Do fewer things, well

For my Forbes column I sat down with Mika Yamamoto, who left her mark at firms like Amazon, Microsoft and Adobe, to talk about what matters for marketing leadership success. Here’s a summary (you can read the full piece on Forbes):

Thomas Barta: Since we started talking, you went on an incredibly journey. From SAP’s CMO you joined the Marketo top team —weeks before the merger with Adobe. And now F5. How do you feel right now?

Mika Yamamoto: It’s beyond my wildest imagination how my life has turned out, both personally and professionally. I’m grateful for the incredible leaders who have offered me roles that I thought were outside of my reach. I feel really blessed.

Barta: Did you always plan to become a top company leader?

Yamamoto: Not at all! I grew up in Calgary, Canada. Some of my childhood career aspirations included florist and veterinarian. Junior high career testing indicated my talents would be best applied towards nut sorting or bee hive keeping. My dad’s formal education topped out at 9th grade in Japan. He immigrated to Canada as a barber in his 20’s and my mom worked in retail. My up-bringing focused on commitment to hard work, an expectation of excellence and the notion of limitless possibilities.

Barta: Women in the C-suite still aren’t the norm. Did your parents prepare you?

Yamamoto: I honestly didn’t have any idea that I could be at a disadvantage as a women. I didn’t hear dinner stories about the trappings, trials and tribulations of corporate life. My blue-collar upbringing was completely devoid of conversations about such things. Throughout my career, I’ve always thought I’m treated the way I am because I’m Mika—for better or for worse.

Barta: What would you say to a young leader who aspires to your role but shy’s away from hard work?

Yamamoto: I’d say that they should pick another goal. There are infinite possibilities, but you have to be willing to do the work. Not everyone has to have the goal of making it to the c-suite. Not everyone should feel like they should aspire to be a senior leader. That’s ok.

Barta: How do you juggle all your priorities?

Yamamoto: I have a simple rule: Do fewer things exceptionally well. I can’t be great at everything. The critical part for me is outlining what matters most in my life and defining what it means to excel in the areas of family, friends, community, health and work. It involves talking to my kids, my partner, my friends and colleagues frequently to determine what means the most to them.

Barta: Let’s go back to marketing. How can CMOs get a strong voice in the boardroom?

Yamamoto: I think a strong boardroom voice is an earned position. As a marketer, you are an enabler of customer connections that drive results. Marketers who can play in the boardroom have strong business acumen. They’ve built trust among their peers. They are driving meaningful value for the company. Sometimes you don’t get asked. If you have something to contribute or say, don’t wait for the invitation.

Do your numbers

When the numbers don’t add up, business dreams evaporate, change movements stall, projects die.

Perhaps people love your idea. Perhaps no one asks if the numbers work out. But sooner or later, someone will. Ideally, that someone is you. 

Too many leaders can’t quantify their work’s impact. That’s a big lever missed. As my friend Prof. Paddy Barwise explains here, when it comes to ROI, simply being able to spell it isn’t good enough.

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As a leader of change, know your numbers—revenue, profit, social impact: whatever your currency is. Learn the basics of finance (as Paddy says, it’s not difficult). When you tell your story, try to hit the heart. But don’t forget, there are plenty of rational people around. With your numbers, hit the head too.

The Marketing Leadership Masterclass is back

On September 17 we’ll kick off the next Marketing Leadership Masterclass in association with Marketing Week. The current class is now graduating and the impact on people’s careers is already exceeding expectations. This is your chance to join at the special reader discount (you’ll save GBP 250/ ~US$ 210/ ~EUR 280).

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.

Words from participants:
“This has been an eye opener”
“A great self-investment to remind, refresh & recalibrate myself”
“A hugely insightful few weeks”

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, and a signed 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader book. UK participants can earn 33 CPD credits.

We’ll kick off on September 17. You can access all modules until end of December 2019. That’s over 100 days of learning, readings and live discussions for less than the cost of an ordinary marketing conference.

As a TryThis.Blog reader, you’ll even get a special discounted rate: 
GBP 1,000 /~ USD 1,250 /~ EUR 1,120 (GBP 250 off the full price).

Click here to book now. Use discount code “bartablog” (please keep it to yourself).

I hope you can join me.

