hello Lucas, your dad told me you want to be a goalkeeper? Good lad. We always need good goalkeepers. Here’s some advice from me. First of all, you have to work hard. Being a goalkeeper is not easy. But the more you play… your eyes will get better at spotting the angles… great goalies have good anticipation… keep practising and you’ll get better and better at this… and be brave, too, if you lose or make a mistake. We all make them. I made some mistakes, but I never let anyone see that I was upset. Good luck Lucas.

This was a message from World Cup–winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks. He talks about difficulty, about hard work and about bravery. Banks passed away recently and when newspapers published this message to Lucas, it mesmerised millions of people.

But imagine the effect his words had on Lucas. An eight-year-old who wore his heart on his sleeve when he missed a ball. Perhaps he was honoured to get a letter from a celebrity. Perhaps he loved the practical tips. But his dad observed a much more profound impact on Lucas: the message built his confidence.

We are all Lucas. We have ambitions, dreams and the fear of failure. Tips are useful. But when someone helps us build confidence that’s priceless.

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Tell people how you got to where you are. Talk about the hurdles. Share your tricks. Give hope. As a leader, the most precious thing you can help others build is confidence. And it’s free.

(From my Marketing Week column).

Try This >> Set customers free

Bean counters love long-term contracts. A customer signs and the revenue is secure for three months, six months, twelve months. If the customer forgets to cancel, more cash rolls in. It’s tempting to make leaving hard for them.

Everyone hates to feel trapped. Someone tempts (or tricks) us into saying ‘yes’ and the next day, the hangover sets in. If you want dissatisfied customers, lock them in.

Setting people free is better all round:

‘No ties’ makes your market bigger. Amazon Prime, Netflix, Spotify – the world’s fastest-growing subscription brands make cancelling (at any time) simple. Because the risk is low, more people sign up.

‘No ties’ can increase profits. A phone carrier had two customer types: long-term contract customers, lured in with subsidised phones, and pay as you go customers, with no sign-up benefits. The accountants loved the predictable contract customers. But the pay as you go people generated more profits. Locking people in comes at a price.

‘No ties’ makes your firm better. If a customer stays because they have to, what does this say about your brand? Great marketing isn’t just about attracting people. It’s about serving them better than competitors do. Every day.

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Don’t aspire to lock people in. Aspire to be the brand people choose—time and time again.

(From my longer Marketing Week column).

Try This >> Have a good fight

“No one on the planet knows how to build a computer mouse,” author Matt Ridley once said. There’s just too much to know, too much to learn. Success today is all about teamwork.

Yet, the average team achieves only 63% of their strategic objectives, according to Harvard Business Review.

What to do? Stanford researchers found: for breakthrough results, harmony isn’t the recipe. Fighting is. Under one condition: the fight has to be constructive.

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Teach your team to have a good fight:

  • Why do we exist? Ensure everybody in the team knows the answer (if in doubt: do the blank-sheet test. Ask everybody to write down, in confidence, the shared team goals)
  • Take the emotions out. Passion is good. But it’s hard to argue emotions – sometimes even impossible. Your trick as a team leader is to push for the facts.
  • Play out the options. For complex problems, have different people work on alternative solutions.
  • Balance the power. If some people are dominating the debate, it’s not their fault – it’s the leader’s oversight. Power balance is key. As the leader, bring all voices in.
  • Agree to disagree. Don’t try to find consensus if there isn’t any. Teach your team to value disagreement – and live with it.
  • Have a laugh. Make sure people can still say ‘working in this team is fun’.

(From my longer Marketing Week column).

Try This >> Make the middle seat wider

We’ve all sat there, in the middle seat, at the back of the plane. Where it’s cramped. Where it’s noisy. Where drinks get served last.

Not all seats can be golden. In every firm, some customers get what’s left: the bistro table by the door, the room without a view, the new team, the buggy software.

We secretly hope they won’t notice. We hope they won’t care.

Of course they notice. Of course they care. Some just don’t complain.

It takes many good experiences to make up for one bad one.

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Tell customers it’s a middle seat upfront. Then, be generous. Give people a free drink, more air miles, a discount coupon, an extra report, your premium service package. Make the middle seat wider.

If people feel good about your middle seat, they may come back. For sure, it’s fair.

(From my Marketing Week column)

Try This >> Lean in, really

Sheryl Sandberg has a point. In her book ‘Lean In’, Facebook’s current COO asks women, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Sandberg is a public role model. Her book has empowered millions of women to step up. To seek and speak the truth. To claim their seat at the table. It is a noble cause.

What would Sandberg do now if she weren’t afraid? Facebook currently sits at the eye of the biggest of internet storms. Data leaks, creepy settings and shady data deals have shaken the confidence of millions of users. The scandal has even triggered a global privacy debate. Does “free” mean “I pay with my data?” How safe is safe? What’s safe enough? These are fundamental questions, and millions of people are searching for guidance.

But where is Sandberg? She has offered a few apologies here and there. She has not shaped the debate, not publicly leaned in. The former role model keeps a low profile. Who’s stopping her? The legal team? Perhaps. The PR advisors? Maybe. Her own boss? Probably.

There’s more to learn from Sandberg. When you want power, leaning in is a good strategy. When you have power, leaning in is an obligation—and it’s equally hard.

Henry Kissinger once said: “A leader does not deserve the name unless he or she is willing to occasionally stand alone.” Leaning in is an old idea. Not leaning in is an old problem.

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When you want your voice to be heard, dare to lean in. When you are in power, whether as CEO, a team leader, or simply as the smartest person in the room, remember: your voice matters. Your voice can give hope. Your voice can turn the tide. Ask yourself: “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” Seek and speak the truth.

Lean in, really.

(This is from my Marketing Week column).

Try This >> Find your proper shoe size

What’s the point of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)?” I asked Marketing Week readers that question. Why? Well, here is a baffling paradox: Each day, the world’s marketers create billions of cash dollars. Baileys, the Irish cream liqueur, has just had a record year. Colgate has been keeping teeth clean for over 100 years. And Apple, despite recent setbacks, still captures more smartphone profits than all of its competitors combined.

Yet many CMOs struggle. Companies fire top marketers faster (and more often) than other leaders—or deny them a seat at the table. Some even don’t hire CMOs in the first place.

What’s the problem? Expectations. “Chief Marketing Officer” is a cool title. Most people picture a growth driver, an influencer, someone with power. Reality paints another picture. Many CMOs get told to stick to marketing communication—and keep out of the rest. True, promotion matters. But alongside Product, Price, and Place, it’s just one of marketing’s four P’s—not enough to shape the business.

A cool title is sexy. But without matching powers, it sets you up for failure.

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Be careful what your title, your job description, or your brochure promises. Satisfaction is the delta between what people expect and what they get. Don’t artificially underpromise (that would be manipulative). Look at your powers. Be realistic. Then: overdeliver. With the right-sized shoes, you’ll run faster and farther.

P.S.: Something big is in the pipeline (more soon).

Try This >> Travel more

A Scandinavian airline asked people how travel changed their lives. Three things stood out:

  • More knowledge. This one is obvious. Your own silo looks different from the outside. Other silos look different from the inside. There’s plenty to learn when you travel.
  • New ideas. This one is interesting. Meeting other people and seeing other places spark new thinking. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the most innovative business leaders spend much of their time listening to customers.
  • A desire to improve. This one is remarkable. Travelers are keen to use what they’ve learned and to improve things at home. Leaving your own silo impacts on your to-do list and (if you follow through) your behavior.

Meeting people from other departments, other communities, other countries can be frightening. You don’t know who you’ll meet. You don’t know your way around. You don’t know what to expect. Staying inside the silo is reassuringly predictable. But those who travel are the motors of change.

Try This >>

Use the power of travel for change. In organizations, get people to meet customers, switch departments, take on cross-functional work. Do the same yourself—and leave your country now and then. That one new perspective, that one new idea, that one new priority you acquire can make all the difference.

PS: You can still test how brave you are—it’s free.

Try This >> Make something better

Elvis didn’t invent rock ‘n’ roll. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the smartphone.* Google didn’t invent web search. All three took an idea, twisted it, made it better—and changed the world.

People love out-of-the-box ideas. But they pay for what’s inside the box. For what your product helps them do. For how your service makes them feel. For how your ideas help them progress.

Making phones, web search, and rock ‘n’ roll better did the trick for Apple, Google, and “the King”. Among all strategies, improving the offer is often the most profitable. Patrick Barwise and Sean Meehan made the improvement-case in their masterpiece Simply Better.

Try This >>

Think about your audience—customers, fans, or society. How could you make their experience better? Could it be faster, nicer, cheaper, more convenient, more useful?

Sometimes, winning is all about thinking big inside the box.


*  Take a look at IBM’s 1992 Simon Personal Communicator

Try This >> Meet the skeptics

Change leaders know how to bridge gaps. Gaps in technology. Gaps in belief. Gaps caused by fear.

Supporters build your confidence. They love your idea—and perhaps even you. They are happy to follow. They are your energy source. Everybody in the business of change needs people who say, “Awesome—keep going!”

If taken in excessive doses, however, confidence can poison you. Digital Equipment Corporation’s CEO Ken Olsen was confident: nobody needs a computer at home. BlackBerry’s co-CEO Jim Balsillie was confident: data hunger will fail smartphones. And British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was confident: people will swallow the [unpopular] poll tax. You know how it ended. Hubris—excessive self-confidence—is the enemy of change.

Skeptics can teach you two crucial things about gaps: size and truth. Size is an obvious concern. What change-resistance will you face? What facts must you provide? What fears must you address? That information is useful. The second lesson is more important. But it demands that you ask: “Is there another truth?” Not the truth you see, not the truth you’ve planned for, but perhaps a truth that matters. Sceptics may be a pain, but that doesn’t mean they’re stupid. They may simply see a truth that you haven’t seen.

Change leaders know all about the gaps.

Try This >> 

Reach out to three people who disagree. With your project. With your political perspective. With your moral view. Listen and say: “Thank you.” It’s not about making promises. It’s about genuinely learning what it will take to bridge the gaps.

Meeting the skeptics could save your project—and build something even more precious: new bridges.

Try This >> Ditch your job description

An airline crew killed a puppy. Because their job description said, “Luggage goes in the overhead bin” (passenger dogs included, they thought). A global consumer goods firm wasted millions of digital marketing dollars. Because someone’s job description said, “digital.”

Job descriptions have turned into job restrictions.

It all started in 1922. Psychologist Morris Viteles observed a railway company’s accounting department. Each day, the clerks would calculate revenue, issue invoices, prepare statistics, and so on. Viteles identified 19 different tasks and documented them in what he called the job specification. With it, the railway firm could suddenly hire, train, and pay clerks in exactly the same way, time and time again. The job description revolutionized firms. Today, it destroys them.

The job description works under one important condition: What customers want doesn’t change. In other times, the job description was the perfect tool. Unfortunately, today is not “other times.”

What we want as customers is changing too fast, too often. We share cars—instead of buying them. We subscribe to music—instead of getting a CD. The list is long, and it’s getting longer.

Describing the job is no longer the answer—describing the outcomes is.

Try This >>

Step back. Figure out what success looks like. Where do you want to be in three years’ time? What do customers truly value? How can you make a real difference in your place?

Once you know, ditch your job description. Do what’s right.

(The long version is on Marketing Week).


This is my new TryThis.Blog. Now weekly & short. Season’s greetings! Thomas

PS: You can still test how brave you are—it’s free.

The 12 Powers: Limited Time Bulk Deal

I’ve got good news. Until December 1st, our publisher, McGraw-Hill and 800-CEO-READ offer a 40% bulk discount for our marketing leadership book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader.

Here’s the deal: for 25+ books, it’s 40% off.

Want to train your team? Now’s the time! You can combine this with our 100-Marketers Challenge.

Need to organize your season’s mailing? 800-CEO-READ will even do it all for you (contact

They’ll limit this offer until end December 2018, so order today!

Who trusts a marketer?

To fix marketing’s perception problem, marketers must overcome the fear of forecast, measure what matters, and make selling a purpose again (from my Marketing Week column).

A couple of days ago, a friend complained over dinner: “Our profession’s reputation is in tatters. People once respected my job and our industry. And today? Nobody trusts us anymore.” Needless to say: He works in a bank.

I found some nice words for him. But deep in my mind I thought: be glad you aren’t a marketer. Depending upon which study you pick, between 50% and 80% of CEOs don’t trust marketing (some of these studies were done by marketers, so maybe we can’t trust these numbers either). I don’t know about you, but I find these figures apocalyptic.

And here’s the paradox: while CEOs are skeptical about marketing, firms flourish and grow because the marketers at Adidas, Diageo, Unilever, etc. keep the factories humming with their successful work.

Beware of the naysayers. Marketing is, next to innovation, a firm’s most important function. The marketing product is good; the perception sucks. But why?

Well, the complaint letter lands right in marketers’ inbox. No marketing expert would challenge a customer’s perception of a brand. Rather, they’d accept it and do better marketing. The same principle applies when the ‘customer’ is the CEO: if the brand perception of marketing isn’t right, it’s for the marketer to fix, not the CEO.

Since marketing’s brand trouble is such a hot issue, Marketing Week asked me to give a keynote at this year’s Festival of Marketing (FoM). Here’s (roughly) what I said.

To fix marketing’s perception problem, we must overcome three issues: forecast phobia, noise obsession, and purpose confusion. If these titles confuse you, you aren’t any better off than my FoM audience – but hear me out.


Just when you think everything already exists, someone invents the cat turntable. Seriously: you can buy this. Its packaging features a cat-turned-DJ behind a music deck. And on Amazon, this thing sells like hot cakes .

And if you already own one, you’ll be delighted to hear there’s also the cat laptop. A MacBook turned CatBook with a plush toy mouse. Finally your tiger can watch cat videos on her own device. Honestly, who would have known there are people out there who like cat turntables, buy cat laptops and make their creators rich?

Here’s the thing: Marketing is all about future success. Future revenue, future profit. And that future is hard to forecast. So many marketers avoid forecasting, because they could be wrong – and look stupid.

But “hard to forecast” is no excuse. It’s also hard to forecast the weather. Yet someone each day takes the effort, runs the models, crunches some numbers, and puts out a forecast to show us how much rain we are going to have tomorrow. We need the same effort in marketing.


On the Festival of Marketing stage, I pulled three orange balls out of my bag – my giveaway for the audience. Three people were quick enough to catch one when I threw them into the crowd. Then I asked the three winners if they liked their new balls. Three hands went up. Next, I asked who preferred to keep their orange ball. Two hands went up. And finally, I wanted to know who would now go out and buy a ball. No hands whatsoever.

Getting a click, a blink, a catch is easy, but it’s worthless if it doesn’t lead to demand. Likes are nice, but worthless if they don’t lead to demand. Preference is nice, but worthless if it doesn’t lead to demand. If you are the maker of the orange balls, what you care about is demand.

Unfortunately, too much of today’s marketing is about noise. Expert Scott Brinker has now counted over 6,000 digital marketing solutions. Never before have we had more powerful tools to understand customers, serve them better, and create real demand. And yet we are using these tools to more frequently, more precisely, more aggressively spam people with advertising they haven’t asked to see.

And then we look at views, clicks, likes; the stuff only one person cares about: the marketer. It’s good to have these noise numbers from the front end of funnel. But what really matters the is demand. Too often, we measure the wrong thing.


Here’s a stunning fact about Irish cows: about 5% of all Irish cow milk goes into making a drink you all know: Baileys. The stat was5%, I should say, because not long ago, Mark Sandys and the smart marketers at Diageo worked their magic and repositioned the Baileys brand by telling customers they could drink Baileys on many more occasions (with your coffee, for example).

As a result of that great marketing, Baileys last year shipped almost 10% more bottles. And because more Baileys was sold, there’s now more work for Irish farmers, the Baileys factories, and, of course, the cows. Sustainable sales growth can be a pretty good purpose.

To fix marketing’s accountability issue, here are three suggestions:.

  • KNOW YOUR NUMBER. Every marketer in this world needs to know how much revenue they are helping to create. Not clicks, not likes – true demand. Like the weather, you won’t know exactly. But you gotta have a forecast. You gotta have a number.
  • GET INTO THE REVENUE CAMP. Show your number. Talk about your number. If people in your firm believe your work is pure cost, they’ll ask you to do less of it. If people believe your work leads to revenue, they’ll want you to do more of it.
  • CONSIDER SELLING AS A PURPOSE. Imagine you help your company sell more contracts, ship more boxes, move more bottles. In that case, chances are more people get jobs, more innovation gets funding, and the cows may get more work, too. Purpose can be that simple.

The 100-Marketers Challenge

To bring the insights from the world’s largest ever study on marketing leadership to 1,500 marketers at all levels, Thomas and Patrick are giving away two hours of free team learning to 15 marketing teams in 2018 and 2019. Places are limited!

Leadership skills, for marketers’ business impact and career success, are more important than ever (and more important than most marketers think). That’s why we’ve decided to offer free individual team learning sessions with Thomas or Patrick for 15 marketing teams in 2018 and 2019. This 90 minutes online learning session (and 30 minutes pre-work) will enable your team members to learn the key concepts of marketing leadership–and develop their own personal impact-strategies. Session-focus:

— Mobilize your Boss (being relevant at the organization’s top)
— Mobilize your Colleagues (getting other people to support your cause)

The session is free for every team leader who buys at least 100 copies of The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader.

Where’s the catch? There’s none. Thomas and Patrick don’t run consultancies. It’s all about spreading the word to marketers across the globe.

How does it work?

  • Simply contact Thomas and register your interest.
  • Buy 100 or more copies of The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader from any source of your choice—and send us a confirmation copy.
  • Agree a convenient date for the session.

Any questions? Please read the FAQ-section at the end of the post.

The 100-Marketers Challenge is limited to 15 teams in 2018 and 2019.

* * *


Q: Do I need to have a 100-strong team to participate?
A: No. You can choose to give to give the spare books to other marketers and colleagues outside your team.

Q: Which topics will you cover?
A: We’ll cover the basics of marketing leadership with a focus on leading upwards (shaping the agenda) and sideways (mobilizing colleagues).

Q: Can we do this session for our clients too?
A: No, this free program is for internal teams only.

Q: Will the session focus on the specifics of our company?

A: The principles of marketing leadership are universal. The company specifics will then come through the questions and discussion during the two sessions.

Q: Do you offer follow up sessions and programs?
A: If you believe, after the session, deepening the content would make for significant impact within your team, Thomas will be happy to discuss options with you.

Q: How will you organize the sessions–technically?
A: Thomas and Paddy will moderate the session and provide short pre-session exercises for your team. All you have to do is manage the invitations on your end and host the session, using your preferred company voice or video conferencing system.

Q: What are the exact steps we need to take after confirming?
A: It might be easiest to ask a senior PA or team assistant to organize the session. The specific steps are:

  • Purchase 100 or more 12 Powers books and send us the confirmation.
  • Schedule a 90-minute voice or video conference with Thomas/Paddy and your team, titled: “The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader Training Session – Mobilizing your Boss and Colleagues”
  • Once your team members have the book, and 2 weeks ahead of the session, Thomas or Paddy will send you a suggested email for your team, detailing the session-content and a suggested pre-reading.
  • After the session, Thomas or Paddy will follow up with an email and further suggested exercises for your team.

The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader


“Everything you need to know to be a superior market leader! Thank you, Barta and Barwise, for sharing your secrets to success!”
—Marshall Goldsmith, The Thinkers 50 #1 Leadership Thinker in the World

“A must-read for every present and future CMO who cares about making a difference.”
—Seth Godin, author of All Marketers Are Liars

“Barta and Barwise show in this thoughtful book how marketers can contribute significantly more both to their companies’ success and to their own career paths. Research-based, but brought to life by human beings.”
—Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and CEO, WPP

“A masterful dissection of what it really takes to lead marketing.”
—Syl Saller, global CMO, Diageo, Marketing Society Leader of the Year 2015

“The essential leadership playbook for the CMO of the future.”
—Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer, Procter & Gamble

“ An essential read for any marketing professional looking to take the next step in their career.”
—Dominic Barton, global managing director, McKinsey & Company

“Important reading for anyone wishing to flourish in this most exciting and dynamic field of corporate life.”
—Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever

“Stuffed full of sound analysis, crucial career advice, and fascinating case studies—this is an effortless must-read for the ambitious marketer.”
—Gavin Patterson, CEO, BT
“I only wish I had been able to read it a good few years ago!
—Amanda Mackenzie, global CMO, Aviva

“The leadership book for twenty-first-century marketers.”
—Katie Vanneck-Smith, chief customer officer, Global Managing Director International, Dow Jones

“This research-based, yet superbly practical book provides immediate and actionable insights on one of the most challenging boundaries to span – the one between corporate goals and customers. I encourage you to read this book and get into the “V-Zone!”
—Chris Ernst, Ph.D., author of Boundary Spanning Leadership, Global Head, Learning, Leadership & Organization Development, Bill & Melinda Gates foundation

“The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader is a must-read for any marketing leader, with a clear blueprint that will take any marketer’s career to the next level and far beyond. Barta and Barwise have written a highly accessible book that’s engaging, informative and motivating!”
—Barbara Messing, CMO, TripAdvisor

“Barta and Barwise have a unique ability to find and illuminate the essential in marketing. The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader offers invaluable insights and advice on a blindingly important—but rarely talked about—marketing topic: how to achieve marketing success within the organization. It will help any marketer become a true marketing leader.”
—Kevin Lane Keller, E. B. Osborn Professor of Marketing, Tuck School of Business

“A truly insightful guide to how good marketing executives can become outstanding leaders and enhance the value of marketing within their organizations.”
—Joan Kaloustian, managing director corporate marketing, MUFG Union Bank

“Here is a must-read book for marketers as leaders. If you have a cause to promote, an ambition to lead, and a desire to perform on the main stage, not in the studio, pursue the practical guidance in these pages and a permanent seat at the top table, if not at its head, will be yours.”
—Richard Hytner, author, Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows, founder, beta baboon and former DY chairman, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide

“Barta and Barwise lay out a clear and compelling road map for helping marketing practitioners become high-impact enterprise leaders. Their success model is deeply grounded in data and experience and provides a framework that works within the ever-changing world of modern marketing.”
—Peter Horst, CMO, The Hershey Company

“This book rejects the ‘one leader fits anywhere’ mentality, and makes a powerful case that leadership practices are ideally tailored to a specific functional area—such as marketing. By meshing relevant research along with personal experience, the authors also make a compelling and incisive argument that leading a group of marketing professionals differs dramatically from being a consummate practitioner.”
—Jack Zenger, CEO of Zenger Folkman and best-selling co-author of The Extraordinary Leader

“The first evidence-based toolset to ‘lead marketing.’ A must-read for anyone who is serious about leading—not just doing—marketing.”
—Bernie Jaworski, Drucker Chair in Management and the Liberal Arts, Drucker School of Management

“Great marketing leadership is a vital part of driving business growth. This book gets under the skin of what makes a great marketing leader with vital, practical lessons that can be applied to help anyone focus toward future career success.”

—Peter Markey, CMO, Post Office

“This might just become the ‘bible’ for marketing leaders.”
—Sherilyn Shackell, founder and CEO, The Marketing Academy

For influence, abandon your desk

Many leaders still spend most of their time in the office, but the most important part of their role – creating organizational change – requires face-to-face contact with those outside their department (from my Marketing Week column).

I’m writing this column from home. Five years ago, we converted the top floor of our house into an office. It’s the place where I design keynotes and write invoices. However, most of the time I’m out and about speaking at conferences, nudging business leaders to speed up their firms’ transformations.

Broadly speaking, I cut my working week into ‘tap time’ (one-to-one influencing), ‘prep time’ (writing) and ‘crap time’ (invoices, email admin). In a good week, I get to 80% tap time. In a bad week, it’s 10%. Given I’m rarely at home, that office is probably a waste of space – well, I’m in the business of change, and I can’t make change happen from my desk.

More leaders than ever want workplace flexibility, but the current debate is misguided. Don’t get me wrong: I love family time. But work flexibility in a central job like marketing shouldn’t foremost be about working from home or not. It should be about working in the right places. And most of the time, that right place is neither the desk nor the home; it is face-to-face with customers and colleagues, to influence their behaviour.

It has never been less appealing to go to the office. Especially in the clogged-up centres of London, Paris or New York, it is a pain. The commute is long, and who wants to be seen with a Southern Trains Annual Gold Card?

Firms, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, have now reduced offices to lines of desks, as if executives were egg-laying cage hens. All of this is to increase so-called ‘collaboration’ (or to bring down office costs – you choose the reason). No matter how many football tables the new CEO puts in, most offices aren’t exactly fun places to work in.

At the same time, executives want more flexibility – to look after their family, to pursue other interests, or simply to escape the office craze. WeWork and co can’t find property fast enough to meet demand. And it’s hard to buy a cappuccino without having to stare at armies of MacBook nomads, typing into their machines next to the barista.

In reality, firms struggle to make working at home ‘work’. In 2017, IBM sent a shockwave through its global teams; once a model for ‘telecommuting’ (IBM = ‘I’m by myself’), the firm’s new CEO Ginni Rometty completely reversed the model. People had 30 days to join offices again in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, New York or San Francisco, or leave the company.

Yahoo, Aetna, and others made similar moves. Granted, these tech firms’ models of remote working were extremes – allowing people to work from wherever, whenever. But in each case, the CEO explanation read similarly: the need for more innovation and collaboration.

Here’s the paradox: most leaders are mandated to come to the office but then spend most of their day on prep time and crap time, instead of doing what matters most, tap time: innovating, collaborating and influencing. That’s lots of office space and family time wasted.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve visited hundreds of marketing offices. The picture was similar throughout: people sitting next to one another tied to their screen, busy emailing colleagues and doing plenty of administrative work. Those absent were in internal marketing meetings.

Marketing, it seems, happens inside the marketing silo. Along the same lines, a recent study confirmed that just half of employees’ work hours in large US companies are spent on productive activities.


Influential leaders can’t really spend much time at their desks. In 2017, Patrick Barwise and I published one of the most read McKinsey Quarterly leadership articles. Based on our extensive research for our book, The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, the article proves that mobilising bosses and colleagues are among the most important things leaders can do for success.

That’s especially true for marketers. Just think about the day-to-day marketing issues. The product needs changing? Talk to product development. Prices are eroding? Contact sales. Service issues? Talk to after-sales. Need a bigger budget? Here’s the CFO’s number. Want to accelerate this launch? Meet the production team. Update the logo? See the CEO (then, meet everybody and their brother). Want a better customer experience? Get in touch with the people creating it today (basically, everybody in the company).

During my time as a marketer, my firm once awarded the most successful key account manager of the year. I still remember the CEO introducing him with these words: “How can you spot the best key account manager on the team? Their office is always empty.”

Of course, some tasks, like running online campaigns or data-mining, could be easily done from anywhere in the world. But for the bulk of the work, marketers have to engage directly with customers or with colleagues. The 12 Powers research clearly confirms that marketers who leave their desk and walk the halls to make business priorities happen have more business and career success.

In marketing and sales, what counts is spending time influencing customers – outside and inside. No desk needed.


The push for more workplace flexibility is great. Let’s use the opportunity to give marketers more freedom while increasing their impact. The condition? Marketers must be crystal clear about where they need to be for influence. And that may be neither at home nor at the office desk.

The number one priority for every marketer is to influence customers and colleagues, to generate profitable revenue. Ideally, that’s 80% of work time. This work usually requires no desk. This is mostly tap time, which happens out and about, with customers or with colleagues.

Then there’s crap time – the glorious joys of writing expense reports and scheduling meetings. Often unavoidable. Again, no office desk is needed. Home, beach, train; you choose.

That leaves the marketing office for the important collaborative prep time: innovating new products, designing powerful campaigns, sharing important customer insights and strategising how to win in the market. These marketing offices wouldn’t be like egg farms. They would be creative meeting spaces where the marketing team pulls together.

If marketers got their workplace priorities right, they would end up more powerful – and they would see their families more too.

If marketing were a brand, you would fire the CMO

Want to lure the world’s best talent into marketing? We need to step up the profession’s standing first (from my Marketing Week column).

Dear chief marketing officers, the marketing brand isn’t doing well. Latest news: you are losing market share in a key target group – talent. A survey by Marketing Week and Unidays earlier this year found that only 2% of UK students believe a marketing degree will lead to the best career for them. And don’t bother turning around, there’s no profession behind you that’s rated lower. In a competitive market, at 2% a brand would normally be taken off the shelf.

Unfortunately, your other target group, the C-suite, isn’t going to save you. Over half of all board members don’t believe marketing drives revenue. The CEOs of Coke, Hyatt, and Tyson Foods have already replaced their top marketers with chief growth officers or chief commercial officers. And in the US, CMO tenure is nearing its all-time low.

John Hoffmire, associate fellow at Oxford’s Saïd Business School, explained in almost apocalyptic terms in 2016 why few marketers are invited onto company boards: “They aren’t needed because they often don’t contribute the same types of value that others – from finance, strategy and operations – contribute.”

So who does that leave in your corner? You guessed it, your agencies. At no marketing conference in this world will you publicly hear about these issues. Instead, at agency-funded parties, the industry celebrates its (former) glory. And with tech firm cash joining the crowd, more champagne than ever fills the glasses on this particular sinking ship. Marketing’s reputation may be on the line, but marketers still have big budgets to spend. Want a top up?

If marketing were a brand, you would fire the CMO. The marketing profession needs an urgent relaunch; a relaunch that will revitalise the profession’s standing both inside the C-suite and with talent. And, like all turnarounds, this relaunch will require top marketers to make painful decisions.

Make marketing relevant again

Marketing needs a much higher aspiration – the aspiration to be the central function. The function that steers the firm’s strategy based on customer needs. The function that shapes the top revenue- and profit-driving programmes. The CEO’s right hand.

This higher aspiration for marketing isn’t new – it’s what management thinker Peter Drucker demanded all along. It’s also logical. If marketers could truly deliver profitable growth, CEOs would ignore the naysayers. They would hire top marketers and give them exalted positions.

The problem is that too many marketers busy themselves with stuff that doesn’t drive the bottom line. Fun fact: Marketing Week’s survey asked kids what marketers do and 40% said they work with media and celebrities. To the horror of many C-suite executives, that’s what many marketers find attractive, too.

To become the central function, the CEO’s goal of profitable revenue must become the undisputed marketing goal. Every top marketer needs a clear perspective on the company’s strategy (not brand strategy) based on industry trends, financial performance, value creation, technology, shareholder expectations, etc. CMOs know what customers want now. That makes a clever CMO a powerful sparring partner for the CEO. The door is wide open.

Aiming higher will also catapult more marketers to the firm’s top role. Each year, The Marketing Academy, McKinsey and I work with a selected group of CMOs on their way to CEO. Our research says it loud and clear: leader profiles of top CMOs and CEOs are very similar. If top marketers do their job well, the step to CEO is a small one indeed.

Top talent aims high. Today, just 13% of students say marketing will help them on their way to CEO, according to Marketing Week’s research. A stronger C-suite standing will ultimately give marketers more ammunition in the war for talent.

Shape real marketers

Despite all the academic buzz, marketing is an applied science. You can’t learn all marketing at a university. But you can’t ‘just do it’, either. Influencing customer behaviour is complicated. The best marketers know the proven principles, have hands-on experience, and know how to lead.

Unfortunately, the marketing profession fails to build rounded leaders. Instead, it produces MBA marketers and GaryVaynerchuk-style marketers, and neither will lift the profession’s standing.

MBA marketers spend years soaking up granular marketing skills. Joining a company often produces culture shock. In real life, people don’t always seem to care for the best answer. All of a sudden, it’s about convincing stakeholders. About fighting for resources. About quick fixes. My research with Patrick Barwise for our book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader shows technical marketing skills matter. But it’s leadership skills that explain over 50% of marketers’ success. Yet, universities keep producing marketing eggheads instead of business leaders.

The Vaynerchuk-style marketer presents a different problem. After hearing that training is irrelevant, the marketer – equipped with mostly tactical social media skills – joins a firm, often in a support role like content management. As these marketers climb the ranks, they need to increasingly wing it as they go along. It’s hard to set prices if you’ve never done a conjoint analysis. Vaynerchuk-style marketers also overestimate their skills’ long-term value. The Financial Times found that, yes, employers value social media skills (that drive revenue). But once social media matures, these skills will fall back into the category that employers today put among the least important: ‘specialised marketing skills’.

Just imagine if we trained doctors as we train marketers. That is, we either just teach them theory, or we don’t require any training as long as they are talented in, say, giving injections. You would probably say, ‘That’s a crazy thought.’ After all, great doctors both adhere to proven standards and use their experience to treat patients. Why, then, are sloppy training standards OK in marketing, a firm’s most important function? The role that often determines company survival?

The leaders of the marketing profession need to formulate a completely new training approach – an integrated marketing education, combining rigorous university teaching with on-the-job training. This way, students learn the key principles, gain experience, and bring reality back into the classroom – just like doctors do.

Here’s my wish: I’d love for 10 world-leading CMOs to get together with 10 world-leading marketing universities to shape a new marketing curriculum. One that will match the rigour and standards of medical training. One that would produce CMO role models with high aspirations. One that would bring about the sea change required to make marketing a talent magnet again.

Never forget brand purpose rule #1: “do no harm!”

Marketers want a positive, do-good brand purpose but if they do harm before doing good, all integrity will be lost and brand purpose will go straight out the window (from my Marketing Week column).

When Ms T entered Auckland’s LynnMall Shopping Centre, beauty products weren’t on her list. At 82, she cared about her looks but she wouldn’t go overboard on creams and gels. A few hours and a few thousand dollars later, all had changed. New Zealand journalists revealed how staff at the Dead Sea Spa shop had bullied her into purchasing bags full of overpriced cosmetics. The mall owner later banned the company from all its centres. But some years on in airports and malls, sales staff of some cosmetic brands continue to coerce people into buying overpriced pots of cream.

By the time you have read this article, thousands of customers will be bullied, misled or badly advised by firms whose marketers talk brand purpose.

Marketers dream of working for brands that do good by serving a higher purpose, which is great, but this ideal isn’t new. Every marketer in the 1980s who read Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ asked themselves, “what’s a good purpose for my life?”. In fact, most leaders I know want their work to be meaningful (a privilege some just can’t afford).

But doing good sets a high bar. At the core (level zero), all brands have a simple purpose: to survive. Next, at level one, we expect brands to do no harm. And in a dream scenario, which is level two, brands do even more by doing good and making the world better.

But here’s the issue: many marketers dream of level two, get hired for level zero and forget about level one.

Brand purpose level zero: Survival — a worthwhile cause
A decade ago, ailing Nokia axed tens of thousands of jobs. Luckily, most of their traumatised marketers quickly landed a new job. But it was a different story for the 850 factory workers in Salo, Finland, the 2,200 in Cluj, Romania, and the 2,300 in Bochum, Germany. Their job losses deeply affected their families and in some cases still do.

Blackberry, Bhs, Clinton Cards, House of Fraser, Kodak, Toys ‘R’ Us: when brands fall out of touch with customers, jobs are on the line – jobs that courageous customer experts could have saved by challenging the C-suite to listen to customers.

Are you brave enough to step up internally and prevent your brand from becoming the next Nokia? If you want more brand purpose, that is worth the fight.

Brand purpose level one: Do no harm — the biggest gap
Behavioural science marketing books (in plain English, ‘how to trick customers’) are in huge demand. Around the world, armies of otherwise purpose-talking marketers explore people’s ‘irrationality’ or naivety, to make them buy more, give up rights, or choose the worse deal.

Using the term ‘breakfast cereal’ for high-sugar cookies? It’s what kids want. Hidden charges? Read the small print. Giving travellers the option to pay in their own currency with their credit cards for a hefty fee? People want the familiar. Sneaking newsletter sign-up tick-boxes into order forms? Ahem… Cancelling flights and denying rebooking on other airlines? Eurowings still hasn’t replied to my request. The list is endless.

I sometimes wonder why Google’s famous ‘don’t be evil’ clause in its code of conduct didn’t make it into the corporate guidelines of Alphabet, its parent company since 2015. And why, even within Google’s own code, it fell from the preface to somewhere lower down in April. Doing no harm as a brand, it seems, can be tricky.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for clever campaigns and even exaggeration. But great marketing happens inside the value creation zone (the ‘V zone’): the space where customer and company needs overlap. Tricking customers should simply be off limits. Yet, in cut-throat markets, too many leaders have become accustomed to playing tricks on shoppers, not just competitors.<

We need more integrity in marketing. Marketers are craving a positive, do-good brand purpose, which is commendable. But before doing good comes doing no harm. And as long as cheating happens, the do good brand purpose debate is cynical.

Here’s a question: would you be happy to share all of your marketing techniques with customers? If not, you may have crossed the ‘do no harm’ line already.

If you believe in doing good, start by doing no harm. If your brand does harm, step in. That would make for  a great purpose.

