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How to be a great marketing leader

How to be a great marketing leader

By Mhairi McEwan, co-founder/joint MD, Brand Learning, specialists in marketing capability development.

Marketers specialise in shaping and stimulating demand for products and services through their understanding of what consumers and customers want to buy. Because of this they are well placed to be the driving-force behind our economic recovery.

But insights alone are not enough. Marketers also need to know how to successfully engage the rest of the organisation, leading the type of internal change that delivers better customer value. Doing that requires great leadership skills.

If you look at any great organisation (think Virgin, Apple, Tesco), this is what they have all managed to do; to inspire managers at all levels in the marketing department and across the business to create better customer value in a way that beats their competitors.
1. Know how to lead

Strong leadership is essential if marketing departments are to communicate their objectives and strategies effectively to the rest of the organisation and get the buy-in needed to ensure the business delivers what customers want.

That’s what makes marketing such a tough job. Marketers need outstanding functional skills but they also need to be able to inspire the whole organisation to work together and focus on a common goal. And such leadership is needed at all levels in marketing, not just from those in senior positions.

Of course, developing inspirational marketing leaders is easier said than done – you need to be a good internal communicator as well as an excellent marketer – and of course, avoid turning into David Brent along the way. But there are ways of developing better leaders at all levels of a business, from the most junior executive to the CEO.

2. Know where you are going

The first core skill is about having a clear sense of what things might look like in the future. Marketers need to inspire people around them with a clear vision of future market opportunities and what the organisation could and should be doing for its customers.

Great brands like Tesco, Dove and Johnnie Walker have in common an energy and sense of purpose that inspires big ideas and new thinking, which in turn lead to relevant and unique offers for consumers.

3. Know what consumers and customers need and want

Never before have marketers’ skills been more needed, nor more vital to the economy. What consumers need and want is changing, but marketers can learn and adapt, as they always have, and start reigniting consumer confidence.

Marketers need to get beneath the data and the analysis of data to truly uncover the reasons why customers and consumers behave the way they do and why they choose to purchase certain brands, products and services or not.  Marketers must understand what their products stand for and why consumers like them (and why they don’t). After all, the best type of growth is lead by giving people what they want, and not what the company wants to sell them.

4. Know how to offer ‘better value’

At the heart of excellent marketing, now as ever, is the concept of ‘best value’.  This does not just mean low price. Best value means how consumers weigh up the benefits on offer for the price they are charged – relative to what they can get elsewhere. Unless a brand, product or service offers better value than its competitors it is unlikely to thrive. This ‘value equation’ is constantly changing, especially in a recession, so needs to be monitored all the time.

5. Know what to do differently

Armed with a better understanding of the target customer, their views on specific brands, products and services, and what ‘great value’ looks like to them, marketers then need to ask ‘so what’? What implications do their insights have for the way their organisation meets customer needs; what needs to be done differently?

In sharing this information across the organization, marketers may start to encounter barriers to change.  Marketers with true leadership skills will be able to break down such internal resistance.

Developing influence and engaging people in other departments will require passion, persistence, resilience and commitment. Without a clear vision of success, the momentum can be lost and the organization may lose touch with what sort of experience it should be delivering to customers.

6. Know how to engage with customers

With the entire company on board and geared up to developing products/services people want to buy, marketers need to focus on communicating how these differ from competitor products. At the same time, there needs to be an efficient process in place so that customer feedback can shape the nature of the offers themselves.

7. Know how to motivate your team to deliver

No man (or woman) is an island. Outstanding delivery of the final product or service experience is a job that demands a well briefed, aligned and committed team with the capabilities needed to do that job well.

Training and continual development of marketers needs to form a fundamental part of any approach. Not only will this keep staff motivated, but it will also make sure they are working as efficiently as possible and are aware of the latest marketing techniques and theories.

Investing in improving business capabilities in marketing so that marketers are well equipped for the job they need to do is a sound business investment. To drive customer demand and thereby help to drive both organisations, and the economy, forwards, is where the real return on investment (ROI) lies.

8. Know how to measure results

To track performance and learn from the successes as well as the mistakes made, marketers need to get comfortable with setting measurable targets for everything they do and make sure that proper tracking systems are in place.

You wouldn’t embark on a diet without a decent and unforgiving pair of scales and marketing processes are the same – without effective tracking and measurement systems, you can’t possibly know if things are improving.

All the evidence shows that brands that continue to focus on developing a strong connection with consumers, survive recessions far better than weak brands. They also recover far more quickly when the time comes.

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