From what have I seen over the years, it is the underlying values that make someone a great marketer. The best brand leaders are consumer focused, looking at the consumer as a puzzle to figure out. Yes, they seek out enough information to gain comfort, gut they use their gut instincts to make decisions. They are ok with the ambiguity of marketing, many times using it as an advantage over those who are not as comfortable. The best act as a leader over the brand, taking control over the strategy and the execution plans. They never let the brand run them. And, one of my favorite phrases I stole from Jack Welch is the idea of “speed, simplicity, and self-confidence.” The moment I heard that line, I loved it. That was back in 1990. Since then, I have found it a fit for almost anything to do with leadership.
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 fantastic 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 study and learn how your consumer thinks. Whenever I go to focus groups, I watch their faces. Moreover, 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
Find your gut reaction and listen to your inner thoughts. They are in there and many times right. 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.’ However, 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
Never be afraid of an idea and never kill it quickly. Watch the signals you send that make 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. Use time pressure to force the thinking to be more straightforward. Use 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.
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:
- Where are we?
- Why are we here?
- Where could we be?
- How can we get there?
- What do we have to do to get started?
Oddly, 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 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 pennies or decimals. A 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.
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. You will always meet resistance from so many people in the system. All the best work I ever did in my career faced a significant 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. However, equally, when you do know the answer, speak in a “telling way” that gets others to follow you, including senior management.
Focus on speed, simplicity and self-confidence
- Speed: We don’t do things fast for the sake of it; we do things quickly 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.
- 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 implement them.
- 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.
Here’s a presentation on Marketing Careers:
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Founder and CMO, Beloved Brands Inc.