Brand purpose level two: ‘Do good’ — the ultimate bar
Customers see when purpose is about you and not about them. When Pepsi latched onto the #BlackLivesMatter movement in an ad where Kendall Jenner joined a dancing protest, people were outraged. In reality, most customers would rather watch a 24-hour snooker game than your fabricated corporate purpose ad (nothing wrong with snooker, by the way).

Doing good isn’t a marketing thing. It’s not about your CSR report, or the one-off sponsoring of whatever is hot in the world of purpose. It’s about the entire business model and how your firm serves society.

Paul Polman, Unilever’s CEO, is one of the world’s most purpose-driven global leaders. He reluctantly accepted a marketing prize recently, saying: “We have nothing to celebrate as long as there are people without access to clean water.”

Just imagine: the most powerful person at the head of one of the most powerful companies in the world, committed to issues like sustainable agricultural raw materials or fair pay. And yet, progress is painfully slow and Polman consistently has to defend his purpose agenda.

The brutal truth is that in large publicly listed firms (with short-term profit expectations), doing good can be hard to pull off no matter what the CSR booklet tells you. If you want to change people’s lives from the comfort of your warm corporate cubical, you may need way more courage, tenacity and stubbornness than you think.

The alternative? Leave the comfort and benefits of your Fortune 500 firm and get your hands dirty in a smaller shop. Hugh Pile, a former senior L’Oréal marketer, now leads his family’s smaller fresh fruit business, which leaves much of the value creation inside the producing countries. Would he go back to the big brands? Nope.

If truly serving society, with all its consequences, isn’t for you, chill out. Helping your million-dollar brand survive, and do no harm, is better than nothing.

2019 CMO Fellowship: Applications are open

Who are the most talented global marketers–with clear board potential applications are now open for the 2019 Fellowship, a (free) 9-month mentoring, coaching and learning programme, geared to developing today’s Chief Marketing Officers into tomorrow’s CEOs.

The programme is free of charge for Fellows, though it is highly selective and requires a time commitment of around 12 days between January and September 2019.

The Marketing Academy Fellowship developed in partnership with McKinsey & Company is a powerful, free, part time program for exceptional CMOs & marketing leaders. Participants will get access to board-level thinking and development in all elements of Board stewardship, helping them accelerate their knowledge and experience to take on a future CEO or board role.

I’ll be teaching again the leadership components of the Fellowship. Participants will hence benefit from the 12 Powers research on CMO success–and from the combined team experience when it comes to the CMO->CEO transition.

The Fellowship is taught in Europe, but takes applicants from all regions of the world.

Deadline for applications is 21st October 2018.

New York and London

Do You Know Talented Young US Marketers? The future of marketing depends on its people. Nominations are now open for the first US-based Marketing Academy Scholarship–the program that brings together CEO’s, CMO’s, authors, experts, inspirational speakers, founders of charities and sporting legends to contribute to the curriculum on a pro-bono basis, ensuring the Scholarship is a totally unique and immensely powerful learning experience. After having taken Europe and Australia by storm, Sherilyn and the team are finally putting on a US program.

But hurry: nominations close Sep 07.

The London marketing conference is coming. Join me on October 10 and 11 for the Festival Of Marketing (more interestingly you’ll also get diver Tom Daley, Byron Sharp, and Steve Wozniak).

Ogilvy’s rebrand reveals an ad industry in confusion

Agencies, like brands, need consistency. Agencies used to have access to the C-suite within brands but that’s no longer the case. It’s time for agency leaders to step up and rebuild agency C-suite relevance again (from my Marketing Week column).

Ogilvy’s rebrand reveals an ad industry in confusion

David Ogilvy’s Ogilvy on Advertisingis still among the world’s most respected marketing books. When I started out as a brand manager, Ogilvy & Mather’s office leader gave it to me in a little ceremony when I met with the agency. As he handed it over I was told: “We want to be your closest ally. But we aren’t here to make fancy advertising – we are here to help you sell.” When I opened the book, a bookmark fell out, reading: “We sell or else – David Ogilvy”.

At first, I wasn’t sure about the Ogilvy guys. The book ceremony felt patronising. Who was the client again? But more frustratingly, Ogilvy had our CEO’s ear. The agency’s senior executives would frequently meet with our CEO, review the business and talk strategy – without us.

In one instance they torpedoed our packaging redesign. Ogilvy feared our customers wouldn’t find the products anymore (they were perhaps right). On these days we hated them. But more often they were brilliant thought partners. They helped us to stay consistent, to keep a broad perspective and, like David Ogilvy had laid out, to sell. Ogilvy, in our company, enjoyed something today’s agencies can only dream of: respect.

Things have changed. How many Fortune 500 CEOs today would be keen to meet with their advertising agencies (unless their spouse has a creative idea)? How many agency executives shape their client’s strategic direction? How many have direct CEO access? The low C-suite respect for ad agencies is a disgrace.

With a big splash, Ogilvy has just announced its global rebranding. Everything I’ve seen is beautiful – and deeply worries me. Agency owners: red is now up for grabs. The iconic red Ogilvy background has gone in a favour of a colour you’ll get when you leave an Ogilvy brochure in the sun for two weeks.

“About Ogilvy” now reads: “We are one doorway to a creative network re-founded to make brands matter in a complex, noisy, hyper-connected world.” Now close your eyes and try to say that again.

But here’s the most worrying message for CEOs: Oglivy is moving away from “we sell or else” to “we change or else”. Seriously?

Sorry, Ogilvy, I’m picking on you as my former poster child. You are still an impressive firm. And other agencies aren’t necessarily better. It’s just that I still believe in consistency, clarity – and in selling. And it’s painful to see you don’t anymore.

Lost in translation

Sir Martin Sorrell, the founder and former CEO of WPP, which owns Ogilvy,  recently said agencies are facing the perfect storm, with clients’ pressure to deliver short-term returns, technological disruption and fierce cost-cutting. He’s right. But ad agencies should write the real complaint letter to themselves. Fish rot at the head. The loss of stature and relevance was gradual, and the fault lies with agency leaders (not with the creatives).

There’s now the same (if not more) short-term return pressure on agencies. Many ad executives are mainly chasing work – any work. Losing a client is a revenue disaster. As a result, every trainee marketer can put pressure on the agency. Impartial agency advice and dissent from the client’s view have become the exception.

Technological disruption, for agencies, should be marvellous. Company leaders, more than ever, need partners with a big-picture strategic perspective. But in today’s ad agency world, thought leaders are rare.

C-suite-level thought leadership isn’t something people are born with. Yet few agencies train their staff to develop that thinking. Instead, to be cool, agencies have joined the tactical digital hype. To not lose out, many have sucked up tech-boutiques. When Procter & Gamble last year suddenly cut millions of digital ad spending with no revenue impact, the agency world felt caught-out and kept a low profile. Thought leadership? Look elsewhere.

There was a time when agency and company CEOs met to talk strategy. Today, thousands of agency salespeople pitch nitty-gritty work at marketing departments’ lowest levels. CEOs (and even CMOs) have more important people to meet. And with little C-suite access for agencies, procurement will do what they do best: cut their fees.

But that’s not half of it. Some agencies are now more siloed than their worst clients. Many of their leaders worry most about internal issues: How do we organise? How do we integrate? Of the nine messages in Ogilvy’s rebranding brochure, eight are internal. For example, the move from ‘Creative Department’ to ‘Creative Network’. Influential design expert Armin Vit wrote in his Ogilvy redesign review about ad agencies: “I don’t find them remotely as interesting as they find themselves”.

What’s the ‘value creation zone’?

It’s time for agency leaders to step up and rebuild agency C-suite relevance again. Every CEO wants to sell. Every C-suite leader wants to hear from people who know how to sell. The C-suite door, for real thought leaders, is wide open.

Some weeks ago, I led a thought leadership seminar for agency executives. When I asked “What’s your most strategic client priority?” people said things like “online advocacy”, “in-store journeys”, “brand purpose renewal”. All nice and good, but nothing any CEO would want to meet about.

To matter at the top, an agency must work inside the ‘value creation zone’ – the zone where customer needs and company/CEO needs overlap. That’s why every client team should have a perspective on issues like the risks and opportunities for the client’s business model.

For a car maker, for example, that’s currently not customer experience but issues like electricity versus gasoline, car ownership, autonomous driving. How could the company sell more and better things to more people at a profit? Operationally, how could the company become faster, more efficient?

Within just one day, the executives in our seminar developed a much broader perspective on their clients’ businesses and how their agency could really help (enough to seriously impress the CEO who came to the final presentation).

Just imagine all ad agencies would consistently aim for that CEO discussion. Agency stature, pride, and success would rise. That dialogue would transform an entire industry – for the better.

Only one thing will never change: you sell, or else.

If data were a drug, marketers would be the cartel bosses – not Facebook

Facebook’s current data woes point to a bigger challenge: leaders must stop delegating responsibility and take charge of marketing communication again (from my Marketing Week column).

Communication could be marketer’s most powerful tool. But it’s complicated. Facebook is plagued by questions about its data policies and how ads on its platforms have influenced voters (including in the US election and Brexit). YouTube ads appear next to hate speech. Millions of dollars get lost in agencies’ shady media deals. Many social media metrics remind me of La La Land (P&G cut millions of social advertising dollars without negative sales effect). TV ads appear when the wrong audience is watching. The list of issues won’t fit this column. It’s perhaps no coincidence that many CEOs believe marketing communication is a mess.

Many marketers are asking themselves: who’s on the hook for all these marcom issues? The answer is you.

Marketing communication is complicated – granted. There are tonnes of media channels now. Consumers are changing habits all the time. Technology moves fast: pixels, AI, programmatic; you name them.

When it’s about complexity, many marketers choose the simple way out: delegating everything to agencies. Selecting the right media? The agency does it. Allocating the budget? The agency should tell us how. And when things go wrong? It’s the agency’s fault.

Don’t get me wrong, agencies are marketers’ lifelines. Many do amazing work. But no matter how many experts you use, you are still in charge.

The current Facebook saga is a classic. When news broke that data analytics company Cambridge Analytica had acquired millions of Facebook users’ data, marketers – mostly behind closed doors – were angry. “That’s unacceptable,” they said. Many turned to their agencies to demand all sorts of guarantees that the scandal wouldn’t hit their brands.

If data were a drug, marketers would be the cartel bosses – not Facebook. It’s the marketers who choose the medium, agree the budget and approve the booking.

By the way, if you believe your work is complicated, you aren’t alone. Ask your doctor, your IT colleague, or your CEO – you’ll hardly find anyone who isn’t wrestling with a gazillion new tools and technologies. Complexity is a fact of modern life. The leadership question is how to handle complexity. The answer has two parts: first, keeping full ownership, no matter how complex things become; second, constant quality control. In a world where you can’t do everything yourself, and where you delegate tasks, you must put checks and balances in place. It’s the only way to stay on top of things.

Marketers must urgently take charge again of brand communication, owning it in full and checking more. Here’s an example of how this could look. It’s not perfect, it’s not complete, but it may get you back on top of things:

Message Ownership

Every marketer knows that message beats medium. The most sophisticated media plan won’t heal a broken message. A colleague of mine has recently proven how AI models can improve the success of a creative execution, but he says most marketers don’t bother with this level of detail. Yet, if your ad isn’t compelling, forget media planning; your cash will be wasted, no matter what.

Full ownership: As a marketer, you must own the customer insights, the actual message, top-quality agency briefs, the ad’s effectiveness, your research methodologies.

Delegation with quality-control: Your agencies will typically take up things like the ad creation, the research fieldwork, etc. How can you check the work’s quality? Because that’s your job too.

Media Mix Ownership

Finding the perfect media mix is complicated, but it’s a strategic competitive advantage. How much to spend, where, how? You have to get your hands dirty

Full ownership: It’s for marketers to own the actual media mix and the factors behind it (the ratios, spend levels, audiences, etc). To get this right, you must also fully understand TV, radio, print, outdoor, Facebook and so on – their benefits and their downsides.

Let’s get back to Facebook as a case in point. The Cambridge Analytica case was, for the most part, perfectly legal. Facebook’s ‘friends permission’ function explicitly allowed developers access to profiles of users and their friends. That’s how an app, developed by Cambridge University’s Aleksandr Kogan and used by 270,000 people, produced data on millions of users.

There was no hack. Cambridge Analytica acquired that data from Kogan – according to Facebook, against its rules. Do other people ignore Facebook rules? I leave it to you to judge (hint: yes).

Facebook isn’t in any way special. It’s a media channel. Marketers who use it must be on top of its risks and benefits.

Delegation with quality-control: You’ll typically find yourself giving media mix analyses, media planning and media booking to external partners. But all of these really do need quality control. Take media agency contracts: how is your agency paying media owners, what are the commissions and kickbacks? That’s very (very) difficult to find out. But we are talking five-, six-, seven-figure budgets. Quality control is your job.

strong>Placement Ownership

Here’s an issue low down on marketers’ priority list: where is your ad actually being shown? Recently I saw a striking analysis: ad effectiveness could sometimes be doubled by choosing magazines or TV programmes with highest involvement for your important customers.

Won’t the media agency ensure perfect campaign fit? Let’s think. Media agencies often have bulk contracts with media owners. To hit agreed volumes, they need to shuffle a certain amount of business into a channel. Do they care about your objectives? Absolutely. Do they always act in your best interest? Again, it’s for you to judge.

Full ownership: You must know the effect of people’s involvement with TV programmes, magazines and other media on involvement with your commercials. It’s a detail with big implications.

Delegation with quality-control: Your agency will book the actual placement. Get the lists and at least spot-check that your communication appears where you get most bang for the buck

Perhaps you find the level of ownership and checking I propose excessive, unrealistic, too much work. I disagree. Think about this: 77% of marketers are in charge of communication, versus 56% in charge of product, and 32% of pricing. If marketers don’t fully own their most important field – communication – what should they own?

The #MeToo movement should be a wake-up call for all leaders

The recent #MeToo campaign is a reminder of the important role we all have as leaders: building confidence (from my Marketing Week column).

Tarana Burke has a point. When the #MeToo campaign brought her own long-standing sexual abuse movement back into the spotlight, uman rights activistBurke said: “These moments are small victories. We ride the momentum. And then we get on the ground and do the work.”

Now that the dust is starting to settle, how can we as leaders do more of this work?

In October 2017, the New York Times broke the abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Most people – me included – felt disgusted but moved on. The judges will take care of it, we thought. There are more important things to worry about than Hollywood’s dirty laundry.

Things changed when, days later, Alyssa Milano asked women with similar experiences to reply #MeToo on their social media accounts. Her message was echoed millions of times, often accompanied by heartbreaking stories.

Polls illuminated the facts: more than half of American women (and one in six men) have experienced inappropriate sexual advances or abuse; and most offenders get away with it, even if reported. The sheer magnitude of the issue is mind-blowing.

I admit: when it comes to abuse in the workplace, I had my eyes wide shut. I don’t consider myself a subject matter expert. But I believe we must all do our share. How can we even talk about brand purpose and passion when some people are afraid to come to the office?

What can each of us do to make the office safer and better? My suggestions are nowhere near complete, but I’ve seen two concepts in action that made a real difference: zero tolerance and confidence building.

Zero tolerance

Abuse? Not in our office. Assault? Not in the lovely world of our firm. Again, these are responses typical of those with eyes wide shut.

Needless to say, no leader and no organisation must ever tolerate abuse. Full stop. You didn’t need me to say this. I’m sure you agree.

Acting is harder. Here’s my strong belief: if you witness abuse, don’t leave taking action to HR. It’s your job. It’s everybody’s job.

There are always ‘good’ excuses for not getting involved. Perhaps you feel threatened yourself. Perhaps you know the offender. Perhaps you aren’t sure what’s actually going on.

How can we even talk about brand purpose and passion when some people are afraid to come to the office?

Rule number one: trust your gut. Then, it depends. Many companies have (more or less effective) abuse reporting mechanisms. After reading this column, go and remind yourself of what they are in your firm. If you are unsure, read what organisations like Tarana Burke’s Just Be Inc. have to say about the delicate task of reporting abuse (their ideas expand well beyond this column).

When things are over the line, be the toughest member of staff.

The messy fine lines

There’s more going on than outright abuse. Each day, we’re all navigating fine lines. What’s OK to say and do for you may be perceived as micro-aggression by someone else. Getting this right can be tricky, even if your intentions are good.

Consider this: during the #MeToo campaign 100 women, including actor Catherine Deneuve, published a memo demanding the right of a woman to, on the same day, lead a professional team and enjoy being a sexual object (unsurprisingly they were met with a shit storm during the #MeToo tornado).

A female friend once expressed to me her frustration that men in Asia didn’t look at her on the metro. And my French and German friends would be annoyed if I stopped kissing and hugging them in greeting.

#MeToo, in the public debate, quickly became the umbrella for many workplace issues like unequal pay, discrimination, glass ceilings, workplace pressure, etc – all taking the confidence away from millions of talented people.

Most executives live in good-news land. My last campaign? A big success. Our agency? Going from strength to strength. Our brand? We have just completely re-imagined how to blah blah blah. I wonder how it feels in this world for people who aren’t confident; who are, perhaps, from a minority background; who have doubts in their own skills?

Getting it right can be hard. After my last Marketing Week Live keynote, a woman told me: “Your talk was great. But why do you show mostly men on your slides?” At home I counted nine men and eight women, but the men were pictured in more confident situations. Perception is reality.

Life, it seems, is full of fine lines.

Building confidence

How can you walk the fine lines? How can you still be authentic while avoiding what others may perceive as confidence-draining micro-aggression?

I’d like to suggest a basic idea. For every interaction, ask yourself a very simple question: does my action build his or her confidence?

Not long ago I spoke at a large US insurance company. During the Q&A, a young woman asked: “You told us to raise our voices and push for more innovation. But as a woman, how do I build the courage?”

Her question left me lost for words. I hadn’t thought of courage as a male or female issue. So I turned the question back to the audience: “What has helped you be bold and courageous?”

The responses were amazing. Several women spoke of role models, bosses, and peers who had all done one thing: given them confidence. Confidence in their own abilities. Confidence to try. Confidence to fail.

We can’t perhaps always prevent what some stupid colleagues do. We won’t be able to anticipate all local rules on hugging, kissing, and back-patting. But we can always ask ourselves: does my action build his or her confidence?

Asking this basic question helps me navigate these fine lines, helps me judge whether a kiss is OK or too much, and helps me find the words when words are easy to get wrong.

Do I still screw up? Yes, but I’m getting better at it.

I’m with Tarana Burke. Let’s get to work. Start asking: how did your actions build confidence in someone today?

The number one reason why marketers fail

When marketers fail, both they and their organizations suffer. Yet many marketing officers still haven’t built the key foundation for success: alignment with the CEO. That’s perplexing (from my Forbes column).

This should be marketing’s golden age. Social media, smart phones, big data, and the like: It’s never been easier to understand and reach customers. Yet, it seems, it’s never been easier for CMOs to get sidelined.

Last year, Coke ditched its global CMO in favor of a growth officer (I still ask myself: what, if not growth, was the CMO busy with?). Giants like Colgate-Palmolive, Coty, and Mondelēz have all underemphasized the CMO role by installing all sorts of growth officers. And European Airline EasyJet has just replaced their CMO with a chief data officer. How about CMO tenure? For several years, search firm Spencer Stuart has only been able to report small ups and downs in the (notoriously short) CMO tenure.

It’s complicated

The list of CMO challenges is long. Short-termism creates major headaches, no matter where you look. Digital makes tactical marketing activities more measurable. Now the pressure is on to evaluate and prove everything. That’s obviously difficult when it comes to long-term marketing effects. Traditional lines of responsibility are blurring. Today, customer data, insights, and issues pop up everywhere across the organization. It’s often less then clear who owns what. Add to this the massive growth pressure in saturated markets and it’s easy to see why the CMO role is tough.

Yet one fact continues to perplex me: Alignment between CMOs and the rest of the C-suite is strikingly lacking. We asked 1,232 CMOs worldwide whether they understand what’s right for the business and align marketing with the other company leaders. 76% said yes.

76% appears to be a high number. But it still means 2-3 out of 10 CMOs don’t consider themselves fully aligned with the business.

And what do company leaders say about their CMOs? The picture isn’t rosy—there’s room to improve. When it comes to encouraging new business opportunities (often a top CEO priority), only 59% of all CEOs and GMs rate their CMOs highly.

Internal marketing team alignment is an issue too. Among CEOs and GMs only 43% believe marketing officers make sure their teams know where the organization is headed. These numbers are chilling.

We can always cite other reasons for CMO struggles. But not aligning with the firm’s core agenda seems like a pretty big deal. As a company leader, I’d have second thoughts about my CMO if marketing’s pursuits were unaligned with the business.

Fixing the number one CMO issue: C-suite alignment

As bleak as the alignment numbers appear, the fix may be simple. The following strategies are well known and important, but it’s striking how many top marketers don’t apply them:

Being the company’s best analyst.Before alignment comes understanding. In publicly traded companies, the CEO agenda is partly out in the open. Getting ahold of analyst reports is a good way to understand what matters at the top. When no external reports exist, getting hold of the CEO agenda may involve more lunches with C-suite executives. By adding further internal insights every CMO should quickly be able to grasp the full top-agenda.

For a CMO, understanding the boardroom tide – even better than analysts do – can be a lifeline. And a CMO lifeline is what we need.

Making the case for customers—not for marketing.Even after the real CEO agenda has become clear, aligning the marketing priorities with it can be tough for two reasons.

First off, CEOs can be wrong. Digital Equipment Corporation’s CEO Ken Olsen’s famous quote: “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home,” was simply bad judgement. In the same way, CEOs today may ignore important trends or damage valuable brand assets through too much short-term focus. Business success isn’t about aligning the C-suite with marketing—but with customers. There’s no point in blindly following a CEO agenda that’s flawed. Every CMO must be prepared to be the customer voice that stands up to the CEO when necessary. Of all the reasons to get fired, standing up for customers is the most noble.

The second reason for alignment troubles has to do specifically with CMOs. Too many consider themselves marketers first and foremost, and therefore focus primarily on the marketing function. The moment CMOs take this narrow perspective, they fall into misalignment traps. At times, a bigger marketing communication budget just isn’t the most important firm priority. No marketer of struggling Toys “R” US or Sears, for example, would currently worry about long-term brand building while cash is king. Effective CMOs are business leaders with a marketing spike—not the other way around.

There’s more to alignment than the big picture. Subtleties matter. When should a project go on the agenda? When is the right time to stop asking for more funds (or even to return them)? Which agenda should be pushed during a board meeting? Which battle is not worth fighting? Fully aligned CMO get these subtleties right.

When successful CMOs talk “growth”, they foremost mean the business—not the marketing department.

Five common career diseases and how to cure them

Have you ever experienced reduced budgets, a loss of career momentum, or a lack of traction in your company? If so, you could be at risk of a serious career disease (from my Marketing Week column).

Take the time to familiarise yourself with the symptoms and treatments below.

Digital Hyperactivity Disorder (DHD)

Symptoms: In the early stages, DHD often goes unnoticed. As digital is hot, leaders with DHD feel like part of a trend. The most digitally savvy are admired. Titles like ‘digital native’ or ‘digital evangelist’ add to DHD sufferers’ delusions of grandeur. Many have the freedom to try new tools – often physically separated from their less digitally savvy peers.

There are reported cases where DHD leaders get their organisations to blindly shift budgets from proven non-digital solutions into the digital world, no questions asked. However, as digital matures, many people with DHD experience a loss of power. This is especially the case when senior leaders want to see the digital strategy, a proper digital business case, or – worse – just ask “why are we doing this?”

Causes: In up-and-coming leaders, DHD is generally caused by confusing social media skills with social media business skills (knowing how to use it doesn’t mean knowing how to make money with it). In senior leaders, possible DHD causes are a narrow focus on business tactics or seeing digital just as a box of fancy new tools (see also: Half-Sided Business Vision). DHD is not to be confused with digital anxiety, a lack of digital understanding and consequent avoidance of it.

Treatment: The most effective treatment for DHD is a technique called ‘zooming’. DHD leaders are asked to zoom out and consider an organisation’s true strategic business issues – and where digital could help – before zooming in on digital tactics (also known as business sense-making).

One-Sided Business Vision (OSBV)

Symptoms: OSBV is most common in functional leaders – from marketing, agencies, or HR, for example. Leaders with OSBV are often wizards in their fields. They master advertising, customer research, people assessments, etc. However, they may not see – or even ignore – the business issues outside their own silos. Typical symptoms include reducing budgets, slipping off the agenda, slowing careers and – in extreme cases – job loss.

Causes: OSBV typically takes root during business education when people learn detailed functional skills, as opposed to leadership skills. Most OSBV sufferers only realise late in their careers that their role isn’t only to win Cannes Lions awards for the best advertising, but to support the overarching company goals, which may include cutting costs.

Treatment: Most cases of OSBV can be easily cured by a lunch meeting or two with senior company leaders or clients. In the long run, every organisation wants to grow profitably. That’s why leaders must understand both customer needs and the organisation’s needs and serve them both (also called working inside the ‘value-creation zone’).


Symptoms: Leaders with authenticitis, especially those with chronic symptoms, may experience isolation, limited respect from peers, and a lack of traction within their organisations. They are often described as insensitive, defensive, and – in extreme cases – full of themselves.

Causes: Authenticitis is typically acquired by confusing absolute authenticity with effective authenticity. While authentic leadership means building legitimacy through honest and ethical relationships, rather than trying to be someone else, some people interpret this wrongly as: ‘I’m great the way I am; no need to adjust’. They become unwilling to improve as leaders.

Treatment: Authenticitis symptoms often disappear naturally when people get proper feedback. Knowing their impact on peers and teams will quickly help leaders figure out the fine line between authentic and effective.

Chronic Forgiveness

Symptoms: Teams led by people with chronic forgiveness often display lateness, chaotic behavior, poor execution and, in general, low overall effectiveness. Firms tend not to favour teams of these leaders as talent pools.

Causes: The cause-effect relationship for chronic forgiveness is complex. In general, it begins with an assumption that mercy trumps merit. Another common cause is a leader’s lack of confidence in his or her own ability to judge performance (‘what if I’m wrong?’). But when team members regularly get away with poor performance, a spiral begins. Poor performers don’t improve. High performers become increasingly frustrated and often leave.

Treatment: The first step to treating chronic forgiveness is ruthless transparency around a team’s performance through proper performance reviews or 360-degree feedback. Making assessments, promotions, and hiring and firing decisions more objective matters too; ideally, through bringing in outside leaders (i.e. from other departments or external experts).

Hedgehog Syndrome (HS)

Symptoms: Leaders with HS are typically found with their heads down in their PCs or smartphones, attending to email messages (Slack, where applicable). They are often not well known outside their own organisational silos, are unable to give directions inside the office building, and typically don’t get much sunlight. Leaders with severe HS are often viewed as not being very influential.

Causes: HS is caused by a severe lack of prioritization. For every type of work that involves change (that’s most of today’s work), successful leaders make talking with customers and colleagues a high priority. These leaders know that to make change happen they must truly understand people’s concerns and enter into a dialogue.

HS sufferers lack this important prioritisation gene. Instead of making time to visit markets, talk to customers and walk the organisation’s halls, they avoid other people. They attend to the most obvious distraction first (typically email). Some even try – and fail – to organise change electronically. Shyness, concerns about standing out, and a lack of role models are often described as underlying HS causes.

Treatment: Leaders suffering from HS respond best to awareness-building and role-modelling. Ideally, they find a senior leader who takes them along to meetings with customers, clients, and people from other departments. Other treatment options include leading cross-functional projects, meeting a client a day or, for one week, switching off their email accounts.

Do you experience any of these symptoms? Don’t worry. As you can see, there’s an antidote for each. Talk to your trusted senior leader about which options are best for you.

Why effective leaders must manage up, down, and sideways

Strong team leadership isn’t enough. New research shows the importance—for business impact and career success—of also mobilizing your boss and colleagues (from Patrick’s my McKinsey Quarterly article).

Most of the leadership advice aimed at senior functional managers is how to build, align, energize, and guide a world-class team. This is a challenging task in its own right, but we all know it isn’t the whole story. Leaders, even those in the C-suite, must also extend their influence upward and horizontally.

Organization theory suggests that managing upward and sideways is good for both the company and the individual leader’s career: CEOs need the insights and pushback of trusted executives to help sharpen strategy. And complex modern organizations benefit when people engage with their peers across functional and business-unit boundaries to bring a range of perspectives and drive change and innovation.

Our research confirms this theory, and then some. In a wide-ranging study of the leadership actions of chief marketing officers (CMOs)—a good proxy, we believe, for the skills and behaviors of functional leaders in general—we’ve shown how “managing” the CEO and mobilizing colleagues increases business impact and career success. (For leadership research on another C-suite proxy, the CFO, see “How functional leaders become CEOs.”) To test our hypothesis, we asked more than 1,200 senior marketing executives from 71 countries about their perceived business impact (contribution to revenue and profit growth), their career success, and their characteristics against 96 variables. Using statistical techniques (explained below1 ), we were able to relate to these outcomes the 96 variables (which included leadership behaviors, functional skills, personality traits, sociodemographic variables, and external factors, such as peoples’ fit with the company). We supplemented this research by analyzing existing 360-degree data on 7,429 marketing and nonmarketing leaders—a total of 67,278 individual evaluations by these leaders’ bosses, peers, subordinates, and themselves.

Our findings lend support to the notion that senior executives should pay more attention to mobilizing their bosses (managing upward) and functional colleagues (managing horizontally) (exhibit). Taken together, these upward and horizontal actions were about 50 percent more important than managing subordinates for business success (45 percent versus 30 percent)—and well over twice as important for career success (47 percent versus 19 percent).

Why effective leaders must manage up, down, and sideways

Managing upward and horizontally can improve your business impact and career success.

Clearly, there’s more to success than managing up and sideways: leading a high-performance functional team accounted for 30 percent of the explained variation in our CMOs’ business impact, and 19 percent for career success, and managing yourself accounted for the remaining variation. Mobilizing subordinates, in particular, is the base executives need to build from if they want to establish credibility with the CEO and with colleagues. The best executives build strong teams, relentlessly enhance team members’ skills, keep subordinates focused with objective performance measures, and establish an environment conducive to trust and loyalty.

But they also do much more. Our model helped us identify the most important specific actions associated with managing upward and horizontally, and our 360-degree survey data confirmed that some of those actions receive less emphasis than they should.2

Mobilizing your boss: Focus on strategic issues and demonstrate financial results

When we asked CMOs about their primary role, some responded that they “ran the marketing organization” or “led their companies’ advertising and brand campaigns.” We believe many other functional leaders would provide similar departmentally focused responses. By contrast, the most effective and successful leaders in our study were more likely to describe their primary role as increasing company growth or better outreach to customers to improve performance. We found that a key determinant of success was taking on the big issues, those in sync with the CEO’s agenda and contributing to the company’s overall performance. Aligning with the CEO’s strategy explained 10 percent of CMO business impact and 10 percent of career success.

But are functional leaders well aligned with the CEO’s agenda? Seventy-six percent of our CMOs said yes—but just 46 percent of the bosses in our 360-degree database believed their marketers knew where the organization was going. Many functional leaders, it seems, could and should better align with the top.

Building a reputation as an effective user of resources also increases standing with the CEO. In our study, the ability to demonstrate returns explained 12 percent of CMO business impact and 3 percent of career success. Here, we again found a gap: while 67 percent of our CMOs said they had a strong returns orientation, only 39 percent of C-suite executives in another study reported that marketing executives were delivering measurable return on investment for their expenditure.

Mobilizing your colleagues: Forge strong ties with peers to build momentum

If you want to build a “movement” within the company, lead from the front with an inspiring story to win the hearts and minds of colleagues, including those who don’t report to you, and with a clear action plan to deliver tangible results. That can initiate a virtuous circle of internal recognition by energizing a cadre of early followers among colleagues. Our research suggests that leading from the front and having a strong narrative together explained nearly 10 percent of business impact and about 20 percent of career success. The ability to reach beyond the marketing silo to executives in areas such as IT and finance explained an additional 13 percent of the variation in both business impact and career success.

Only 56 percent of CEOs, however, described their marketing leaders as role models who lead from the front, and only 61 percent of CMOs said they use their storytelling skills. Tellingly, while marketers are adept at telling stories that mobilize customers to buy their products, we find they are less likely to ply that strength internally, despite the importance of effective engagement with colleagues.

Mobilizing horizontally means walking the halls, getting out of the office to share ideas with peers, listening to their concerns, and working jointly to attack strategic issues. In theory, leaders could do many of their interactions on video these days. But that’s rarely inspiring. Instead, the best leaders connect directly with as many people as possible through town halls when they travel to local markets, and hunker down to help teams solve their biggest problems.

Fortunately, the actions needed to mobilize the CEO and colleagues are often mutually reinforcing. For instance, moves by functional leaders to build support horizontally are often related to their simultaneous efforts to show tangible results and advance the organization’s strategy.

While CEOs rely on functional leaders’ ability to build high-performance teams, much more needs to be done to help these leaders extend their influence upward into the C-suite and horizontally across the organization. Happily, our work suggests that not only business impact but also career success redounds to those CMOs (and, we believe, functional leaders of all stripes) who can increase their span of leadership influence upward and across functions.

About the author(s)
Thomas Barta is a McKinsey alumnus and was a partner in the firm’s Cologne office; Patrick Barwise is emeritus professor of management and marketing at London Business School. They are coauthors of the new leadership book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader: How to Succeed by Building Customer and Company Value (McGraw-Hill Education, September 2016).

Why this year’s super bowl ads point to marketing’s biggest leadership issue

What a Super Bowl night! In the end, it was a hard-fought victory for the Eagles. Off the field, another battle raged on between Budweiser, Coke, Kia, Pepsi, Squarespace, P&G, and many others: the nation’s top brands fought for customers’ attention. But after the dust settles, many CEOs, CFOs and shareholders will ask: Was it worth it? Can I trust my marketers? This year, again, they’re short of good answers (from my Forbes column).

Start with why

The Super Bowl. Very few events generate more marketing buzz before, during, and after the show. Agencies and marketers alike use every opportunity to rave about their work. At a time when C-suite trust in marketers isn’t always high, I wanted to know how well CMOs communicate the business goals for their Super Bowl ads. To find out, I studied the official press releases and CMO statements of over a dozen major brands. I created three simple columns to tally which element(s) the brand owners were talking about. The columns were labeled as follows:

1. The ad’s creativity (of interest to the general public)
2. Ad creation details (of interest to the agency world)
3. Business goals (of interest to the CEO and shareholders)

As expected, the creative and creation columns filled quickly. This is obviously the cool stuff that CMOs love to talk about—and rightly so. Creativity matters.

I soon realized that I didn’t actually need that third column. For this year’s Super Bowl ads, business goals were thin on the ground. Although a few brands highlighted specific marketing objectives—including Febreze(you do need this type of product), Tide(a new scent and a new stain-focused cleaning line), Wendy’s(only fresh beef in all burgers), and Sprint(cheaper than Verizon)—most didn’t bother talking about business outcomes at all.

To be fair, most CMOs may have detailed long and short-term business goals tucked away inside their desk drawers. But considering these were public statements about the nation’s most high-profile campaigns, what I found seemed pretty light.

Just as a reminder, we aren’t talking about Adweek. These were official press releases, typically located in the company’s online investor relations section. They appear next to earnings statements and annual reports. They get read by investors, analysists, and, for sure, the CEO. Are marketers sending the right messages to build trust with this important audience?

The big issue: C-suite trust in marketing

The CMO brand has recently been under fire. Coke, Colgate-Palmolive, Coty, Mondelēz, and Tyson Foods have now installed chief growth officers. Seriously? What is a CMO’s focus if not profitable growth? Peter Drucker would turn in his grave. And let’s not forget: CMOs still get fired more than any other C-suite member. In many firms, “CMO” seems to stand for “Chief Most Out”.

The sobering truth is that CEO trust in marketers is low—and many CMOs aren’t seen as drivers of profitable growth. Researcher Whitler’s recent HBR article cites a study that found that 80% of CEOs don’t trust or are unimpressed with their CMOs. And our own large-scale global CMO study found that 33% of all top marketers don’t focus too firmly on marketing returns. These numbers are astonishing.

It’s complicated

Long-term brand building matters! The Bud frogs, the Geico gecko, Coke’s “It’s the real thing”: iconic campaigns like these still pay back today in terms of brand preference and revenue. You can’t put a price on that. But that’s exactly the problem. Much of CMOs’ work deals with the future. But the future can be hard to prove. Marketing professor Patrick Barwise paints a picture of the issue. What customers experience impacts the short-term revenue and profit. But almost every campaign impacts the brand’s long-term equity, too—and subsequently long-term sales and profits. However, measuring these long-term effects isn’t easy.

