I recently met Thomas Barta, a former McKinsey Partner, who is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on marketing leadership. He and my old friend Patrick Barwise[i]
, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing at London Business School, have written a book on marketing leadership based on probably the largest ever research study of marketing leaders, their bosses and their colleagues: The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader
At a Marketing Society event Thomas presented the main aspects of the book.
Thomas was fascinated by the concept of marketing from a very early age. He would watch TV for the ads. He quit his first job in marketing at Kimberley-Clark because all the decisions were being made by finance. Later he became a dean of McKinsey’s internal leadership program where he observed that great marketers are great change leaders. Many marketers fall into the trap of thinking that they must work harder to have more work success. No, you must influence
harder to have more work success.
Many marketers fail to align their own focus on customer needs with the CEO’s focus on company needs. The secret is to maximise the overlap between these two sets of needs. Thomas and Patrick call this the Value Creation Zone.
The book is based on a comprehensive study of chief marketing officers around the world. 1,232 senior marketers took an extensive self-assessment to find out what they know, how they lead, and how successful they consider themselves in term of both their impact on business performance and their personal career success. The authors then analysed 67,278 360-degree assessment responses from superiors, co-workers, and direct reports who rated marketers along with leaders from other disciplines such as finance and sales. They then developed insights from interviews with over 100 CMOs, CEOS and leadership experts about what matters for success as a senior marketing leader. From this huge body of self-assessment, analysis and qualitative insights they derived the leadership skills you need in order to win in marketing – the 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader.
The leadership skills needed in marketing differ significantly from those needed by leaders in other business functions. That’s because marketers have to bridge three distinct gaps that are especially wide in marketing:
A trust gap: most of your work is about the future (e.g. projected revenue) so your bosses and colleagues will, always doubt what you say. Behind your back they might call you Senior VP of Over Promising or Head of La La Land.
A power gap: a great customer experience involves many departments, and in most businesses most of the people you need to create such an experience won’t report to you directly.
A skills gap: marketing technology is changing almost monthly. So you’ll never know as much as you need to know. That skills gap isn’t your fault – but it’s a major challenge every marketer faces.
A marketing leader will need specific leadership skills and behaviours to close these gaps:
Mobilise your boss to support your activities, even if you can’t always prove the outcome (Powers #1-3)
Mobilise colleagues who don’t report to you so that, together, you can create a great customer experience (Powers #4-6)
Mobilise your team to fight alongside you, even while they’re learning all the new technical skills needed for the digital age (Powers #7-9)
Mobilise yourself, to keep going and inspire those around you to expand the Valuation Zone (Powers #10-12)
These skills and behaviours – and, therefore, marketers’ business impact and career success – are not based much on personality. The Study measured CMOs against well-established personality traits: openness to experience, self-discipline, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional resilience. These explained only about 3.3% of senior marketers’ business impact and 8.7% of career success.
Power #1: Tackle Only Big Issues
The key question: am I working on the topics that matter most for the Valuation Zone? The study revealed that while senior marketers rated themselves highly on finding and aligning with what matters for the business, less than half their bosses agreed. Part of the problem is that marketers tend to use their own language: brand awareness, customer perception etc rather than the language of a CEO: revenue, costs, and profits. And when you focus on customers use their language not your own. Customers care about getting products more quickly, or more easily. They want information at their fingertips. Find out what lets them down and try to fix it.
When you work out what a big issue is, you should put a price tag on it. Too many marketers shirk the idea of measurement but it’s crucial to get buy in from the CEO and other stakeholders. In reporting, wherever possible, link customer issues with company issues. The head of marketing for a bank, for example, tracks customer transactions (a company issue) and links them to brand preference (a customer issue).
Power #2: Deliver Returns, No Matter What
The key question: am I cost or revenue? A marketing leader must constantly prove that marketing delivers financial returns. If the organisation knows your work delivers a return, the decision makers will give your additional money for your important marketing projects. CEOs are concerned with strategy (where to take the company), organisation (people, skills etc), revenue (the current and future top line), and cost (the other determinant of the bottom line). If your boss doesn’t associate you with revenue, then, by definition, you’re just a cost.