The hidden power of the marketing funnel

Last weekend, my partner and I took a bicycle tour to a small village near our home, called Adendorf. Each year, it hosts an iconic garden exhibition – a sales show with plenty of champagne and canapés.

After a few glasses, we passed a large exhibition of roofed wicker beach chairs. The thing is, in our house, we have pretty much every chair we need. But there are chairs, and there are roofed wicker beach chairs. Handmade. In over 100 fabrics. With a list of extras longer than a BMW’s.

Fitted champagne cooler? No problem. Smartphone pocket? Just tick here. We fell in love with the blue model and considered what needed to go from our terrace to make space. Frank, the owner, told us that all 15 display chairs had now been sold. But ours would ship within four weeks. Did we need a €4,000 roofed wicker beach chair? We absolutely did. That blue one.

On this afternoon, we shot right through the marketing funnel, from ‘no clue’ to ‘purchase’. We experienced AIDA (attention, interest, desire and action – not Verdi’s opera) in under an hour.

The funnel isn’t perfect. But as a communication device, it’s priceless.

Technically, the marketing funnel tries to map how target customers interact with a brand, from knowing it to buying it, with steps in between. But here’s the problem: there’s not just one purchase process. Exactly how people buy is complicated, differs by product and keeps changing.

No wonder many clever people claim the funnel is too simplistic, hierarchical or inaccurate (case in point: roofed wicker beach chairs). Technically, the critics may be right. But here’s something the funnel does better than any other tool I’ve come across: it helps marketers set priorities and make the case to the CEO for long-term marketing.

Let’s look at a recent example. A young B2B marketer (let’s call her Dianne) works for a printing company. Located in a high-cost region, the firm specializes in high-value print jobs, such as catalogues and brochures.

To help the business grow, Dianne wants to build a premium brand. But her CEO has always been saying ‘no’ to advertising. He loves email marketing that triggers a direct sales uplift. Could the funnel help Dianne convince the CEO? Together we took a crack at it.

Funnel leaks and priorities

“I can’t do a funnel. We don’t have much data,” Dianne said. That fix was easy. Together we found a research firm that has a buyer panel. They included one simple funnel question in the ongoing survey: “For these brands, which best describes your situation: heard of, consider, prefer, bought this year, bought several times this year?”

A week later, we already had the results. For Dianne’s brand, 80% of buyers were aware, 65% considered it, 35% preferred it, 15% bought and 7% were loyal repeat buyers. Good to know.

A look at the loss rates was even more revealing – those are the percentages of people who don’t jump from one funnel stage to the next. For example, 65% considering but only 35% preferring means Dianne’s firm lost almost half of all potential buyers at this stage (46%, to be precise). Her competitor lost only 25%.

That insight was stunning. Chasing sales obviously wasn’t good enough. Dianne’s firm needed to get more people to prefer the company.


The case for brand building

Dianne and I were now left with a crucial question: why did buyers prefer Dianne’s competitor more? From her long experience Dianne had a list of 20 items that matter to buyers, such as price, quality, speed, reliability, creative advice and service.

With this list, the research agency did more funnel research, this time also asking buyers what they think about the different brands (I’ve simplified here – they did a full brand driver analysis for each funnel stage).

The surprising insight: creative advice was very important to buyers. And those who didn’t prefer also didn’t think Dianne’s firm would give good creative advice. Dianne’s emotions were sparked. They had a full creative department – but very few buyers knew it.

Dianne did the numbers. If they could halve the losses between consideration and preference, by proving to people her firm gives great creative advice, sales could go up by 50% or more (all things being equal). That’s a lot of new business.

Dianne’s team developed an advertising campaign, featuring their most creative client projects. They estimated a $400,000 advertising budget would be sufficient to reach buyers.

Time to meet the head of finance (she took me along, so I would take the heat). To her surprise, the meeting went well. The annual sales uplift, both agreed, could be up to $15m. Even if advertising took two years to work, that uplift would easily support $400,000 more budget.

A week later, they jointly made the advertising case to the CEO. After a tough debate, the CEO green-lit a $100,000 test campaign (and later the full budget).

No, the funnel isn’t perfect. But as a communication device, it’s priceless.

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Know your funnel(s). If you don’t, get the data. Funnel research is typically fast and cheap to get. Outside the marketing suite, use the funnel to make the case for brand investments. Show how people’s perceptions of a brand move them into the franchise (or make them loyal).