CEOs, CFOs, and shareholders understand the marketing measurement issue. But since digital makes short-term impacts more measurable than ever, the expectations are higher for CMOs to prove the long-term influence too (or spend less on it).

Yet, even under toughest circumstances, some CMOs manage to build high C-suite credibility.  Patrick Barwise’s and my recent CMO researchhas revealed that building this credibility requires strong leadership skills. The most respected CMOs install proper measurement systems, align marketing activities and company goals, and communicate with the C-suite—openly and free of buzzwords.

You sell or else

The purpose of advertising is to sell—ideally at a profit. Although this concept sounds obvious to the CEO, CFO, and shareholders, it has become uncool in the marketing community to just sell. The new big word is purpose. (Selling is a purpose too, but that’s not what people mean.)

Pressured by the need to become more purposeful in their output, CMOs have increasingly tried (and often failed) to gear their ads toward a greater good. Some of this year’s Super Bowl ad descriptions read like pressure group mission statements, highlighting cultural moments, inclusion, bridges between generations, and so on.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe brand purpose matters—and companies could do a much better job as global citizens (including paying their fair share of taxes). But when it comes to spending millions of dollars for 30 seconds of airtime, marketers better make damn sure they are getting some bang for their buck.

A report of consultancy Communicus last year found 80% of all Super Bowl ads fail to change consumer opinions and intentions regarding a brand, and only 10% of consumers remember having seen a given ad in the first place. Whether or not there’s a purpose involved, great ads still require a relevant message and an arresting creative execution to hammer the message home. This is called craft, and it’s key.

The reality is: Only thriving brands will have the power to affect significant social change.  At the end of the day, thriving means getting more of these fizzy drinks, room fresheners, and trucks into the consumers’ hands. David Ogilvy’s words still stand: We sell, or else.

PS: Tide appears to have won this year’s Super Bowl commercial battle by using the full spectrum of best practices: a relevant message, an arresting creative execution, event-dominance, and a sales-relevant product purpose: fewer stains.

Next year, the Patriots will be back with a fresh attempt to win the game. What if CMOs, too, would change the game in 2019? What if they leverage the high-profile Super Bowl event to communicate amazing creative work paired with clear business goals. What if they were to prove to stakeholders that marketing works? Through a strong focus on the marketing craft—and the leadership to keep the eyes firmly on the revenue line. It would be a battle worth fighting.

Lead your boss and colleagues–not just your team

Success in a customer-facing role is all about mobilizing two groups of people that most leaders overlook: their bosses and their colleagues (from my Marketing Week column).

Leadership. If there were a prize for the world’s most overused word, I’d give it to leadership. Yet much of today’s leadership buzz still points in one direction: downwards – leading your team. The perplexing truth is that leading your bosses and colleagues may be more important.

Let’s step back in time. In the early 1900s, top-down leadership and the theories of Max Weber et al were in fashion. Firms were pretty hierarchical then. The boss called the shots. Success meant getting the most out of the people below you and executives craved tips on how to lead the team.

And today? In a digital, global world, is the most important task still to lead your team? London Business School’s Patrick Barwise and I asked that question in a large-scale study. The answer might surprise you. Yes, leading your team still matters – of course it does – but today, leading your bosses and your colleagues matters more.

Why effective leaders must manage up, down, and sideways

Mobilizing your colleagues (or, leading sideways)

No matter how high you climb, in a customer-facing role, you’ll never call all the shots. There’s also production, sales, customer service, and so on. All of these together create the customer experience. To improve what customers get, executives must be able to lead sideways and influence their colleagues

The results of our research were striking. For the people in our study, knowing how to mobilize colleagues explained 22% of their business impact and even 32% of their career success. That’s pretty substantial.

Many people still hope to influence their colleagues by pushing business issues up the company’s seniority ladder. How? It’s simple. You convince your boss of an idea and then hope he or she will get everybody in the company to follow. This approach may work in some cases. But in our study, the most successful leaders have mastered a different approach: starting internal movements.

Lasting change happens when people really believe in an idea. Creating that belief is hard work, but it’s the most powerful way to mobilize colleagues.

Great mobilizers always tell a story. A story of hope. A story that captures people’s hearts and minds. Colleagues may like your software, system, or process, but to be excited by these things they need to see the ‘why’ behind your idea – the benefits to themselves and others. Take Ed Smith, former group marketing director of News Corp Australia, now heading up Amazon’s European marketing. When he installed a paywall at Australia’s iconic business daily, The Australian, he didn’t talk about profits; he talked about “saving quality journalism”.

>Of course, walking the halls and telling compelling stories is just the beginning. The next thing great mobilisers do is shut up and listen. To actualise change, it’s key to dig into people’s real concerns. Some counterarguments may simply be dumb. But more often, there are real issues on the table, and turning those problems into solutions is critical for change.

But even after a decision has been made with all that input, the job isn’t done yet. Colleagues expect leaders to get back to them and explain what was decided. It’s called ‘listen, decide, communicate’ (LDC), and it works.

Most importantly, making change happen also always means going first. Be the change you want to see. Get your hands dirty, get on the front line, get busy serving customers, live the case for change. It sounds corny, but this also works.

Mobilizing your boss (or, leading upwards)

Even in the 21st century, bosses still matter. If the customer isn’t high on the boss’s agenda, your projects won’t get a green light. Unsurprisingly, in our research, mobilising the boss explained 23% of people’s business impact.

The sobering truth with bosses is this: they call the shots, but they can be wrong (some people would argue that their bosses are wrong more often than they’re right). It’s human. Our world is complex. Senior leaders increasingly depend on the insights and challenge of their own teams. Played right, mobilising your boss is a true win-win affair. Your boss gets critical insights and ideas; your key projects get the go-ahead.

To lead upwards you must have a seat at the table. In customer-facing roles this means, foremost, building trust. But here’s the thing: most customer-facing projects are future-focused and their benefits are therefore hard to prove. No matter how good you are, what you say and promise may never be accurate. For bosses, it is easy to distrust you.

Building trust upwards starts with working on what matters. If what you do is seen as a big issue and a priority upstairs, you’ll be on the agenda. Great mobilisers always know what customers – both external and internal – need. People who fully understand what’s hot for customers and for the CEO, and act accordingly, simply have more influence.

One issue that almost certainly matters for bosses is return on investment. Because customer-facing success can be hard to measure and prove, there’s a latent distrust about whether you are spending the company’s money well. Try and create impressive returns, and then go overboard and prove them. Even estimates are 10 times better than saying nothing.

Even if you can show your returns, watch your language, especially if you work in a buzzword-prone role like marketing or customer service. Keep your language close to the revenue line. Nobody on the board cares about programmatic advertising or virtual reality. Talk revenue, customers and profit.

For people in customer-facing roles like marketing, times have changed. To make your customers happy and to pull off a successful career, you must lead your boss, your colleagues and your team. So when your leadership is upside-down – in other words you can influence upwards and sideways as well as downwards – you may actually be doing fine.

Don’t let technology become a confidence-drainer

The digital future is bright—but it’s complex and it nags on executives’ confidence. The new currency of expertise is having an overview (from my Marketing Week column).

Technology has penetrated almost every corner of the business. For the most part, that’s great news. What do customers want? What’s the most profitable sales channel? Which half of our marketing money is being wasted? Thanks to technology, we can now figure it out.

Business technology has virtually exploded. Digital expert Scott Brinker’s first Marketing Technology Landscapechart in 2011, for example, featured around 150 solutions. It’s now at more than 5,000.

At recent Dmexco, one of the largest digital marketing conferences, I found it impossible to get my head around the thousands of digital solutions on display. It was a zoo – or a massive party (however you want to look at it).

Business leaders aren’t the only ones witnessing the technology ‘big bang’. Harvard Business Reviewrecently listed the top 10 coming medical innovations, including regenerative and genetic medicine, surgical robots and virtual visits. A consultation room without a computer is now inconceivable in many developed countries.

Derailing the expert mind

Technology has a profound negative impact on leaders’ confidence. I recently did a little experiment. During my last conference workshops, I showed Scott Brinker’s technology chart and then asked the people in the room: “For you personally, are these new tools good or bad news?”

The results were striking. Every single time I asked, the majority voted for bad news. When I asked why, many people said that things have got too complex. Some even admitted they’ve lost trust in their own skills and question their competence.

This loss of confidence isn’t surprising, especially for experts. Take marketing: in many firms, marketing is a specialised role like HR or finance and marketers get hired because of their expertise in, say, branding, pricing or advertising. People give experts problems to solve and great experts come up with the right answer.

But suddenly, something’s changing: thousands of digital tools and technologies have come on the scene – more than any executive could ever grasp. Many experts don’t have all the answers. Not any more. And for someone who’s used to having all the answers, not knowing can be pretty disturbing.

As a result, many leaders are feeling the fear: “Am I still good enough? Will I ever learn the new skills? Have I got the right team?” If that’s you, you are in the company of millions of professionals who suddenly feel behind the curve.

First off, let’s accept most executives today feel a similar unease when it comes to technology – a bit insecure, perhaps frightened at times. By the way, it’s not an age thing. True, some people have grown up with the internet and know all Snapchat’s tricks. But ‘digital native’ doesn’t equal ‘digital business leader’. In fact, most young leaders have no clue how to profitably deploy technology for the business. The pressure is high for everybody.

It’s important for you to realise that, as a user of business technology, some level of unease is the new normal. Don’t let the tech-explosion pull you down. Instead, learn a new skill: the power of zooming.

Learn to zoom in and out

The new currency of expertise is having an overview. To thrive in a complex world, you must learn to zoom in to the lowest level of detail. But you must also be able to zoom out, to look at the business as a whole. It’s not either-or. Every business executive must learn how to dig deep and keep the overview. It’s zooming in and zooming out all the time.

I’ve worked with numerous C-suite leaders to help them deal with technology by zooming in and out. Here are two techniques that may help you too.

1. Always start by zooming out

Before even thinking of any technology or tool, step back and ask yourself the big business questions: what do customers really need from us? What’s the business’s biggest opportunity?

If you are new, answering these questions may take some effort. Talk to the leadership team. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Perhaps the answer is as simple as targeted advertising. Perhaps your biggest lever is to fix prices, improve the product or get more distribution. It’s possible that your most important business opportunity will have nothing to do with digital technology.

One CMO I recently worked with had figured out, after zooming out, that online catalogues for his company’s B2B customers were 10 times more important for revenue growth than paid search. But his team was all focused on search. It was a painful fix, but the new clarity gave him and the team much more digital confidence.

It can be tough to break the routine and think big-picture in an office setting. Take your team off-site for a day. Get a moderator in. Once you know it, write down the answer to this simple question: “For our organisation, what’s the biggest revenue and profit potential from technology?”

Once you have the overview, zoom in. Which tools are the best? How does this tool work in detail? Even as the department head, if you want to install new campaign management software, get your hands dirty. Try it out. See how easy it is to use. Look at the results. Even as a big-picture person, you must zoom in too to understand how your technology actually works.

2. Find partners who can zoom out

You’re likely to meet some of the 5,000-plus digital solution providers from Scott Brinker’s chart. Many of them have great solutions. But few will help you zoom out. Why? Because their tools tackle detailed issues like customer segmentation or campaign management.

Find partners who can help you zoom out too. In marketing, for example, a big challenge is making sense of all the company’s customer insights. That’s a big-picture issue that often requires artificial intelligence to solve. Can your partners help you zoom out? Find out. Ask them the same question you ask yourself: “For our organisation, what’s the biggest revenue and profit potential from technology?”

The next time you are drowning, zoom out of the digital waters and catch a glimpse of that big-picture horizon.

5 enduring secrets of marketing career success

The best marketers are masters of branding, pricing and communication. But pulling off a great marketing career is a whole other story (from my Marketing Week column).

“Let’s talk about your career.” If you ever want to stop a marketer in his or her tracks, try this sentence. Marketers aren’t exactly shy. When it comes to talking about brand and campaign success, no speech can be long enough. But when the talk turns to careers, most marketers keep a low profile. As a result, we don’t really talk much about careers in marketing. Perhaps we should.

It’s not all rosy. In a recent study more than 50% of all marketers said they weren’t happy with their career progress. It’s about time to talk careers.

Leading marketing isn’t the same as doing marketing. The empirical evidence is clear: the magic that makes it happen for your brand and your career isn’t the same. As we enter the New Year, take a step back and think about where you want your marketing career to go?

So, what matters for a rocking marketing career? To summarise the advice from all my articles so far, as well as the study Patrick Barwise and I undertook – the largest of its kind – here’s a list of the top five most important marketing career drivers.

1. Tackle big issues

You are more likely to get promoted if your work is seen as important. What do I mean by important work? First off, what you do must meet and exceed customer needs. But your work must equally matter to your company. Your CEO needs to know how your marketing contributes in a big way to the company’s objectives (typically revenue and profit).

For example, if you pump cash into a dying brand that the board has already written off, the work you do won’t be seen as important. But if you lower marketing costs through better efficiency during a firm’s cash crisis, your work will be seen as highly relevant.

Only when your work matters to both customers and the company are you on to a big issue. Balancing customer needs and company needs is a moving target. But no matter what: make sure the issues you tackle are big.

2. Walk the halls

As a marketer, you are in the business of change. You often want customers to change what they buy. You often want colleagues to change the way they serve customers. You can’t drive change through email.

Instead, you have to leave your office and meet with all the unique minds in your company. Discuss the need for changes face-to-face. Change leadership is a contact sport.

But let’s keep in mind that many of your colleagues may not be keen to shift budgets, alter products, install new software, and so on. In fact, as you leave the room after proposing big changes, many of your colleagues may simply hope you’ll get sucked into a big black hole.

So after you share your idea, shut up. Listen carefully to people’s concerns. Take notes. Only when you’ve heard all concerns will you later be best equipped to propose a final decision.

But even after all this, the process is not over. Instead, go back and explain to people how you’ve taken their ideas on board – or perhaps why you couldn’t. Not everybody will agree with you. But by walking the halls, you’ll pave the way for change to happen more quickly and more smoothly.

3. Be seen

Surveys have shown most marketers don’t consider themselves role models. Many think they don’t fit the mainstream model. Why? Because the marketing role in many organisations still isn’t fully understood (meet with any marketer of a large bank and you’ll see what I mean).

But here’s the thing: career success as a marketer, to a large degree, depends on people understanding your impact. And creating understanding of that impact is your job. This is why doing great work under the radar may help the company but will do little to accelerate your career.

Instead, make yourself seen as a driver of the business. Get to the front line. Work with the sales team. Help win a contract. Serve customers yourself. Model the change you want to see.

4. Inspire people to follow you

Why is your marketing job tricky? Because everybody can say no. Your customers can say no. Your boss can say no. Your colleagues can say no. Marketers can’t tell people what to do. This is why inspiring other people is your biggest weapon.

Facts are powerful, but people are more likely to follow you when they can see fire in your eyes. So how do you inspire people? What’s the trick? It’s simple. You yourself need to be inspired first, and people will sense it.

The next question is: what inspires you? Is it your product, your customers, your team, your company’s purpose, or simply the joy of seeing your products on the shelf?

5. Aim high

For decades, leadership books have hammered home the idea that leaders need a vision. But recently, the vision concept has become a bit unfashionable. You increasingly hear people say in interviews things like “good stuff will happen” or “you can’t plan too much anyway.” This may be true. But the statistical evidence for careers in marketing is pretty clear: marketers with a strong vision have significantly more career success.

Why? We all know that marketing is a tough job. Customer needs change constantly, and technology changes even faster. The daily pressures can be relentless. In this business environment, marketers without a clear market and career vision can easily get lost.

In many ways, the marketing role is amazing. I don’t know of any other job with as much freedom to shape markets and make real history – if you really want to.

So, what’s your aim? How do you want to make life better for your customers? How do you want to change your market? What kind of marketing career do you want? You could leave it to chance, but it’s better to aim high.

What did you do to propel your marketing career? I’d love to hear your stories.

Customer experience is a marketer’s biggest leadership challenge

Unless executives step up and take the lead, great customer experiences will remain a corporate fantasy (from my Marketing Week column).

Looking for buzzword bin go ideas? Just listen to virtually any CEO speech on customer experience (CEX). Although there has never been more CEX talk, the reality for customers often seems to be the exact opposite of what is said.

An airline says it flies “the friendly skies” but violently drags a paying passenger off one of its planes. Many hotels claim to put the customer first but happily talk guests into inflated currency conversion charges: “Do you want to pay in your local currency?” Say “yes” and pay up to 5% more for your stay (the hotel get’s a cut – for your convenience).

Wells Fargo says it wants to earn customers’ “trust” by behaving “ethically”, yet it was fined $185m last year because employees had opened over two million fake accounts to meet their individual targets and rack up profits.

If there were a race for the biggest gap between the CEX promise and the reality, many Fortune 500 firms, it seems, would be in great shape to reach the top spot.

Luckily, it’s not all bleak in the world of customer satisfaction (or customer delight or customer experience – different terms for basically the same thing).

The American Customer Satisfaction Index, for example, hit a new high in the fourth quarter of 2016. But the relentless cost pressure in many organisations poses a continuous threat to customer service: ‘Why not cut down on call centre staff for a few months? If people complain, we can still roll the changes back.’

As a marketer, never claim to own the customer experience; this will set you up for disaster.

While glossy brochures talk about “putting customers first”, the top internal KPI is often “cost per contact” (or similar).

New marketing software, in theory, could help serve customers better, but is often used to trim more costs. Airline Lufthansa, for example, now mainly relies on stiff IT-supported rules in its (outsourced) call centres, making it in my experience one of the world’s least generous carriers.

And many companies happily fill your inbox with messages – but prevent you from bothering them by hiding their phone numbers. If the current digital trend continues, customers could simply be worse off.

Customer experience advocates wanted

Here is the real issue: many marketers, despite all their conference talk, don’t play the prominent role they could (and should) play when it comes to the customer experience.

Of course, marketing will never determine the customer experience alone.Just imagine an organisation that offers the best possible customer experience. The service is five-star, winning prize after prize. To make such a great experience happen, how many employees have to join in? Many – perhaps almost everybody. And how many of these people typically report to marketing? Very few. But it’s also wrong to leave what customers get to operations, sales or accounting.

Marketers’ role is to serve both customers and the company – and this includes making the customer case loud and clear.

Customer experience leadership is about influencing the top management, mobilising the many people who don’t report to you, and stepping up to become a true customer authority, adviser and activist.

Becoming a CEX authority is the entry ticket to influence, but it’s a highly competitive game. It seems everybody from the chairman’s spouse to the junior IT recruit has a view on CEX.

Since the famous 2003 Harvard article ‘The one number you need to grow’ advocating the net promoter score, every CEO believes they know a thing or two about CEX. And thanks to digital, technology firms have flooded the market with hundreds of new CEX toys.

Be authoritative

To build your CEX authority, cut through the clutter and first understand your organisation’s basic CEX mechanics.

Which parts of your customer experience drive profitable revenue and which don’t? How much does customer satisfaction contribute to shareholder returns? How much of a given satisfaction change is structural – namely, owing to changes in market share? If you are unsure, a quick stroll down the aisle of current marketing journals will quickly smarten you up.

Step two: translate your insights into simple answers that everybody in the C-suite wants to see. How satisfied are customers, and why? How does that satisfaction impact on revenue and costs? Which are the most profitable CEX improvements your organisation should make now?

Some weeks ago, I sat in a board meeting where a CEO bashed her CMO for slipping NPS numbers. Instead of being an adviser, this CMO has become the fall guy for customer satisfaction lapses that he doesn’t even influence. This is the worst-case scenario.

Making marketing responsible for CEX is like making the GP responsible for your flu. The GP can diagnose your illness and advise you on how to treat it. In the same way, marketers should measure the customer experience and point out where the company could do better.

Don’t claim ownership

As a marketer, never claim to own the customer experience; this will set you up for disaster. Instead, aim to become the CEO’s CEX adviser. Have the most credible customer satisfaction data to hand and show continuously which parts of the organisation need to improve.

Data, however, will not replace your most important role: being your organisation’s number one customer activist. People can disagree with you but nobody can disagree with the customer in the long run. The customer’s voice is your most powerful argument, so be that customer voice.

But who, in today’s organisations, is the customer’s voice? Here is some chilling data. When a recent large study asked C-suite executives this question, only 13% named the CMO.

Even if I’m generously adding those who said ‘shared responsibility’ (24%) or ‘chief customer officer’ (14%) to the CMO numbers, it’s still only 51%. In other words, half of all C-suite executives don’t believe marketers represent the customer’s voice.

Granted, some marketers are still building their CEX authority. And some haven’t reached an adviser status yet – fine. But I can’t find a plausible reason why any marketer in the world wouldn’t be seen as the voice of the customer.

Being the customer activist inside a company can be tough, especially when everybody else is talking about costs. But as Henry Kissinger once said: “A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone.”

Influencing the customer experience starts with a simple task: becoming the undisputed voice of the customer. And if being that activist means standing alone at times – well, that’s what you get paid for.

A leader’s biggest asset is their ability to inspire

Many executives are keen to inspire customers. But to actualize great customer experiences, inspiring the organisation may just be as important (from my Marketing Week column).

When I’m not speaking at conferences, I sometimes teach masterclasses to help marketers raise their boardroom profile.

Not long ago, a technology firm asked me to extend one of my marketing leadership keynotes into a class for 30 of their senior marketing clients. The firm had come to realise that the best marketing software goes nowhere unless marketers get buy-in internally. I couldn’t agree more.

Why waste money on artificial intelligence in online campaigning when your sales team keeps filling your customers’ inboxes with uncoordinated parallel emails? Why install fancy customer experience software when your front-line staff are demotivated and treat people accordingly?

Success as a marketing leader is mostly about mobilising others – but many marketers find mobilising difficult.

What I didn’t know was this marketing leadership masterclass would become one of my most memorable ever. We kicked off with some group therapy, complaining about how difficult things are in marketing. “We’re currently going through a massive transformation” was the most commonly heard sentence. Change, it seems, is the new normal in marketing.

After shifting into productive mode, we analysed marketing’s zone of influence and tested powerful marketing leadership techniques like storytelling, walking the halls, and co-creation.

The highlight of this masterclass, however, came at the end when participants got up one at a time in front of the whole group to give a ‘change’ speech for all staff. These were very personal talks about where people wanted their organisation to go: why, how, and what’s next.

If you want your customers to feel prouder, or healthier, or better served then that’s your message in every meeting, every talk, every important document.

The first two speeches went well, earning friendly applause. The third talk stopped everybody in their tracks. A young B2B hardware marketer stepped to the front. An introvert, she hadn’t been too visible during the class, and people didn’t know what to expect. How exciting could B2B hardware be?

For a moment she collected her thoughts, and then she stunned everybody. In a short speech, she appealed to her company’s staff to bring back what she believed mattered most for their customers: pride.

She shared the story of a customer who talked with enthusiasm about his new toolkit. “I didn’t realise how personally important our tools are for customers – how proud they can make them.”

She concluded with a series of initiatives that would add to the customers’ sense of pride: more confident packaging, bolder design, aspirational sales catalogues, supportive call centre dialogues, and a new customer-exchange network. “We must always remember: when our tools make people proud, we’re unbeatable.”

You could hear a pin drop when she ended. And then enthusiastic applause broke out. When I asked for feedback, one participant hit the nail on the head: “It seemed like you really mean it.”

How to inspire others

‘You really mean it’, to me, best summarises what it takes to inspire other people. As a marketer, almost everybody around you can say no to your ideas: your colleagues, your bosses – even your team members. Your biggest mobilising asset is your ability to inspire. People don’t have to follow you. But if you sincerely inspire them – if you really mean it – you have a chance they’ll join your cause.

Here’s the good news: every marketer can be inspirational. There’s only one condition – you have to be inspired first.

What do you stand for? After I give keynotes, I often ask people to share with me their most burning priorities. Many talk about an overdue job promotion or the lack of a sense of purpose in their role.

If I were to ask these people’s colleagues ‘What does this person stand for?’, I might hear things like ‘ambition’ or ‘having a cool life’. There’s nothing wrong with that. But would I be keen to follow these marketers? Probably not.

Almost every marketing role holds amazing inspiration potential. I’m always baffled when marketers complain about a lack of purpose.

Make a conscious effort to show the fire in your eyes.

I get the purpose-issue when you work as a human slave in a mine or as an underpaid grunt just to pay your bills. But in marketing, unless you sell a seriously damaging product (and then, I guess, you must have strong reasons to do so), you can always understand customers better, serve them better, make better products for them. Why not start here?

Unilever’s Paul Polman has set himself and his company on an aspirational course to improve the quality of people’s lives. When Paul talks, you can see the fire in his eyes. His passion is not only believable, it’s contagious.

To be fair, when you’re in charge of in-store promotions, Polman-like inspirations can look pretty far-fetched; and when your day job doesn’t square with a highly Instagram-able purpose, you might get stuck. If that’s happened to you, it’s time to get unstuck.

Find your inspiration

If you haven’t found your inspiration yet, here’s a tip from my masterclass: imagine you’ll be leaving your company 12 months from now. I’m your customer. How will you have made my life a little bit better? Think about your customers first. Start small. Generate a few ideas. Perhaps none of these ideas will sound dazzling. Never mind. Pick one and push it for a while. See how big you can make it.

The year before McKinsey elected me as a partner, a senior colleague told me: “I love your work, but you are super uninspiring.” I was puzzled. How could I go the extra mile, over-deliver, and then be uninspiring? This was seriously chilling news. I was a telecoms marketing expert, but that wasn’t the point; people wanted to know what I was burning for.

My idea at the time was to make telecoms companies more customer-focused. But I didn’t think that purpose was grand enough to share with my colleagues – I didn’t believe it was even remotely exciting. I was wrong.

When I made my purpose front and centre, it not only inspired me more, it inspired the people around me. (Looking at today’s telecoms firms, I’m unsure how significant my impact was, but that’s for another article.)

Once you know what inspires you, double down on it. Make every interaction count. That’s what marketing means. If you want your customers to feel prouder, or healthier, or better served then that’s your message in every meeting, every talk, every important document. Make a conscious effort to show the fire in your eyes.

A few days ago, I followed up with the B2B marketer who had told the inspirational story in our masterclass. While she felt it was still early, she already counted two wins. She got a slot to speak at the next sales leaders’ conference. And she was invited to help redesign the call centre training, the first marketer ever to do so. “When I first told my story,” she said, “I was pretty nervous. It took all my courage, but it worked surprisingly well”.

As a marketing leader, being inspired gives you the courage to do what all customer leaders should do: think about customers, scrap your job description and do what’s right. So, what’s the fire in your eyes?

Strategy means nothing without leadership

The best marketing strategy will go nowhere if leaders can’t convince colleagues about the right course of action (from my Marketing Week column).

Some time ago, a CMO asked me to assess his global team’s capabilities. After two years and a six-figure training investment, marketing – in the eyes of other departments – was still seen as a lightweight function. My diagnosis stopped him in his tracks: “Deep functional expertise, but almost no leadership.”

Based on my assessment, 90% of his team was now digitally savvy. Half had attended a generic leadership course (with a focus on leading team members). But nobody had the most critical marketing leadership skills: mobilising people for change within the organisation. For this team, it was back to square one. They reminded me of my first career mistake: believing that a great marketing strategy is all it takes to succeed.

At the time, I worked for a well-known consumer goods company. I had just been promoted to marketing director. A member of the firm’s high-potential programme, I had completed numerous marketing courses, most with distinction. My career had reached a new height. But still, I was ready to leave.

Too often, marketers have the right answers but fail to lead the internal debate.

My brand was tricky: kitchen towels. Competition was cut-throat and we were losing money. Overcapacity meant producers were flooding the market with cheap products. Private label was on the rise. Rumours circulated about a major competitor entering. But that wasn’t the half of it. Our research clearly showed customers couldn’t care less about their kitchen towel brand.

I worked day and night on a radical turnaround plan. We had to bring costs down, simplify operations and cut the number of variants so our factories could run at full speed. On the shelf, we needed to draw more attention with a stand-out design, more convenient packaging and two new innovative variants. Customers, I learned, spend about one second deciding which kitchen towel to buy. This single second was the race we needed to win.

Lack of leadership

The turnaround plan earned me an MBA thesis distinction, but inside my company it went nowhere. With the competitor entry on the horizon, our well-intentioned product developers, going over my head, got the CEO excited about an expensive ‘blow dry’ technology, which would produce softer and more absorbent towels. I lost the battle.

Dismissing my turnaround proposal, the company embarked upon a multimillion-dollar plan to make towels that customers don’t care about a bit softer. I decided: if the company wasn’t ready to listen to marketing facts, I shouldn’t waste my energy. It was time to move on. I quit.

Later, I learned the hard way that my logic in quitting had one major flaw. Marketing isn’t just about great strategy work, branding, pricing or campaigning. Marketing is also – in fact mostly – about getting people in other departments to do the right things for customers.

This is the first time I’m sharing this back story, but it’s the reason I keep funding CMO leadership research (including, among others, what I believe to be the largest-ever study on CMO success, with London Business School’s Patrick Barwise).

Marketing is about getting people in other departments to do the right things for customers.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve literally sat through hundreds of C-suite meetings in which marketers presented excellent plans, but the board ignored them. What was going on? The answer is simple: someone else from operations, sales, or finance had already walked the halls to spread a different idea. Too often, marketers have the right answers but fail to lead the internal debate.

A big part of marketing leadership is shaping the debate at the top. To be heard by key decision makers, marketers must find the essential overlap between what customers want and what the C-suite wants.

Non-marketers don’t care about segmentation, attribution, programmatic or whatever the latest marketing buzzword may be. Claiming a seat at the top table means getting into the profitable revenue camp, in other words demonstrating how marketing work drives the business.

Digital is a distraction

What’s the opposite of a delighted customer? A United customer! The shameful ‘passenger dragged off a plane’ case demonstrated the people who deliver the customer experience don’t typically work in marketing.

That’s why marketing leadership is also about leading the many colleagues outside the marketing silo. How? The most successful marketers have a story to tell: a story of hope that invites colleagues to listen and join in. They measure customer satisfaction and share recommendations widely. They start movements through tests and pilots and create small successes that generate confidence in their marketing plans.

In my and Barwise’s global research, marketing leadership skills were the single biggest driver of CMO success – but they are still a rare find. In my work assessing marketing teams’ competencies, I consistently find that very few team members have ever considered taking any marketing leadership training. It’s no surprise, then, that these teams lack internal influence.

There’s another significant barrier to increasing marketing leadership skills in today’s world: digital. With all the current hype around big data, AR, VR, etc, marketers are so busy keeping up with new functional skills that leadership falls off the cliff.

Doing marketing just isn’t the same as leading marketing

The marketing team I mentioned earlier in this column had fallen into that trap. The CMO had put all the team’s eggs into the digital skills basket and created a group of highly capable eggheads.

But there’s hope, according to Marketing Week’s new Anatomy of a Leader research. Asked which skills will matter most for marketers in the future, 86% of respondents selected strategic thinking, 74% commercial awareness, and 61% relationship building (digital stuff comes out much lower). Will marketers get serious about leadership after all? I’m carefully optimistic.

PS, about the kitchen towels: I was right. Some time ago I learned that my company had exited the entire business. The technology investment was a disaster just as I had anticipated. But I felt no glee at this: I know it meant millions of dollars written off and hundreds of jobs lost.

Of course, many factors contributed to the failure. But even as a young marketer, I could have exhibited more leadership. Instead, I gave up after two presentations. And by giving up early, I was unable to prevent my firm from making an ill-advised technology investment. Well, doing marketing just isn’t the same as leading marketing.

You should never ask for a promotion

Too many executives ask for promotion based on tenure or their employer’s generosity. A better approach is to help solve a real company problem (from my Marketing Week column).

Not long ago, I spoke at a large international technology conference. The hall was crowded, full of tech-savvy marketers. After my keynote, a young guy kicked off the Q&A by saying: “I’ve been a brand manager for two years. My reviews are good. So I’ve asked my boss when I’ll be promoted. But she wouldn’t say. What should I do?” When he finished, the audience spontaneously applauded. The young marketer had obviously hit on a hot topic.

I was perplexed. Throughout my career I’ve promoted hundreds of people. And while I realise in many companies the promotion process can be a bit of a ‘black box’, promotions mostly follow simple principles – principles this marketer obviously didn’t know. In fact, from someone whose day job it is to understand customers and create compelling offers, his question struck me as naïve. But the applause had confirmed people in the room share similar concerns. Time to peel the onion.

“If I were your boss,” I said, “you’d have just given me a reason not to promote you. Let me tell you why. And, more importantly, let’s think about how you can make your boss an offer she can’t refuse.”

Why give you a promotion?

Let’s start with the basic target group insights. For our book, The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Patrick Barwise and I did some large-scale career research. We found there are three important promotion-triggers:

  • Reason 1: The promotion solves a problem. Perhaps the leader needs someone to fill a larger role. Perhaps she wants a person to stick around and not leave, or has committed to developing the next generation of leaders, and so on.
  • Reason 2: The leader is passionate about developing others and enjoys seeing people thrive. Often, these leaders scout opportunities for a select group of followers and push people up. In return, some expect loyalty and mutual support in the future.
  • Reason 3: The firm has a fixed promotion schedule. If a leader doesn’t believe a promotion is merited, she effectively has to prove why not. In extreme cases, like at McKinsey, this means ‘up or out’.

The need to solve a problem is far and away the most common promotion trigger, especially higher up inside the organisation. There may be regular promotions – from trainee to assistant, for example – but nobody gets bumped to CMO unless this solves a real company issue.

I looked back at the marketer who asked me the question. “So, where does your promotion fit in?” I asked. “Reason number 1, 2, or 3?” I could see the wheels turning.

You can always trust the system or hope to be on someone’s radar. There’s a better way. Make your bosses an offer they can’t refuse.

“I’m not sure what problem my promotion would solve,” he said. ”We don’t have a fixed schedule. My boss isn’t the biggest people person either. But it’s still unfair. I’ve done good work for two years.”

“So if none of the key promotion-reasons apply,” I said “what you are hoping for, then, is luck or mercy.” The young man nodded.

Here’s the thing: hoping for a promotion because you’ve been around for a while is like hoping for sales because your product has been in existence a long time. Tenure-based promotions may exist in old-style bureaucracies, but not in 21st-century marketing organisations. You’ve got to come at this in a very different way.

Lead on resolving a big issue

If your organisation doesn’t see the need to promote you, show that need. Prove how you could help solve a big company issue in a new role, and all eyes will be on you.

For example, Mark Addicks, the former CMO of General Mills, wasn’t pulled into his role. In fact, when he joined as a marketer, General Mills didn’t have a CMO. A few years into his job, he developed a plan for how General Mills should rethink marketing for a digital world and offered to lead the transformation as the company’s first CMO. He got the job.

If your organisation doesn’t see the need to promote you, show that need.

Another example: Harriet Green, former CEO of travel firm Thomas Cook, wasn’t headhunted. Instead she cold-called the chairman and made the case for how she’d turn the company around. She got the job.

When it comes to making a career move, successful leaders don’t take chances. Instead they figure out how the company can leap forward, and throw their hat into the ring.

So here’s how you can make your case for a promotion:

  • Define the big issue you want to tackle. How could your firm enter a new market, run better campaigns, create better products, save costs, act faster, or become future-proof? You’ll often need powerful numbers to prove your point.
  • Create a real action plan. What exactly would you do in month one, year one, and so on? It’s not enough to sketch out the big idea. People will trust you more if you’ve thought through the actual steps. It’s also important to be honest about what skills you bring and what you will learn in the new role.
  • After you’ve explained your plan, offer to lead the execution. Now you aren’t just selfishly asking for a promotion. Instead, you are showing that you’re dedicated to helping the company succeed and that you’re keen to lead the cause.

You can always trust the system or hope to be on someone’s radar. There’s a better way. Make your bosses an offer they can’t refuse. Show a big issue the firm needs to tackle. Then volunteer to get your hands dirty.

How “Listen, Decide, Communicate” (LDC) helps leaders make change Happen.

How to mobilize colleagues for large-scale change—especially if that change might be seen as unpopular?  Use your secret weapon: “Listen, Decide, Communicate” or “LDC”.Let’s examine each step of LDC separately.


First, seek out the key people who’ll be affected by the change and briefly summarize—not your project’s details—but its overall goal. Then be quiet and listen closely to their views.

Listening is much more than catching every word. It’s about understanding what’s going on in the room. Mark Addicks, long- standing former CMO of General Mills, said, when speaking about the best advice he was ever given: “Be humble and be a good listener. When it was given to me the word listen meant really observe. A person I worked with said, ‘Watch people. Watch their body language. Watch their level of commitment.’

In particular, try to understand four things when you’re listening:

  • Facts (What is this person’s understanding of the facts?)
  • Feelings (How do they feel about the issue?)
  • Beliefs (What do they think is the proper course of action?)
  • Assumptions (What do they think will actually happen?)

To help you remember your key learnings, take notes.

