The luxury to think (and other things marketers want)
by Shachar Meron 01.12.21
Today’s B2B brand and marketing leaders need to be customer-centric yet data-driven, plan up and manage down, do more with less. Their role may be changing, and their priorities and resources don’t always line up.
So what do they want, how can they get it, what’s holding them back? We interviewed three brand and marketing veterans to learn about their evolving roles, ambitions, and challenges.
Here are three themes that emerged, along with their POV and a few strategic tips to elevate your brand position (and your role).
1. "Think with me, not for me"—brand strategy meets reality.
Brand and marketing leaders are torn between wanting more deep, strategic thinking and the realities of limited time and resources. Too often they find themselves “stuck in the weeds”—all three interviewees used that phrase—and want to elevate their focus on the big picture, but acknowledge they need support to get there.
“My favorite part of the job is the chance to be creative, concepting, problem solving,” said the CMO of a global manufacturer of medical instruments. “I’m bad at the details, so I surround myself with people who are good at that.”
On top of finding the time, this often requires a thinking partner, to help bring shape to their vision and stress test their most out-there ideas. “I want to luxury to think,” said Rachel Klein, VP Global Brand at TransUnion, a global information and insights company. “But I need someone to think with me, not for me.” Some marketing leaders turn to their CEO or Director of Sales, while others look to trusted outside partners to help validate their instincts.
Tip: Identify three potential thinking partners in your orbit: one person at or above your level at your company (to connect on high-level strategy), one of your direct reports (to bridge big picture and on-the-ground reality), and one outside your company (for a fresh perspective). Many also join peer groups like CMO roundtables to commiserate with others in the same boat.
2. "Need to go bolder"—dialing up positioning and ideation.
When it comes to big moments like product launches and M&A, marketing leaders want to be bolder with their messaging and more differentiated with brand positioning. They recognize the importance of standing out in a crowded marketplace, by truly understanding the customer and finding powerful and authentic ways to connect with them.
“We need to get to the heart of the matter, and answer ‘why should they care?’” said Rebecca Martin, CMO at Calabrio, a rapidly growing customer experience intelligence company. To really make an impact, “we need to go bolder…not just do marketing for marketing’s sake.” When they don’t, it’s not for lack of passion or ambition, but more often time and resources.
Boldness isn’t just something they want for their brand strategy, but for themselves as well—it’s what steers these leaders to marketing in the first place, and continually drives them to make an impact and find professional satisfaction. “I want to go bolder with our brand, and more high level in my approach,” said Rachel Klein. These concepts go hand in hand.
Tip: Establish a “boldness spectrum.” Some projects involve checking boxes, while others present opportunities to differentiate and make an impact with their brand strategy. Define a range that conveys what “safe” vs “bold” means for your brand and marketing, then communicate a range to aim for on each initiative. This helps concentrate your team’s creative energies where they matter most.
3. "Control our own story"—the art of the corporate narrative.
Defining a bold brand strategy and focused messaging is important, but it’s not enough to just know what makes your brand special. The next challenge is finding a way to articulate their brand strategy in a clear, compelling and concise narrative—one that comes through in words as well as actions.
This is especially critical (and hard!) in complex B2B environments, where diverse stakeholders have varying roles and needs, and messaging nuances are difficult to convey quickly and distinctly. “We’re working on global integration, and we want to get control of our own story,” said one CMO. Because if you don’t define your story, someone else will do it for you.
And even once a clear brand story is scripted, it takes time and energy to get the entire team (marketing, sales, content creators and others) aligned on what it means and how to execute. “Does our team get the corporate narrative? Some yes, some no,” said Rebecca Martin. “They’re often working with limited info, and sometimes education is required.”
Tip: Pare your corporate narrative down to its core, then roll it out internally. If you can get it down to 50 words, you’ve got an elevator speech. Get it down to one concept in 3-5 words, and you’ve got a central theme that everyone can remember, rally around and make their own. Then have a plan for infusing it into the company consciousness, with guidelines and training.
Support is a staple, not a luxury.
If you’re a marketing leader, you got into this game for a reason: you find the work challenging and rewarding, you want to solve problems and make waves. But at times, the limits of time and resources can turn “let’s make it great” into “just get it done.” (We’ve been there.)
The key to keeping that ambition burning is by finding support, from those whose passion and talent complement your own. Involving the right people at the right time can help you do more than make the work better—it can help your remember why you got into this in the first place.