Still unconvinced? Then picture two scenarios for a CEO discussion. In the first, you walk in and say: “I want to spend $400,000 on an advertising campaign.” In the second, you say: “We are losing 46% of all considering buyers. Our competitor just loses 25%. People think we aren’t creative, but we are. Let’s fix that leak. I need $400,000 for an advertising campaign. The prize? Up to $15m in new sales.”

Which pitch is more compelling? I’d go with the funnel (and with the roofed wicker beach chair).

(From my Marketing Week column)

The CMO Fellowship is back

For the sixth year in a row, The Marketing Academy, McKinsey, Wisdom 8, and I will help 20 blue chip marketers on the way to CEO.

This year – for the first time – we’ll run a U.S.-based program in addition to the successful European stream.

The program is free of charge (just travel and accommodation is on you). Fellowship places will be awarded to a maximum of 20 high-achieving CMOs and marketing leaders. Both 2020 programs now take applications (check out the detailed requirements before you apply).

Not ready to be a CEO just yet? Take your leadership to the next level by reading The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader.

What makes a CMO successful? Lessons from over 300 Interviews

I thought I’ll copy you in on this Forbes interview I recently did with Drew Neisser, author of the book The CMO’s Periodic Table and host of the CMO podcast Renegade Thinkers Unite.

Thomas Barta: Drew, you’ve interviewed over three hundred chief marketing officers for your podcast, articles and books. What characterizes the most successful CMOs?

Drew Neisser: The most successful CMOs are what I call “cool CATS,” which is short for “Courageous, Artful, Thoughtful and Scientific.” They have the courage to seek a unique if not distinctive position for the brand, and push to fix any shortcomings before relaunching. They are artful as leaders, building internal consensus around the strategy while giving credit to others. The thoughtfulness comes in how they communicate to employees, customers, and prospects—delivering value, not messages. And, finally, none of the above matters if they don’t bring a scientific approach to measurement, building a solid foundation of data for a new initiative, testing options, and identifying/tracking the metrics that matter.

Barta: No other C-suite member is more in the spotlight than the CMO. Why?

Neisser: Lots of reasons. First, marketing activity is generally more visible than, say, finance, HR or IT; so naturally it gets more than its fair share of attention. Second, there is an unfortunate “magic bullet” perception about marketing—that it can somehow solve all the ills of a company and do so with limited resources. Third, while a CIO would never think of suggesting how the CFO handle financial issues, that respectfulness doesn’t apply to the CMO—everyone thinks they’re a marketer and has no problem proffering guidance, informed or otherwise!

Barta: What, in your view, are the real marketing leadership challenges?

Neisser: First, expectation management. Most CMOs fail when they don’t align their plan with the expectations of the CEO , Board of Directors, and, in some cases, outside investors. Second, buying enough time up front to build a solid foundation for a bold new direction. There is so much pressure to show quick results that many skip the important steps, like customer research and employee alignment, thus dooming their new efforts to the scrap heap. To get this time, they need to negotiate up front with their CEO, who can provide the necessary air cover while a plan is built. “Ready! Fire! Aim!” rarely produces enduring results.

Barta: Why should anyone aspire to become a CMO today?

Neisser: If you know what you’re doing, it’s really an awesome job. Great CMOs have a dramatic impact on an organization, expressing the vision, evolving the culture, improving product/service performance, enhancing the customer experience, and accelerating growth. They are the agents of change, the ones who should know the customer the best and are able to push the organization into fresh frontiers. It’s neither easy nor fast, but that’s the thing about the great ones—they know what a unique brand looks like, how the pieces have to come together, and, most importantly, have the leadership skills to make it happen.

Barta: What’s the most remarkable CMO story you’ve come across?

Neisser: I love the story of Small Business Saturday, an enduring example of what we call marketing-as-service programs, which deliver meaningful value rather than just messaging. John Hayes, who was the CMO of American Express when this was launched back in 2010, rationalized its success noting, “We don’t do things just because they’re a trend; we do things because we think it’s the right thing to do for our customers.” Nine years later, among many other accolades, Small Business Saturday is the only program that has the unanimous support of both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Barta: Where do you see CMO influence going? Up or down?