Close the meeting by recapping what you’ve heard. Tell them what you intend to do next and when you’ll get back to them.


Once you’ve gathered all the facts and views, decide on a course of action to take. In some organizations that means bringing together the leaders who need to make a formal decision. However you do it, get it done.


Once again, meet all the people from your first round. Tell them the decision that’s been reached. Show how you’ve done your best to address their concerns. If you didn’t choose their preferred option, explain why you didn’t. It’s crucial that they know they were genuinely listened to and their ideas considered. Close the meeting by thanking them for their contributions and asking for their support for the action plan.

Say’s David James, former CMO of British Telecoms, about one his most successful change project: “Rather than telling people what to do, we presented an idea, let them shape it, and shared the success.”

LDC is simply one of your most powerful techniques in mobilizing colleagues.

Source: The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Barta/Barwise

Dealing smart with “Get Me On Of Those” (GMOOT)

Everyone, from the junior IT recruit to the chairman’s spouse, seems to have a view on how customer innovation and marketing should be done. How to respond?

It’s a classic: a very senior leader tells their team: “Company X sponsors a soccer team. My husband said we should do that, too.” Or “Brand X has 100.000 Facebook followers. My wife believes we need to match that.” Or some other version of “Get Me One of Those” (GMOOT).

Every customer leader will – sooner or later – encounter the GMOOT-problem.

How to deal with a GMOOT?

Rule number one: be patient and polite. Try to take the opinions you hear as helpful suggestions. At least they show engagement—and some may even be genuinely useful!

As a steward of the customer’s interests, ask for evidence of the likely impact. If such evidence doesn’t exist, you may be able to put the GMOOT to bed quickly.

When a GMOOT would potentially put your effectiveness with customers at risk, stand firm, say no, and explain why you’re staying with your decision.

Most important: get used to it. The next GMOOT is probably right around the corner.

Source: The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Barta/Barwise

The three marketing gaps

Customer focusis a honorable thing. But it can be tricky–in part because of the three main gaps that every customer leader faces.

1. The Trust Gap

‘Trusted adviser’ is a common term in many languages. ‘Trusted marketer’ is not. But why are customer leaders not known for their trustworthiness? The answer is simple: because customer-focused activities are all about what could be—including future revenue. And this future focus causes problems. First off, it’s difficult to predict customer behavior. What customers want is changing faster than ever. Leaders can run tests and crunch numbers, but they can never guarantee success. In fact, nobody can, but customer leaders are the ones who feel the heat.

To make matters worse, it’s also difficult to prove the return on past customer investments. Especially when it comes to long-term brand building. That’s why, whatever a customer leader promises, always sounds less reliable—because it is.

2. The Power Gap

In 1956, marketing expert Reavis Cox wrote: “The marketing manager must have the attitude of a purchasing agent, an investor and a horse-trader all at the same time, if he is ever to achieve the overall control that marketing operations so urgently need.” Not much has changed. Today, most customer leaders don’t control all main revenue and profit drivers, including product, price, promotion, and distribution. And great customer experience involves many departments, and most of these departments don’t report to the customer leader. And success with customers always means convincing the many people in other departments. All customer leaders are facing this power gap.

3. The Skills Gap

Business tools and technologies are changing faster than ever. Take marketing for example: while TV, radio, and print still matter, there is an ever-growing pool of new marketing tools, including mobile, social, big data.

Getting themselves up to speed detracts significant energy from many customer leaders’ main task: driving innovation and profitable revenue growth. But more importantly, when it comes to new technologies, today’s leaders never know as much as they think they need to know. That’s why the rapid technological advancement undermines many leaders’ confidence.

Leading with a focus on customers has always been hard work. And it’s not getting easier. This is the reason why, in the largest global study on customer leaders’ effectiveness, we found that leadership skills significantly outweigh technical skills when it comes to factors in a customer leader’s success. Mind the gaps!

Source: The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Barta/Barwise

What is marketing leadership?

Doing marketing isn’t the same as leading marketing—and executives who master the art of leading marketing outperform the ones who don’t.

After many years of working closely with leading marketers, and through Patrick Barwise’s and my large-scale research for The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, we have established a clear picture of what it takes to succeed in marketing. High-impact marketers aren’t just customer gurus or advertising wizards; although these people know how to do marketing, the world’s most successful marketers know how to lead marketing.

Doing marketing isn’t the same as leading marketing. So what’s the difference?

Doing marketing is all about mastering technical skills like promotion and pricing. Unsurprisingly, many marketers score high when it comes to doing marketing.

Leading marketing, however, is a much broader task. It’s about helping the organization maximize the Value Creation Zone (V-Zone for short)—the crucial overlap between customer and company needs.

The V-Zone is a moving target. On the customer side, expanding the V-Zone means continuously understanding customer needs and ensuring that customers recognize why the company’s products and services are better than what competitors have to offer. On the company side, expanding the V-Zone requires knowing what the organization needs—in the CEO’s view—and mobilizing the many colleagues who don’t report to the marketer in order to create great customer experiences.

Whereas doing marketing means mobilizing customers, leading marketing means knowing how to mobilize bosses, colleagues, teams, and oneself to improve the end-to-end customer experience.

Marketing Leadership

The Four Dimensions of Marketing Leadership

Mobilize your Boss. Claiming your seat at the top table requires skill and focus. Success in marketing starts with a top-management perspective—a view on what’s important for customers and for the organization’s most senior leaders.

Mobilize your Colleagues. Most marketers don’t have everybody else reporting to them. That’s why, to get anything done, they must know how to mobilize their colleagues—including the many people who don’t report to them.

Mobilize your Team. World-class marketing is, of course, still about great product development, pricing, or advertising. Initially, marketers execute marketing tasks themselves. But sooner or later, they must learn how to build, align, and mobilize a team with the right combination of technical, creative, and interpersonal skills to deliver the brand strategy.

Mobilize Yourself. Mobilizing bosses, colleagues, and teams is exciting. But it’s also hard work. Especially when combined with the relentless time and budget pressure in today’s organizations, the process of mobilization can be demanding. That’s why marketing leaders must aim high and continuously find ways to mobilize themselves— to keep going when things get tough.

These four marketing leadership dimensions complement what marketers are already doing every day: mobilizing customers!

Here’s some good news: almost everyone can learn these critical marketing leadership skills. In our large-scale global research, we found that personality matters very little when it comes to a marketing leader’s success. Every marketer can start on this journey straight away.

Source: The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Barta/Barwise

The power of working inside the “Value Creation Zone”

Every firm needs customer-minded leaders. New research shows: these customer leaders do better when they serve both customer needs and company needs.

Leading with customers in mind can be tricky. In all organizations, customer leaders are facing at least two major challenges. The first is distrust. Many customer activities (e.g. innovation and marketing) tend to be future-focused and can’t be proven upfront. That’s why it can be hard to trust a customer leader’s projections. The second is a lack of power. The many people who are needed to make the customer experience great don’t report to these customer leaders. All customer leaders are facing this power gap.

How can executives overcome the trust and power challenges and gain the internal influence to actualize great customer experiences?

In our large-scale research for the book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Patrick Barwise and I took a closer look at the influence of customer leaders.

As one would expect, the most influential customer leaders understand customer needs very well. But that’s not half of it. The most influential leaders also understand and address their companies’ top needs. They are well aligned with the C-suite and know how to mobilize their colleagues.

Our research confirms: success as a customer leader is about maximizing the overlap between customer needs and company needs. We call this overlap the Value Creation Zone, or V-Zone for short.

To understand what falls within the V-Zone, let’s first briefly look at a situation that falls outside of it.

Suppose a customer leader considers the acquisition of new customers her main priority, but the CEO doesn’t share her view. In top management’s opinion, acquiring new customers is expensive and wasteful because so many of them leave before the company has gotten its money back. The CEO’s top priority is to increase customer retention. Such a disconnect spells trouble. In this case, the customer leader would be working outside the V-Zone, because what she cares about and what the CEO cares about don’t match. The company and its customers would likely suffer, and so would her career.

So: what’s it like working inside the V-Zone?

When customer leaders work there, they create value for customers (products, services, and experiences 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 leaders who primarily’ focused on the needs of customers, 67% stated that their business impact was high. But for those who focused on the needs of customers and the company both, that figure was 93%.

Continuously identifying and maximizing the overlap between customer needs and company needs is the foundation upon which customer leaders can build influence and success.

Source: The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Barta/Barwise

Getting Inside the Revenue Camp

Influential leaders are associated with profitable revenue. Too many executives aren’t. They’re missing out. Time to get into the revenue camp.

Profitable growth (the sustainable kind) is high on every CEO’s mind. In fact, next to strategy and organization, sustainable growth is most likely the number-one agenda item. That’s why leaders, who strive for internal influence, must side with the revenue camp—or else.

A cost center isn’t a good place to be. Because what will clever CEOs do with a cost camp? Reduce it.

In working with more than one hundred CMOs and CEOs for our book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, we identified a number of levers that executives can pull to in order to move into the revenue camp. Among other things, they must do the following:

Tackle only the big issues. Leaders must find ways to make their work relevant for both customers and the CEO. Only when both conditions are met can leaders get into the revenue camp.

Deliver returns, no matter what. Some things in business can’t be measured—but most can. Even if leaders see the evidence of their revenue success, others may not. It’s important for leaders to share how their work drives revenue.

Make the work transparent. Many successful leaders use simple models to demonstrate the link between their work and the resulting revenue or profit. These models tend to oversimplify things, true. But they can be extremely powerful for internal communication—especially if they’ve been developed in cooperation with finance.

Keep the language close to the revenue line. Perception is reality. If leaders talk revenue, resisting expert jargon, they’ll be more likely to be associated with revenue.

As a leader, if you want a seat at the top table, make sure you side with the revenue camp!

Source: The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Barta/Barwise

Being an ‘authentic leader’ may be harder than you think

Authentic leadership is a powerful idea. But if you believe authentic means ‘just being yourself’, you may end up in a mess (from my Marketing Week column).

Patrick Barwise and I consider ourselves lucky. Reviews for our book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, were pretty positive. Well, we’ve conducted the world’s largest CMO success study, and many CMOs have helped write the book. What else to expect than rave reviews?

Melanie (not her real name) doesn’t quite agree, however. After a recent keynote, she came up to me and said: “You teach us how the best marketing leaders made it to the top. But I have my own authentic style. I’ll be more successful if I don’t change too much.” A couple of people had joined Melanie by then. I saw many heads nodding when she made her point.

What followed was a fascinating discussion with Melanie and the folks around her about authentic leadership, and real life. In the end, we agreed that authentic leadership is a good thing. And I hope Melanie realised that to be an effective authentic leader, just being yourself isn’t good enough.

‘Authentic leadership’ is a fashionable buzzword. Like virtual reality, it goes well with your almond milk latte and quinoa bowl in a West End coffee shop. It sounds like the ultimate answer to the corporate job dilemma. Instead of fitting in, there’s now a new path to greatness: be yourself and success will come your way.

Bringing out your best

Before you get too excited, let me warn you that authentic leadership is widely misunderstood. And being an effective authentic leader may be harder work than you think.

As a partner at McKinsey (and a dean of the firm’s global leadership programme), I trained hundreds of consultants on how to lead without authority. As with marketers, authentic leadership is a big deal for consultants. We often had tough debates about whether consultants could be effective and completely authentic.

Senior partners would typically say: “Yes, I’m best when I’m just myself.” Meanwhile, younger leaders would tell stories where ‘being themselves’ simply didn’t get them anywhere. Who’s right?

A well-known INSEAD Business School professor once explained to me: “Authentic leadership means you build the legitimacy of your leadership on honest and ethical relationships, including by being honest about who you are, rather than trying to be someone else. It doesn’t mean ‘be yourself’.”

Before you get too excited, let me warn you that authentic leadership is widely misunderstood.

Two words stand out: ‘relationships’ and ‘honest’. Authentic leadership stresses the importance of relationships. It will indeed be difficult to build effective relationships if you just do your thing. It also stipulates honesty about who you are – including weaknesses. That too doesn’t translate to ‘do your thing’.

As a marketer, you are constantly trying to get a better deal for your customers and your company. That’s why you lead in the first place, and it typically requires lots of relationship building and negotiation. The most successful marketers I’ve met move the needle because of their particular leadership strengths. One is a stellar negotiator. Another tells great stories. Yet another can rally teams around big ideas. It’s pretty obvious: great leaders use their natural strengths to the fullest possible extent.

As a marketer, you must find and build your most authentic leadership muscles. If you’re unsure what they are, a decent 360-degree survey can be a good start. But make sure you also ask people around you for their views. Once you know what makes you effective, use it as much as you can.

Melanie couldn’t agree more. She, for example, is good at getting behind people’s real issues. Recently, she launched a new product at the speed of light because she addressed the concerns of the sales team early on.

Authenticity is amazing when it works. The sobering news is: we all display toxic behaviours too. We show off, cut people off, and so on. In a role like marketing, where you depend on lots of people who don’t work in your department, authentic behaviours like these can easily render you ineffective.

At this point, Melanie was getting angry. “If people don’t like the way I behave,” she said, “it’s their problem.” Fair point. Unfortunately, the facts won’t agree with her.

The authenticity trap

When we researched the leadership of hundreds of successful CMOs and CEOs, not a single one said: “My natural style is most effective.” Instead, everybody admitted they have learned to turn ineffective behaviours into effective ones.

But how do we deal with ineffective behaviours while continuing to be authentic? Strategy one: try to stop these behaviours. Anything you can do to reduce destructive actions will be helpful.

I, for example, start problem-solving the moment someone throws an issue at me, assuming my solution will work for everybody. Of course, it won’t. I’ve learned, after some feedback, to shut up and listen more. That’s still authentic but way more effective.

If getting rid of a destructive behaviour is too difficult or takes too long, consider strategy two: explain. Help those around you understand your less helpful behaviours, so they can handle you better. One well known CMO, for example, has a tendency to get angry in meetings. As a result, some people on his team have held back ideas simply to avoid conflict.

His behaviour was authentic but ineffective. When he asked his team to call him out when this happens, the effect was dramatic. Explaining helped him moderate his style, and it helped his team deal with the issue when it appeared. That too is very authentic.

Brilliant authentic leadership is about using what makes you naturally effective while honestly facing what doesn’t. That’s different from just being yourself. I’m not sure I’ve fully convinced Melanie. But if I were her customer, I would rather she be authentic and effective.

Marketers must stop being digitally naïve

The label ‘digital’ makes marketers throw all leadership rules overboard (from my Marketing Week column).

I love technology. When new tech stuff comes out, I immediately fall victim to the ‘wannahave’ mentality. For some it’s shoes. For me it’s gadgets. But too often, the adrenaline kick is short-lived: great idea, no real use. There go my Apple Watch, fitness belt, smart charger and pocket drone. My ‘uncool drawer’ is full of items like these. But hey – worst case, I’ve burned through a couple of hours of my time (and a few pounds worth of cash).

How do you make a room full of marketers ditch all rules and follow you blindly? It’s simple. Get on stage, say the word ‘digital’ 10 times and then follow it up with a flashy movie. Not a single marketing conference goes by without some guru trumpeting random digital assertions at their nodding audiences. What worries me more than my own habits is the digital wannahave mindset these talks create.

The rise of the ‘digital naïve’

Let’s face it: around the globe, marketers spend big bucks on digital marketing tools and advertising without any real strategy (let alone business goals). When challenged, people throw out buzzwords like ‘customer experience’ or ‘buying journeys’ in order to mask what is often a mindless digital shopping spree. It is puzzling. Don’t get me wrong: I believe digital tools are crucial for business success – in fact they may even transform your brand’s customer experience. But blindly jumping on the latest digital bandwagon doesn’t make anyone a digital native – in reality, that’s just digitally naïve.

It was refreshing to read recently that Procter & Gamble is cutting $100m from its digital advertising budget. According to the company’s finance chief Jon Moeller, that spend was largely ineffective.

Just to be clear, he did not say that digital marketing is ineffective, or that P&G will stop digital marketing altogether (they won’t). And for a firm that spends $2.45bn per year on US advertising alone, $100m is pretty much peanuts. What is marvellous about P&G’s move is the leadership message it sends: we tried this and it didn’t help the business, so we are changing course.

There is much to learn from the P&G case, and here is what I would advise you to take from it.

1. Begin with the end in mind

There is one (and only one) reason why your marketing department exists: your organisation wants to sell more stuff to more people at a profit. When brilliant marketers pick tools, they want maximum bang for their buck. Unfortunately there’s now so much digital dust clouding their view that some don’t see the wood for the trees.

If you step back for a moment, what exactly is the business problem that you are trying to solve with digital? How much additional revenue and/or cost reduction are we talking about? If you are unsure, then ask yourself: How will this tool help us to reach or serve people better? That answer goes in the effectiveness bucket. And how will this tool help us to reach or serve people at a lower cost? That one goes in the efficiency bucket, or in some cases in both.

For example, I love checking in for a flight online. Choosing my seat from a visual map betters my travel experience and the airline saves tonnes of money. That’s a win-win scenario.

What is marvellous about P&G’s move is the leadership message it sends: we tried this and it didn’t help the business, so we are changing course.

Digital may well be the magic touch your organisation needs in order to leap forward. But you have to put down your magic wand and pick up a calculator instead. P&G did the maths and figured out that the $100m it has since cut from digital advertising was delivering neither growth nor cost savings. The obvious conclusion: uncool drawer.

Doing your digital maths is now urgent. When digital marketing was new, you got away with spending blindly. But in many C-suites patience is now running out. People want to see results. Perhaps your digital suppliers won’t like putting together a business case as their goal is simply to sell to you, but just imagine you set financial goals together, achieve them, and spread the word. It may save their business – and yours.

2. Try, don’t lie

As a marketer you’re always going to face a trust gap. Why? Because marketing is about future business. It’s way easier to trust a finance bloke who’s adding up yesterday’s numbers. Build credibility in your organisation by being honest about what you know and where you’re simply experimenting. Even a tough chief finance officer will understand when you say: “We are trying this new digital tool; we hope it will deliver X, but it’s a test.” To stay credible, never sell a digital experiment as a proven method for success.

3. Have the courage to course-correct

P&G gave digital advertising a try – big time. It hasn’t quite worked out for them yet, so as a result they are changing course. To me this isn’t failure, but rather an example of strong leadership. If customers don’t hear your digital message, what’s wrong with checking out TV or direct mail again?

Here’s the issue: too many marketers don’t dare to challenge digital because it’s a wannahave item for them (or worse, for the CEO). But as a marketer you must have the courage to learn and at times change direction.

Digital marketing may be your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve customers better – and to make the an internal business case for investing in the customer with real data. To get digital right, begin with the end in mind, experiment honestly and have the courage to course-correct.

So, are you a digital native, or are you digitally naive?

Storytelling is a marketing leader’s most important skill

Marketing is only one piece of the customer experience puzzle. To create a truly remarkable experience, other departments must also be heavily involved. The challenge is that colleagues in these other departments don’t perhaps report directly to you. You must find ways to mobilize them, starting with sharing your vision through a powerful story (from my column).

It’s no secret: powerful words help leaders to mobilize their people. Dusty McCoy, CEO of marine, fitness and billiards company Brunswick, for example, tells his staff, “We do what we say, and we say what we do.” Microsoft’s Satya Nadella used “Mobile first, cloud first” to describe his new company direction. And most of you will remember Apples’ “Think Different,” which has served as both external and internal aspiration for years.

In our recent global The Marketer’s DNA study, Patrick Barwise and I could prove for the first time that visioning and storytelling are sizable factors in marketers’ business impacts, especially for career success. Ford’s former CMO, Jim Farley, even told me, “Storytelling is your most important skill as a marketing leader.”

Of course, you don’t have to be the marketing super-hero of a Fortune 500 company to use stories effectively. Consider the example of Jaime , a marketing manager whose customer vision helped transform an ailing door handle business. In a speech delivered to his staff, he said something like: “For generations, our products have been used by millions. Let’s become the number one choice again. We can’t compete on price. But customers have told us how to win: let’s make quality our hallmark, but let design be our new signature. Because when we do, customers will say: ‘I want this one exactly—this feels great, and it looks great.’ Let’s all write history together. I need your ideas for how to make the best and the most attractive products again. Let’s put our door handles back in people’s hands.”

So, how can you write a story that captures people’s imagination? Make sure that you include three essential elements: heart, head, and how-to.

1. Heart: An inspiring vision

A great story has a big aspiration that people can sign up for. In the door handle case, this was “becoming the preferred choice again,” and “writing history.” Stories like these can get people’s imaginations going, but craft them cautiously; people can quickly turn cynical if your ideas are too far-fetched (e.g., take over the whole market, change everything we do). Unrealistic stories also hit the heart–just in a way you don’t want. The best stories are simple and paint hopeful, yet realistic, pictures of the future. Try to find memorable phrases for your story. Jaime’s “Let’s put our door handles back in people’s hands” or Dusty McCoy’s “We do what we say, and say what we do” are words that people can easily recall.

2. Head: Credible evidence

People may disagree with a leader–but nobody can really disagree with the customers (at least not for long). Make sure you include credible evidence, ideally from customers. The marketer at the door handle company used the customer response in the product test to make his case for design: “I want this one exactly.” To make your story believable, include evidence and ways for the company to achieve its dream.

3. How-to: Personal relevance

Suppose you’re a staff member listening to your leader’s vision. Immediately you ask: “How does this affect me? What do I need to do?” Make sure your story answers questions like these. Jamie stated directly, “I need your ideas for how to make the best and the most attractive products again.” He invited his colleagues to act.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said: “A leader is a dealer in hope.” As a senior marketer, to give colleagues hope and to mobilize the organization in the customer’s interests, you need a powerful story. What’s yours?

Facts alone aren’t enough to change people’s minds

For leaders to overcome strong beliefs inside the company, showing facts may not be enough. Your better bet is to ask a powerful question: “How, exactly?” (from my Marketing Week column).

Shortly before the 2016 US presidential election, a nuclear bomb hit the Trump campaign. A video showing Trump making sexist remarks about women was leaked. What happened next was more puzzling than the video itself: even among female supporters, Trump’s approval ratings didn’t really move much.

Facts, it seems, aren’t always enough to change people’s minds. But what does?

Often, after a talk, someone will say to me: “I’d love to try what you suggest, but my boss has very strong views.” The biggest roadblocks to company progress are stubborn beliefs.

Every manager can tell stories of when the best facts weren’t good enough to tip people over. In 1977, Digital Equipment Corporation’s CEO Ken Olsen was absolutely convinced when he said: “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Nokia’s leaders, at the turn of the century, believed the iPhone was a niche product. Neither Olsen nor Nokia’s management wanted to pay attention to facts that would prove them wrong. We all know where it ended.

Strong beliefs exist in virtually every company and every department. Be it female quotas, performance-based pay, or simply the question of whether TV advertising is right. Beliefs often trump facts. As a leader, running up against strong beliefs can mean anything from annoying you to derailing the company’s most important future initiatives.

Fighting confirmation bias

When colleagues reject our ideas, our natural reaction is to reiterate our points or, even better, to counter with insights: ‘the test results have shown…’, ‘customers have told us…’, ‘a new study proves…’. In most cases, this evidence strategy works. Powerful facts should be your weapon of choice. Yet, there are cases when arguments and facts will not do the trick.

I’m sure you have heard about confirmation bias: we tend to seek out information that confirms our pre-existing views and reject information that contradicts them. Trump’s opponents, for example, took the sexist video as further proof of his inability to lead the country, while his fans saw it as evidence of an authentic leader (‘just a normal bloke’).

Having a view on things is actually a great thing. It allows you to stroll along a supermarket aisle without going crazy thinking: “Is this safe to eat? Will this make me sick?

You have pretty much made up your mind that most supermarket food is safe or, worst case, will make you fat. Strong beliefs help us simplify so we can survive in this complex world. But that simplification makes us – and all our colleagues – stubborn too.

We have a tendency to overestimate what we know (yes, you too!) To change others’ strong beliefs, however, that overconfidence is the critical loophole.

Researchers at Yale University undertook a fascinating experiment. They asked students to rate how well they understood everyday items, such as flush toilets or zips. On average, the students gave themselves high marks, saying they understood these things well.

Next, the researchers asked the students to write step-by-step explanations of how these devices work, and then rate their understanding again. Suddenly, the self-assessments dropped (it seems we even don’t understand day-to-day items like zips as well as we think).

What can the zip case teach leaders? It tells us that confidence in one’s strong position can erode when we explore the position in much more detail.

Deep questioning

All decent leadership books have a piece on listening. If you haven’t already, read that listening section this week. In any change project, listening to people is key – before you make decisions, and afterwards too.

I call this process LDC: listen, decide, communicate. LDC is how The Australian newspaper’s former marketing director Ed Smith convinced his colleagues to introduce successful paywalls. And LDC is what former BT marketing director David James did to convince the brand’s management to fast-track the launch of the BT Sport channel, grabbing the market before competitors could.

By giving people a voice and making them a part of the solution, LDC turns pushback into problem solving.

But every so often you’ll hit a wall of strong views – the moment when listening and debating will not work. Imagine, for example, your boss suddenly believes sponsoring Formula 1 is a marvellous idea for your brand (even if facts show it’s a waste of money). That is when your best bet is another powerful technique: ‘deep questioning’.

It means asking the person to explain step-by-step how things would play out. In the example above, you would ask your boss for details on how that sponsorship would work, how much return it would generate for each dollar spent, how exactly a logo on a car will trickle through to how people shop, how sponsorship compares favourably to in-store promotions, etc.

Like with the zipper, forcing your opposition to detail how things will play out will help them see the aspects they (or you) haven’t thought about. And that is when the door slips open for your facts to come in again.

“How, exactly?” is your most powerful question.

Deep questioning is listening on steroids. It’s helping people see the flaws in their own thinking, so facts have a chance again.

Sure, deep questioning isn’t a silver-bullet solution when you hit push-back. But it’s your best bet for tackling the really wicked barriers to change: people’s strong beliefs. You have only pushed the limits when people say “stop listening to me”.

If CMOs don’t stand for growth, they stand for nothing

Coca-Cola’s ditching of its chief marketing officer role for a chief growth officer is a clear warning to CMOs: stand for growth, or lose it all(from my Marketing Week column).

Replacing the Coca-Cola CMO with a chief growth officer may make temporary sense for the company. But it’s deeply troubling news for marketing’s C-suite reputation.

When the news broke that Coke’s incoming CEO, James Quincey, will ditch the global CMO position and install a chief growth officer (CGO) instead, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. Why would a CEO replace a top marketer with a revenue officer? It’s like a club owner replacing the DJ with a dance floor-filler. It’s every DJ’s job to fill the dance floor. It’s every CMO’s job to drive revenue. What’s the point?

The perplexing CGO phenomenon has been around for a while now. Faced with sluggish growth, consumer goods giants like Colgate-Palmolive, Coty, Mondelēz or Tyson Foods have vocally installed chief growth officers to “accelerate growth efforts” or to “bring focus and growth to our platforms”. Even my former McKinsey colleagues jumped on the CGO bandwagon.

Yet, a quick look at the above companies’ last three years reveals revenues are still in free fall. To be fair, declining revenues may be a function of divestments, currency effects and whatnot. And perhaps the work of these CGOs has prevented even steeper declines. But as it stands, adding a CGO appears like a desperate symbolic move.

CMOs lack C-suite influence

I sometimes wonder: has the title CMO fallen out of fashion? Is chief growth officer for CMOs what Zumba is for aerobics? Kind of the same thing, but cooler? Why not? As long as good marketers help the company grow by serving customers better than competitors do, great. Who cares if their title is chief marketing officer, chief growth officer, or chief whatever officer?

As long as marketers position themselves as experts in advertising instead of being growth drivers, we’ll see more CMO positions disappear.

Unfortunately that’s not what’s happening. Instead, marketing in these companies slips down a level. As a result, even top marketers like Mondelēz’s Dana Anderson don’t report to the CEO.

There’s clear empirical evidence that companies with CMOs and strong marketing departments outperform their peers. To ignite growth, the logical move would be to lift the CMO into the C-suite and to build strong leadership skills within the marketing team. Why a chief growth officer instead?

The troubling truth is this: many marketers aren’t seen as growth drivers. To understand the issue’s magnitude, look no further than search firm Russell Reynolds’ recent chief growth officer study. Summarising what CEOs think, the consultants conclude that CGOs aren’t just enhanced CMOs. They are growth-focused brand builders, trusted CEO advisers, and internal connectors who align conflicting agendas.

Hold on—let’s think about this. What, if not growth, is a CMO’s focus? How, if not by being the trusted CEO adviser and spanning silos, could any CMO make the right things happen for customers inside a company? What the report describes is simply what you would expect every proper CMO to be. I’m pretty certain Peter Drucker would turn in his grave if he saw this news.

Losing trust in marketing

So what’s happening at Coke? It’s a well-known secret that with consumers, the firm has lost its fizz. Outgoing CMO de Quinto managed to free up funds for growth. But latest reported revenues are still in steep decline. CEO Quincey needs to act fast to turn the company around. So what’s wrong with him using the sexy CGO title to signal change?

Unfortunately the issue is bigger. It appears Quincy just doesn’t trust the company’s marketers to drive growth. Marketing will loose the boardroom seat, reporting to the new CGO. And in the departure note, outgoing CMO de Quinto gets foremost credited for the quality of Coca-Cola’s advertising, new visual identity and resulting productivity improvements. The new CGO, however, has a “clear mandate for driving global growth” (which the old CMO didn’t have?).

As long as marketers continue to position themselves as experts in advertising, brand positioning, millennials and the latest digital fads – instead of being growth drivers – we’ll see more CMO positions disappear in favor of whatever the next marketing Zumba is.

The message is pretty simple: as a marketer, stand for growth—or else.

Being late makes marketers look like overwhelmed leaders

Marketers have a reputation for being overwhelmed and always late, but it does not have to be that way (from my Marketing Week column).

It was one of those baffling days. I was giving a closing keynote speech at a conference, but the event ran late and my slot was pushed back by an hour. The following leadership dinner talk started late too, because the marketing team hadn’t left the office on time.

There is probably a reason why no language knows the term ‘punctual like a marketer’. But why are marketers always late? Is it the system? The people? And, for marketers, does being late actually matter? Let’s start by exploring the last question.

The overwhelmed leader

Being constantly late creates a huge reputational challenge. When Patrick Barwise (co-author of The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader) and I recently compared how more than 14,000 superiors rate their people, we made a stunning discovery. Marketers are seen as the most stressed out staff: 20% of all bosses believe marketers never seem to be able to complete all their work.

Meanwhile, 39% say marketers’ workload is too heavy, though only 12% believe CMOs have too many responsibilities. Perhaps it is no coincidence that bosses give marketers strikingly low reliability scores: just 49% believe marketers uphold high performance standards.

As a marketer, each time you run late, let people wait, and then rush in to say you had something really urgent crop up, you’re simply building your brand as an overwhelmed leader. And if you believe looking super busy makes you cool, trust me, it doesn’t. I know first-hand of CEOs who have given important projects to non-marketing leaders because they were seen as more reliable. And I have worked with too many marketing teams whose unreliable bosses made the work environment toxic.< If you believe looking super busy makes you cool, trust me, it doesn’t. So, yes, being late does matter, even for marketers. But are there good reasons for the inherent lateness in marketing? Or is it all just bad behaviour.

Good causes of lateness

Marketers are among the most open, creative, and curious leaders. When we asked over 1,200 CMOs to rate themselves, 90% strongly agreed that they are open and creative. Marketers’ curious personality allows them to figure out what customers want, ‘feel’ what’s right for the brand, and create brilliant promotions customers love.

But here’s the flipside: as a marketer, your openness means you are more easily distracted. When something interesting happens, you may simply forget time and space.

Let’s be honest, the inner clocks of marketers and, say, finance leaders tick differently. When the accounting department takes its first coffee break, the lights in the marketing suite may still be out. And because marketers start later than their peers, many have a constant feeling of having to catch up (which they won’t, so they run late). Yet changing your inner clock is difficult.

Another reality is that the marketing day job can be unpredictable. At a recent conference, the moderating CMO had to leave abruptly to initiate an urgent product recall. When CMOs meet with customers, happy or angry, it’s sometimes difficult to log out. I’m certain Budweiser’s vice-president of marketing Ricardo Marques had emergency meetings after its recent Super Bowl ad, ‘Born the Hard Way’, created an uproar among Trump supporters.

Internally things can be difficult too. Most people who create the actual customer experience do not report to marketing. And when a new product or campaign gets unforeseen push-back from other departments, emergency meetings are often needed. It’s hard to plan for these things.

Yes, marketers have many important reasons to change plans. Just ensure you handle these well, build in buffers, inform people ASAP, and reschedule instead of turning up late.

But there are less good reasons for lateness, too.

Bad reasons for being late

First, bad planning and fuzzy priorities. When we asked the CMOs about their focus level, only a sobering 60% said they were very focused. It’s true marketing is very dynamic. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have goals, plans, and daily priorities.

Sticking to priorities is more difficult for open and creative people (I know all about it). But it’s totally doable – and if you lead a team, it is absolutely necessary. If you struggle, get any (I literally mean any) time management book. This stuff is easy.

Second, doing it yourself instead of delegating. Marketers are born experts. And great experts are supposed to know all the answers. That’s why, even when leading teams, many marketers still want to be the expert.

Ask each of your team members to write on a blank sheet of paper the team’s top three priorities. Compare. If everyone is aligned, great job! If not, it’s entirely your fault.

Instead of ensuring people understand the big goal, these leaders try to control every answer, look at every execution, and approve all the work. The result is last minute changes, stress and constant delays.

Try this: ask each of your team members to write on a blank sheet of paper the team’s top three priorities. Compare. If everyone is aligned, great job! If not, it’s entirely your fault. Instead of spending 90% of your time controlling and doing, spend 90% explaining. Or as Aviva’s brand communications and marketing director Pete Markey says: “Let your team loose to be brilliant.” Your capacity will expand exponentially.

Third, believing your role modelling doesn’t matter. When you let people wait, it means you have not prioritised them. You had more important stuff to do. That’s just bad behaviour. Yes, you are very important, but in another way: you are a role model and a force multiplier. If you are late, your team will also be late.

Even worse, there’s a knock-on effect. If you meet 10 people and arrive 15 minutes late, you have just created a delay of 10×15 minutes plus your own. That’s 165 wasted minutes.

In my CMO study, only 52% of CMOs saw themselves as role models. That’s a chilling finding, and you can change that. Starting today, multiply any delay you cause by the number of people you meet. This week’s goal: come in under 15 minutes each day. Next week’s goal: zero.

Marketing is a crucial business function with an often unpredictable schedule. However, there are good and less good reasons for being late. Evidence shows marketers can be reliable and on-time.

Let’s get rid of that sticky ‘overwhelmed’ brand image. It matters.

Oh, gotta go to be on time for my 3pm!

Why CMOs are always the first to go

The average chief marketing officer in large U.S. firms leaves after just 4.1 years, while the CEO stays around for eight. It is not good for business (from my column).

Korn Ferry’s latest numbers make for a chilling read. According to the search firm’s brand new C-suite study, top marketers are the first to fall off the C-suite cliff—staying half as long as their bosses.

The study found that the average CMO in large U.S. firms leaves after just 4.1 years, while his or her boss, the CEO, stays around for eight. No other C-suite executive gets fired (or decides to leave) more often.

It may be true that the CMO role can be difficult. But there’s a lot CMOs can do to make it in the C-suite.

CMO: It’s Complicated
“Today’s customer-centric CMO role is exceptionally complex and requires the right balance of left as well as right brain skills, and, very importantly, a differentiated set of leadership competencies … In some cases, short tenure can be attributed to the organisation not being well aligned behind the change that the CMO is tasked with leading,” said Korn Ferry expert Caren Fleit.

CMO failure is a big issue—not just for the CMO but for the company, too. If CMOs fail in making the organisation customer focused, its long-term prospects will suffer. And if CMOs move on, they may take years of customer understanding, new product ideas, and growth strategies with them. CEOs and marketers have an obligation, then, to be jointly successful. But how?

Leading The Way

Success in the CMO role is all about leadership. Patrick Barwise’s and my latest large-scale CMO research confirms the need for strong CMO leadership competencies. In our global CMO research, leadership competencies explained over half of what makes CMOs successful (55%). Successful CMOs know how to lead teams. But, more importantly, the best CMOs excel at leading upwards (their bosses) and sideways (their non-marketing peers). Functional marketing skills, in comparison, were much less important (>15%).

The good news: for success, things CMOs have little control over, such as personality, industry type, or gender didn’t matter that much (all below 5%). But CMOs can learn the specific leadership skills listed above!

