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Four Secrets of Marketers Who Become CEOs

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There's an elite cadre of CEOs out in the marketplace who have a clear advantage over their counterparts: CEOs with a marketing background.

The good news is their "secret sauce" advantage comes from understanding marketing, because that's knowledge any company leader can acquire.

Here's a look at what gives marketing-focused CEO's the leg up in the business world, and what you can learn from them.

Study Says...

A study presented at a recent American Marketing Association conference found that 25% of CEOs come from a marketing or sales background.


Does hiring a marketer CEO to run your business help ensure success? B2B companies seem to think so. According to the same study, 42% of B2B companies employ CEOs with marketing experience.

So, why do executives with sales and marketing expertise make effective CEOs, and what marketing-CEO insights can the other 75% learn and apply to their organizations?

Marketing CEOs Are Typically More Successful for Two Reasons

1. They inherently put the customer first

Putting the customer first is priority No. 1 when marketing and selling a product or service. You have to think like the customer, and you have to understand the customer.

Marketing CEOs are naturally focused on the market and the customer; they built their careers around putting the customer first, so it's not something they have to learn.

That characteristic is critical in the business world today: Organizations are moving toward a more authentic marketing, putting customers first vs. shareholders or profits.

2. They know how to position their products in the marketplace

Marketing CEOs understand the importance of product differentiation. They also know how to position their products to increase profitability.

CEOs with those capabilities are more likely to lead companies that grow profitably and in turn, create more shareholder value.

Four Marketing-CEO Secrets for the Other 75%: The Domino's Example

Even if you don't come from a marketing background, you can learn from successful marketing CEOs.

Secret No. 1: Need to pivot your strategy or turn things around? Get timing right.

One of the biggest marketing CEO success stories is that of Domino's Pizza CEO J. Patrick Doyle, who "grew up" on the sales and marketing side of business.

When Doyle joined Domino's in 2007, Pizza Hut was No. 1, Papa Johns was No. 2, and Domino's was No. 3 in the pizza delivery world. With the goal of assuming the No. 1 position, Doyle knew he couldn't put the cart before the horse: He knew the answer wasn't marketing better—because he came from a marketing background.

So, he carved out for the board exactly what steps his team would take to turn the company around and reimagine the brand from the inside out:

  • Step 1: Find out what's wrong.
  • Step 2: Fix what's wrong.
  • Step 3: Tell our customers how we fixed it.

Secret No. 2: Take an outside-in approach: Listen to your customers.

To find out what was wrong with Domino's, Doyle performed market research. He didn't make the mistake of assuming the company knew what needed to be fixed; instead, he looked outside—to determine what was wrong from the customer's perspective.

Through surveys and focus groups, he listened to customer feedback to find out why customers were dissatisfied with Domino's, so he could figure out what the company needed to fix. The research revealed that the inferior quality of ingredients and cumbersome ordering process were two of the customers' biggest issues.

Secret No. 3: View your product as one that solves the customer's problems—and determine how, in that context, it differentiates your brand from the competition.

Domino's improved product quality by using more fresh ingredients, because its customers had a problem eating overly processed foods. The company fixed the ordering process by streamlining online ordering and developing one of the best pizza ordering apps.

When ingredients are fresh and ordering pizza takes less time and isn't a hassle for customers anymore... problems solved.

Once food quality, ordering experience, and other problems were fixed, Doyle and team broadcast the news to customers. Remember that classic 2010 Domino's commercial where the walls surrounding a real focus group slide back and the participants find themselves in the middle of a dairy farm in Wisconsin?

The ad's messaging wasn't focused on "We're great." Instead, it focused on illustrating how the company fixed the food quality problem by hitting home that Domino's upgraded to fresh ingredients, including 100% real milk in its cheese.

Marketing campaigns about food quality and the cutting-edge technology the company offers positioned Domino's as the leader in the pizza delivery business and beyond.

Secret No. 4: Establish congruency between brand experience and brand expectations.

Doyle also fixed issues related to internal employees and staff, so the quality of people who work for the organization would be congruent with the expectations of the overall quality standard that Domino's was setting for its brand in the market.

Target does that really well, too. The company describes its culture as fast, fun, and friendly. It preaches that mantra to employees; as a result, customers experience shorter lines, better products, and friendlier employees than many of Target's competitors.

* * *

Successful marketing CEOs know how to build consistent brand experiences so that every time a customer comes in contact with their brand—website, social media, email, contact center, or in-person—that experience matches its customers' expectations.

CEOs who come from Sales and Marketing know these things intuitively, as was the case with Doyle. Which is why Domino's is No. 1 in pizza delivery today.


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Terri Maxwell is CEO and president of social impact-focused business cultivator Share On Purpose—a portfolio of brands. She is a speaker, venture capitalist, mentor, founder of 40 companies, and a global business consultant.

LinkedIn: Terri Maxwell

Twitter: @terri_maxwell

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  • by Alice Fri Feb 2, 2018 via web

    Thanks Terri for very helpful article. These secrets really make sense to me. Like it !

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