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.

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.

(From my Marketing Week column).

Want to lure the world’s best talent into marketing? We need to step up the profession’s standing first.

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.

Try This >> 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.

(From my Marketing Week column).

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, ok. Well, helping your brand survive, create jobs, while limiting the harm it may do, is better than nothing.

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.

Facebook’s current data woes point to a bigger challenge: leaders must stop delegating responsibility and take charge of marketing communication again.

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.

Try This >>

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?

(From my Marketing Week column).

The recent #MeToo campaign is a reminder of the important role we all have as leaders: building confidence.

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: “does this action build confidence in someone” 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?

(From my Marketing Week column).

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.

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.

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.

The digital future is bright—the future is complex. And it nags on executives’ confidence. The new currency of expertise is having an overview.

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.

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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.

(From my Marketing Week column).

Unless executives step up and take the lead, great customer experiences will remain a corporate fantasy.

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.

(From my Marketing Week column).

Many executives are keen to inspire customers. But to actualize great customer experiences, inspiring the organisation may just be as important.

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?

(From my Marketing Week column).

The best marketing strategy will go nowhere if leaders can’t convince colleagues about the right course of action.

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.

(From my Marketing Week column).

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.

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.

(From my Marketing Week column).

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.

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?

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”.

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.

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!

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?