The Tough Parts
Even for the best CMOs, influencing the “wicked” problems inside many organisations that drive a quarter of CMO success (25%) can be hard:

  • Conflicting goals. If sales, production, R&D, and business units within one company are chasing different goals, it can be hard for marketers to cut through. In our research, lack of internal alignment is the number one complaint of CMOs. It’s important that marketers spell out this problem, involve the CEO, and press for more alignment—wherever possible.
  • Small budgets. This isn’t to say CMO success requires big budgets. But some marketers’ funds are so tiny that you wonder why there’s a marketing department at all. Marketing budgets are investments in future revenue. CMOs must continuously make the case for these investments—ideally together with (not for) finance.
  • Lack of clarity on what marketing actually does. Everybody knows what finance does and what to expect from HR. But, for marketing, things can be fuzzier. In some companies, marketing is principally in charge of the “4Ps,” while in others it’s just “advertising” (most organisations fall somewhere in between). We all know that satisfaction is the difference between what we expect and what we experience. And if people don’t know what to expect from marketing, life for CMOs can be tricky. It’s, therefore, essential that top marketers create extreme clarity around how marketing helps the company succeed.

Here’s a piece of advice for the problem that’s hardest to solve. What if, despite best attempts, the CEO and the rest of the top team still don’t get customer focus? What if they talk the talk but don’t support marketing efforts to build long-term value for the customers and the company? Start looking for another job! If the CEO really doesn’t understand the necessity of customer focus, CMOs are on a road to nowhere, and the company is probably doomed. Get out while you can.

How to recruit the wrong marketers?

What’s the best tool for recruiting the wrong people? A long competency list. If you want too much, you may simply not spot the best marketing leaders. Cut to the chase and ask yourself a simple question: “What distinctive skills do we need?” (from my column).

People often tell me: “finding the right team members is difficult”. When I ask to see their job descriptions, they invariably show me needlessly complex documents.

For example, one leader gave me a list of the traits for a new marketing manager in her customer retention group. It had nine personality traits (agility, creativity, entrepreneurship, flexibility, innovation, openness, self motivation, tenacity, tolerance) and seven functional skills (below the line marketing, customer profiling, content creation, campaign tracking, data mining, retention pricing, retention promotion management). When I questioned the long list, she admitted what really mattered were data mining skills and entrepreneurship. The rest were just standard competencies of their HR framework. No wonder her team could never agree on a candidate!

Don’t get me wrong: Most competency lists are well intended. But for marketing leaders, long lists create two big problems. First, you and your team will have a hard time picking candidates because you have too many variables. Second, such long lists often produce average hires who “tick all the boxes” instead of bringing distinctive skills.

For building a winning team, focus matters. As a McKinsey Partner, I’ve interviewed and hired with my team hundreds of the brightest future marketing leaders. Finding the best people was hard—but never difficult. For each candidate, our team conducted separate interviews. We then compared notes on three to five criteria. A winning candidate had to be above the bar on all criteria—and distinctive in one. In 90% of cases we agreed on a candidate within ten minutes. The McKinsey approach is still widely credited as one of the most successful.

“What distinctive skills do we need?” Answering this simple question helps you be clear on what you are really looking for in a candidate.

It’s All About Value Creation

Your marketing team exists to expand the Value Creation Zone (or “V-Zone” as Patrick Barwise and I call it for short)—the overlap between what customers want and what the company wants.

Your “V-Zone” determines the distinctive skills you are looking for. For example, a team that wants to increase margins by 55 percent through retaining the company’s best customers looks quite different from a team that aims to grow revenue by entering new regional markets.

Once you are crystal clear about your team’s Value Creation Zone, define three things:

1. The Distinctive Functional Skills

Don’t write a long list of basic skills (most decent marketers will have those skills anyway). Focus on the top one or two distinctive skills— the things the individual must truly excel at. PS: Make sure you’ve thought about both analytical and creative skills: most marketers focus on one of these, rather than both, reflecting their own personal preference and interest.

2. The Distinctive Personality Traits

For your team, which top one or two personality traits matter most? Do you mainly need people who are entrepreneurial? Or people with a lot of stamina who’ll never give up? Ideally, you’d have all of these, but which are the traits that will really make a difference?

3. The ‘No No’s’ (The ‘No Asshole’-Rule)

Find people you like to hang out with,” says Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. Agree the one or two personality traits that are an absolute “no no” for your team.

If your list gets too long: cut it.

During the recruiting process, focus on the distinctive skills. It’s often sufficient if a person is distinctive in one of your key skills and traits and “above the bar” on the others.

More than once, people have called the one-question approach simplistic. But here’s the issue: the more complex your criteria become, the harder it is to see the forest for the trees. I’m convinced: more doesn’t mean better.

PS: Recruiting for distinctiveness is even compatible with sophisticated recruiting models. Some companies, for instance, use cognitive abilities tests, which predict career success. That’s no contradiction. Use standardized tests to screen candidates first. Then, during the interviews, look for distinctiveness that helps your expand the V-Zone.

As a marketing leader, you need the best talent you can get. Don’t get lost in recruiting. Go for distinctiveness!

Why marketing jargon is a career killer

Great marketing communication is jargon-free so the customer message makes it through loud and clear. So why do so many marketers believe using marketing jargon inside their company is okay? It’s not. It’s a career killer (from my Marketing Week column).

“Can you hear me now?” asks the guy in Verizon Wireless’s iconic TV ads. He always gets a thumbs up from his colleagues on the other end of the line proving he gets reception everywhere. Many marketers aren’t that lucky. They struggle to get heard internally.

A while ago I observed a CMO applying for major new research funding at a board meeting. He explained that brand advocacy among millennials was low. The brand purpose needed to be made contemporary. Programmatic was key. And while click-through rates were decent, the firm’s CMS was outdated. A new end-to-end marketing approach was urgently needed but so was $1.1m of new research money to develop that model.

Nobody in the C-suite gets excited about programmatic, brand positioning or click rates. But when you talk revenue, costs, profit or impact on society, the eyes are on you.

After the meeting he asked me how I thought it went. “To be honest,” I replied, “I think you completely lost everybody in that room. Let’s hope you keep your job.”

The CEO later called him to say that frankly, he hadn’t understood a word. The budget request went nowhere. Luckily the CMO kept his job but he learned a big lesson.

Communication is critical

This is my first Marketing Week leadership column. I thought pretty hard about where to start. The meeting described above reminded me of communication’s critical role in business success.

Marketers (and their agencies) love jargon. Not a single day seems to pass without the invention of new buzzwords and phrases: ‘advertainment’, ‘clickbait’, ‘content is king’, ‘disruptor’, ‘#growthhacking’ (always with a #), ‘millennials’ and ‘programmatic’. I’m sure you could add 10 more.

Don’t get me wrong, technical marketing terms are useful. They are shortcuts to help us describe complex matters more quickly. But these terms are constantly overused. Some marketers would easily win every round of buzzword bingo. But not their non-marketing colleagues’ hearts and minds.

Here’s a baffling finding: all marketers I know are thinking hard about how to communicate with customers or consumers. But too few are thinking about how to communicate effectively with their co-workers. In fact, when many CEOs speak with their marketers, they feel lost in a maze of jargon.

Using marketing jargon inside your company creates three big issues. Firstly, it clouds your reason to exist. Let’s remind ourselves: The marketing department’s core role is to help the company serve customers better than the competition does.

If done well this generates more revenue and more profits. However, Marketing Week’s latest Career and Salary Survey shows 61.8% of marketers believe their work is only somewhat understood or not understood at all by their business. And when the Economist Intelligence Unit recently asked business leaders where their marketing departments had contributed most in the past year, only 15% said “revenue growth”. That’s a chillingly low number.

Using buzzwords makes it hard for people to understand your contribution to what matters: revenue and profit.

Think about people inside your company like you would think about your external customers.

The second issue it that marketing jargon distances you from your co-workers. In successful companies, people from different departments communicate well, exchange ideas and drive innovation together. Using in-group marketing language with non-marketing peers – thus demonstrating that you are different – will drive people away from you and your team.

Thirdly, marketing jargon damages your career. In a large global study I recently did together with London Business School’s Patrick Barwise, we looked at marketers’ career drivers. We didn’t research jargon as such, but we made a stunning discovery. Speaking the company’s own internal language, (e.g. product or services language), is a surprisingly large career driver. Ironically, jargon does matter – as long as it’s the right jargon.

You can do better. A financial services CMO, for example, now highlights marketing’s revenue impact in all internal documents. An airline CMO consistently shares her compelling story of “becoming the undisputed customer favourite”. Both were earmarked as high performers. Their success, of course, isn’t just based on great communication, but they said ditching jargon for powerful language made a big difference.

Become an internal communications pro

Do you want to become a compelling internal communicator? Here are some ideas.

First off, think about people inside your company like you would think about your external customers. What’s on their mind? How could you make your important marketing priorities relevant to them? How could you make your message stick?

Most marketers excel at understanding customers or consumers. Far fewer understand the needs of their C-suite leaders. Don’t fall into that trap. Get behind what matters at the top. Interview people, read analyst reports, have a chat with your finance guys.

Once you know what matters in the C-suite, align your language patterns to make what you say matter, too. Explain how your marketing priorities tie in with the company’s top performance indicators. Keep your language focused on the revenue line. Nobody in the C-suite gets excited about programmatic, brand positioning or click rates. But when you talk revenue, costs, profit or (increasingly) impact on society, the eyes are on you.

When it comes to convincing colleagues, talk hope. Marketing doesn’t typically have all the formal power within a company. In fact, nobody does. To make a great customer experience happen, you typically have to rely on many people who don’t report to you. You can’t give your colleagues orders. You have to persuade them.

“A leader is a dealer in hope,” Napoleon once said. People love following leaders who give hope, who stand for a better future. Gaining more share of voice or repositioning the brand may excite you, but perhaps nobody else. When you talk about your company becoming the undisputed category leader or the number one choice for customers, however, your message could become contagious.

Try this: for the next 10 days, treat the people in your company as your customers. Ditch your marketing jargon. Use language people will understand, language they’ll relate to. I’m certain you’ll feel the power of communicating in the right language.

Can you hear me now?

Inspiration is a leader’s most powerful weapon

As a customer-focused leader, you are in the inspiration business. The biggest part of your role is to mobilize people in your company to make a great customer experience happen. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just issuing orders to those around you. Your best bet is to inspire them. But how? (From my column).

Being a customer advocate can be hard as I’ve written before. Think about it. Your boss can say no to your ideas. Your colleagues can choose to ignore your opinion. Even your team can vote with their feet if they don’t agree with your direction (e.g. work half-heartedly or even leave).

All your customer ideas are worth nothing unless you get them executed in your company. Inspiration can be the key to success!

But how does one inspire? It’s actually quite straightforward. To inspire others, you have to be inspired yourself. It’s that simple. Let’s take a closer look.

Inspiration is often seen as a magical power that some people have and others don’t. Here’s the good news: you actually don’t need the grand ideas of a Henry Ford or a Mahatma Gandhi to inspire other people. You also don’t need the on-screen presence of a Matt Damon or a Meryl Streep. Inspiring others is much simpler than that—and you’re already doing it.

Try this. Think about a topic you don’t care much about—something boring at work, doing your tax return, whatever isn’t your thing. Then stand before a mirror. Imagine that your reflection is a colleague. For 30 seconds, talk to your colleague about that boring topic. Look closely at the reflected face as you speak. What do you see?

Next, think of a topic you genuinely care about—something that excites you, something you really like. Again, for 30 seconds, talk to your colleague in the mirror, but this time talk about the topic you care about. See a difference? I’m certain that your face will show more excitement. That liveliness behind your eyes is the flicker of inspiration. If you show others that flicker, they’ll be inspired, too.

It’s often the small things in your day-to-day behavior that inspire others—behaviur that you may take for granted. In leadership workshops, for example, marketers routinely discover that they already inspire others far more than they realize. And it’s often small and simple actions that most inspire when they read in their feedback “You make me laugh, even when it’s tough,” “You’re so committed to your team,” or “I love your passion for customers.”

Here’s how you can up your inspirational power:

1. Find Out How You Inspire People Today
Start by reading through feedback that you received at school or at work. How have you inspired in the past? To learn more, ask five to 10 people (friends and colleagues) how you inspire them. You want their honest opinions, so keep things as anonymous as you can. One option is to give people three white index cards and suggest they write down one way you inspire them on each card. Ask them to hand the cards back to you in a sealed envelope. Don’t track who wrote what, and open the envelopes only after you have them all back.

What did you learn? What are the one-to-three ways you inspire people today?

2. Double Up On Your Inspirational Behaviors
Even if you have the spark of inspiration, it takes energy to show the flicker in your eyes consistently, especially if you are leading change in your company. (See here for more ideas on how to lead change.) Some years ago, I led a large global team. Yet despite having major business success, the team wasn’t fired up with excitement. I soon realized that I needed to provide them with more spark. They always needed to see the flicker of my own inspiration, especially when things got busy. It seemed odd at first to try to set people alight with every interaction, but it did help me build inspired teams. How about reminding yourself of that, too? If you want to lead, set others alight with your inspiration in each interaction you have. Once you know how you inspire other people, double up on these behaviors.

Can you inspire people without being inspired yourself? Is there a work-around? No. Inspiration is easy to spot and tough to fake. Body language and facial expressions are so subtle and complex that even the most powerful computers can’t fully simulate them (yet). That’s why replacing humans in movies with digital look-alikes still doesn’t work. The flicker isn’t real. There’s no shortcut. The key to inspiring others is through your own inspiration.

So how about including this in your New Year’s resolution: “doubling up on my inspirational powers”?

Three leadership skills every customer experience leader needs to master

Shaping a company’s customer experience (CX) is, perhaps, the biggest leadership challenge of a business. Yet the leaders in charge of this crucial endeavour rarely receive targeted leadership training. It’s time to change this (from my column).

Recently I made the case for more rigour in marketers’ training and development paths. I remain convinced that better training is urgently required in marketing. But why leadership training? Aren’t marketers busy enough keeping up with all the technical skills needed to survive in this new digital world?

Think about what it takes to make the customer experience happen, and it becomes immediately clear why the key is leadership. First, customer experience is about the future. To get on the C-suite agenda and secure budgets, marketing leaders must convince hard-nosed finance leaders and other top managers that a better customer experience will—eventually—lead to more revenue or profit. That can be pretty hard to do. And it requires serious negotiation skills. But here’s an even bigger challenge: dozens, maybe hundreds, of employees who design the actual customer experience don’t report to marketing or IT. Mobilising them requires exceptional leadership skills.

Another challenge lies in the complexity of digital marketing. Marketing leaders can no longer aspire to know it all. They have to build great teams of experts and generalists and then help them to all pull in the same direction. Does leadership matter for customer experience leaders? It’s essential!

Fewer than one in 10 customer experience leaders has received specific marketing leadership training, according to my research. Even more surprisingly, most of the senior marketing leaders I train haven’t received any leadership training. Some went through a generic leadership course or two, which may be useful, but didn’t equip them with the three most essential marketing leadership skills: mobilising the C-suite, mobilising peers in other departments, and building teams of leaders.

Let’s take a closer look at the leadership skills required in marketing and customer experience.

Mobilising The C-suite

It’s crucial for marketing leaders to get a seat at the top table. Customer experience is a company-wide issue. And most CX decisions require top-team buy-in. Even if customer experience is important to the CEO, it needs to be important to all departments, including sales, operations, HR, IT, marketing, and so on. That’s why customer experience leaders must play at the C-suite level. They need to learn to connect the wants of the customers (which most CX leaders know very well) with the needs of the C-suite (that’s often harder).

The best marketing leaders understand the “burring platforms” of the company board. They are skilled enough to make CX relevant for C-suite leaders from all walks of life. This also means translating customer metrics, such as Net Promoter Score, into company KPIs, such as revenue or profit. And to secure the all important budgets, marketing leaders must ultimately convince the C-suite that CX drives long-term profitable growth. Changing C-suite minds is a leadership challenge.

Mobilising Peers

Most employees who have a hand in creating the actual customer experience don’t report to marketing or IT. These members of staff have their own agendas—and convincing them to act requires pretty strong leadership. One important leadership skill is storytelling. Napoleon Bonaparte said that “leaders are dealers in hope.” Marketing leaders can’t move the needle if their peers don’t listen. But they can tell them a story of hope, a story that gets to people’s hearts.

Former Ford CMO Jim Farley emphasised that “storytelling is a marketer’s most important skill.” But storytelling is only the start. Getting people from across the company to move requires lots of hall-walking and one-on-one negotiations. Marketing leaders are change leaders. They must be the role models that others want to follow.

Mobilising Your Own Team

Gone are the days when marketing leaders can know it all. The plethora of marketing and customer software available opens completely new opportunities to understand and interact with customers. But CX is complex and requires specialisation. Instead of chasing every detail, leaders must learn to lead complex teams. They must integrate specialists and generalists into a cohesive tribe that strives together for a common goal. Instead of controlling everybody’s work, the best leaders spend time aligning their teams around common goals (that can be harder than you think). They help the specialists see the bigger picture—and they help the generalists go deep, selectively, to understand important CX tools. Leading CX teams isn’t complicated—but it requires new skills.

What Next?

Marketing leadership training isn’t on the agenda of most organisations. But that’s starting to change as people realise that actually creating better customer experiences requires leaders with strong leadership skills. It’s time to put leadership skills on the marketing training agenda.

Trust and how to build it

In a marketing team, trust is the foundation for everything. No matter how good your team’s marketing skills are, they won’t make a dent in the market unless people give their best and take some risks. The condition required? Trust! Trust doesn’t happen automatically. Building it takes a conscious effort—by you (from my column).

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved,” – George MacDonald.

Team trust is key. You need it, so your team will dare to take risks. You also need trust because you want people to be candid. In all organisations, people hide problems from their bosses and the bosses underestimate the extent to which that happens—despite doing exactly the same with their own bosses. “The toughest thing in my role is that people don’t dare to tell me things anymore,” says former Ford CMO Jim Farley. You want people in your team to bring forward ideas and to take the initiative. But you also want them to reach out to you when they face issues, to avoid nasty surprises and to help them find solutions as soon as possible. Trust is crucial.

Who do you trust? Why do you trust them? Let’s use a simple equation to explain how trust works (you may have seen it before). It suggests that, to trust someone as a leader, you first need proof of their professionalism (expertise, reliability, etc.). But professionalism alone is not enough to build trust. You need to know a little more about that person as well (intimacy). Finally, you’d lose trust in that leader if they showed lots of ego. In other words, the trust you build through your professionalism and intimacy gets divided by your ego. It’s that simple.

Let’s look at some practical ways for you to build trust within your team, focusing on the three elements in the trust equation:

Foster Professionalism In Your Team

Obviously, you expect professionalism from every marketing team member (and they expect it from you). Everybody is the role model. If you miss deadlines or come in late, so may others. Make sure you:

  • Keep your promises. That, or don’t make them. Apologise if you do fail to keep one.
  • Follow the rules. Visibly adhere to company policies on expenses, confidentiality, equality, bullying and harassment, health and safety, and so on. You need to be pedantic and boring about this. You may think violating rules makes you cool—in reality it will erode people’s trust in you.
  • Don’t pretend to know everything—you don’t, and everybody knows that. If someone knows more, celebrate them. Add value by asking wider questions like, “What are the limitations?” “How can we do this even better?” More often, admit if you don’t know something. Instead say: “Great question, I need to find out.”

Foster Intimacy

Can people on your team speak openly about their challenges and weaknesses? Can they easily ask for help? Teams reaching this level of openness and intimacy are the most productive. Leaders who are willing to talk about their weaknesses create intimacy and also higher trust within the team. But talking about weaknesses isn’t easy. What can you do about it?

  • At the most basic level, share small personal things within the team; your family, your hobbies, your last holiday, etc.
  • Ask for help. Say things like: “Here’s the plan, but these details about XYZ aren’t my strong suit. Can you help me?”
  • Share what you’re good at as well as what you’re not good at. Michelle Peluso, former CEO of online shopping site Gilt, shared her 360-degree assessments with her team and asked for help.
  • Trust-building workshops with professional coaches are good ways of helping people better understand themselves and their colleagues.

Again: lead from the front. As the leader you must open up first. Once you reveal more about your own weaknesses, you give others license to do the same.

Fight Your Ego

People pick up immediately on a leader’s rampant ego. Ego is a trust-killer. Here are other examples that will show your team it’s not all about you and your ego:

  • Make your corner office a team room.
  • Let other people present in important meetings, including to your boss.
  • Back people up in a crisis.
  • Stick to reasonable call times, especially for people in other time zones.
  • When you receive praise about the team’s work, pass it on to the team itself.

Great leaders make sure their teams can shine. When Tim Cook was giving the closing keynote at Apple’s big product event in the fall of 2015, he asked all the Apple team members in the hall to stand. In front of the large audience, and with millions of viewers online, Tim said it was a privilege to work with people who worked so hard making other’s lives better. You can’t put a value on that.

Next time you walk into your office, ask yourself: “How much trust is there in my team? How can I build more trust today through my professionalism, my intimacy—and less of my ego?

Dear CFO: Trust your marketer!

You are a finance leader. You love numbers. You know what’s going on inside the company’s P&L. In a complex world, your CEO relies on you. Hand over heart: What do you think of marketers? Many CFOs think that marketers talk bollocks, don’t understand the company, and simply can’t be trusted. To be fair, they sometimes have a point. But most of their perceptions are wrong—there’s more common ground than they may think. In fact, marketing most likely determines the fortunes of your company. Let’s talk (from my Forbes column).

Profitable growth is crucial for your company–I think you’ll agree. Making it happen requires serving customer needs profitably better than your competitors do. Even critics admit it: Marketing matters. But why are marketers so difficult to work with? Three forces are at work, and you can help counter all of them:

Appreciate “Eros”

It’s true, marketers are different. In a recent global study, among over 8,600 executives, which I conducted together with London Business School’s Patrick Barwise when compared with other leaders, marketers came out as more open, creative, and innovative. They care about connections and can often “feel” what’s going on inside your customers. Marketers can be “okay” when things don’t add up to 100%, They are often ready to accommodate new ideas, even if another plan was already agreed upon at first.

Marketers often remind me of Eros, the Greek god. The youngest of the Olympian Greek gods, Eros had one irresistible skill: with one arrow he could make you love anyone he wished. The other gods usually tried – not always successfully – to be rational Logos leaders. They saw Eros as wild and unpredictable. So, despite his unique skills, they never considered him sufficiently responsible to play a full part in the ruling Olympian family. In many ways, marketers are the emotional Eros leaders in a rational Logos world.

Logos needs Eros. How come people can usually remember the lyrics of a song easily, but forget most Power Point slides? Creative work can be powerful. Your company desperately needs people who think outside of the box, passionately love customers, and innovate freely. There’s now clear evidence that a strong marketing department improves a company’s financial performance.

Don’t expect marketers to think and talk like you do. If anything, you should be worried if they did. Instead of fighting about their differences, finance professionals and marketers must say, “Let’s trust each other more, so that as a team we can be bigger than the sum of our parts.”

Agree On What Can Be Proven

Here’s one of the biggest success-barriers—even for the best marketers (I write about the other barriers here). The marketing job is all about the future. Future revenues, future profit, future products and services, future consumer behavior, and so on. Unfortunately, the future is notoriously hard to predict. As a result, next to you, a marketer will always seem a little less trustworthy. In internal meetings, then, a focus on the future can be a real disadvantage for marketers.

When it comes to securing future revenue sources, as a finance professional, you carry a large responsibility on your shoulders. If you demand full proof for all marketing ideas, your company will end up replicating the past. Innovation will dry up, and, in most businesses, you’ll become your competitors’ most loved leader.

So keep this in mind the next time you ruthlessly challenge a marketing plan. Your ideas may help—but don’t expect your marketers to prove the future. They (and you) simply can’t. Remember, you and marketers share the same agenda: You both want more customers to buy more products from you more often. That’s something you can trust.

Some of you might now say, “I would trust marketers more if they’d prove at least their past returns.” Point taken. ROI measurement may not be the marketer’s biggest passion. But most have heard the message. Nowadays, there’s more ROI measurement than ever before, and many marketing departments work hard to prove their worth.

But let’s be honest. When it comes to longer-term market effects, the’s a fine line between ROI and rubbish. And spending three days on measuring the returns of a $2,000 campaign may simply be bad business. Many CMOs feel trapped since in a digital world, everybody expects them to measure everything, even if it’s not sensible or possible. As a result, they still do some “hiding.”

Your company needs every finance professional to play an active role in cracking ROI measurement. Try this:

  • Help agree on what should be measured. Seek an open dialogue with your senior marketer about ROI measurement. Without prejudices, help assess which marketing measurement makes the most sense and how accurate it should be. Use your analytic experience and common sense to shape the measurement strategy together with your marketer, as a team.
  • Get involved in developing ROI measurement. Although the market is swamped with ROI measurement tools (and people who sell them), there’s still a lot to learn. Get involved in testing and developing new ROI tools jointly with your marketing colleagues. In the end, you’ll both win.

Here’s a dirty little secret: Because return measurement is tough and the pressure of proof is high, your marketer may be too embarrassed to take the first step. Go first. Offer to help fix the measurement challenge.

Get Translation

Here’s the real downside to marketers’ openness and creativity: Marketing language has gone haywire. Many CFOs would find it easier to learn Klingon than marketing speak. When your marketer talks about “more awareness” (potentially more revenue), “greater customer experience” (really more revenue), “advocacy“ (even more revenue), millennials” (younger customers), or “Pokemon Go” (don’t bother remembering), you may shake your internal head. The thing is, most marketing terms mean business—it’s just often hard to see at first. Of course, marketers’ use of buzzwords is simply poor internal marketing. It’s getting better, though, and you can play an important part in uniting the nations of finance and marketing:

  • Demand debuzzing! Next time your marketing colleague uses a seemingly funky term, instead of just rolling your eyes, ask what this means for the business. Tabling the language issue will help marketers connect better with other employees like you inside the company.
  • Help translate. You are often the middleman between the CEO and the CMO. As a finance leader, you can bridge the gaps—to the benefit of the company. We won’t expect you to train the CEO in marketing. But you can help your marketers—in a collegial way—to find language that scores well at the very top.

For success, your company needs marketing and finance professionals to work together as a tightly knit team. Marketers are a bit different, yes. But like you, they work hard to help the company grow as profitable as possible. Marketers do deserve your trust.

PS: In a future article, I’ll explore why marketers should trust you, the finance professional, more. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Make your marketing team a revenue center

Marketing leaders must constantly show that marketing delivers financial returns. Why? If the organization knows your work delivers a return, the decision makers will give you the resources and support you need for your important marketing projects.

But proving marketing returns is a struggle. In our research, Patrick Barwise and I found delivering returns was a big driver of marketers’ business impact (12% contribution) and also contributed, at the margin, to their career success (three percent). But only two-thirds (67%) of the marketing leaders in our study said they had a strong return orientation. Most CEOs and CFOs would say that that’s an overestimate: for instance, over 50% of C-suite executives in a recent study didn’t think that the company’s marketing expenditure was even significantly driving top-line revenue, never mind bottom-line profits.

In other words: your CEO may not trust that you’re spending the money well.

If you take your boss’s perspective, you’ll immediately see why demonstrating your return is essential.

In a nutshell, CEOs are concerned with strategy (where to take the company), organization (people, skills, etc.), revenue (the current and future top line), and cost (the other determinant of the bottom line). You should aim to be associated with revenue.

What happens if your boss doesn’t associate you with revenue? Well, in that case, you’re just a cost—and, in the words of Andy Duncan, CEO of UK national lottery operator Camelot, “Marketing can . . . be seen as a cost rather than an investment, which is cut when businesses face difficult times.”

Of course you can’t prove the financial return on all marketing investments, but here are three proven ideas for how you can get into the revenue camp.

Align on how marketing works

It’s your job to ensure people understand what marketing does and how it’s driving the business.

Keep it simple. A simple marketing model that everyone under stands is worth ten times more (for this purpose) than a complex one that no one gets. As a sophisticated marketer, the simplification we sug- gest here may make your heart bleed. Get over it.

One example of a simple model is the marketing funnel. Using it allows you to say things like, “Only 20% of people prefer our brand. We need to increase brand preference, because 40% of all who prefer us end up buying us.”

By showing how, in the eyes of others, marketing concepts like brand preference have a big impact on sales, you’ll significantly increase the leadership’s understanding of your work and how marketing helps drive business performance.

Make sure you build these marketing models together with people from outside of marketing (especially people in finance and sales) to give the models validity, credibility, and supporters.

Once you have an agreed-upon model, share it widely. Don’t shy away from taking comments or having a debat

Open the books

Opening your books is among the most powerful things you can do to demonstrate returns.

There’s no shortage of tools and books on how to measure marketing returns. But many marketers struggle to install a sensible return measurement system (and most CEOs complain about it). What can you do?

Measure what’s big. Measuring the return on some smaller items may cost you more than it’s worth. Take a look at your overall budget. Identify the big and critical items. Focus on these first.

Get finance involved. Work with your finance experts to jointly define and agree how you want to measure returns. You’ll find that most finance professionals understand very well that not everything can (or should) be measured. But problem solving this jointly will greatly increase the credibility of your numbers.

Take an 80/20 approach. Marketing measurement isn’t about getting every penny right. Some activities, like brand PR for example, are impossible to evaluate precisely (or rely on many assumptions). Some people use sophisticated econometric models alongside more behavioral measures, considering short- and long-term effects and measures of changes in brand strength. Others do very well with a simple quarterly spreadsheet that has marketing spend and sales. If you’re unsure, invite three agencies or experts to present how they would set up your marketing measurement system. Get a simple one to work first—and expand it later.

Show your returns frequently. This can feel scary, but sharing your estimated marketing returns with top management is one of your best ways to build credibility as a leader. Crucially, sharing returns includes sharing the failures.

In our experience, marketing leaders who open the books get more support from the top..

Get involved in the most important marketing instruments

In a recent University of Mannheim study, top executives rated pricing, product development, and strategy as the most important business functions. Unfortunately, marketers weren’t seen as very involved in these.

Our study paints a similar picture: just 32% of senior marketers claimed to have a stake in pricing, 56% in product development, and 39% in strategy. They were more likely to be involved in activities such as communication (77%), seen as less important by the Mannheim top executives. That’s perhaps unfair (and incorrect). But perception is reality. If people think your work isn’t important, you won’t be seen as important.

What can you do?

  • Find the companys biggest growth levers. If you help the company grow profitably, you’ll be in the game.
  • Throw the biggest stone. Once you know the big growth levers, go where you can make the biggest difference.
  • Start small, think big. As a marketing leader, when you engage in a new field, take small steps but have the end in mind: long-term profitable growth.

Your influence and contribution as a marketing leader go up when you work on the company’s biggest issues, so it’s critical to get involved in what matters.

By making your work more transparent, estimating returns, and picking the right marketing instruments, you will position marketing as a revenue source that generates returns instead of a cost. When you spend your money well to attract profitable customers, the business grows. And when you produce visible returns, you are more likely to get more support and more resources—which in turn creates even more revenue and profit. It’s a pretty simple equation.

(This is a version of my article for Chief Marketer) 

CMOs: it’s time to up the game in team skills building

Every CMO agrees: skills are central for marketing teams’ business impact and internal standing. But when it comes to building those skills, the marketing department is too often undermanaged and underfunded. It’s time for CMOs to catch up (from my column).

Great marketing fuels profitable business growth. That’s why a CEO expects his or her marketing team to be masters of marketing strategy, communication, pricing, distribution, digital/social media management, etc.—in line with what’s needed in the market. In my recent global CMO study with Patrick Barwise, when it came to marketers’ business impact, analytic and creative marketing skills were the most important success factors (explaining about 20% of the explicable variance in success).

Yet numerous studies have highlighted that marketers often don’t have a structured skills development path and, in some cases, don’t receive any formal training. Studies also show that marketing, when compared with business functions such as finance and HR, has smaller training budgets.

Look outside the company to bring new skills into the team (e.g., data and analytics can be important). But it’s equally critical to develop the skills of the existing team. Skilling up a marketing team isn’t rocket science—but it requires the CMO to make skills a priority.

Here are some tips for how you can develop the skills of your team.

Decide: Do You “Make or Buy?”

Marketing is changing fast. With digital, social, and mobile media and big data rising, most marketing teams have a never-ending need for new skills. Which skills do you need internally and which should you buy? Two important factors can help you decide:

A skill’s strategic importance: As a rule of thumb, if a skill can become a significant long-term competitive advantage, build it in-house. Procter & Gamble, for example, has long run its own advertising effectiveness research, because it was seen as an important competitive asset. Conversely, most telecoms companies outsource advertising effectiveness research but invest heavily in in-house pricing capabilities because pricing is central to their business performance. If a skill could set you apart from competitors, don’t outsource it—build it internally.

A skill’s timeliness: Skills may take time to build internally. If you need a skill urgently, get going with external partners. If the skill is of strategic importance, make the building of internal capability an explicit part of these partnered projects from the start (rather than waiting until the experts have left).

Build Marketing Leadership Skills

Leadership isn’t (yet) part of formal marketing training in most organisations. That’s starting to change as people realise that, to create long-term value for customers and the company, marketers need to improve their leadership skills. This doesn’t just happen—it requires a conscious effort for marketers to learn to, for example, mobilise their bosses (shape the agenda), mobilise outside marketing colleagues (to serve customers better), mobilise their teams (become a leader of leaders), or mobilise themselves (find purpose and inspire others).

When you are building your team’s skills, think about marketing leadership skills, too.

Establish A Structured Marketing Skills Training Path

Structured skills training during marketers’ first two to five years should be a no-brainer. If your team doesn’t already have a structured skills training path, create one. At a minimum, it should incorporate different career points of generalists and specialists:

  • Required functional marketing skills and training.
  • Required marketing leadership skills and training.
  • Required functional on-the-job experience.

Functional skills training can often be done internally, combined with external skills workshops (e.g., run by agencies). Marketing leadership training involves highly specialised courses, often tailored to your marketing team. If you work for a small company, you may choose to send people to one of the few external marketing leadership-training providers. As soon as your team reaches 10 or 12 members, tailored marketing leadership training is the more cost-effective option.

How many annual training days should you plan for? I recommend that every team member (including you) gets at least five training days each year. Sounds like a lot? Well, that’s about 2% of yearly work hours. And if this feels like a multiple of what you invest today, keep in mind that you are just catching up with your peers from other functions.

PS: Skills development programmes aren’t only for big firms. Even if you have just three marketers in a company of 12 people, there’s nothing to stop you from writing a marketing skills development path on a few sheets of paper.

Marketing team-skills: Simplicity matters!

“You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the show tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, couldn’t be truer for marketing leaders. Think about it: you want to change the customer experience that large numbers of people in your company create each day — most of whom don’t work in marketing.

You can’t possibly achieve all this on your own. The only way to succeed is to become a “leader of leaders.” Don’t just build a support team. Build an influential team of marketing leaders to help the whole company meet customers’ needs better than the competition.

Marketers often tell us that it’s hard to find the right team members. When we ask to see their team’s job descriptions, they usually show us a needlessly complex document.

For example, one senior marketer showed us a list of what she wanted from a new team manager, including: adaptability, business mind-set, enthusiasm, entrepreneurship, emotional intelligence, willingness to learn, previous business-to-business marketing experience, and data mining.

When we challenged her list’s length, she told us that what was most important to her was expertise in data mining and entrepreneurship. Most of the other things listed were standard competencies from the firm’s HR framework. No wonder her team could never agree on a candidate!

When building a team, clarity matters. We recommend brutal simplicity.

First, summarize what Patrick Barwise and I call your Value-Zone (‘V-Zone’) challenge – a big issue for both customers and the CEO. For instance, your priority may be to increase margins by improving the retention and contribution of the most profitable customers, or to increase market share by better serving customer needs in a certain market. Whatever your V-Zone challenge is, clarity about it will greatly help you decide the right skills mix for the team.

Then, based on this, answer the following three questions:

Q1: What are the one or two most distinctive functional marketing skills needed to expand the V-Zone?

Don’t write a long list of basic skills (most decent marketers will have those skills anyway). Focus only on distinctive skills — things your team or the individual must truly excel at. Make sure you’ve thought about both analytical and creative skills: most marketers focus on one of these, rather than both, often reflecting their own personal preference and interest.

Q2: What are the one or two distinctive personality traits needed to expand the V-Zone?

For your team, which personality traits matter most? Do you especially need people who are entrepreneurial? Or people with a lot of stamina who’ll never give up? Ideally, you’d have all of these, but which are the top one or two traits that will make the most difference?

Q3: Which personality traits are “no nos” for your team (fit)?

“Find people you like to hang out with,” says Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. Look for people you like. But don’t recruit too many people who are like you: that would reduce the team’s diversity. You want people who are capable, committed, and good team players. You can afford a few difficult characters as “grit in the oyster,” to challenge the majority’s views. But they’d better be good and you don’t want too many of them. Define the few personality traits that are an absolute “no no” in your team.

The answers to these three questions should help you create a clear description of what you need for the team as a whole as well as for each individual contributor.
Once you’ve created a skills-and-traits sheet (shown in table), you’ll be much clearer about what you’re aiming for.

