The 4Ps of marketing leadership

Thomas Barta TryThisBlog
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: March 04, 2013

Millions of marketers master the famous 4Ps of marketing: product, price, place and promotion. But as a marketing executive, you won’t get very far without also mastering the 4Ps of marketing leadership: productivity, purpose, pull and power

(from my cmo.com column).

The 4Ps of marketing are a powerful toolkit that has given marketers a clear steer for generations. It’s actually pretty neat framework to think about marketing execution. Marketers must create an attractive product, price it well, leverage the right distribution channels, and promote it effectively. It’s hard to disagree.

But something isn’t working in today’s world of marketing. Recently, one of my CMO clients called to vent his frustration. “I need a new job. We’ve done a fantastic job researching this new product. We know consumers love it. Everything’s in place. But now they’re challenging my budget. And the CEO wants to make more changes to my campaign. This is crazy. I don’t have enough influence on decision-making.” “But surely that’s just as true of customers?” I asked. “You can’t force them to buy.” “No, this is different,” he said. “With customers, we can design products to suit their needs, ramp up distribution, build up campaign pressure. There’s a lot we can achieve with the 4Ps of marketing.” My next question stopped him in his tracks: “If you can influence customer decision-making, why can’t you do the same internally?”

Think about it: marketers influence people’s behavior every day. No marketer complains about customers’ freedom to choose. To attract people, we create a better product, a lower (or higher) price, better distribution, a better campaign. Marketers are experts at influencing decisions. So why don’t we do the same internally? Why do so many marketers struggle to build influence in their companies?

Marketing isn’t always the center of gravity in many organizations. Unless you work for one of the consumer goods giants, chances are that the marketing department has limited influence. Often, you can’t control short-term sales (that’s Head of Sales), you don’t generate confidential financial data (that’s the CFO), you may not control the product, and you don’t have a monopoly on creative ideas (everyone pitches in). The organizational reality often makes it hard for marketers to call the shots.

You can rage about the injustice of the system. Or you can accept it and start to build influence, just as you do in the market. The sooner you start, the better.

So how does a marketer gain influence?

The research I recently conducted with experts at INSEAD Business School shows a pretty clear pattern: outstanding marketing leaders are very productive in their field. They’re 4P marketing experts. But they also have a strong purpose, create internal pull, and build power. Let’s take a deeper look.

Productivity – create visible marketing & business results
This one is simple, but still tough. Senior managers give power to people who deliver, so being on their productivity radar really counts. Productive leaders are highly results-oriented. They talk about achievements, not process. They’re tenacious and hard-working. Most importantly, they’re strong team managers. Do you listen to your team? Do you know what team members need to perform at their best? Do you set clear targets? No matter how great you are, your team is the key to success. What’s more, when you do great work, make sure people see it. For introverts, this doesn’t come naturally. But visible results are your gateway to power.

Now, productivity is fairly obvious. The next 3Ps are less obvious, but even more crucial:

Purpose – know what you want to achieve in the market, for the company and for yourself
Great leaders know why they get up every morning. They have a vision, a dream. Ask yourself: If I left the company today, what would the press release say? Think big. An inspiring vision is the only way to inspire others. Get family, friends, and coaches to help you define and sharpen it.

Pull – inspire others based on your vision
If you’re not in charge, your first priority must be to find followers. But people won’t follow for nothing. They need to see that following you leads them to a better future – either because they want to be like you, or because they’re inspired by your business vision. Once you have a vision, it’s vital to package it well. Think about it: the best stories are short and positive. Concentrate on your key message, and give others free rein to spread your story. The best marketers are great storytellers!

Power – get close to the decision-making process. Power grows when you have access to things that other people want.

We are now in the middle of our marketing leadership research and we’ll soon be publishing the full results. But we can already see three success-pattern of winning CMOs:

Being relevant
What’s your CEO’s agenda? What matters to the other stakeholders? And how does your role help them? Whatever your views, people will give you limited attention if you’re working on issues they see as secondary. Sometimes this means repackaging what you do, to make clear how it helps. So, for example, don’t talk about the ‘gross rating points’ of a campaign, but about ‘future sales’. At times, it may be better to force an alignment, even if it means adjusting your plans.

Having courage
As a top automotive CMO recently put it: ‘If they don’t like my vision, let them fire me’. Many marketing leaders fail because of their desire for harmony – but you aren’t paid to keep everyone happy. When your convictions are at stake, lay your cards on the table. People follow leaders who stand firm.

Working with the best people
The best universities attract the best students. The best companies have the best leaders. There’s a reason for this: the best people will simply deliver more – even if they’re sometimes challenging or hard to manage. It’s worth it. Are you really surrounding yourself with the best team, the best agencies? If not, change course now. You’ll see your own power grow far more quickly.

Marketers are experts at creating market influence by applying the 4Ps. But this alone, it seems, isn’t enough. It appears just as vital to gain influence internally. Successful marketing leaders master purposepullpower and productivity. These won’t replace the 4P of marketing; but they might simply become the 4P of another school: marketing leadership.