Neisser: Hmm. I think that really depends on the skills of the CMO and the situation they’re in. The CMOs that know what they’re doing are finding themselves being given more and more responsibility. For example, Manny Rodriquez, the CMO of UC Health, a Colorado-based hospital network, after noticing customer experience issues, had this responsibility added to his portfolio. Others are absorbing corporate communications, internal communications, and/or e-commerce. In these cases, the key skill set evolves from marketing expertise to leadership expertise. On the flip side, CMO influence declines when they have a doubting CEO (i.e., uncertain that marketing can make a difference), which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Barta: In my research, I found that many CMOs aren’t fully aligned with their CEOs—leading to distrust. Do you observe the same? And what can be done?

Neisser: Absolutely. Successful CMOs know how to speak the CEO’s language (revenue, acquisition, retention, ROI) and are good at translating traditional marketing metrics into business factors. A CEO might say, “You can’t eat awareness,” and the CMO needs to be able to translate metrics like awareness into genuine business value (i.e., higher response rates, faster close rates, etc.). Another key issue here—as Darden’s Kim Whitler points out in her HBR article—is that CEOs and CMOs are misaligned from the beginning, with the CEO expecting one thing and the CMO better suited for another. This point is critical in that a CMO can’t be successful without the unwavering support of the CEO. Period. I recently interviewed Kathy Button Bell, who has been CMO at Emerson for 19 years. It’s no coincidence that she’s also had the same CEO for all of that time.

Barta: Many CMOs struggle with the digital transformation. What are the best ones doing right?

Neisser: Perhaps I’m drawn to the ones who get it. But I have to say, most of the CMOs I’ve talked to are fully engaged with digital transformation, at least when it comes to marketing technology. They’re getting the funding to build massive tech stacks, helping them to attract prospects, nurture leads, nurture customers, and, in some cases, close the sale. Ironically, I see the obsession with martech and digital tech as problematic, obfuscating the necessity of having a unique brand story. The optimization that is happening on a tactical level is often leading to a splintered story, one that doesn’t add up, especially when buying committees come together to make a large B2B purchase decision.

Barta: How relevant, in your view, is non-digital marketing today?

Neisser: This might surprise you, but I believe non-digital marketing is more important than ever. Digital spending surpassed TV spending for the first time in 2018, which is causing costs to go up and yields to decline. Savvy marketers zig when the crowd zags. Janine Pelosi, CMO of Zoom, the rapidly growing video conference service, shared with me how outdoor marketing (both in the U.S. and internationally) has had an outsized impact on their business. Similarly, Ann Lewnes, the well-regarded CMO of Adobe and a huge fan of digital marketing, at first questioned the huge investment Adobe made in events. But after witnessing their power, she is now a huge believer in this non-digital approach, especially when buttressed by digital communications.

Barta: Many CMOs complain they don’t have enough internal influence. What would you advise these CMOs?

Neisser: Influence is earned, not given. Too many CMOs tell their peers, here’s the plan. Instead, they are better served by co-developing with other departments, making them feel part of the process. Marketing is too complicated to succeed without full alignment of product, service, customer experience, human resources, IT and even security. Great CMOs have a knack for getting to know their peers, especially the ones who could impede success. For example, Bank of the West’s CMO Ben Stuart told me how he recognized from day one that he needed the support of HR for a rebranding to be successful; and as such, built a strong, mutually beneficial relationship.

Barta: When a CEO hires a new marketing leader, what should they look for?

Neisser: There are certain basics that every CMO should have, like a technical understanding of how marketing works and the role it can play in helping an organization achieve its goals. They don’t need to be an expert in the industry or every single aspect of marketing. But they do need to have the curiosity to learn what they don’t know and the smarts to hire a really good team to fill in the gaps. They need to have the intellectual honesty not to make changes just because they want to make their mark, and the courage to identify what must be fixed before marketing can be successful.

Barta: What’s the one piece of marketing leadership advice you’d give CMOS who are looking to make a real difference?

Neisser: It’s all about courage. You need to have the courage to ask your CEO for time, time to ask the tough questions, time to build a solid strategy, time to execute a program that is unique or at least distinctive in your category. You need the courage to aim really high, to push the organization to a bolder place: one that is defined both by what you do and don’t do. A strategy is only a strategy if it is crystal clear what you say no to.