On his quest to help marketers succeed inside organisations Thomas Barta shared the idea that great marketers have to be great change leaders. This is an interesting stance to take on our performance as marketers… and I have to say, having listened to his arguments, Thomas (like most Thomas’s) is right!

Delivering a workshop, as part of the Marketing Society Scotland’s ‘Inspiring Minds’ series, Thomas stressed to the room that if we want to be successful marketers,  we need more than just technical marketing skills. We need to be change leaders. But why?

The importance of making ideas happen

Many marketers are great at the technical aspects of marketing. They can understand their customers, devise great brands and can develop really clever communication strategies. However, despite the quality of their work, many wish their ideas had more traction inside their own companies or with clients. This is something that resonates with my own experience, of battling against the undervaluing of the benefits good marketing can have.

As marketers we frequently struggle to make our ideas happen. Thomas believes that alongside our expertise in marketing skills, we must also become experts in marketing leadership. Leading marketing is about making quality ideas happen, the art of making change happen, something that is clearly a fundamental skill of a successful marketer. So, how can we successfully lead marketing change?

Tip One: Overlap customer needs and company needs

In my opinion, the best piece of advice shared by Thomas, was ‘make sure that your work matters to both your customers and your company’. This is something that, although seemingly obvious, it can be one of the first things that we forget.

We consistently forget to focus on delivering impact for the company. Marketing can be the most important function in a business, however, it is not if it does not meet company needs. Thomas outlined that maximising the overlap between customer and company needs is key to gathering support for any marketing change. He calls this overlap working in the “value creation zone”.

As a marketer, our natural area of focus is customers. However, to get approval of our ideas, we must also serve the needs of the organisation. Marketing leadership is trying to increase the overlap of customer needs and company needs, so you are serving both the customer and the company. This is a recipe for marketing change that will gather support.

Tip Two: Mobilise people above you to make decisions

To make marketing change happen you need to mobilise those around you to support your activities! Thomas’s research suggests that around 50% of our successes as marketers come from leading your boss and colleagues towards supporting change.

He offered some advice to the room on how to do this:

Tackle their big issues

Make sure that your work is inside the “value creation zone” and it matters for both customers and the company. Thomas shared his view key decision makers often don’t give a $*!£% about brand awareness or brand equity. What they care about is what key stakeholders in the organisation want, for example, employee retention or improved profits. The best marketing leaders speak differently about their role. They take a top management view and, rather than talking about marketing, they speak of the business as a whole. They communicate concern for how marketing will help the company achieve its biggest priorities.

Deliver returns, no matter what

Financial returns should be your priority. Put a price tag on your work, so people see why what you’re doing matters. If you’re not revenue, you are a cost and costs get reduced. Do your numbers and highlight how your work brings revenue to the business.

Marketers often assume everybody knows how marketing works. The reality is that they don’t and it is our job to ensure they understand how marketing is driving revenue and the business. If they do, they will support our ideas and begin to trust the value marketing can bring!

Hit the head and the heart

Good leaders don’t tell others what to do and will look to mobilise them by sharing a vision that inspires them. One of the best ways to communicate an inspiring vision is through a story. Tell a story that gets into their hearts as well as their heads. Ensure you offer an authentic story with an attainable aspiration which people can sign up for.

Let the outcomes speak

Highlight those who are performing and those who are not. You must set standards and hold people to account if they are not delivering on your idea. A clear and shared understanding of both good and bad performance in your team will motivate people into action.

Walk the halls

You don’t send an inspiring email and then you’re done. Get out of your office and meet face to face, listen to concerns and include people in your thinking. Bring people with you and truly involve them, not just paying lip service to this ideal and ignoring their feedback.

Tip Three: Know what makes change leadership in marketing hard

Thomas explained that when proposing change marketers have to bridge three distinct gaps. Be aware of them and counter them when proposing change.

A trust gap: Most of your work is about the future, so there will always be a doubt about what you say

A power gap: Most of the people you need to change in line with your direction won’t report to you directly

A skills gap: Marketing and communications technology and channels are changing almost weekly and this makes change hard to implement

Make sure you work to address each of these gaps when planning change.

As marketers, our job is the change management task of convincing people of the validity of our ideas. We therefore must become experts, not only in marketing skills but also in marketing leadership to enable ourselves to convince others of our work and remove barriers so it sees the light of day.

To find out more about becoming a marketing leader, Thomas Barta and Patrick Barwise’s book “The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader” is a very insightful and thought provoking read!


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