July 22, 2012
8 Leadership Behaviors to Be a Great Brand Leader
No matter what stage you are in your marketing career, here are eight behaviours that may challenge you to be a great marketer. Whether you’re in a junior or senior role, my challenge for you is to find more balances within your leadership style. Avoid getting stuck into a rut by saying “this is how I do it, like me or hate me, but I can’t really change who I am”. You have to be constantly changing and evolving. Find your balance of strategy and execution, being analytical versus being creative. Try to be both. Bring in your instincts to your well thought plans and don’t always opt for the usual answers but sometimes choose the path that may feel a bit of riskier move. Revel in ambiguity for a bit longer and see the answer comes to you. Putting the consumer first allows you to meet their needs and find ways to create a tighter bond with them which will set you up to win in the market. Listen first, talk second. Leadership implies follower-ship and if you’re always talking first, I’d challenge you to look behind and see if anyone is following you.
The 8 Behaviors of a Great Brand Leader
- Be Consumer Focused: Everything Starts and Ends With the Consumer in Mind. Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer and think like them. Steve Jobs said he never needed research, but he must have been amazing at listening, observing and anticipating how the consumer would react. I’d still recommend you do research, but go beyond the statistics of the research and learn how your consumer thinks. Whenever I go to focus groups, I watch their faces. And when the research results come back you always have to ask “so now what do we do”. The research helps you, but never gives you the exact answer. Match up the needs of the consumer to your brand assets to figure out your ideal brand positioning. The best marketers represent the consumer to the brand, NOT the brand to the consumer. I always believe that consumers are selfish and deservedly so because they have money to spend. As a consumer, I don’t care what you do until you care about what I need. Focus on them, not on you.
- Follow Your Instincts: Gut Feel of Marketing: Listen to your inner thoughts, they are in there. Too many times people fail because “they went along with it even though they didn’t like it”. The problem is that sometimes your instincts are hidden away. You get confused, you feel the pressure to get things done and you’ve got everyone telling you to go for it. You get scared because you’re worried about getting promoted and want to do the ‘right thing’. But your gut is telling you it’s just not right. My rule is simple: if you don’t love the work, how do you expect the consumer to love your brand. The worst type of marketer is someone who says “I never liked the brief” or “I never liked the ad”. If you blame your agency or team after the fact, I have a word for people like you: “useless”.
- Revel in Ambiguity: Be Patient with Ideas. Never be afraid of an idea and never kill it quickly. Watch the signals you send that may suck the creativity out of your team. If you become too predictable to your team, then your work in the market will also become predictable. Ambiguity and time pressure usually work against each other. Don’t ever settle for “ok” just because of a deadline. Always push for great. What I have found is the longer I can stay comfortable in the “ambiguity zone” the better the ideas get whether it’s the time pressure that forces our thinking to be simpler or whether it’s the performance pressure forces us to push for our best idea, I always say, the longer I can hold my breath, the better the work gets.
- Be Organized: You Run the Brand, Don’t Let the Brand Run You: Be thoroughly organized, well planned and know the pulse of your business. Every six months, I would find a quiet time to answer five key questions that would help me stay aware: 1) Where are we? 2) Why are we here? 3) Where could we be? 4) How can we get there? and 5) What do we have to do to get started? In an odd way, the more planning you do, the more agile you’ll be, because you’ll know when it’s ok to “go off plan” Stay in Control: Hit the Deadlines, don’t give the appearance that you’re not in control. We have enough to do, that things will just stockpile on each other. Know Your Business and don’t get caught off-guard. Make sure you are asking the questions and carrying forward the knowledge. Enjoy doing the monthly report because it makes you the most knowledgeable about the brand. Stay conceptual; avoid getting stuck in the pennies or decimals.Process should enable us, not hinder us: A good process can force your thinking towards a solution. If it restricts your thinking, it’s not a good process. But if it means, you free up your time for strategic thinking, instead of format thinking, we’ll move much faster.
- Manage your Boss: Be the Brand Leader not the Follower: The more you keep your boss informed the more rope they may give you. If they don’t know what you’re doing, they may clamp down and micro-manage you. . Ensure a policy of open communication with no surprises: Make sure you keep your team informed and involved. Keep senior management informed. You must be the champion of the brand. The best ideas are those that erupt out from the brand team–not from a top down perspective. You have to be a self-starter that pushes your idea through the system, in the face of resistance or doubt. And you will meet resistance from so many people in the system. All the best work I ever did met a large degree of resistance. You have to anticipate this and work through it. One subtlety to ownership is your tone. When you don’t know something, speak in an “asking way” and openly seek out the wisdom and advice of your agency, your manager or your peers. Put your ego aside and listen. But equally, when you do know the answer, speak in a “telling way” that gets others to follow you, including senior management.
- Speed, Simplicity and Self Confidence: a) Speed: We don’t do things fast for the sake of it; we do things fast so we can take advantage of opportunities that have a window. If you recognize an opportunity, realize that others are also recognizing the same opportunity. So speed to market can enable you to win before they get there. Also, doing things fast does not mean sloppy. b) Simplicity: I’ve always said, “If you have a complex answer to something, odds are you are wrong”. Keep it simple enough to explain, and so that the people who need to execute our ideas can really execute them. c) Self Confidence: As the brand leader, speak your mind. After all, we are all just walking opinions. Find a way within your leadership style to engage your team, agency or your boss in a debate to get to better answers.
- Actively Listen: As a brand leader, you should be constantly listening, not trying to be the smartest person in the room. When you tell an agency or employee what to do, there is only one answer you’ll hear: YES and the conversation is over. But when you ask an agency or employee, you might hear YES, NO or MAYBE and the conversation is just beginning. You’ll also find that by listening, you can learn from all the other disciplines–finance, sales, production, R&D and HR.
- Focus on the People and the Results will come: The formula is simple: the better the people, the better the work and in turn the better the results. You should have a regular review of the talent with your directors. I’d encourage you to ensure there’s a systemic way to get feedback to everyone on the team, preferably on a quarterly basis. Waiting for the annual review is way too late and almost negligent as a leader. Your people have the potential to grow with feedback. But without feedback, they’ll be confused and even frustrated. You should invest in training and development. Marketing Training is not just on the job, but also in the classroom to challenge their thinking and give them added skills to be better in their jobs. Marketing fundamentals matter. And the classic fundamentals are falling, whether it is strategic thinking, writing a brand plan, writing a creative brief or judging great advertising. People are NOT getting the same development they did in prior generations. Investing in training, not only makes them better, but it is also motivating for them to know that you are investing in them. And that helps drive retention and commitment into producing great work and driving results. Use every moment as a potential teaching moment for helping your team get better.
Everyone has a gap against one or more of these leadership areas. No one is perfect. The real question is what are you willing to do to counter that gap.
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