A marketer should act like an investor, even returning funds if she does not need them. She should open her books and report frequently on her return on investment. While in many companies marketing seems in a perpetual fight with finance, at the best run companies they sit together.
Power #3: Work Only with the Best
The key question: who are the best – and how can I work with them? By all accounts Steve Jobs was an intimidating manager but he made sure he worked with the best. His Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was a brilliant computer engineer and Sir Jonathan Ive an outstanding designer who could turn Jobs’ ideas into practice. To find the best you have to look for them. They may not be in your city. They may not be in the top agencies. But they don’t have to be the most expensive. You need to network, put yourself about a bit. Go to conferences and other networking events. By all means stay loyal to your regular partners but there’s no harm in keeping them on their toes knowing that from time to time you talk with one or two potential new partners.
Power #4 Hit the Head and the Heart.
The key question: how can I win my colleagues’ hearts and minds? To expand the Valuation Zone, you must find as much overlap as possible between the customers’ needs, wider company needs, and your colleagues’ needs. Mobilising others starts with sharing a vision and one of the best ways to communicate an inspiring vision is through a story. Jim Farley, a highly successful CMO at Ford, said “Storytelling is your most important skill as a marketing leader.” A story needs to get under your colleagues’ skin and mobilise them to act. People want leaders who give them hope, pride, an engaging idea, and some kind of higher purpose than just going to work for the money. There are three essential elements in telling the story:
Ensure your story has a big aspiration that people can sign up for.
Make sure you have credible evidence, ideally from customers, that shows your vision is achievable.
Your listeners must understand how it affects them and what they have to do.
Power #5 Walk the Halls
The key question: how can I get people moving? Mobilising colleagues to expand the Valuation Zone isn’t a one-off activity – it never stops. You don’t send an inspiring email and then you’re done. You get out of your office, share your ideas, listen to concerns, and create joint solutions – week after week, month after month, year after year. Even in marketing-led companies like Procter & Gamble and Mars where I learnt my marketing this was true. We led the business but we did not have all the say. It is a non-negotiable part of the job to mobilise your non-marketing colleagues, so the best marketing strategies – those that significantly enlarge the Valuation Zone – get championed and implemented.
In walking the halls you should listen, decide and then communicate. Listening really means observing. It’s more about the body language than the words. You need to know what the other person understands, how they feel, what do they think is the right thing to do and what do they think will actually happen. When you have gathered this from numerous discussions you need to bring the decision makers together to decide. Whatever the process is, get it done.
Then you meet everyone, show how they were listened to and if you’ve reached a different conclusion explain why. Then in order to execute the decision you need the support of a group of senior leaders who can push it through any obstacles in your path. Once you start hitting key milestones celebrate and share the praise.
Power #6 You Go First
The key question: how can I visibly act to increase the Valuation Zone? However great your story, only tangible results will make you a successful marketing leader. The closer you speak and act on the revenue and profit line, the stronger your internal recognition. And the more successes you create, the more colleagues will want to follow you. If you have a good business idea use it as the basis for a movement. Share your idea, show how it works, then – and this is key - find the first followers.
Look for an idea that’s close to your customers’ hearts, but also has wide potential inside your organisation.
Dare to go first by showing how your idea works. This has risks but a leader needs to be willing to take risks –and most people will respect you for it.
Find those first important followers. This is an under-appreciated leadership skill, but it’s crucial.
Then you need to create some quick wins to prove your case. You need to be visible in the front line and in ways that create immediate impact. You need to use the language of action rather than concepts or theories. The best type of language is customer language.
In my next blog I’ll cover Powers #7-12 and add my own thoughts on this process.
Patrick and I were for many years both members of the Editorial Board of The Journal of Brand Management.
[ii] The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader: How to Succeed by Building Customer and Company Value.
Thomas Barta & Patrick Barwise. McGraw-Hill Education New York 2017