You can also use your list to take stock of your team’s current mix of skills and traits. On a sheet of paper, next to each distinctive skill (and trait), write the names of team members with the particular skills and, if possible, whether their skill level is “world-class”,“OK,” or “weak.” You’ll soon see where you’ve got the right balance and where you need to invest.

Some people have suggested that our three-question approach is simplistic. Of course, other skills-and-traits assessments are more comprehensive. But in our experience, the longer your list, the harder it is to see the wood for the trees when you recruit. Less is more.

The three-question approach can also be used to complement a more sophisticated recruitment model. For example, your company may have a validated model to predict marketing career success, based on a cognitive abilities test. That’s great. You can use standardized tests like these to screen candidates first, while in interviews you look for the distinctive skills and traits you need in your team.

(This is a version of our article on the topic).

How the CMO can add most value

The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is at the forefront of helping the company meet customer needs better than the competition (profitably, that is). In theory, the CMO role should be exalted, but reality is different. Too often, top marketers struggle to influence the big company decisions. New evidence suggests many CMOs are missing the needs of an important customer: their own company. It’s time to change this (from my Forbes column).

Here today, gone tomorrow

CMO tenure is short—too short. While S&P 500 CEOs stay for six years plus, the average US CMO tenure is about four years, or forty-eight months. Spencer Stuart, a search firm, reports tenure was even down to forty-four months in 2015. And that’s still better than the eighteen months for UK CMOs, as estimated by the London-based Marketing Society.

Why is CMO tenure so short? One argument is that the digital revolution is prompting CEOs to look for tech-savvy top marketers and to create new roles, such as Chief Digital Officer, thereby reducing the role of the traditional CMO. Another view is that the ever-growing pressure to show measurable results is taking its toll on CMOs who are either unable to quantify the return on marketing investment or are unwilling to shift resources from long-term brand building to short-term campaigns with more measurable results.

But there’s another less palatable truth: many top marketers are out of sync with the rest of the C-Suite.

Why Jobs lost his job

In the 1980s, Steve Jobs, then an Apple employee, was so focused on his pet project, the Macintosh, that he secured a separate building for his team—with a pirate flag. “It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy,” he said. Jobs understood customers better than most people. But even as the company was bleeding cash, he couldn’t have cared less about what his CEO wanted—the CEO who ended up firing him.

Marketers’ relationship with the C-Suite often demonstrates parallels with that of the younger Steve Jobs. London Business School Professor Patrick Barwise and I recently analyzed over 67,000 360-degree assessment responses from direct reports, superiors, and coworkers who rated senior marketers and leaders from other disciplines, such as finance and sales. Just 46 percent of the bosses said their marketers knew where the organization was going and shared this with their teams.

Other researchers have reported similar misalignment. The Economist Intelligence Unit found that 54 percent of company leaders didn’t think their companies’ marketing and business strategies were aligned. At the same time, many senior marketers—a bit like Steve Jobs—felt their bosses didn’t understand the importance of their work.

CMO power lies in the space where customer needs and
company needs overlap (the “V-Zone”)

We recently gave 1,232 senior marketers an extensive self-assessment covering their leadership behaviors, their organizational context, and their perceived business impact and career success.

Of these senior marketers, 71 percent believed their business impact was high, but only 44 percent were satisfied with their career paths. Our 360-degree data painted a similar picture. It seems marketing is important—but marketers often aren’t.

What characterized the most successful CMOs in our research? As you would expect, these top marketers had excellent marketing skills. They understood customer needs and knew how to serve them. But they understood and addressed their companies’ top needs too. The top CMOs were well aligned with the C-Suite and knew how to mobilize their nonmarketing colleagues to serve customers better.

Our research confirms that marketing success is about maximizing the overlap between customer needs and company needs. We call this overlap the “Value Creation Zone,” or “V-Zone” for short. Creating that match, however, isn’t what marketers do naturally.

If a CMO only worries about what customers want, they won’t get much attention at the top—and may see the door. If they focus only on what the CEO wants, the company won’t meet customer needs and is likely doomed—with the CMO rightly first in line for the chop.

For success, CMOs must work to expand the V-Zone, creating value for both customers (products and services that meet their needs) and the company (revenue and profit). But how?

Getting into the V-Zone

In our research, we found twelve sets of leadership behaviors (“powers”) that help CMOs expand the V-Zone. Here are four of the most important ones:

Focus on the big issues

The issues the marketing team tackles must be big. CMOs need to establish the most important issues for both customers and the company and focus their efforts and their teams’ efforts on those issues.

Walk the halls to mobilize nonmarketing colleagues

Most of those who determine the quality of the customer experience don’t work in marketing but in other departments, like sales, call centers, service, production, and so on. The best CMOs spend much of their time outside the marketing silo, walking the halls and engaging these nonmarketing colleagues to help them improve the quality of the customer experience.

Get the skills mix right

The CMO needs to build and develop a marketing team with the right mix of creative, analytical, and leadership skills to address the specific big issues identified in the V-Zone. Too often, they work with a legacy-skills mix instead of adjusting the mix to fit the task.

Know your stuff

Most CMOs excel at understanding customers and the market—a key driver of business impact. Yet a surprising number then fall short of detailed product knowledge (partly a knock-on effect of low CMO tenure). However, our data showed that marketers’ understanding of products is a big driver of career success (and hence tenure). To climb the ladder, the CMO must speak the company’s product language fluently.

CMO success is about maximizing the V-Zone—the space where customer and company needs overlap. The prize: more business impact, career success, and—quite simply—more fun in being a CMO!

Why firms DO need CMOs

Even decades after leadership thinker Peter Drucker said his famous sentence “the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation” there’s still a—surprisingly lively—debate as to whether marketing’s (and marketers’) role should be exalted. Here are five research-backed facts that prove all marketing skeptics wrong. Marketing and CMOs are crucial for company success! Full stop (from my Forbes column).

Fact 1: Strong marketing departments have a clear positive effect on firm performance.

A new breakthrough study of 612 publicly traded U.S. firms over 16 years, across 60 industries, published in the Journal of Marketing, reported an important discovery: powerful marketing departments have a clear positive impact on long-term stock returns and short-term return on assets (ROA). Researchers Feng et al proved: firms that gave marketers a prominent role execute stronger marketing and make overall better strategic market decisions.

In short: A strong marketing function drives business performance.

Fact 2: Firms with a Chief Marketing Officer perform better financially.

A second breakthrough study proves that companies with a CMO in the top management team, compared to firms without a CMO, achieve on average 15% better financial performance (measured by Tobin-q). Using data from 155 publicly traded U.S. firms over a 12 year period, the findings of German et al make a strong case for the positive financial impact of having a CMO.

In short: CMOs drive financial performance.

Fact 3: CEOs recognise CMOs as the number one shapers of forward-looking company strategy.

With Patrick Barwise and I, supported by INSEAD’s Global Leadership Centre, recently analysed 67,278 360-degree surveys to understand how bosses rate senior marketers versus how they rate all their other direct reports. CEOs rank senior marketers first compared to all other leaders when it comes to challenging the status quo, trying to change people’s opinions about the right course of action, and actively shaping company strategy.

In short: Marketers drive forward-looking firm strategy.

Fact 4: Marketing’s power is rising.

In the digital age, other C-suite leaders are becoming more and more involved in marketing, from the Chief Technical Officer to the Chief Operating Officer. You may have heard talk recently about the possible decline of marketing’s influence. Not true. Feng et al (see above) could prove that over a period of 16 years, the power of marketing departments in US firms has steadily increased.

In short: The trend is marketing’s friend.

Fact 5: Marketers can influence much of their own success.

Many marketers work in complex structures and often lack decision power over all four marketing Ps: price, product, promotion, and placement. But marketers are more powerful than many think. In a second study we researched the causal effects of marketers’ perceived business impact and career success. In a large sample of 1,232 senior marketers from around the globe, we could prove that leadership behaviors and skills drive over 49% of CMO’s career success and over 63% of their market success. Of course, external factors like budgets, aligned goals, company culture, role clarity, and top management support matter. But marketers can overcome many of these challenges by displaying strong leadership.

In short: Marketers have the power to drive both their firm’s and their own success.

There has never been more evidence for the importance and benefits of strong marketing teams.

Spread the news!

To thrive as a marketing leader, step out of your role

As a marketing leader, customer knowledge is key for your business success—but it won’t get you promoted. In my research, what mattered more for marketer’s career success, were product and market knowledge. A good way to gain these insights is to step out of your role (from my column).

What type of knowldege matters for your success? As a customer leader you must of course know what customers want. But to deliver great marketing, you also need to know what your products are, why they exist, and how they are being made. And you need to understand what your competitors do, why they do it, and how they operate. Let’s look at some facts:

As part of a global research study, I recently analysed how over 1,200 CMOs lead (Patrick Barwise and I write about it in The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader). When we looked at the question of knowledge, we found that customer knowledge is indeed the biggest driver of business success. However, when we analysed career success, the picture changed completely. Here, the knowledge that matters most is the knowledge of the company’s products. Insight into the customers isn’t sufficient. To climb the organisational ladder, you must also speak the company’s product language.

That’s why, as a customer leader, you should, if possible, find ways to step out of marketing. Try these:

Don’t start in marketing (right away)

When you join a new company, ask if you can first tour other departments such as production, supply chain, product development, and sales. Often, three or four weeks are all you will need to get a very good overview—and to become street-smart. Perhaps, you’ll receive some pushback. Be adamant and make your case. To the best of my knowledge, no company has ever collapsed because a top marketer started four weeks later.

Step out of your role (for a little while)

Even when you already work for a company, touring other departments can be eye-opening. You may not be able to step out for a full three or four weeks, but it should be possible for you to build in one-week stints in sales, production, etc. Even if you think you know your company already, you will be amazed how many new perspectives you will get—and how much goodwill you will be able to build.

Swap team members (regularly)

Don’t just think about your own product knowledge—consider your team too. A great way to increase your team’s product understanding and their relationship with the product team is through team-member rotations. In some companies, marketing and product teams exchange people for two or three months on a regular basis. Not only does this bring knowledge into the team, but strong networks with other departments also foster mutual respect, better communication, and the chance to benefit from new ideas and experiences.

Sometimes, the best way to grow as a marketing leader involves stepping out of your role.

Two ways to prove that marketing works

Many non-marketing leaders don’t fully understand why marketing is essential for the company. That’s why making the case for marketing to them may be more important than you think (from my column).

At times, even the most high-profile CMOs had to make the case for marketing. Take Jim Farley. Soon after Jim joined Ford as the new CMO in 2007, the financial crisis hit U.S. car manufacturers. Ford’s already slowing sales nosedived and, in 2008, the company was posting major losses. Jim knew that brand preference had a big influence on purchases, but Ford managers had cut marketing budgets to save costs. Consequently, Jim faced a major challenge: to prove to them that marketing is vital to the company’s success.

With colleagues in finance and other departments, Jim created a model that showed how brand preference drives sales. The model wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to demonstrate the links between marketing investments, brand preference, and sales.

Next, Jim toured the globe. He sat down with the Ford managers in each major market, shared his model, and managed to convince them about the positive effects of marketing. Over time, Ford leaders agreed to invest more in marketing. It was the beginning of a remarkable recovery stage for the company, eventually making Ford the preferred car brand choice for many buyers once again.

Marketers often assume that everybody in the top team of their business knows (or cares to know) how marketing works. But most people don’t—at least not in a meaningful way. That’s why it’s the marketer’s job to ensure that people understand what marketing does and how it’s driving the business. But how? Here are two proven ways to demonstrate marketing’s power:

Share specific marketing success examples

Much of your marketing work can (and should) be measured, whether it’s a communications campaign, a change in pricing, or an effort to retain customers. Share with people inside your company the following information: 1) examples of what the marketing team did; 2) the effects it had on customers (e.g., higher preference for that business’s brand); and 3) the effects it had on the business (e.g., more revenue, customers, and/or profit). You need all three to make your case. If you just talk about the customer side of marketing (1+2) without its business effects (3), people will agree that you are busy, but most may still question the impact of marketing.

Build a simple marketing model

One example of such a model is the marketing funnel. Using it allows you to say things such as “Only 20% of people prefer our brand. We need to increase brand preference, because 40% of all who prefer us end up buying us.” Build your marketing model together with people from your finance department in order to give it validity and credibility. Once you have an agreed-upon model, share it widely.

As Patrick Barwise and I demonstrate in our book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, many CMOs such as Farley have greatly benefited from using a simple model to explain to their organisations how marketing works. Simple is the key word here. A marketing model that everyone understands is worth 10 times more (for this purpose) than a complex one that nobody can comprehend.

“It’s our job to help company leaders understand what we do as marketers,” said Anna Bateson, the director of global consumer marketing for YouTube. Her words couldn’t be more true.

No matter if you are a CMO, a digital expert, or a brand manager, it’s your job to help the company understand what marketing does for the business—and why your work matters.

The real reason for marketing’s diversity problem

Diversity was back in the news when agency Saatchi & Saatchi recently sacked chairman Kevin Roberts for saying (among other things) that the gender diversity debate in advertising is over. His widely reported remarks have turned into a PR disaster for Saatchi & Saatchi and for Roberts himself. Too many leaders still believe diversity doesn’t matter for company performance—or they can’t improve top team diversity anyway. Publicly firing a chairman won’t change these beliefs. What’s needed are facts that no C-suite leader can ignore. Let’s make the case (from my Forbes column).

For the record, I’m not a diversity expert or activist. I help leaders make change happen. But through my research I’ve discovered important facts that made numerous C-suite leaders listen.

Let’s put on the CEO hat for a minute. Most CEOs operate in cutthroat markets under huge financial pressures. It’s safe to assume these leaders spend their precious time on topics they deem most critical for the organization’s success. When diversity isn’t on the list, these C-suite leaders must have concluded that

1. Top team diversity doesn’t matter (enough) to the company’s performance or

2. Top team diversity does matter, but it doesn’t require senior leadership involvement

To make real progress on the diversity front, we have to prove these two premises wrong. Let’s look at them one by one.

Premise No. 1: Top team diversity doesn’t matter (enough) to the company’s performance.

Before showing some key data, let me share a personal experience. As a young male marketer, I was once asked to lead my company’s tampon brand. Puzzled at first, I quickly immersed myself into feminine hygiene research and did what I could to satisfy customers and my company. But to be frank, I wasn’t too effective. When a female colleague finally took over, she launched a breakthrough marketing campaign in her first six months based on an idea she had as a teenager. Asking a male to lead a female-focused brand was, at best, bad business judgment. Yet, it’s reflective of marketing’s wider diversity issue.

Best Buy pulled out of China, Walmart failed in Germany, and Dell’s pastel colored “Della” laptops for women went nowhere. The most cited common cause: poor customer understanding. However, most companies still believe the best people to crack all market challenges are white, straight, local male (WSLM) marketing leaders.

So how important is top team diversity for company success? As part of a major diversity initiative at McKinsey & Company, I once led a team that analyzed the effect of board diversity on company performance across several sectors and four major geographies. What we found was staggering: for companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity (we looked at age, gender, and nationality), return on equity (ROE) was 53% higher, on average, than the ROE for those in the bottom quartile. Simultaneously, EBIT margins at the most diverse companies were 14% higher, on average. In other words, companies with diverse top teams outperformed their peers in every single geography we looked at. Many newer studies, too, have come to similar conclusions.

Premise No. 1 of many CEOs and CMOs is simply wrong: top-team diversity does matter significantly for company performance.

Let’s look at the second premise then.

Premise No. 2: Top team diversity doesn’t require senior leadership involvement.

Not every C-suite leader is convinced diversity needs their involvement. “In our company, the best people will make it,” one CEO told me recently. Many senior leaders share the same sentiment. The argument goes like this: “We hire lots of non-WSLM talent (e.g., people of different gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or nationality). But we often find that non-WSLMs make different career choices along the way. That’s why we have so few of them in our top team.”

The meritocracy argument sounds plausible. Why push people up the ladder that don’t want it? Why not just hire them and let them succeed?

The reality is that today’s race for the top doesn’t take place on an equal playing field. Too many women have experienced sexual harassment. People of color talk about small daily discriminations—none of them big enough to call HR, but each of them enough reason to feel less valued. Many LGBT managers still hide their sexual identities at work, fearing the resulting disadvantages and jokes at their expense. All of this is happening  as you read this article.

In my latest global marketing leadership research, 36% of career success was explained by what I call “self-mobilization” (Patrick Barwise and I write about it in the upcoming book, The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader). Success as a leader isn’t just about hard work. It’s also about passion, about going the extra mile, and about the ability to inspire others. But the issues too many non-WSLM leaders still struggle with take energy away from what they really want to do: give their best.

But how can senior leaders increase top team diversity? For our McKinsey study, we closely examined the actions and strategies of the best performing companies. Besides diversity in recruiting, these companies, together with non-WSLM leaders, had developed tailored programs to tackle diversity barriers. Examples include tough enforcement of ethical behavior, mentorships, buddy programs, and awareness training. Most importantly, the company’s senior leaders gave diverse talent the most important thing: opportunities.

The case for senior leadership intervention isn’t about special treatment. It’s about creating an equal playing field. Reality proves that, without intervention from the top, diversity simply won’t happen any time soon.

The evidence demonstrates that premise No. 2 of many CEOs and CMOs wrong, too: top team diversity does require senior leadership involvement.

To return to the Saatchi & Saatchi case: Kevin Roberts’ interview remarks, in all fairness, were more nuanced. He hinted at the importance of the 65% of female staff at Saatchi, and he showed frustration that the company “can’t figure out” how to make more female employees successful.

But he—like many executives—gets two essential premises wrong by thinking: 1) Top team diversity doesn’t matter (enough) to the company’s performance, and 2) Top team diversity doesn’t require senior leadership involvement. These widespread beliefs are the real reason for the diversity problem we’re facing.

Top team diversity (especially in marketing) isn’t just “nice to have” company goal. It’s a fundamental driver of business performance, which senior leaders can actively influence.

The evidence is clear. It’s time to spread the word in the C-suite!

When leaders need a bulldozer

Customer leaders have to make things happen for customers. One way of doing that is by building consensus with colleagues. But, sometimes, leader’s life is about ensuring a decision, which has been taken, gets executed (from my column).

Not long ago I wrote about how CMOs can lead change. Success ingredients for change are powerful market data, an energising customer story, inspiring others, problem-solving across the company, and so forth.

But customer leader’s life isn’t always about consensus. There comes a point when the decision on a critical project has been made (perhaps, with varying degrees of enthusiasm). That decision needs to be executed now—without excuses. Leadership means sticking to decisions unless there’s a very good reason to change or stop.

Big customer projects throw up all sorts of unforeseen issues, especially people-related ones. These can serve as an excuse to kill the project. Don’t let this happen. When it’s really important, “rent a bulldozer” to get things done.

For really important initiatives, get the support of people who can cut through the red tape. More often than not, those people will be very senior leaders who can bulldoze through obstacles that stand in your way:

  • Set up a “war cabinet.” This is a group of senior leaders (e.g. board members or VPs) who can come together to remove roadblocks. It’s best to get their commitment right with the project go-ahead.
  • Ensure fast response. Don’t always schedule regular meetings (the time in-between can be too long). Instead, get people to commit themselves, or an empowered deputy, to be available within 24 (or, at most, 48) hours, in person or by phone/conference call or email, to keep things moving.
  • Use your bulldozer wisely. If you’re leading these meetings, stay calm, refer to the old plan, raise the issues, and suggest solutions. Look for consensus. But, in the end, always get back to: “This is what we decided.” No one can challenge the initial decision without powerful new evidence that it was wrong.

Successful customer leaders are great consensus-builders. But at times, “renting a bulldozer” comes in handy.

Cannes 2016–Five takeaways for CMOs

Until recently, top CMOs were a rare sight at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. That’s changing. This year’s festival brought the “who’s who” of marketing leadership to Cannes in a quest to celebrate creative excellence. I had the opportunity to talk with a number of leading CMOs and to follow the key debates—with a particular focus on what Cannes means for leaders (from my Forbes column).

The upshot? There’s lots of encouraging news coming out of Cannes. While marketing still faces tactical challenges—social media, big data, ROI, to name just a few—the prevailing belief is that CMOs are back in the driver’s seat. They’re cutting through the clutter and refocusing their attention on what really matters: great work that drives the business.

From a leadership perspective, five takeaways stood out:

1. Cut through the clutter and refocus on effective creativity

CMOs have a love/hate relationship with Cannes. Since it’s often perceived as a self-congratulating event for agency execs, coming to Cannes wasn’t thought to be helpful for CMOs trying to build their brands as serious business leaders. But there’s a growing realization that—despite all science—outstanding creativity still sits at the heart of marketing success. “We have to change the way we engage with consumers to actually produce stuff they want to see,” quipped PepsiCo’s Beverage Group President Brad Jakeman. Past CMOs’ focus on the ever-growing armory of new tools and channels has left creative quality trailing. Customers are now voting with their feet. “Ad blocking is something that we’ve all created,” Jakeman said. The CMOs who came to Cannes this year sent the strong message that marketers have to once again raise the creative bar. According to P&G’s Marc Pritchard, “we’ve got to cut the crap and elevate the craft.” Criticizing the clutter that marketers are creating, Pritchard argued that “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Data, both big and small, are helping: for a long time now, data and creativity have been seen as opposing ends of the marketing spectrum. That’s radically changing. Instead of hampering creativity, data-driven insights are now at the heart of the most effective creative work. At a private event, one CEO and former top marketer put it nicely: “CMOs need the guts again to stand up for creative excellence.”

2. Actualize the power of data

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” Almost a century after merchant John Wanamaker’s memorable quote, marketers are still grappling with understanding marketing ROI. As someone coming from operations, AT&T’s CMO Lori Lee noted that she was “shocked at how behind marketing measurement is.” But that’s not the half of it. Asked about big data, CMOs roundly observed that marketers have gotten bogged down in too much complexity. With more customer data available, they are struggling—more, not less—to generate powerful customer insights. Reflecting many CMOs’ sentiments, MasterCard’s Raja Rajamannar pointed to the massive challenge of marketing skills. There are many people who know the classic marketing craft, but struggle with contemporary marketing—and vice versa. Building marketers with both skills remains high on the agenda. At the other end of the data spectrum, many agencies are still refusing to leverage customer data. “Crap data would probably not be the thing I’m most worried about—it’s no data that I’m worried about,” says Pritchard. CMOs are now raising the stakes on data insights, both inside their organizations and with external partners. The year 2016 could very well see a shift from complaining about data complexity to pushing harder, innovating measurements, and simply demanding more data insights. Today’s data leadership challenge for marketers isn’t perfection—it’s tangible progress.

3. Take more (measured) risks

“Don’t be afraid of risk!” Richard Branson’s recent advice to marketers sounds good on paper, but is pretty hard to put into practice for a Fortune 500 marketer, surrounded as she is by compliance departments and legal teams. In a session hosted by Mondelēz’s Dana Anderson, Wharton Professor Adam Grant noted that managers are encouraged to avoid failure rather than to take risks. Many CMOs agree that their bosses don’t tolerate marketing failures well. As a result, most brands are playing it safe—often missing huge market opportunities. “As the CMOs, we don’t take enough risks. We don’t want to have the tough conversations with our bosses,” observed Jorn Socquet, VP of marketing for Anheuser-Busch. He argued that marketers would rather protect their jobs than push the envelope. But “taking no risk is a risk itself” said Merk CMO Atilla Cansun. CMOs can’t realistically expect more risk-taking license from their bosses—so it’s up to every CMO to take (measured) risks, even if this puts his or her own job on the line. Why? Because taking risks is what senior leaders get paid to do.

4. Step up marketers’ role as uniters inside the company

Many marketers work in complex organizations. To make even a small customer experience improvement, it’s not uncommon for a CMO to have to align with up to 20 peers and superiors—many of whom have their own agendas. Ann Mukherjee, SC Johnson’s Global CMO, recounted how hard it can be to navigate that matrix. The best approach, she believes, is inspiration: “It’s about motivating people and giving them hope.” (From my experience working with leading CMOs, I couldn’t agree more.) The other common challenge is legacy thinking. Pepsico’s Jakeman cited the example of obviously outdated brand tracking and ROI measurement tools, and the strong organizational tide to continue in the same old way. To avoid path dependency and effect change, marketers need to step up and demonstrate how marketing is actually driving the business. Mastercard’s Rajamannar argued that marketing KPIs won’t do the job: CMOs build credibility by proving the connection between marketing and real business results. Marketers need to integrate how the company serves customers end to end. Mukherjee: “We are in the business of monetizing human behavior. We have to orchestrate the organization around that mission. Period.”

5. Reshape the agency-client relationship

While customer behavior has radically changed, most marketing agency models haven’t. That’s the chilling conclusion from several Cannes panels. Up until a few years ago, Pepsico’s Jakeman argued, a brand had perhaps five major content pieces per year, six months to create them, and a US$2 million budget. Today it’s 50,000 content pieces, each with a $20,000 budget, and six hours to roll them out. That’s why Pepsico now deploys in-house teams to serve its rapidly growing content needs. Why? Because the entire agency model isn’t geared to the new creativity cycle. CMOs have long been looking to their agencies to come up with a new framework for a faster-moving, data-driven marketing world—with limited success. The consensus at Cannes was that CMOs need to take the lead in developing these future-proof agency-client models. Doing so won’t just solve a burning marketing issue: it’s also an opportunity for CMOs to shape their own professional landscape. That in itself should motivate top marketers to step up and lead the industry’s transformation.

From a leadership perspective, Cannes 2016 felt like a turning point. In previous years, tactical marketing issues and buzzwords (e.g. “millennials”) dominated the debate. This year’s CMOs took more of a strategic industry perspective, and paired it with a renewed focus on what really matters: great analytic and creative work that actually drives the business.

How marketers can help the company change

Delighting customers is high on every CMO’s agenda. This often means building capabilities to serve customers faster, better, or in a more personalised manner. Technology isn’t the hardest part, however; what’s really tough is driving changes within a company. It’s time for CMOs to develop new muscles and lead (from my column).

When research firm Econsultancy and Adobe recently polled marketers on their priorities for 2016, “optimising the customer experience” topped the list. (Adobe is’s parent company)

Most marketers clearly understand that today’s customers want more than just a basic product, they also want a good experience. But the customer experience bar is rising.

Not long ago, an extraordinary customer experience meant short waiting times, friendly associates, or other basics customers have now come to expect (including a good price). The study found that marketers believe customers want personalised experiences too. That’s hardly surprising. Just think about an average customer’s day. In the morning, she drives a car that automatically switches on the light when it becomes dark. At lunchtime, the waiter at her favourite restaurant asks: “One espresso, as always?” And when she logs into her Amazon account, she’ll immediately see the items she previously looked at.

Customers are getting used to some basic intelligence in day-to-day brand interactions. Some years ago, that customer would have tolerated a bank’s mass mailing. Today, she’d probably think: “I don’t need a damn loan—don’t they know me by now?”

Creating a personalised customer experience may sound easy—but it isn’t. Delivering what people want, when they want it, often requires advanced IT solutions and major changes in how a company is organised. It’s no surprise that marketers, when asked in the same study about what it takes to optimise customer experience, say: “a strategy, a long-term view, a plan, and executive support.” Just think about those words; they basically mean customer experience efforts are far reaching, long term, and must be anchored at the top of an organisation.

How To Lead Organisational Change

I recently hosted a cross-industry CMO workshop to problem-solve how marketers can ignite organisational transformation. Most CMOs agreed that driving change is tricky, as the financial benefits of customer experiences can be hard to prove, marketing doesn’t always call the shots, and CMOs are simultaneously juggling several priorities (e.g. catching up on digital skills). But there was also broad agreement that, despite all the difficulties, marketers must be the organisational drivers of change.

Too few CMOs today realise the extent of their powers as leaders of change. Insights from the extensive CMO research for Patrick Barwise’s and my new book “The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader” highlight three reasons why marketers as drivers of change have an edge if they:

Bring Their Most Powerful Change Data

No data beats customer data. No senior leader can ignore what customers say—at least not for long. There’s just one condition needed to turn customer data into powerful data: clearly linking it with indicators that matter in the C-suite (e.g. revenue or profit). Armed with such powerful data, CMOs find it much easier to make the case for a transformation.

Tell Their Most Powerful Change Story

MIT Professor George S. Day sees it as key priority for a CMO to act as the visionary for the future of the organisation. Most people who must change so that a better customer experience can be provided don’t report to marketing. They work in sales, call centres, or at other touch points. It’ll be hard to force change with authority. Instead, marketers can use a more powerful weapon for change: a convincing customer story. “We want to help more customers to eat healthy by … ” or “we give kids a better future through education if we … ” These are great client examples of CMO stories that led to an internal following.

Display Their Most Powerful Change Motivation

Driving organisational transformation can be a troubling experience. What looks sexy on the outside, in reality means difficult meetings, barriers, and sometimes even outright rejection. To keep going, any leader involved in transformation needs tenacity and a personal dream for what’s right for the future. What unites marketers is a true passion for customers. Every marketer wants his or her brand to be loved. When it comes to a transformation, customer passion is, perhaps, the strongest CMO power. People may find CMO data compelling. But, in the end, what’s really contagious is a true passion to serve customers better.

Customer experience is a moving target. Getting it right is key. CMOs must make a leap and drive the needed internal transformation—simply because they can and are in a position to do so.

Why CMOs must side with the revenue camp

Influential business leaders are associated with revenue, yet too often marketers are not. They’re missing the point. It’s time for CMOs to get into the revenue camp (from my column).

Profitable growth (the sustainable kind) is high on every CEO’s agenda. In fact, it’s not just high. Next to strategy and organisation, sustainable growth is the number one item on the agenda for every company leader. That’s great news for marketers. In the end, innovating and finding customers is what marketers do, isn’t it?

A new study by the search firm Russell Reynolds raises questions about marketers’ role in driving growth. The consultancy highlighted that more and more companies are now hiring chief growth officers (CGOs). Some of these CGOs are simply super CMOs with a broader remit, including innovation or R&D. But in some cases, CGOs are hired in addition to the firm’s top marketers. The reason behind this is that marketers in these companies are seen as too tied up with digital and other issues. In other words: CEOs in these firms don’t believe their marketers can drive enough growth. That’s a chilling finding.

The Russell Reynolds study isn’t the first to cast doubt on marketers’ ability to drive growth. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) recently found that over 68% of CMOs believe their department is seen as a cost centre and about one third of CMOs said their business owners don’t see marketing as a revenue driver. When another EIU study asked: “Who is the voice of your customer?” just 13% of C-suite leaders mentioned their CMO. There’s work ahead for the CMO brand.

Marketers must reclaim the revenue camp. It’s obvious why: being a cost centre isn’t a good place to be. What do clever CEOs do with the cost camp? Reduce it. Management thinker Peter Drucker once said the job of marketing is to make sales obsolete. While this may be a push too far for some, getting closer to Drucker’s idea must be every CMO’s aspiration. Only when marketing is in the revenue camp, will CMOs have a seat at the table.

In working with over 100 CMOs and CEOs for our upcoming book (The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Fall 2016, McGraw Hill), Patrick Barwise and I have identified a number of levers marketers can pull to get into the revenue camp. Among other things, they must:

  • Tackle only big issues. CMOs must ensure what marketing works on is a priority for both customers and the CEO. Only when both conditions are met can marketing get into the revenue camp.
  • Deliver returns, no matter what. Some things in marketing can’t be measured—but most can. Even if marketers know the evidence for their (revenue) success, others may not see it. It’s important to share widely how marketing drives revenue.
  • Make marketing transparent. Many successful CMOs use a simple marketing model that clarifies the link between awareness or consideration and sales. These models tend to oversimplify things, true. But they are extremely powerful for internal communication—especially if developed with finance.
  • Keep the language close to the revenue line. Perception is reality. If leaders talk revenue (instead of brand likes or gross rating points), they’ll more likely be associated with revenue too. It’s called brand building.

Whatever companies put on marketers’ name badge, being the chief growth officer is the right aspiration for every customer leader.

Why open books give you more power in the C-Suite

Why are CFOs so powerful? They have crucial and credible financial data every CEO wants to see. Competing with a CFO’s credibility can be hard if your own data is forward looking—or if your work’s impact is hard to  measure. Don’t try to compete—change the game. Open the books! (from my column).

Proving your worth can be hard. Take marketing. Less than 50% of C-suite executives in an Economist Intelligence Unit study believed their marketing’s expenditures were really delivering a measurable ROI (never mind bottom-line profits). In other words: Your CEO may not trust you’re spending the money well.

Saying leaders don’t spend money well is often unfair. Marketing’s impact, for example, can be tricky to measure—especially for investments in long-term brand building. Many leaders Patrick Barwise and I interviewed for our new leadership book The 12 Powers Of A Marketing Leader said they could do a better job showing how their work drives revenue and profit. But some also shared a big fear: C-suite pushback. Forward-looking data often fails to match the precision offered by backward-looking finance data. If that’s the case, why not change the game and open the books?

One head of marketing recently received this CFO email: “Dear James, Sorry I couldn’t reach you personally. As a proportion of revenue, we spend almost twice as much on advertising than our largest competitor. That’s unacceptable. I’ve decided to cut this year’s advertising budget by 35% and next year’s by a further 10%. I’m sure you’ll understand our need to manage costs. It’s a tough year.”

James was outraged. He was tired discussing marketing funds each time the company had a bad month. So he decided to try a new approach. He met the CFO and proposed that the marketing and finance teams jointly produced the numbers on all marketing activities. Open book. No hiding. The project changed everything. The joint team found that most campaigns did, in fact, create a decent return. The few that created poor returns, including two high-profile sponsorships, were cut. Working together the team then developed metrics on how to best measure and report marketing success.

At first, opening the books was painful,” he recalled, but it made his work more relevant and influential. Some of the budget cuts were reversed. More importantly, people in the organization finally understood how marketing drove the bottom line. The open books-approach isn’t just for marketing. HR and operations executives have successfully implemented the approach too.

Abigail Coomber, head of customer at British Airways, said: “(leaders) need to show the ROI of every penny spent … and how it delivers against the bottom line.” Like many leaders, she agrees that opening your books is among the most powerful things you can do to prove returns.

Here are some basic rules for producing powerful C-suite data:

Measure What’s Big

Measuring the return on some smaller items may cost you more than it’s worth. Take a look at your overall budget. Identify the big and critical items. Focus on measuring these first.

Take An 80/20 Approach

Impact measurement isn’t about getting every penny right. Some people use sophisticated tools, considering short- and long-term effects of their work. Others do very well with a simple quarterly impact-spreadsheet. If you’re unsure, invite three agencies or experts to present how they would set up your measurement system. Get a simple one to work first—and expand it later.

Open The Books—Get Finance Involved

Work with your finance experts to jointly define and agree how you want to measure and report returns. You’ll find that most CFOs understand very well that not everything can (and should) be measured. Problem-solving this jointly will greatly increase the credibility of your numbers. Don’t hide from finance—instead, team up.

Show Your Returns Frequently

This can feel scary, but sharing your estimated returns with top management is one of your best ways to build credibility as a leader. Crucially, sharing returns includes sharing the failures.

The most successful leaders in our study didn’t try to crack impact measurement on their own. By teaming up with the CFO, top leaders leverage what I call “the power of open books.”

CMOs and the ‘confidence thing’

Even top marketers sometimes ask: “Do I have what it takes to step up and shape my company’s customer agenda?” But when good marketers hold back, companies may struggle to grow and customers are worse off. That’s when it’s time to add more fuel into marketer’s tank: confidence (from my column).

A few days ago, I started teaching the new CMO class of the Fellowship Program (a joint venture between the Marketing Academy and McKinsey). These CMOs are a high-powered group of successful executives from top companies, who aim to become CEOs. As we explored leadership barriers in marketing, one big theme that came through was confidence.

Throughout their careers, these top marketers have had to overcome doubts about their own skills, their ability to speak up, and their right to shape the agenda. But all have built-up their confidence and are now shooting for the top job.

But why aren’t marketers more confident in the first place? Patrick Barwise and I explored the confidence issue in a large study with profiles of over 68,000 leaders (we’ll publish the findings in our new book “The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader”). We found three important reasons why marketers sometimes feel less confident in their jobs than their peers:

Customer Leaders Are The Eros In A Logos World

Most CMOs think strategically; see the big picture; and are sensitive to emotions (that’s why they understand customers so well). Scientists call these: Eros personality traits. However, many company roles (like finance or operations), require rational leadership with a focus on the here and now, facts, and structure (Logos personality traits). Eros and Logos leaders think and act differently. It’s no surprise that Eros-marketers sometimes think “nobody understands me” — and lose confidence. But when marketers realize that it’s “ok” to be different, when they create and innovate, and when they learn to talk effectively with Logos leaders, confidence rises.

