If anyone has the innate ability to drive change within the enterprise as a whole, it's the marketing folks. After all, marketers are deeply interested in decoding human behavior, connecting with people, and building bridges of understanding.
We spend our careers working to become masters of perception, persuasion, and conversion.
So why is it that marketing leaders often feel like the Prince Harry of the executive leadership team—likeable and well-regarded, but not exactly treated as an essential member of the royal family? (And I'm talking Prince Harry pre Megxit, of course.)
One of our biggest problems is a tendency to be so customer-focused that we forget to apply our talents within our own organizations as well.
Drawing on my decades of senior marketing leadership experience, I'd like to offer four ways marketers can lead enterprisewide digital transformation and position themselves as catalysts for much-needed change.
1. Dig into the data
In my first CMO role, in 2005, I had a voice on the executive team, but it was mostly about the brand and how it feels. The technology wasn't there yet to measure cost per lead or to indicate, from an engagement standpoint, what kinds of content were resonating with audiences. At the
time, we could scarcely imagine having access to the concrete measures that exist now.
Thanks to the digital revolution, we marketers have gained the ability to be accountable for the impact we have on the business.
For example, if your organization has a goal to decrease customer acquisition costs, marketers can directly contribute to that goal by tracking the specific cost per AQL, per QSO, and so on, at a more detailed level than ever before. Armed with this information, we can reshape tactics and processes as needed to push those numbers into a more acceptable range. Thanks to innovations like those, the marketing function is different today from what it was even one year ago.
Today, I can sit in an executive leadership team meeting and explain exactly how Marketing contributes to enterprise metrics. Using the data collected by the enterprise work management software that powers our department, I can make a direct tie between the work being done in marketing and the outcomes the executive team cares about most. I'm not sharing from a place of feelings; I'm able to share concrete metrics about the work we're doing and how it affects the bottom line.
The question marketing leaders must ask ourselves is this: Are we taking full advantage of our newfound power to speak the executive team's native language of metrics, measurements, and analytics?
2. Drive change organically
Top-down mandates don't work, and marketing leaders understand this perhaps more intuitively than most. After all, we've made a career out of working with and managing creative types, with all of their passion and individuality. We've learned, perhaps the hard way, that the recipe for successful change is to start small, make a difference, and then point to the positive impact.
An excellent example of this can be found within T-Mobile, where one digital transformation champion saw a better way to do things, demonstrated success, and created an appetite for change throughout her organization. Kelsey Brogan, director of integrated program management at the iconic mobile company, refers to her approach as "sneaky process."
Rather than forcing the digital content development team to sit down and think about concepts like structure, workflows, and process when they just want to create, Kelsey started by helping them transform the way they work using enterprise work management technology. The technology enabled her to standardize and streamline processes in a way that wasn't scary or burdensome for the team. And because she was able to minimize the impact of the change while highlighting the benefits, other creative and brand teams took notice, and adoption has rippled into IT, retail, and product teams.
Kelsey's approach was never about making people change the way they were doing things; it was about empowering them to succeed within their individual roles at T-Mobile. By meeting people where they were and taking the time to clearly understand pain points, which vary even among teams within the same department, Kelsey created contagious, voluntary change. No mandate required.
Over and over again in my career, I've seen beneficial organizational change take root in the marketing department, and spread infectiously from there. But if we'd like to increase our organizational influence over time, it's incumbent upon us to own this power and draw the executive team's attention to accomplishments like these, which can be otherwise easy to overlook.
3. Lead from the front
There's nothing worse than a senior executive who tells you to do something but doesn't follow through herself. Change is not driven through executive buy-in; change is driven by executive participation. And marketing leaders are perfectly poised to lead by example in this arena.
For a recent example, an executive leadership team on which I serve has been working to cascade goals throughout the organization and connect strategy to delivery. The CEO at the helm of the initiative didn't drive this change by mandate or by delegating the details to a project management office; he led it personally. Furthermore, every member of the C-suite was actively engaged in the process, driving the changes ourselves within our own departments, using the company's own technology. That level of commitment to change speaks volumes. We were pulling from the front; not pushing from behind.
Still, it's understandable why so many companies try the big-bang, mandated, force-everyone-on-board approach. It seems like it will be easier at first—but it's the lazy way out. It takes the people out of the equation, when they should be at the very center of everything we do.
4. Embrace the evolution of tech
In recent years, we've seen a massive shift in the way technology functions in the workplace. Remember when IT departments wouldn't let you bring your own device to the office? IT personnel would issue you a desktop computer that was connected to a centrally administered intranet, and they would narrowly dictate what software could be used or installed. But through the growth of mobile and social technology, the IT approach has evolved significantly, so it's less about control and more about enablement.
Today, company laptops travel with the employee wherever they go—offsite meetings, the coffee shop, home, and back to the office. People are bringing personal phones and other mobile devices to work, and using them to accomplish their daily tasks. Small-group leaders have more leeway to buy, install, and integrate the software that will best suit their individual needs.
A similar transformation is happening throughout the organization, including on marketing teams. We're no longer allowing the tech to drive us; we're seeing it as a vehicle to empower human innovation.
The more that we as marketing leaders can embrace and evangelize this people-first orientation, the more influence we'll have over shaping the proper role of technology throughout the enterprise. Technology will always be a better servant than a master.
Take a seat at the table
Ten years ago, CMOs didn't get asked to be on the boards of public companies. The world is finally recognizing the value that marketing leaders bring to digital transformation, business strategy, organizational change, and more.
As marketing leaders, we no longer have to look for ways to earn our seat at the table. We're there. So it's time to stop seeing ourselves as the little brother who's 6th in line for the throne and instead stand up and take our rightful place as essential, influential members of the executive leadership team.
And that means continuing to speak data like a native; driving organic, people-first change; leading from the front rather than the rear; and always advocating for the human impact as the technological revolution marches on.
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