How can marketers increase their business impact and career success?

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending the IPA’s Effectiveness Week conference.

Among the speakers was Patrick Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing at the London Business School.

Professor Barwise’s talk looked at how marketers can broaden their influence within their organisations, offering some tangible advice on ways to increase their power and status.

In this post I’ll give an overview of his recommendations, beginning with the barriers faced by marketers.

Marketing matters
Readers will be heartened to hear that Professor Barwise has empirical proof that marketing is important.

Most tellingly, research shows that c-suite executives are generally paid less in firms with strong brands.

The logic is that people are willing to accept a lower salary to work for a prestigious brand – and it’s largely the marketing department that built those brands in the first place.

A separate study showed that having a CMO among the top team at a company, alongside an influential marketing department, helps to drive improved business performance.

(All the images in this post are photos I took of the Professor's slides. Apologies for the low quality of my snaps.)

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However, Barwise’s own research has shown that marketers have limited business impact and career success.

The crux of the issue is that while marketing is important, marketers themselves often aren’t.

His research, handily packaged in his book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, is based on a survey of 1,200+ senior marketers, 360-degree assessments of 7,000+ executives, and 100+ departmental interviews.

Marketing gap
The Professor’s research identified three major gaps that explain why marketers aren’t naturally influential and important.

These are:

1. Trust gap

Marketing is mostly about the future, be that planning campaigns or events, or predicting a return on investment.

People are understandably sceptical about predictions of future success, as there’s always a degree of guesswork involved.

Marketers will always face a trust deficit when stood next to someone from finance who can report on actual business performance.

2. Power gap

In Professor Barwise’s own words:

“How many people in a company are involved in creating the customer experience? Many.

“But how many of those people report to marketing? Few. In fact, most of them can pretty much ignore you if they want.”

Marketers have to earn their colleagues' trust and support in order to exert any influence.

3. Skills gap

Marketers will be well aware that their industry is changing at an astonishing rate.

The Professor said that there’s too much to learn and everything changes too quickly, so it’s impossible for anyone to be an expert in everything.

Instead marketers are becoming more specialized in certain areas (e.g. email, PPC), which further widens the skills gap.

How can marketers achieve influence within their business?
Marketers who have had a broader impact within their business have generally done so because they are strong leaders.

They have made marketing important through their ability to influence others, achieving success by bridging the three gaps and mobilizing their bosses and colleagues.

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Most important leadership behaviours
Professor Barwise’s book identifies a number of leadership behaviours that marketers must exercise in order to achieve greater success.

He was kind enough to share the most important behaviours during his talk, beginning with:

1. Close the trust gap and mobilize your boss

To close the trust gap, marketers must tackle the big issues.

Marketers are faced with competing sets of priorities: their boss’s needs and the customer’s needs.

Some of these needs will overlap, creating an area that Professor Barwise called... ‘the value creation zone’.

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By identifying and solving problems within the value creation zone, marketers will find their colleagues put more trust in their business savvy.

This slide shows how marketers who focus on big issues and always deliver returns tend to achieve more business impact and career success.

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2. Bridge the power gap, mobilize your colleagues by walking the halls

Everyone within your company will have their own priorities.

They might pay lip service to marketing priorities during a meeting, but will likely revert to business as usual once you’ve left the room.

Professor Barwise recommended “walking the halls” to mobilize your colleagues and get them to share your vision.

But as well as putting in face time, you need a great story that will get under their skin and persuade them to work towards your goals.  

While nobody has 30 seconds to be interrupted, we all have 30 minutes to hear a great story.

Walk the halls and tell a great story. Sounds very simple, doesn’t it? Here's the proof that it's effective.

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3. Mobilize your team

As mentioned, it’s simply not possible to be an expert in all aspects of marketing.

But leading marketing isn’t the same as doing marketing.

Your role as a marketing leader is to build a team with the best mix of skills for your brand or strategy.

Some things to think about in relation to this point:

  • What are the distinctive skills that will help your company make the biggest impact in your market? Which creative or technical skills do you need in your team?
  • Instil a sense of trust in your team. Don’t micromanage everything they do, just ask to see the results and then give advice or recommendations for future projects.

Here's the Professor's slide to support his advice, and you can also download Econsultancy’s best practice guide on Digital Marketing Organisational Structures and Resourcing.

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4. Inspire others. Become a leader of leaders

You can’t tell your boss what to do, and as a manager you shouldn’t be constantly ordering your team around. If you do you’re unlikely to keep hold of the best employees.

It’s easier said than done, but you should aim to inspire your boss and colleagues so they put their faith in you and want to follow you.

And one final slide to prove the value of learning to be a leader.

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