Customer Leaders Are All About The Future (Revenue)

Let’s face it: next to last year’s P&L, future revenue plans always look a little crude. Even if CMOs understand customers well, do all the testing in the world, and plan as much detail as one can imagine, there’s still one issue left: nobody can guarantee what customers will do. Many marketers are fighting uphill battles to forecast success — only to learn these future numbers are never as good as a P&L. This too doesn’t build confidence. Here’s the good news: every CEO and CFO knows that forecasts cannot be accurate. When marketers have an honest discussion about future revenues, take the thoughts of the CEO and CFO on board, and develop numbers together, confidence rises. At the end of the day, what’s way more important than last year’s numbers, for every CEO, is future revenue – and that’s what customer leaders stand for.

Customer Leaders Don’t Have Official Authority

There’s nothing more confidence-nagging than great marketing plans that don’t get executed by other parts of an organization. Every CMO has seen it. We found in our research that too many marketers rely on the company’s top management to enforce marketing execution across departments. This may have worked 100 years ago, but not today. To ensure great customer ideas see the light of the day, successful marketers must leave their silos, walk the halls, and mobilize colleagues to serve customers better — independent of reporting lines. The role of customer leaders is to start a movement — not to own it. And when others join the movement, confidence rises.

As customer leaders, a CMOs is the lynchpin of a company’s customer success. As new research clearly proves, powerful marketing departments have a clear and positive impact on company performance (e.g. revenue, stock returns and return on assets).

Top marketers have all the reasons to be confident!

Success comes from working with the best

People will forget the price, but they’ll never forget the quality, famous designer Jil Sander was once quoted. For marketers, her point couldn’t be more true (from my column).

Your ideal agency partners may be a six-hour flight away, and expensive. But working with the best could make all the difference for your business growth and for your career.

Let’s learn something from Steve Jobs. I wouldn’t normally use him as a marketing leadership role model, as for most marketers today his often intimidating style would be the fastest possible way out of the company door.

But Jobs did one thing exceptionally well; he spared no effort to find and work with the best people in their fields, no matter where they were, starting with the brilliant computer engineer and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (who actually invented lots of Apple’s cool stuff).

In 1982, for example, Jobs flew to Japan to secure advanced parts from Sony for his groundbreaking Lisa computer. Three years later, he paid top designer Paul Rand $100,000 for his NeXT company logo. And do you recall who was behind Apple’s groundbreaking designs? Jonathan Ive.

Working with the best, no matter where they are, isn’t just what Jobs did. For example, ReD, a small Danish consultancy, is often credited with much of the success of German sports goods maker adidas. I’m sure you know examples too.

Are marketers always working with the best? Nope.

In the largest global study on marketing leadership, only 62% of senior marketers say they strive to work with the best. Many marketers settle for (typically local) partners they already know.

Don’t Settle For Who You Know

Going the familiar route can be the right thing to do–or not.

Here’s an argument I sometimes hear: “We can’t afford the fees of the best.”

I disagree. Working with the best isn’t a straightforward fees question; it’s a returns question. If you succeed, create profitable growth, and get a good financial return, your company–plus your standing within it–will benefit (and people will forget the price).

In Patrick Barwise’s and my latest study, working with the best external partners made it into the top 12 levers for business growth and marketing career success. It’s a big deal.

But take note: the best partners for you may not be in your city. They may be in Hamburg, Miami, or Seoul.

Staying In Touch With The Best

Here’s how some of my most successful marketing leader clients stay in touch with the best:

  • Invite new partners in for a talk from time to time. Be loyal to your existing agencies—it’s a big deal. But there’s no harm in inviting new people in for a discussion from time to time. (Just be honest: you’re not currently looking.)
  • Go to conferences; not just in your backyard. Many agencies and experts hang out at conferences to meet new clients. While some of you may find this a pain, you’ll often meet very interesting people with good ideas (that’s how adidas met ReD). Make sure you go to meetings outside of your country, too.
  • Look for success. What are the best marketing ideas and campaigns in your industry internationally? Which external partners are behind these successes? For every industry, there are blogs and magazines that feature the best marketing work. Have a close look.

You are a marketer. Your key role is to tackle the customer’s and the company’s big issues (see my earlier article). Imagine that your next marketing idea will be a breakthrough. Isn’t that worth the trouble of finding the best?

Don’t go it alone. Marketing leaders work with the best.

Storytelling is a marketing leader’s most important skill

Marketing is only one piece of the customer experience puzzle. To create a truly remarkable experience, other departments must also be heavily involved. The challenge is that colleagues in these other departments don’t perhaps report directly to you. You must find ways to mobilize them, starting with sharing your vision through a powerful story (from my column).

It’s no secret: powerful words help leaders to mobilize their people. Dusty McCoy, CEO of marine, fitness and billiards company Brunswick, for example, tells his staff, “We do what we say, and we say what we do.” Microsoft’s Satya Nadella used “Mobile first, cloud first” to describe his new company direction. And most of you will remember Apples’ “Think Different,” which has served as both external and internal aspiration for years.

In our recent global The Marketer’s DNA study, Patrick Barwise and I could prove for the first time that visioning and storytelling are sizable factors in marketers’ business impacts, especially for career success. Ford’s former CMO, Jim Farley, even told me, “Storytelling is your most important skill as a marketing leader.”

Of course, you don’t have to be the marketing super-hero of a Fortune 500 company to use stories effectively. Consider the example of Jaime , a marketing manager whose customer vision helped transform an ailing door handle business. In a speech delivered to his staff, he said:

“For generations, our products have been used by millions. Let’s become the number one choice again. We can’t compete on price. But customers have told us how to win: let’s make quality our hallmark, but let design be our new signature. Because when we do, customers will say: ‘I want this one exactly—this feels great, and it looks great.’ Let’s all write history together. I need your ideas for how to make the best and the most attractive products again. Let’s put our door handles back in people’s hands.”

So, how can you write a story that captures people’s imagination? Make sure that you include three essential elements: heart, head, and how-to.

1. Heart: An inspiring vision.

A great story has a big aspiration that people can sign up for. In the door handle case, this was “becoming the preferred choice again,” and “writing history.” Stories like these can get people’s imaginations going, but craft them cautiously; people can quickly turn cynical if your ideas are too far-fetched (e.g., take over the whole market, change everything we do). Unrealistic stories also hit the heart–just in a way you don’t want. The best stories are simple and paint hopeful, yet realistic, pictures of the future. Try to find memorable phrases for your story. Jaime’s “Let’s put our door handles back in people’s hands” or Dusty McCoy’s “We do what we say, and say what we do” are words that people can easily recall.

2. Head: Credible evidence.

People may disagree with a leader–but nobody can really disagree with the customers (at least not for long). Make sure you include credible evidence, ideally from customers. The marketer at the door handle company used the customer response in the product test to make his case for design: “I want this one exactly.” To make your story believable, include evidence and ways for the company to achieve its dream.

3. How-to: Personal relevance.

Suppose you’re a staff member listening to your leader’s vision. Immediately you ask: “How does this affect me? What do I need to do?” Make sure your story answers questions like these. Jamie stated directly, “I need your ideas for how to make the best and the most attractive products again.” He invited his colleagues to act.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said: “A leader is a dealer in hope.” As a senior marketer, to give colleagues hope and to mobilize the organization in the customer’s interests, you need a powerful story. What’s yours?

Why bosses don’t listen to marketers

Daniel* is a marketer–and Daniel has a problem: he isn’t getting his boss’s attention. A regional marketing head of a large consumer electronics company, he often finds himself last on his boss’s agenda. Daniel isn’t alone. Millions of marketers struggle to get attention. Perhaps their work isn’t seen as critical for the company (from my column).

How influential is marketing inside the organization? Some new US studies suggest it’s rising. A recent study by University of Mannheim found it’s shrinking. We all agree: it could be higher. According to the Mannheim research, too few marketers do what’s deemed key for the business. Executives in the study rated pricing, product development, and strategy (PPS) as the most important business functions. Unfortunately marketers aren’t seen as very involved in PPS. My latest global CMO study with Patrick Barwise paints a similar picture: just 32% of senior marketers have a stake in pricing, 56% in product development, and 39% in strategy.

On the flip side, the Mannheim study found, marketers are seen as deeply involved in communication and customer satisfaction (CC). Unfortunately company leaders in the study find CC less important than PPS. That’s unfair (and incorrect). But every marketer knows: perception is reality. If people think your work isn’t important, you won’t be seen as important.

“The marketer’s role is to help the company generate long-term organic profit growth” says Patrick Barwise, the renowned marketing thinker and London Business School professor. Here’s the good news from Mannheim: influential marketing departments are the biggest influencers of company growth. Whenever marketing gains influence, companies thrive.

Before Daniel became my client, I asked him, “What do you do?” He replied, “I look after our brand and brand communication.” Even as the Head of Marketing, Daniel had stayed away from the big profit drivers–pricing, product, or place (distribution). And when I interviewed senior leaders at Daniel’s company, many described him as a “lightweight.” No wonder he didn’t get attention.

Three Steps To Influence

To develop C-suite traction, Daniel had to get involved in what matters most for growth. As part of a six-month program, he identified three steps to increase his influence:

Find the company’s biggest growth levers. If you help the company grow profitably, you’ll be in the game. Daniel quickly figured out that distribution was a major bottleneck. Competitors were simply in more shops. Another big issue was pricing. The company adjusted prices almost daily to steer product sales in a tough market. But the process was unsophisticated, and cutting prices too much immediately hit the bottom line.

Throw the biggest stone. Once you know the big growth levers, go where you can make the biggest difference. In Daniel’s case, the Head of Sales had just hired two pricing specialists. It didn’t–at this point–make sense for Daniel to tackle pricing. Distribution was a bigger opportunity. Daniel knew the retail landscape and already had ideas about how to get products into more stores. Distribution was the way to go.

Start small, think big. As a marketer, when you engage in a new field, take small steps but have the end in mind: profitable growth. Daniel knew he couldn’t just jump into distribution. Instead, he did his homework. First, he collected the company’s distribution information. He found the data to be patchy–nobody had a full overview. His team created a dashboard, showing that distribution was at 68 percent of all stores. With these insights, Daniel got more involved. His team developed distribution ideas and even shifted the marketing budget to fund these efforts. One day he felt comfortable enough to share his vision: “Let’s crack 80 percent.” The sales team initially felt put on the spot. But with data at hand, people listened to Daniel. Eighty percent became the goal. When they reached it, a big part of the success was credited to Daniel.

It took Daniel several weeks to change his own brand from marketing expert to growth driver. Now, lack of attention, for him, is a thing of the past.

Your influence as a leader goes up when you work on the company’s biggest issues. Getting involved in what matters may take you several steps. How about taking the first step today?

Ask yourself; do you work on the right issues to be influential?

*The name and context has been changed.

Can’t be in charge? Start a movement

Let’s face it: you’re not in charge of it all. Almost nobody is really in charge of it all. Your boss can disagree with you. Your colleagues can push their own agendas. Even your team members can push their will over yours. We are in the 21st century. The old industrial hierarchies, where the boss calls the shots, just don’t work anymore. Get over it (from my column).

If you have a good business idea, try something new: start a movement. Put your idea out, demonstrate how it works, and then–this is key–find the first followers.

It takes three to fill the dance floor. At the 2009 Sasquatch outdoor music festival, one guy got up and started to dance. Hundreds of spectators wondered, “What’s he doing?” It took a while before the first follower arrived, a guy with the courage to join the first dancer. Still, the crowd was watching. Then a third guy had the guts to get up and join the dancers. Now there was a crowd. This was the tipping point. Within minutes, people came running from everywhere to join the movement, eager not to be left out (you can view it here).

Movements start by one leader taking a risk, trying something, and showing its effect. Then it’s all about finding the first followers.

If you want to get an idea moving in your organization, consider three steps:

1. Ask yourself: “what’s my movement?” Look for an idea that’s close to your heart. But choose one that could have wide appeal inside your organization, such as serving customers in a new way or getting a new product to market. PS: The best ideas for company movements are close to the revenue line.

2. Dare to go first–show how your idea works. As the leader of a movement, your role is to get up first. Show people how your idea works in practice. When T-Mobile manager Dee Dutta had the idea of prepaid mobile phone fees, nobody liked it. Dee and his colleagues got up and, through successful tests, proved his idea. It changed the industry. Getting up first is risky, but that’s a risk you get paid for as a leader.

3. Find the important first followers. Once your idea is out, shift your focus and find followers who will adopt it. The successful Syoss hair care brand exists only in Europe, because former CMO Tina Müller found the one country manager who dared to launch it. It worked and quickly turned other skeptics into followers. Finding the first followers is an underappreciated leadership skill, but it’s key.

You can’t be in charge of it all.  But you can start a movement.

Starting a movement

Did you ever wonder how to start a movement within your company? This video has some powerful insights for you!

It takes three to fill the dance floor. At the 2009 Sasquatch outdoor music festival, one guy got up and started to dance. Hundreds of spectators wondered, “What’s he doing?” It took a while before the first follower arrived, a guy with the courage to join the first dancer. Still, the crowd was watching. Then a third guy had the guts to get up and join the dancers. Now there was a crowd. This was the tipping point. Within minutes, people came running from everywhere to join the movement, eager not to be left out.

To start a movement, you as leader must take a risk, try something new, and show its effect. Then it’s all about finding your first followers.

Why leading marketing is hard

Normally, I write about how to succeed as a customer leader. But often, after a talk or a workshop, someone comes to me and says: “Come on, you must admit that leading marketing is hard” (from my column).

Okay, let’s–for once–do some moaning. It’s true: marketers are facing three gaps: trust, power and skills. Leadership is the way through all of them.

Let’s look at three gaps Patrick Barwise and I have found in our large global leadership research (please forgive me for adding some constructive ideas):

1. The Trust Gap (The Organisation Doesn’t Really Believe You)

‘Trusted adviser’ is a common term in most languages. ‘Trusted marketer’ isn’t. But why are marketers less trusted? Because they are in the revenue generation business. Marketers are all about what ‘could be’ (e.g. future revenue)–and that comes with problems.

To start with, it’s hard to predict customer behaviour. Usually, customers simply want ‘better’ products, but sometimes they fall for big ideas ‘beyond the familiar,’ such as Apple’s iPhone, as my friend Patrick Barwise has shown in his inspiring books. The bigger and more unfamiliar the idea, the harder it is to predict demand. And today, what customers want and how to reach them is changing faster than ever. We can run tests and do the numbers–but we can never guarantee success. In fact, nobody can guarantee success, but marketers feel the heat.

To make things worse, it’s also hard to prove the return on your past marketing investments. For most digital or direct marketing campaigns, we can get a good read of the short-term return. But on long-term brand investments, it will always be a mix of art and science to figure out real returns. That’s why, when talking about past cash flow, the CFO will always look smarter than you.

The perhaps biggest trust killer is less obvious–and yet everywhere: GMOOT (Get Me One Of Those). It seems everyone–from the chairman’s spouse to the junior IT recruit–has views on how marketing should be done, often involving the latest fads and fashions. Suggestions are great, but you can’t possibly prove or disprove all ideas that hit you each day. And even if you can proof that a ‘GMOOT’ is nonsense (you’ll put it more nicely, of course), some people will still trust their own intuition more than your facts.

Trust in marketers doesn’t come easy. You’ll have to earn trust again each and every day–and that takes leadership. Getting a proper return measurement going is a must–no debate. But be honest as well. Even the toughest CFO will understand; you can’t measure and predict everything. Put your cards on the table. To build trust, measure what you can, create scenarios–but never claim you can predict the future. Because you can’t.

2. The Power Gap (You Don’t Have All The Say)

The marketing manager must have the attitude of a purchasing agent, an investor and a horse-trader all at the same time, if he is ever to achieve the overall control that marketing operations so urgently need” wrote Reavis Cox in 1956. For decades, marketers have complained about their lack of control–and it’s getting worse. In a perfect world, the performance of marketers would be judged by their contribution to the company’s revenue and profit growth. But many marketers don’t fully control the main revenue and profit drivers, including product, pricing, and availability. Especially in service businesses, sales and operations overwhelmingly determine the customer experience. And in the digital age, where customer data insights are fast becoming a popular currency, IT is getting more involved as well. None of these typically report to the CMO.

Let’s face it; marketers aren’t in charge. In fact, nobody’s in charge. “How can I have more say?” is the wrong question for the digital age. As a marketer, don’t worry about how much ‘say’ you have. Instead, find ways to become the customer thought-leader in your company, make the case with data, inspire colleagues with a customer story that gets under their skin, and walk the hallways to get things moving. Some people call this marketing. I call it leadership.

3. The Skills Gap (You’ll Never Know Enough)

Digital is creating a massive marketing skills gap. While TV, radio, print, etc. still matter, there is an ever-growing list of new marketing tools (mobile, social, big data, etc.). Some studies estimate that US marketing teams alone will be short of 190,000 people with data skills by 2018. Many CEOs expect their top marketers to lead the digital transformation, but most marketers feel overwhelmed by digital technologies. There are now more books, articles, conferences, seminars, and blogs on functional marketing knowledge than ever before. Getting up to speed takes significant energy away from many marketers’ main task: driving innovation and profitable revenue growth.

In the past, your question was: “How can I learn it all?” But now is not the past. Now is now. Your current leadership question has to be: “How can we make the biggest difference for our customers–and who can I bring in to do it best?”

Leading marketing was always hard. It’s not getting easier. A little moaning is okay at times. But leadership will help you deal with all three crises. The reward? You get to do the coolest job in the company: marketing!

How do you bridge the three internal gap of marketers?

3 digital traps for marketers–and how to avoid them

Who should lead our digital marketing transformation?” Many CEOs are looking for leaders to move the company’s marketing into the future. Too often, however, top marketers don’t make it onto the CEO shortlist because they’ve fallen into a digital CMO trap. It doesn’t have to be like this (from my column).

The rise of digital gives companies unprecedented opportunities to learn from customers, talk with customers, and develop offers with them. Many mature companies, such as American Airlines, General Mills, or Nestlé, have successfully used digital to drive new growth (or to take costs out of the system). For marketers, the current age should be golden!

Unfortunately things don’t look as bright for many customer leaders. While some, such as McDonald’s Steve Easterbrook, rise and become CEOs, many marketers feel threatened by the proliferation of marketing responsibilities. In a food company, for example, five of the ten top team members are now involved in marketing areas that include customer insight analytics, campaign software, direct on-line sales channels, and customer data integration. Marketing was never “in charge” of the customer. But today, even more people across the organization are involved in marketing issues.

A recent Forbes study established that 40% of CMOs find it hard to align objectives with other functions and 39% have issues integrating social media into their strategy. Many CMOs struggle to find their role in this new world — and to make their careers work.

Company leaders are in desperate need of top marketers who can shape how the company understands and serves customers in a digital age. If you want to be one of these leaders, make sure you don’t fall into one of the following three digital CMO traps:

The Denial Trap

Digital marketing isn’t (yet) important in our market.” The denial trap is common in firms with very developed marketing models. Perhaps you are use to mass media advertising, direct sales, or annual fairs as proven ways to reach customers. Perhaps budgets for above the line, below the line, and digital sit in different departments. Perhaps an entire system of customers, agencies, and sales people expect that machine to continue as is. The idea that digital couldn’t help you reach customers better (or cheaper) is almost certainly wrong. Change in the way you do marketing is going to come — often as a landslide: The CEO of a cosmetics company, for example, has within four weeks fully integrated all marketing and digital teams, put a new CMO in place, and broke and old taboo by supporting one-to-one customer communication and direct sales.

The Woods for the Trees-Trap

It’s complicated I’m doing my best.” Getting your head around the myriad of digital marketing tools and techniques can be daunting. Not one day goes by without a new digital blog, book, or conference. As a knowledgeable marketing professional, your natural inclination may be to become the expert in everything digital as well — but that’s impossible. The CMO of a B2B engineering company, for example, initiated several complex customer data projects. Very soon, he didn’t see the woods for the trees. Timelines and costs grew out of control. The leader who replaced him, however, was more successful as he stopped all but the most valuable digital projects (customer profiling and campaigning), launched the first campaigns within eight weeks of his arrival, and built a panel of digital advisers to help him decide where best to focus his digital attention.

The Silo Trap

Marketing must own the customer relationship and the digital budgets.” Digital affects the entire company. Data arrives almost everywhere in an organization, most companies deploy more sales channels now, and members of staff meet customers at more touch-points than ever before. But sharing responsibility for customer activities with a CTO or a Chief Digital Officer can be hard for top marketers. Fights erupt about who owns the digital budgets or who has the say about a customer channel. The CMO of a large European retailer takes a very different perspective: “I don’t care who has the digital budgets — my role is to push our leaders to make the right things happen for customers.” No surprise she’s seen as one of the companies’ most influential board members. Thought leadership eats structure for breakfast.

Think: Customers – Company – Digital

If you find yourself in one of the three digital CMO traps, the first step is to recognize it. To get out, the model of digital thought leaders may help you. Try to think: Customers – Company – Digital.

Customers: Put yourself in the shoes of a customer today and three years from now. How can the company best help and serve you? When, where, and through which channels do you want to communicate and buy products? What would you not want to experience?

Company: Imagine you are fully in charge of your company now and three years from now. What are your biggest pain points? Where are the best opportunities for growth? Where can you cut costs to finance your growth? What would you not want your organization to do?

Digital: Having understood customers and your company, what are the one or two areas where digital technology can make the biggest difference within the next 12 months and the next three years? Which mistakes should you not make? Take these insights and consult several digital experts to help shape your digital change agenda.

CEOs are looking for new types of top marketers. These CMOs can lead the digital transformation — rather than deny its need, get stuck in complexity, or fight for territory. Digital thought leaders have a customer vision, take a top-management company perspective, and shape the highest return digital agenda. Leading the company’s digital transformation is your sweet spot as a top marketer. Start by avoiding the digital CMO traps.

How can you lead the digital transformation of your company?

Great marketing teams love having a good fight

Consumers’ lives wouldn’t be the same without Diet Coke, Swiffer, or Red Bull. The key to market success is innovation–and a fair amount of constructive conflict (from my column).

When A.G. Lafley took over as CEO of Procter & Gamble in 2000, his first priorities were to make innovation a part of the teams’ daily routine and to establish a culture of innovation. This focus on more and better innovation soon pushed P&G’s new-product success rate up from between 15% and 20% to between 50% and 60%. Many factors played a role, but Lafley’s team-culture shift was definitely one.

“How can I get my team to innovate more?” It’s a common question my clients ask. Constructive conflict could be the key, as Patrick Barwise and I have found in our latest research. A team of US researchers led by Stanford management professor Kathleen M. Eisenhardt made an important discovery while observing top teams: the most productive teams knew how to have a good fight. These teams passionately debated ideas, used facts, avoided personal conflict, respected others, and rallied around common goals. Teams that didn’t know how to have a good fight got into personal arguments, shut ideas down, explored only a few routes, and were ultimately less productive and innovative. Eisenhardt could prove teams that fight constructively have a deeper understanding of issues and produce a richer set of solutions.

Here are six effective techniques to help you foster innovation in your team:

Focus On Factual Data Rather Than Opinions
Gut feeling, expressed too quickly or too passionately, can kill even the best ideas before they get a chance to live. At IBM, a team led by scientist Dharmendra Modha successfully created an innovative new microchip architecture inspired by the human brain. To innovate and collaborate better, the team used colours to label their arguments in emails (e.g. white for facts, green for ideas, and red for emotions). This shift forced everyone to stick to facts and ideas and avoid negative emotion (positive emotions were okay).

Explore Several Possible Courses Of Action
Don’t narrow your team’s options too fast; let them explore different routes and ideas for a while and see what you can learn.

Emphasise Common Goals
Start your meetings by sharing the common goal (for example creating profitable growth as a team) and refer to the common goal when fights erupt. End the meetings by reiterating how the team made progress towards the common goal.

Create A Balanced Power Structure
Don’t settle in meetings until everybody had a chance to speak up – even the most silent or junior people. Don’t have all the innovative work led by the heavyweights in your team. Instead, ask your heavyweights to coach leaders who want to step up to innovate. It’s a great chance for your top people to grow as well.

Coach, Don’t Tell
Your people grow and innovate when you ask good questions; not when you give them the answers. In the next project, try this: tell your team that you want them to come up with the answers and that you’ll only step in if needed. In meetings, don’t give them your opinion; listen instead. Pose open-ended questions that start with, “What if,” “How would you,” etc. Try not to say, “I would,” for as long as you can. Take over only when the team gets stuck, but let your team know that you are taking over and why. This can be hard, but the effect can be amazing.

Use Humour
You are the Chief Mood Officer. Humour can reduce the tension that results from disagreement. That can help a lot when things get difficult.

How innovative is your team? Does your team present unique new ideas, or are they holding back? Are you building on these ideas to make them better, or do you look for ways to shoot them down? Are you keeping to facts in a discussion – or do let your emotions rule?

You can create a culture that fosters innovation in your marketing team. Teach your team the art of having a good fight.

Influential marketers tackle big issues

How to claim your marketing seat at the company’s top table? Many marketers work hard but struggle to cut through internally. Why? Because they don’t tackle issues that really matter for the CEO. Don’t let that happen to you (from my column).

“What are your CEO’s top three priorities? And your marketing team’s top three?” I recently asked these questions of a group of CMOs who wanted to build more presence inside their organizations. Not all the flipcharts filled up quickly. Some people could immediately name their CEOs’ top three burning issues, but many had problems saying what’s on their bosses’ minds. When we then compared CEO and marketing priorities, the answers stopped the group in their tracks. Less than half of the charts showed any overlap between the CEOs’ and the marketing teams’ priorities.

Top team misalignment is the rule—not the exception
CEO and CMO misalignment appears to be a common problem. For instance, the Economist Intelligence Unit found that just 46% of business leaders say that their companies’ marketing and business strategies are aligned. Maybe this is why many CMOs complain about a lack of influence. We have all seen the symptoms: budget cuts, slow career tracks, the last place on meeting agendas, and so on. Many top marketers fail to realize they are misaligned.

Tackle a big issue
As a marketer, your natural focus is to get behind customer needs. That’s great. But you’ll only get a seat at the top table if you align what you do with your company’s priorities.

Rule No. 1: Stay close to the company’s ever-changing priorities. Don’t assume that the top issues from last year’s annual discussion are still “hot.” They might have shifted completely. And nobody may tell you.

Rule No. 2: Tackle a big issuematch a customer issue with a company issue. In working with senior marketers, I found that the most successful ones tackle issues that matter both internally and externally. If your company issue is, for example, “profitable growth” and you have identified a new customer segment for your products, you are on to a big issue. But, if costs have spiraled out of control and your company must restructure, doing the same (or more) with less in your marketing budget can become your big issue.

Sounds obvious? As the numbers above show, the misalignment trap is a common problem.

[tweetthis]To claim your marketing seat at the top-table: tackle a big issue! (Thomas Barta)[/tweetthis]

Here are some practical tips to help you tackle a big issue:

  • Find the customers’ issues Ask yourself, “What are the top issues for our customers and how could we make a difference?” Many marketers can easily pinpoint their customers’ concerns, but you may find taking a fresh look worthwhile—perhaps jointly with your team.
  • Find the stakeholders’ issues Meet with each of your top five stakeholders and have an open discussion about their views on the company’s priorities. Enter these meetings with an open mind but also with a perspective (so you don’t appear blank). Hold off on feeling frustrated if the stakeholders’ perspectives differ—that’s normal.
  • Pick your “big issue” Once you know the customers and stakeholders’ priorities, choose your “big issue”—one that tackles both a top stakeholder and customer issue. Look for one where you can make a meaningful difference in, say, six months, with realistic resources. Then tell your stakeholders the “big issue” you’ll be tackling.
  • Talk “big issue” Make sure you link your communication to the “big issue” in emails, meetings, and so on. Be sure to spread the word.

As a marketing leader, find issues that matters for your customers and company. That’s when you’ll find yourself first on many meeting agendas. Tackling a big issue is your entry ticket to shaping boardroom debates—and the CEO’s agenda.

To claim your seat at the top table: tackle a big issue!

Marketers: get out of the office!

How to find the time to get closer to your customers? Meeting customers is a great source of insight. Too busy? You may have more time than you think (from my column).

A recent study found that just half of employees’ work hours in large US companies are spent on clearly productive activities: primary job duties (45%) and useful meetings (9%). The other half goes to emails (14%)—some useful, some not—and interruptions and unproductive meetings (15%), as well as administration (12%). “No time to meet customers” looks like a pretty weak excuse. Time to get out of the office!

The answer lies with your customers (everybody knows this)

CEOs AG Lafley, at P&G, and Bart Becht, formerly at Reckitt Benckiser, both believe in pushing their teams to do regular consumer home visits. Some of the ideas that emerged have driven their companies’ growth for years. Great customer insights often come from simply talking and listening to customers about their relevant issues. So why do so few marketing leaders regularly meet with customers? Because, they say, they’re too busy.

No time to see customers—think twice

When I recently introduced the idea of regular customer meetings to a group of bank executives, one replied, “I’m already working more than 12 hours a day. When do you want me to do this?” For decades, that executive’s bank has relied on customer research by external experts—and lost touch with its customers.

The debate shifted when I asked these executives to each provide confidential estimates of how they spend their work hours, in five categories: 1) driving the business, 2) productive meetings, 3) unproductive meetings, 4) internal emails, and 5) other. You could hear a paper clip drop when we displayed the group results. About 60% of their time fell into the first two productive categories. The rest was spent on largely unproductive activities. The group quickly agreed that they could make time for customer meetings.

Here are some ideas to create more customer face time:

  • Apply the fifty-fifty rule Try this—get at least half your business ideas by talking to customers. How do you track of this? Keep a plain notebook of ideas. Take a double page and use it like a balance sheet: ideas directly from customers on the right, ideas from other sources on the left. It’s pretty simple—and effective.
  • Get out In business-to-business markets, ask customers directly about their experiences with your products or services. Find out which competitors are offering something new, better, or interesting; what your customers’ biggest issues and longer-term plans are; how your company can help with these; and so on. Take notes and follow up. In B2C companies, watch focus group discussions from behind a mirror. Listen in to call center interactions. Spend time in the field with sales people. Serve customers in stores. Use your own and your competitors’ products as often as possible under real-world conditions. Get your friends and family to do the same—and get feedback. Don’t just rely on data and reports.
  • Speak to (at least) three kinds of customers Locate 1) your most loyal customers, because they’re the backbone of your business and you want to make sure you’re serving them well; 2) the most innovative customers, because they can help you understand future market trends; and 3) the most dissatisfied ones, because they can tell you how to improve customer experiences, especially by identifying the main drivers of dissatisfaction that destroy loyalty (lapsed customers can be even better for this).
  • Share what you learn—widely Where possible, record or video your customers’ comments. This helps you engage colleagues in discovering what’s driving customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Wolfgang Baier, CEO of Singapore Post, puts it like this, “if you know what customers say, everyone in the organization will want to engage with you.”

As a marketer, you must be the growth driver for your company. Get at least half of your ideas from talking with customers. Sounds too much? Remember: you just need to give up some wasted time.

How can you free up time to see more customers?

Why skilled marketers fail – and how to fix this

Seventy one percent of CMOs have strong top- and bottom-line impact, but over half are struggling in their careers. Better leadership skills would up the career prospects of many marketers. For our new book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, Patrick Barwise and I have conducted the largest study to date, with detailed data on over 8,600 leaders in more than 170 countries (over 68,000 profiles), on what it takes for marketers to drive the business and to succeed in their careers.

How can marketers achieve both business impacts and career success? If you follow my blog, you ‘ll know that I’ve spent the best part of the last four years researching marketing leadership. Data collection and analysis are now completed (see below). What we’ve learned has completely changed my view of what matters in marketing—and I think it will change that of many marketers as well.

Did you expect that:

  • 71% of CMOs believe they have high top- and bottom-line business impacts (59% of CMO bosses agree)
  • Just 44% of CMOs, however, like where their career is going (CMO bosses even put their marketers LAST in terms of career success versus all other functional leaders)
  • Functional marketing skills matter for sales and profit growth. However, leadership skills are the biggest drivers of CMO career success.

In a nutshell: Success with customers doesn’t automatically lead to career success. Marketers need very different leadership skills than those needed by other leaders in an organization—mainly, influencing skills. They must learn how to operate above the radar screen.

We need many more influential marketers to help companies grow. It is possible!

The M-DNA study and the personal lessons learned during our interviews have already helped us develop a completely new approach to marketing leadership training and CMO coaching.

PS: As I write this, I’ am working with Patrick Barwise, emeritus professor of management and marketing at London Business School and chairman of Which?, the world’s second-largest consumer organization, on our book on marketing leadership (fall 2016).


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:

Core research
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.

We have established which leadership behaviors, marketing skills, and personality traits are the causes of business impacts and career success of our CMOs. To help with this, Dr. Frank Buckler, expert in causal data analytics, built a neural network with our CMO database. Frank normally finds success drivers in large customer databases or optimizes the marketing mix for clients with his unique NEUSREL-method, the same method we used in our study. (The basic idea is to “let the data do the talking” to uncover detailed causal relationships between variables.)

360-degree assessments
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). Professor Manfred Kets de Vries and Elizabeth Florent of INSEAD Business School, whose leadership models are at the heart of our work, graciously gave us access to their massive assessment database: the GELI. We re-coded and analyzed a total of 67,278 360-degree assessments from business leaders from 179 countries to understand how marketers are seen in organizations today.

Over 100 C-suite Interviews
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.

Marketing leadership sessions @ Adobe Summit

Please join me for the marketing leadership sessions I’ll be leading at the Adobe Summit 2015 in London, 29-30 April.

Together with industry pros and innovators, marketers explore how to lead the digital transformation in their organizations. Leading the digital transformation is not foremost a skills issue – it’s a leadership challenge for marketersYou can get early bird tickets by 08 March. Here is the link. Summit 2015 is expected to sell out. Hope to see you there!

Would you be a great CEO? CMO Fellowship Programme. Apply now!

CMO is a wonderful role. But some marketing leaders want to go to the very top. The successful Marketing Academy’s Fellowship Programme (launched in 2013) is helping CMO’s to become the CEO’s of tomorrow. Participants will receive personal leadership coaching by Thomas Barta. Application deadline is August 08, 2014. Click here for more information.

Great CEOs and Board Directors need the ability to influence and engage as well as the courage to take risks. Truly successful CEOs also have a deep understanding of the commercial drivers of their business, combined with intellectual bandwidth, a well-honed ability to spot the right opportunities and an unfailing ability to understand what their customers want.

Building on the success of our ground breaking Scholarship Programme, The Marketing Academy has partnered with McKinsey & Company and actvance Leadership Advisors of Thomas Barta to develop the Fellowship Programme. A select group of exceptional marketing leaders at the top of their organisations, large or small, will have the unique opportunity to gain the insight and develop the skills to help them make the transition to CEO, or to secure a place on the Board.

The Marketing Academy Fellowship is a unique part-time programme developed exclusively for those already at the very top of the marketing function in their organisations. Designed to provide successful fellows with access to Board-level thinking and distinctive learning opportunities, the programme aims to ensure that our marketing leaders build the right capabilities to take on a future CEO or Board role. The programme commences in October 2013 and runs for 12 months. Participants also receive 1:1 coaching by Thomas Barta or one of the coaches of Wisdom8, a leading UK coaching firm.

For more information about the Fellowship Programme, click here to get to the Fellowship site of the Marketing Academy.

Want to Inspire ? Show the fire in your eyes

Inspirational people are everywhere.

On a recent visit to Singapore, my cab suddenly stopped just short of the hotel. It was raining and the area in front of the hotel was gridlocked. Taxis, buses and limousines were all blocking each other — it was a mess. A moment later, the hotel porter Jerry came out to take over from his colleague. He started guiding the cars, apologizing to guests, and nudging drivers to clear the way. He was everywhere all at once, and he was smiling. Less than 5 minutes later, everybody was moving again.

“Welcome to Singapore, Mr. Barta”, he said when he opened the door to my cab. “How did you manage to get the cars moving so quickly?” I wanted to know. “Well, I take care of everybody here. I don’t see the cars, I see the people. If your arrival goes well, you’ll have a good stay.” I saw pride in his eyes when he said this. Jerry is just one of the many people who inspire us every day.

Inspiring people starts with one person: yourself. If you have the spark of inspiration, you can inspire others. That’s the key. — Thomas Barta

Inspiring other starts with yourself

“How can I inspire people?” Some people believe inspiring is all about storytelling techniques or about picking a bold topic. Others think: Some leaders “just have it” (in fact early leadership theories propagated this idea). Today we know different: Inspiration comes from a spark deep inside you. Together with INSEAD Business School, we have recently researched how over 8,000 global leaders see themselves versus how their superiors and team see them. The picture on inspiration is pretty clear — those leaders who feel inspired themselves inspire their teams and superiors. Inspiring people starts with one person: yourself. If you have the spark of inspiration, you can inspire others. That’s the key.

