September 9, 2016
Leadership, trust, collaboration and the demands of real brand building
As large institutions strive to reinvent themselves and forge deeper, more human connections with their customers, CMOs are, in turn, questioning how they should focus their time, money, and attention.
This is in the context of an ongoing shift in the CMO role — from decider to diplomat, from controller to convener. Not to mention a fundamental shift in the drivers of brand health, which increasingly are shown to come from investment in the customer experience, as opposed to traditional marketing and advertising levers.
It is a new era — what we have been calling the Human Era — where brands are built more through authentic experiences that touch and move customers and less through claims, messages and proof points. Accordingly, we are seeing less focus on “shock and awe” advertising or cute talking animals, and we are instead seeing a new awareness of the need to build trusting, connected customer relationships.
Today’s enlightened marketers are creating signature moments throughout the customer experience and are sharing their dollars with colleagues in human resources and employee engagement to ensure that employees are living their brands’ promises every day. As such, employees are in the driver’s seat when it comes to activating the “big idea” and creating connections with the customer.
Today’s CMOs are typically razor-sharp thinkers and powerful directors of action. They are great at identifying their big ideas and powerfully integrating them across a particular media mix. But they are less rigorous about ensuring that employees are clear about their piece of the puzzle and that they have what they need to consistently and sustainably translate the idea into action.
This is often where organizations fail; they find it hard to achieve integrity between the internal and external experiences they deliver. Further, conversations about the extent to which employees are aligned and connected with purpose or rewarded and developed to behave in particular ways are far outside of many marketers’ comfort zones.
So what does it take?
Generating confidence in the idea
The key for CMOs — and the rest of the C-suite — is to think in new ways about leadership, trust and collaboration. Indeed, one recent study by the Center for Creative Leadership identified collaboration across silos, geographies and generations as being three of the top five issues for senior executive teams.
Dozens of frameworks help us navigate this strange land of corporate culture, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s look at four primary levers: leadership, engagement, talent and systems.
First, think about leadership. Your senior executives and managers have to inspire belief in the promise you are making to your customers and help employees clearly understand what’s expected of them.
Leadership’s priorities, investments, words and actions tell the employee that you value quality over speed, service over cost, or any other customer experience mantra.
Next, the way you engage and communicate with employees either leaves them feeling controlled or empowered, asked to perform unthinkingly or valued for their minds. When it comes to communications, the medium can absolutely be the message.
If we apply our marketing expertise to segment our employee population by their concerns or by the actions that we expect of them, we can tailor our messages, create more relevant calls to action and provide vehicles for their involvement that build, rather than detract from, trust and participation.
The third lever for guiding culture lives in the discipline of competencies. So often we see companies strive to achieve brand positions that are disconnected from their true strengths.
While a brand can of course be aspirational, if it makes promises that employees don’t have the skills to deliver, it will simply be inauthentic. We have to give our people the training and knowledge they need to align their internal reality with external messaging.
The last of the four levers is the most complicated and requires the most partnership from your executive colleagues. It is the world of systems, processes and operational infrastructure, and it can make or break your brand program before it sees the light of day.
“Culture eats strategy for lunch” and “you get what you measure” are words of wisdom that hint at the need to line up organizational systems, including performance management measures, with your brand positioning.
For example, too many brands are derailed because they require patient and thoughtful call center interactions, yet they provide employees with incentives for cycling through as many calls as possible. We also find that rewarding R&D teams for the volume of new product releases can cause turmoil in overstretched sales and marketing groups, as well as massive customer confusion.
The requirements of brand building
With the ascendance of social media and the increasing movement of employee free agents, CMOs need to look more deeply at the requirements of real brand building.
They need to partner with their leadership teams, corporate communications groups, HR colleagues and IT departments to line up people and processes. They have to ensure that they don’t leave customers with the feeling that they are dealing with an out-of-touch institution that’s clueless about the deceptions their marketing efforts create.
The shift to the role of diplomat and convener is at the very heart of what it means to be a CMO in the Human Era. It requires us to rethink how we spend our time, money, and attention — and, most importantly, how we challenge ourselves to live up to the very aspirations inherent in the positioning that we bring to market.
Article originally published in CMO.com on October 13, 2014.