Inspiration is easy to spot, and hard to fake. Think about it: replacing humans in movies with digital lookalikes doesn’t work (yet), however perfectly computer-animated they are. Human expression and body language is so complex, it’s hard for even the most powerful computers to simulate. People can spot a flicker of inspiration in seconds. They pick up your movements, your tone of voice, even your smallest facial expressions. You can see this for yourself: repeat a recent, boring conversation for a minute in front of a mirror and watch your face. Next, for another minute, talk about something you really care about (such as a hobby, a dream, or a strong belief). I’m certain your face will show more excitement and energy. It’s what I call the flicker of inspiration. If you show others this flicker behind your eyes, they too will be inspired.

You need to find your flame

Do you need the grand ideas of a Henry Ford, a Steve Jobs or a Mahatma Gandhi to inspire people? Not necessarily. The following experiment shows: People are inspired by very different things, and often by small things. In my leadership workshops I always ask people to write a card to all the other participants who have inspired them, saying why they are so inspiring. We then slip these cards under the addressees’ hotel doors late at night. Some participants get lots of cards, while others get none. What’s on these cards has been surprisingly consistent over the years, and falls into three categories:

  • The flame of optimism: “you have so much energy”, “you always see the opportunities”, “you give me hope that you can do it”, “you believe you can change the market”
  • The flame of courage: “you stand up for what you believe”, “you don’t give up even if it’s not popular”, “you are not afraid to take a risk”
  • The flame of care: “you are so committed to your family”, “you listen to me”, “you supported me”, “you really care for your team”

Why not ask five people today how you inspire them? I’m sure you have flickers of inspiration showing already. Don’t pick a random idea to inspire others. Instead, start with the spark inside you, and let people see it. If it matters to them, it will turn it into a flame.

Inspiring others is your job as a leader

Even if you have the spark of inspiration, it takes energy to show the flicker in your eyes consistently. Some years ago I led a large global team; but despite major business success, the team was not fired up with excitement. I soon realized that I needed to provide them with more spark: They always needed to see the flicker of my own inspiration, especially when things got busy. It seemed odd at first to try and set people alight with every interaction, but it did help me build inspired teams. How about reminding yourself of that, too? If you want to lead, set others alight with your inspiration in each interaction you have.

Whether you want to change the world, lead a company or just clear the road in front of the hotel: let people see the flicker of inspiration in your eyes, and turn it into a flame!

(This is a version of my Huffington Post article on the topic).

McKinsey: Can CMOs and CFOs be friends?

CMOs and CFOs always had a special relationship. Tough effectiveness debates dominated the agenda for decades, as some marketing activities were notoriously hard to measure. But marketing metrics and big data have now entered the marketing suite. Closer ties with finance seem logical. However ROI based decision-making is still yet to come for many marketers, as McKinsey’s Jonathan Gordon, Jean-Hugues Monier, and Phil Ogren have found out.

The authors believe five steps can improve relationships between CFOs and CMOs:

  1. Create an ‘open book’ mind-set
  2. Focus on the metrics that matter
  3. Balance short-term and long-term value creation
  4. Look at savings as well as spending
  5. Seek opportunities to collaborate

These five steps may not end the tension between CMOs and CFOs. But they may turn a heated debate into an informed argument among friends.

From CMO to CEO: Unique new fellowship programme

The Marketing Academy’s new Fellowship Programme is helping CMO’s to become the CEO’s of tomorrow. Participants will receive personal leadership coaching by me and my McKinsey colleagues. Application deadline for the first programme was July 15, 2013.

Great CEOs and Board Directors need the ability to influence and engage as well as the courage to take risks. Truly successful CEOs also have a deep understanding of the commercial drivers of their business, combined with intellectual bandwidth, a well-honed ability to spot the right opportunities and an unfailing ability to understand what their customers want.

Building on the success of our ground breaking Scholarship Programme, The Marketing Academy has partnered with McKinsey & Company and actvance Leadership Advisors of Thomas Barta to develop the Fellowship Programme. A select group of exceptional marketing leaders at the top of their organisations, large or small, will have the unique opportunity to gain the insight and develop the skills to help them make the transition to CEO, or to secure a place on the Board.

The Marketing Academy Fellowship is a unique part-time programme developed exclusively for those already at the very top of the marketing function in their organisations. Designed to provide successful fellows with access to Board-level thinking and distinctive learning opportunities, the programme aims to ensure that our marketing leaders build the right capabilities to take on a future CEO or Board role. The programme commences in October 2013 and runs for 12 months. Participants also receive 1:1 coaching by Thomas Barta or one of the coaches of Wisdom8, a leading UK coaching firm.

For more information about the Fellowship Programme, click here to get to the Fellowship site of the Marketing Academy.

The 4Ps of marketing leadership

Millions of marketers master the famous 4Ps of marketing: product, price, place and promotion. But if you’re a marketing executive, you won’t get very far without also tackling the 4Ps of marketing leadership: productivity, purpose, pull and power (from my column).

The 4Ps of marketing are a powerful toolkit that has given marketers a clear steer for generations. It’s actually pretty neat. The basic message? Marketers must create an attractive product, price it well, leverage the right distribution channels, and promote it effectively. Job done. But something isn’t working in today’s world of marketing. Recently, one of my CMO clients called to vent his frustration.

‘I need a new job,’ he said. ‘We’ve done a fantastic job researching this new product. We know consumers love it. Everything’s in place. But now they’re challenging my budget. And the CEO wants to make more changes to my campaign. This is crazy. I don’t have enough influence on decision-making.’ ‘But surely that’s just as true of customers?’ I asked. ‘You can’t force them to buy.’ ‘No, this is different,’ he said. ‘With customers, we can design products to suit their needs, ramp up distribution, build up campaign pressure. There’s a lot we can achieve with the 4Ps of marketing.’ My next question stopped him in his tracks: ‘If you can influence customer decision-making, why can’t you do the same internally?’

Think about it: marketers influence people’s behavior every day. We never complain about customers’ freedom to choose. We see it as our job to make them buy our offers. So we create a better product, a lower (or higher) price, better distribution, a better campaign. We’re the experts in influencing decisions. So why don’t we do the same internally? Why do so many marketers struggle to build influence in their companies?

We must accept that marketing is not the center of gravity in many organizations. Unless you work for one of the consumer goods giants, chances are that the marketing department has limited influence. Often, you can’t control short-term sales (that’s Head of Sales), you don’t generate confidential financial data (that’s the CFO), you may not control the product, and you don’t have a monopoly on creative ideas (everyone pitches in). The organizational reality often makes it hard for marketers to call the shots.

You can rage about the injustice of the system. Or you can accept it and start to build influence, just as you do in the market. The sooner you start, the better.

So how does a marketer gain influence?

The research I recently conducted with experts at INSEAD Business School shows a pretty clear pattern: outstanding marketing leaders are very productive in their field. They’re 4P experts. But they also have a strong purpose, create internal pull, and build power.

These 4Ps separate the best from the rest. So how about you? Can you demonstrate the 4Ps of Marketing Leadership?

Productivity – create visible marketing & business results.
This one is simple, but still tough. Senior managers give power to people who deliver, so being on their productivity radar really counts. Productive leaders are highly results-oriented. They talk about achievements, not process. They’re tenacious and hard-working. Most importantly, they’re strong team managers. Do you listen to your team? Do you know what team members need to perform at their best? Do you set clear targets? No matter how great you are, your team is the key to success. What’s more, when you do great work, make sure people see it. For introverts, this doesn’t come naturally. But visible results are your gateway to power.

Now, productivity is fairly obvious. The next 3Ps are less obvious, but even more crucial:

Purpose – know what you want to achieve in the market, for the company and for yourself. 
Great leaders know why they get up every morning. They have a vision, a dream. Ask yourself: If I left the company today, what would the press release say? Think big. An inspiring vision is the only way to inspire others. Get family, friends, and coaches to help you define and sharpen it.

Pull – inspire others based on your vision.
If you’re not in charge, your first priority must be to find followers. But people won’t follow for nothing. They need to see that following you leads them to a better future – either because they want to be like you, or because they’re inspired by your business vision. Once you have a vision, it’s vital to package it well. Think about it: the best stories are short and positive. Concentrate on your key message, and give others free rein to spread your story. The best marketers are great storytellers!

Power – get close to the decision-making process. Power grows when you have access to things that other people want. You can increase your power in three ways:

Have courage.
As a top automotive CMO recently put it: ‘If they don’t like my vision, let them fire me’. Many marketing leaders fail because of their desire for harmony – but you aren’t paid to keep everyone happy. When your convictions are at stake, lay your cards on the table. People follow leaders who stand firm.

Be relevant.
What’s your CEO’s agenda? What matters to the other stakeholders? And how does your role help them? Whatever your views, people will give you limited attention if you’re working on issues they see as secondary. Sometimes this means repackaging what you do, to make clear how it helps. So, for example, don’t talk about the ‘gross rating points’ of a campaign, but about ‘future sales’. At times, it may be better to force an alignment, even if it means adjusting your plans.

Work with the best people.
The best universities attract the best students. The best companies have the best leaders. There’s a reason for this: the best people will simply deliver more – even if they’re sometimes challenging or hard to manage. It’s worth it. Are you really surrounding yourself with the best team, the best agencies? If not, change course now. You’ll see your own power grow far more quickly.

Marketers are experts at creating market influence by applying the 4Ps. But this alone isn’t enough. It’s just as vital to gain influence internally. Successful marketing leaders therefore master the 4Ps of marketing leadership: purposepullpower and productivity.

Want to gain more influence? It’s your choice.

Are you a Jobs or a Wozniak?

Apples former boss Steve Jobs still gets many more Google hits than Steve Wozniak, his former partner and ingenious developer of the legendary Apple I computer of 1976. Why? Because expertise is not enough to inspire people and excite markets. Jobs succeeded in taking the ideas of companions like Wozniak and giving them a competitive edge in such a way to revolutionize markets (from my column).

Jobs lives on as a role model for many marketers. But when CEOs were asked to state how they rate their marketing leaders in my recent global study, many didn’t describe a “Jobs” but a “Wozniak”–people who are experts at finding their way through the jungle of media, campaigns, and market segments. This obsession with details often causes directors a mixture of confusion and frustration.

Of course: the world needs people like Wozniak (he contributed substantially to Apple’s success). The question is just: do you want to shape the agenda – like Jobs did – or only contribute to it?

There’s no doubt a company can survive the digital revolution intact through obsessive focus on detail. At the same time, however, there is a need for marketing leaders to see the big picture and develop strong leadership skills. So how can marketing experts gain more influence? This much is clear: Superior marketing expertise is not enough in itself.

Together with experts at the INSEAD Business School I have been researching success factors for marketing leaders since 2011–possibly the biggest worldwide study of its type to date. In spite of all of the differences, a surprisingly clear picture emerges: Outstanding marketers are highly adept in their field. They work toward results and motivate others to achieve great things. Anyone with these skills can do a good job, but more is needed to be the best. In addition to expertise (“do”), influential CMOs also have two other qualities: an ambitious goal (“dream”) and the courage to gain power to achieve it (“dare”).

Dream: “I Want To Get There”
Simon Kang is one of Asia’s most successful marketing leaders. When he took charge of LG Appliances in the U.S. in the late 1990s, few people would have put money on his rise to success. “Lucky Goldstar,” the brand name at the time, was launched in the U.S. with a small number of products, a shoestring budget, and no established distribution chain. But Kang had a dream to see the LG neon sign in Times Square, right in the middle of the world’s biggest brands. It was an ambitious target, but, for Kang, this dream was a powerful source of creative product ideas (colored fridges) and guerrilla marketing campaigns. Most of all, it carried him through numerous meetings where he convinced his team, the factories, and the LG board of his vision. LG is now one of the leading household appliance brands in the U.S. And what about the neon sign in Times Square? Go take a look!

Successful CMOs set themselves ambitious goals and inspire others to achieve them. They tell a story, the story of a better future, of more success and greater prestige. If it comes down to it, they will even put their jobs on the line for this vision. Follow in the footsteps of these visionaries and ask yourself three questions:

1. What do I want to achieve–in the market, for my company, and for myself? And if I left the company today, what would the press release say about my departure? Think big. Only when you are inspired by your dream will you also be able to inspire others. Family, friends, and coaches can help you find and sharpen your vision.

2. How do I inspire others with my vision? Just think about it. The best stories are short and positive. Concentrate on the central message of your story, and give others free rein to spread your message.

3. How do I create points of contact? Prepare yourself for the long haul. Great success is rarely achieved overnight. And even the best message needs to be consistently repeated. Don’t be afraid of telling your story often enough.

Dare: “I Am Free To Do As I Please”
Jobs was passionate and obsessed with details, but most of all he sought power and held onto it. His courage inspired investors, and his willingness to face conflict head-on ensured that only the best ideas reached the market. Aware of his own shortcomings, he surrounded himself with only the best–from engineers to creative minds. For example, when it came to the Next logo, he paid $100,000 to get a top designer. When you are successful, it no longer bothers anyone if the budget overruns slightly. Managers gain more power through visible, top-class performance.

Many marketing managers complain: “If only I had more influence, I could really make a difference!” But they fail to recognize that, in most companies, influence is not awarded according to position, but is acquired through courage. In confidential interviews, many CEOs say that “marketing is much too quiet.” Be like Jobs and use the three sources of power in marketing:

1. Lay your cards on the table. Many marketing managers fail because of their need for harmony. But managers are not paid to keep everyone happy. Lay your cards on the table when your convictions are at stake. Show you have the courage to face conflict head-on. The best people have minds of their own. The CMO of one big automotive manufacturer puts it this way: “If they don’t like my vision, let them fire me.”

2. Be relevant. Not many CEOs find details about the gross reach of a campaign exciting, but if you tell them how you can increase profit, now that’s exciting. It is astonishing how few marketing managers are aware of their CEOs’ priorities. Get the attention of decision-makers by showing how your work adds value to the company.

3. Work with the best. Are you really surrounding yourself with the best team and the best service providers? If not, start today. It’s tough because the best don’t always do what you want. But the best drive you forward.

A top job will not just fall into your lap, particularly in marketing where success is often more difficult to measure and results often depend on the work of others. If you want to get to the very top, then you need constant training–just like in any top sport. Marketing managers are often surprised when they hear that many CEOs and CFOs are helped by professional coaches. Marketing also needs more characters at the top because this is where decisions are made. Expertise is important, but an ambitious goal (“dream”) and the courage to gain power to achieve it (“dare”) make experts into real leaders (“do”).

Wozniak or Jobs? The choice is yours.

Digital marketing: No need to be a high flier

Harvard Business Review recently presented the top 10 medical innovations, including regenerative and genetic medicine, surgical robots and virtual visits. In the new millennium, doctors are faced with a flood of possible new treatments. A consultation room with no computer is now inconceivable. The situation in marketing is similar (from my column).

Marketing leaders are feeling the fear: ‘Am I really in a position to use digital media effectively? Have I got the right team? Are my analytical skills good enough for me to keep up with digital high fliers?’ These are the same questions which doctors are asking themselves. Yet no decent doctor would just throw the latest genetic medicines at a simple influenza virus. Firstly, it would prove much too expensive, and secondly most flu viruses remain stubbornly resistant to many high-tech medicines. A bit like elusive customers, who seem resistant to using the ‘Like’ button on the Facebook pages of fridge manufacturers or following the Twitter account of health insurances. Leaders in marketing must above all retain an overview of the game as a whole. But this is easier said than done.

Analytical abilities have not always been as important. Once upon a time, many marketing managers hid behind their brand, proposition or product. Other departments handled the figures. For years, this division of labor worked well, but now those days are gone for good. The sheer volume of information from new media is simply too great to employ our existing strategies. This new reality is increasingly proving the downfall of marketing leaders.

Digitization: three steps to the top:

1. Find the biggest levers in marketing digitization

2. Set up one or two good projects (instead of many small ones)

3. Formulate a clear digital vision for the next three years

There were great expectations when Andi Meier (1) took over the marketing of a major cell phone provider. As an expert on consumer goods, he had seen international success as the leader of several brands. This was a new market; the challenge was to create a brand that attracted customers. It had to be cool and up-to-date. Initially, everything ran smoothly and growth skyrocketed. “It was such a buzz”, Andi recalls. But then the obstacles increased: campaigns attracted fewer and fewer new customers, despite high levels of outlay. Customers terminated contracts and nobody knew why. Andi was let go: it was the end of his dream career. His successors now know that the battle for cell phone customers is won on price and through customer loyalty. Andi and his team had shied away from these, while today’s best providers create prices with a precision that would impress many mathematicians. They can identify the exact customer behavior that precedes the cancellation of a contract, and act accordingly. Conjoint, regression and path analysis all used to be reserved for agencies. Now marketing departments deploy them too – this is often where the new core competencies of a marketing organization lie.

The three steps to the top of the digitization game

Marketing leaders do not need to be high fliers in digital media in order to have a successful game plan for the future. Indeed, people with a passion for specific media and methods can easily take their eyes off the ball. Top marketers now need to keep an overview of the game, and ask where the greatest potential for digitization lies, setting one or two key digital priorities and synthesizing from this a comprehensible vision of developments in their marketing.

1. Find the biggest levers in marketing digitization. Digital technologies are useful where they can help organizations increase sales and profitability, whether in the short or medium term. For example, if costs are the biggest lever then automated marketing can be key. If your focus is on customer loyalty, an analysis-based loyalty management program may be the way forward. Marketing leaders can make these matters a team task, as well as involving other departments such as controlling. Clarity about the major levers must form the basis for all subsequent steps.

Procter & Gamble is a leader in the digitization of marketing. In true Proctor and Gamble style, it began to digitize where concrete results would be quickest: in production and logistics. In the USA for example, logistics costs were reduced by approximately 15 %. New technologies are increasingly helping marketing departments with product development, market research and – most recently – everyday decisionmaking. Thus increasing amounts of customer data are entering our systems and allowing marketing managers to tailor activities with precision. P&G employees helped to develop these systems, with a single aim in mind: a measurable increase in productivity. Many marketing organizations lag far behind P&G in terms of digitization. This is not necessarily a problem; what matters is that managers and their teams clearly define where the major levers for growth and profitability truly lie and go on to tackle these issues.

2. Set up one or two good projects (instead of many small ones), combined with new abilities. Success also stems from the path not taken. There is a great temptation to launch several digital projects at once, to drive a transformation in marketing. Yet the success in such instances can be disappointing. How many customer loyalty systems have for years been stuck between IT roadmaps and test phases without having won a single customer? This must be avoided. Excellent managers plan visible, successful and sustainable projects. This in turn means one or two major projects which will see success within the first six months or so. For example, if managers set up a project to analyze customer data, concrete campaigns must also be set up in parallel to win or retain customers. This applies even where the technology is not quite mature. It is precisely these somewhat ‘homespun’ programs that provide teams with the most extensive learning experience. Such successes should be shared in order to sustain energy levels within the project. In all cases, projects must have strong links with the major levers for success. If a project does not fit this description, then it is simply not appropriate – however attractive it may seem.

The abilities of the marketing team must grow in parallel with the introduction of new technologies. Yet with many large IT projects, when the consultants leave there is nobody left who knows how to make the most of the systems. So marketing teams must never adopt a passive customer role when new technologies are introduced. Instead, the manager responsible must drive the project forward and follow it up from day one. Managers must therefore involve their teams in project planning from the very early stages. The opportunity to gain significant new skills is a particular plus with such projects.

Building analytical skills remains the greatest challenge in terms of future-proofing marketing teams. It is not a question of making all brand managers mathematicians. Tomorrow’s leaders must however be able to define analysis and derive clear instructions from data. This knowledge must be at the forefront of any choice of personnel.

Analytical skills in demand for marketing

Define your analysis: translate business issues into analytical questions and solve these with expert assistance. For example: ‘What theories do we have about our prices, and what type of analysis would confirm these? What sort of survey would we need to conduct in order to understand why we are losing existing customers?’

Translate analysis into a plan of action: the ability to pick out the key information from complex analysis data and translate it into the world of business. For example: ‘One percent of our customers leave us each year. We could invest EUR 1.2 million in retention, with no effect on EBIT, provided our success rate was 30 %’

The detailed technical skills, such as handling specific databases or software systems, can of course be covered by specialists. However this will only work where the marketing leader is in a position to provide the content of the analysis program and translate the output into a plan of action. In the transition to a digital era, the ideal marketing organization will have a good mixture of analytical generalists and analytical experts.

3. Formulate a clear digital vision for the next three years. Even where clear priorities are set from the start, new ideas will always emerge for upgrading or adding technologies: perhaps a new Facebook page, a digital channel to reach our suppliers, an online connection to our market research agency. These are all important issues, but it is difficult to decide which to pursue. That is why leaders in marketing need to develop their own vision for the digital development of their Marketing departments at a relatively early stage. Where do you see yourselves in three years’ time? What are the important levers in achieving this? What priorities will you pursue in support of these? It is important to agree this vision with colleagues at management level. A clear vision will make it much easier for managers to make decisions on new issues. Above all, this vision will channel new ideas before they disappear into obscurity. It is true that some effort will be involved in formulating this vision, but a clear vision provides leaders in marketing with significantly greater security on the road to digitization.

Excellent marketing leaders position themselves at the forefront of the digital movement. Yet you do not need to be a digital high flier to occupy this position. Instead, understanding the major levers, establishing one or two beacon projects and formulating a comprehensible vision for your future digital game plan are far more important. Developing internally rather than outsourcing, thinking holistically rather than learning just through trial and error. After all, it’s no less than you would expect from the best doctors of the future.

(1) Name changed

Insurance marketing: Springboard or career break?

The meaning of marketing in the changing insurance sector. Like other industries, the insurance sector recognizes the rising power of consumers and the individualization of their demands. It has responded by boosting its marketing activities and enhancing customer orientation. But does this mean that the customer is now king for insurers? Has a shift from traditional product orientation to customer orientation already taken place? And what does this mean in terms of career opportunities for marketing specialists in the insurance industry? Can a management position in marketing act as a springboard for a career leading to the top?

In its study “Challenges on the way to marketing excellence” Egon Zehnder International investigates the transformation of marketing in the insurance industry, with a focus on career development and opportunities.

During the period from the end of 2011 to the beginning of 2012 the study’s authors, Wiebke Köhler and Dietmar Austrup, both consultants at Egon Zehnder International, surveyed thirteen leading insurers based in Germany, which account for a combined total of 66 percent of the German insurance market. The study’s results show that the industry still has a long way to go along the path to marketing excellence and faces a series of challenges.

Although companies recognize the rising importance of customer orientation and differentiated market development, marketing still isn’t represented at board level. The role of marketing as an information supplier in the company has been strengthened and it also increasingly participating in product development. But marketing specialists remain excluded from the final decision-making process, weakening perceptions of their assertiveness within the company. There is also no tracking of marketing’s influence on corporate success. In most cases, marketing is still seen as a support function and a “cost center”, which are both important functions, but have no strategic influence over market success.

Insurers have grasped the importance of the increasingly individual and independent customer –they understand this concept in their heads, but do not seem to have taken it to heart. They should also work harder at harnessing marketing’s potential to produce success and turning the function into a career path that can lead to the top. The study confirms that companies need to take steps in this direction both within their marketing departments and at the highest corporate level.

Customer focus matters most for growth

It takes a mix of talent to pursue a variety of growth strategies simultaneously. Companies looking for growth should focus on leaders with a capacity to understand customers’ evolving needs.

Is there a link between growth and specific leadership traits? McKinsey and Egon Zehnder tried to shed some light on this question by integrating two unique databases: McKinsey’s granular-growth database, with information on the growth performance of more than 700 companies, and a database created by the executive search firm Egon Zehnder International that contains performance appraisals of more than 100,000 senior executives.

The overlap between the two databases—a group of 5,560 executives (1) at 47 companies across a broad range of industries (2)—allowed us to examine in detail the relationship between leadership competencies and revenue growth. We found that leadership quality is critical to growth, that most companies don’t have enough high-quality executives, and that certain competencies are more important to some growth strategies than to others. Companies that know how they want to grow can use these insights to cultivate the right skills in top

Great leaders are hard to find but vitally important
Excellent leaders are few and far between. Only 1 percent of the executives in our sample achieved an average competency score of 6 or 7 out of 7 (although excellence in a single competency was more frequent). Just an additional 10 percent had an above-average score of 5. That’s a challenge for growth-oriented corporations because leaders with high competency scores appear to make a difference: for every competency we reviewed, executives at companies in the top quartile of revenue growth scored higher than their counterparts at companies in the bottom quartile.

Customer focus first
If your company is seeking a launching pad to improve performance, the analysis shows that one competency drives the greatest gains: delivering customer impact (defined as the capacity to understand customers’ evolving needs). Companies that had a critical mass of executives who got excellent (6 or 7) scores in this competency recorded superior growth consistently—both organically and through acquisitions.

What constitutes critical mass? Companies where at least 19 percent of the senior executives excelled at customer impact were also the most likely to achieve above-average revenue growth (in the top half of our database). For a company to be highly likely to have superior growth (the top quartile), 40 percent of its senior executives needed to be highly skilled in that area (3). So all of an organization’s leaders don’t need to be top flight at customer impact, but when a substantial number are, the impact on growth can be significant.

Tailor talent strategies to growth priorities
At most large companies, of course, there isn’t just one growth strategy. Rather, companies rely on a diversity of approaches that vary by business segment and by circumstance: at times executives might place more weight on acquisitions, while at others they focus on stealing share from competitors, for example. Our analysis shows that high growth rates for these different strategies are associated with excellence in a range of leadership skills wielded by managers at various levels of the organization.

Consider portfolio momentum growth, which flows from market growth across a company’s existing business segments. To drive this type of growth, senior managers beyond the top team typically need to execute a strategy effectively across often far-flung organizations. Senior managers at companies in the top quartile of this growth category were highly rated in competencies relating to dynamic people and organizational leadership: developing organizational capability, change leadership, and team leadership.

By contrast, companies in the top quartile of M&A-driven revenue growth had top-leadership teams that excelled at a broad range of skills. The first is market insight—in other words, looking beyond a company’s current business landscape to discern future growth opportunities. That competency no doubt supports the identification of deals, while another competency crucial for M&A-driven growth—a well-honed orientation toward achieving results—helps in post merger integration.

If your company pursues multiple growth strategies, the talent bar is even higher. Our study shows that the average skill level of top teams at companies with a dual-growth strategy—defined as top-quartile performance in two of the three strategies (portfolio momentum, stealing share from competitors, or growth through acquisition)—was almost one and a half times that of their single-growth-strategy counterparts on key competencies.

In short, to achieve stronger growth, companies must not only assemble a critical mass of talent, which will require attracting and retaining an “unfair” share of excellent leaders, but also align these leaders’ roles and skills with the companies’ growth strategies. In our experience, the best companies conduct detailed assessments of the talent required—across the organization and by business unit and geography. They then create clear leadership-development targets for executives and managers and incorporate these targets into performance-management, recruitment, succession, and reward processes. In this way, top companies systematically build excellent leaders with the skills needed to drive growth.

Autor: Asmus Komm is a partner in the Hamburg office and a leader of McKinsey’s European HR initiative. Focus of his consulting work is talent-management and HR.

The original article can be read on McKinsey Quarterly.


The original article was written in collaboration with Sven Smit, director in the Amsterdam office of McKinsey and Magnus Graf Lambsdorff of Egon Zehnder International.

(1) We grouped the executives into top executives (those at the C-level and one level below that) and senior managers (at the next two levels).

(2) All of the companies studied are large and public; no public-sector or nonprofit organizations are included, nor are family-owned or other privately owned organizations. Some 70 percent of companies in the sample are headquartered in Europe, with the remainder spread across Australasia and the United States. The median number of employees at these companies is 55,000.

(3) The critical mass varies among competencies: in “collaboration and influencing,” for example, having just 22 percent of managers scoring 5 or above makes it likely that the company is in the top quartile of performers in portfolio momentum growth.

Egon Zehnder: The CMO, architect of consumer centricity

As the voice of the consumer in the executive suite, today’s CMO must drive customer orientation and innovation, build bridges and bring skills.

Few experts know CMOs and their companies better than executive search consultants specialized in marketing. These experts can align the expectations and skill sets of both sides during the search for customers. Dr. Michael Meier, consultant with Egon Zehnder, and his colleague Dick Patton take a look at the future role for CMOs. They identify three roles which tomorrow’s CMOs will have to adopt:

  • Driving force for more customer orientation. As a strategist liaising between the customer and the management or Board, a CMO supports and speeds up the alignment of what markets and consumers expect with corporate strategy.
  • Bridge-builder and innovation driver. As the link between the critical consumer and value creation within the company, Marketing is increasingly viewed as the driver of both profit and growth.
  • Skilled operator in the digital future. A study based on anonymized data from management appraisals conducted by Egon Zehnder International shows that the competencies in which top CMOs excel compared to their less successful colleagues are results orientation and change management.

Meier and Patton conclude: “In sum, the CMO of the future will be a media-wise change agent who blends a comprehensive range of competencies with personal authority. As a strategically minded mediator, he or she listens to and understands what markets and consumers expect and brings corporate strategy into line with these expectations.

CMO 2.0

A new study shows that the CMO role is now becoming an essential function in companies, but there is still a long way to go to achieve influence and control. Spurring CMOs on to take charge!

At senior executive level in many firms, CMOs still have to prove themselves. This is why “The evolved CMO” is also the apt title of a new study on CMOs. In Summer 2011, the executive search firm, Heidrick & Struggles, together with the market research firm, Forrester Research, surveyed decision-makers in 191 firms on the role of the CMO. The study published in 2012 shows a clear development in the role of CMOs today when compared with a similar study in 2008. CMOs now have greater management responsibility, play a stronger role as the voice of the customer within the organization and have generally moved away from the periphery into the centre of companies, and this has been a success, which bodes well for the future.

Nevertheless, CMOs are still rarely responsible for the main factors in the success of a business. When asked which central functions in the company fall within the scope of marketing’s responsibility, the focus is on areas such as brand strategy, advertising or market research. However, only a small number of marketing organizations are responsible for key success drivers, such as loyalty programs (55%), prices (31%) or product development (30%). Also responsibility for brand P&L (49%) or strategy development (40%) tends to be limited. Of the “4 Ps” (product, price, place, proposition), only one “P”, proposition, is in the hands of marketing. Collaboration between marketing and sales remains a constant issue. “Average” is the term, which best sums up the data gathered in the survey – there is plenty of room for improvement in this respect.

CMOs want their influence to grow in business strategy and digital marketing. 79% of CMOs surveyed state that their goal was to have more influence on the future development of the corporate strategy. This was by far the most important goal in the survey. 89% also consistently stated that their strategic thinking and visioning will play a major role in their personal success. This is, however, where the study also reveals the first inconsistencies. Only 22% said that their strategic thinking and visioning was in need of improvement and only 12% believe that they need more business acumen. This is where their own perception may differ from that of many CEOs. Nevertheless, 38% agree that they need to improve their relationship with the rest of the senior executive team.

There is also a slight difference in perception concerning digital marketing: 40% state that they want to improve their technological know-how. This is an understandable number in a world where marketing is changing. However, only 18% list technological know-how in their “Top 5 Factors” for personal success. In this respect, CMOs also have to ask themselves how much serious consideration they give to the digital revolution in marketing.

The consultants from Heidrick & Struggles and Forrester Research consequently make the following recommendations for action in their analysis:

  • Beef up your own technical understanding
  • Partner with lead peers on the senior executive team. If CMOs want to represent the voice of customers effectively they have to work closely with decision-makers. In a digital world, CMOs also have to develop much closer relationships with chief technology officers (CTOs).
  • Stronger focus on retaining instead of acquiring new customers. According to the study, the majority of CMOs focus on new customers. Based on other studies, Forrester recommends reconsidering this strategy to develop a customer-life cycle approach with a greater focus on existing customers.
  • Stronger relationship with sales to ensure the same brand experience is provided to customers. As the two growth-focused departments, sales and marketing must develop visions, targets and execution plans together to make the firm thrive.

In a nutshell: stronger leadership skills and greater technological know-how. CMOs must now get to grips with these two (no longer quite so) unfamiliar challenges!

Source: The Evolved CMO, 2012. A Joint Research Project by Forrester Research and Heidrick & Struggles.

Future CMO challenges

What are the challenges facing CMOs? What are their worries? What ideas are available to help with these? IBM has news.

Once again, ‘Big Blue’ has lived up to its nickname: in the company’s first study of this kind, IBM consultants asked over 1,700 CMOs in 64 countries about their view of the challenges facing marketing. ‘From Stretched to Strengthened, Insights from the IBM Global Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Study, 2011’ is one of the biggest CMO studies in recent years. The results reveal what many had suspected. According to IBM’s Senior Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Jon Iwata, the biggest challenges faced by today’s CMOs are an explosion of data, social media, the proliferation of channels and devices, and shifting consumer demographics. Exciting revelations can also be found by reading between the lines of the study.

The IBM consultants have drawn the following overall conclusions:

The most proactive CMOs are trying to understand individuals as well as markets. Customer intimacy is crucial — and CEOs know it. In IBM’s last CEO study, they learned CEOs regard getting closer to customers as one of three prerequisites for success in the twenty-first century. This sits squarely in the CMO’s domain. But the advent of social media is challenging older, mass-marketing assumptions, skill sets and approaches. CMOs everywhere are acutely aware of the distance they have to cover. In addition to using traditional information sources, such as market research and competitive bench-marking, the most proactive CMOs are mining new digital data sources to discover what individual customers and citizens want.

CMOs in the most successful enterprises are focusing on relationships, not just transactions. They are using data to stimulate interest in their organizations’ offerings and form bonds with customers to a much greater extent than their peers in less successful enterprises. The outperformers are committed to developing a clear “corporate character.” CMOs in such organizations recognize that what a business believes, and how it subsequently behaves, are as important as what it sells. And they make it their job to help management and employees exemplify the company’s values and purpose.

Most CMOs are struggling in one vital respect – return on investment (ROI). The study shows the measures used to evaluate marketing are changing. Nearly two-thirds of CMOs think return on marketing investment will be the primary measure of their effectiveness by 2015. But proving that value is difficult. Even among the most successful enterprises, half of all CMOs feel insufficiently prepared to provide hard numbers.

Leadership abilities are also valued by CMOs. Some 65% of CMOs listed leadership abilities as the most important for personal success in the next 3 to 5 years. In second and third place came voice of the customer insights (63%) and creative thinking (60%) respectively. So successful CMOs need to master new media while continuing to invest in their leadership abilities.

The CMO role remains an exciting one. IBM asks if the role is “Swimming, treading water or drowning?” We are sure that CMOs are good swimmers.

Do firms need CMOs?

A recent US study has caused a stir: firms with a CMO on the management team are not more successful than firms without a CMO. Do we need CMOs? CMOs now need to prove their worth (this is my first ever public blog post).

Professors, Pravin Nath and Vijay Mahajan, wanted to know if firms with CMOs perform better than firms without CMOs? The results of their study in the Journal of Marketing are sending a shockwave through the community: the presence of a CMO on the management team has no effect on the company’s commercial success. Can that really be the case?

Nath and Mahajan took great pains to provide a true representation. They looked at 176 US firms from various industries between the years 2000 and 2004 – a particularly volatile time (9/11, dot com crash, etc.). New propositions and ideas for growth were needed. Lateral thinkers were in great demand. It is precisely in times of crisis and restructuring that marketing could have played a particularly important role. Instead, Nath and Mahajan discovered two things:

Findings of the CMO Study by Nath and Mahajan:

1. The likelihood of a firm having a CMO on the management team increases if: it focuses on innovation, differentiation, brand strategy and diversification, the management team has marketing experience or the CEO comes from outside the firm.

2. The presence of a CMO on the management team has neither a positive nor a negative impact on the company’s commercial success.

Whereas No. 1 is easy to understand, marketers have to find out why a CMO on the management team did not make any difference, at least in the firms examined. The answer to this question is important, because the CMO role is still new in many firms and has to prove itself. CMOs have to ask themselves:

  • Does my presence have a demonstrable impact on the success of the business today?
  • Am I using all possible options to visibly improve the success of the business with excellent marketing?
  • Which levers of success am I not yet using? Where is there further potential?
  • Am I doing enough to show the economic success achieved by marketing?

CMOs at senior management level can increase a company’s success on a lasting basis, but to do this they must constantly use (or extend) the influence of the role. Every CMO must now provide proof to contradict the study by Nath and Mahajan. Then further studies will also be certain to prove that CMOs are important to a company’s success!

Source: Chief Marketing Officers: A Study of Their Presence in Firms’ Top Management Teams, Pravin Nath & Vijay Mahajan (May 2007). Accepted for publication in the January 2008 issue of Journal of Marketing. Pravin Nath is Assistant Professor, Department Marketing, LeBow College of Business, Drexel University ( Vijay Mahajan is John P. Harbin Centennial Chair in Business, Department of Marketing, McCombs School of Business, University of Texas at Austin (

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