Many people assume a Go To Market strategy is really just a list of tactics -- trade shows, email, social media, influencers, etc.
Viewing entries in
Happy New Year. For aud lang syne and all that.
We are well beyond that beautiful limbo of the holiday season, an inevitable opportunity for us as individuals to pause and look back on the previous 12 months.
Maybe there’s a tinge of regret (they are teachable moments), glimmers of brilliance, and hopefully buckets of pride in what we’ve achieved.
In the marketing industry, like all others being changed by technology, this time of year that falls at the end of calendar Q4 and beginning of Q1 is when we make predictions.
Don’t get me wrong, I love prediction pieces! They have kind of become an industry norm – something every blog and publication tends to run. Many are super helpful expert-POV that help us make sense of the change.
Most often, these predictions are a hugely optimistic look at the months ahead, and a really compelling benchmark - like a time capsule - as to where we are collectively the very moment the calendar year (human construct of time, human construct of time, human construct of time) comes to an end.
In the hype race, customers are left behind.
Now, if you’re situated comfortably within the marketing corner office of a marketing tech vendor (or more likely in a funky open office setting, you know, with the plebians) your predictions likely centralize around whatever it is that you’re selling.
Widget vendor? 2017 is undoubtedly the year of the widget.
If you’re in the media, you’re likely writing or being assigned stories that fall into the greater narrative of the tech industry. (Writing about “AI in marketing” this year? Yeah, you.)
We all know the dangers of hype.
Too often, executives who are making predictions try too hard to… well… sound like they can predict the future. Yes, we should all seek to be thought leaders, on the bleeding edge of our industry, ahead of the game, yadda yadda yadda. But what’s happened in many fields, especially marketing, is a bit of a race that’s getting out of control.
Vendors rush ahead to be innovative (or sound innovative). Our customers can barely keep up. Fast-forward 12 months and it’s time for another set of high-level, pie in the sky predictions that very few practitioners are ready to take advantage of.
Where is the customer in the maturity and adoption of these tactics? Who are you writing for?
They’re still trying to implement 2013’s predictions. Some are stuck in 2009. It’s not their fault, it’s the pace of change that is far more difficult to implement than the time it takes to write a thinkpiece on the future of their industries.
We are really not helping anyone with hundreds of pieces about what’s to come in the year ahead that are grounded in truth only realized by early-adopters, or worse, grounded in fiction.
So, I thought it would be fun to do a brief sanity-check of last year’s predictions. See how right our fortune teller industry luminaries really are.
Note: this is done in jest. I don’t mean to call anyone out, in fact I came across quite a few folks that I know and love and have left all names off my piece.
Let’s get into it: 13 Marketing Industry Predictions from 2016 – Did They Come True?
1. Digital Marketing will Cease as Marketers Shift to Marketing in a Digital World - Forbes
Forget digital, we’re so digital we’re not even digital anymore.
2. The Era of Cognitive Commerce has Begun – Forbes
Spoken like a guy who works for a cognitive business technology company, oh wait, he does (IBM).
3. Real-Time Marketing Analytics will Unite Online and Offline Behavior for Richer Lead Scoring and Nurturing in 2016 – Forbes
I know the predictor behind this one, and he’s a smart cookie. This one is getting closer to the truth, as it hopes phone activities from sales will be included in lead scoring. Also, he works at a company selling insights around phone activity. Moving on.
4. The arrival of Virtual Reality, combined with a major explosion of streaming and the death of old world distribution models will unleash a new age of what we used to call “TV” – Forbes, and this article too
Oooh a new age. I think ages, by definition, take a few years to shake out, so why don’t we check back on this one in a couple of decades.
5. Being Human Will Return to Marketing / Getting Back to Basics Will Trump the Sexy, Shiny, New Marketing Vehicle – Forbes
Now these guys are speaking my language. Are these predictions? Or is this a cop out? The jury is out…
6. The Maturation of Addressable Communications will Advance Across Channels – Forbes
I will take bread with this buzzword soup, yes, thank you. Mmm, delicious.
7. Intent-based Marketing Has Become a Reality – Forbes
Hello my friend! This predictor is also a very smart marketer who I love and respect. Three guesses what his firm sells.
8. By the end of 2016, CMOs will no longer present slideware to show their impact on revenue in board meetings– Forbes
Down with PPT!! Right after I finish editing next week's board slides.
9. In the same Forbes article, there’s one about the importance of data-driven marketing, from a marketing data vendor.
10. Another about sales and marketing alignment from a sales enablement technology vendor. And on it goes.
11. In content marketing, this article predicts live streaming will skyrocket in popularity (I do see a lot more of it from brands. I can’t yet find data on its usage but suppose this is closer to reality.)
12. It also speaks to the rise of personal authority over brand authority – something I harp on with my own clients. I’m behind this one.
13. This one predicts “brand/product/marketing/sales and CS teams will reorganize around innovation and customer experience”—again, let’s check back on that one in a few years. I love the spirit of this, but this one will take a while to shake out. Re-orgs take time…
Looking back, thinking ahead.
Look, while this article is done in the name of fun, I do hope it tempers next year’s slew of prediction pieces back to a pace that both positions your company as an innovative leader in your space, while addressing the real problems faced by your customers.
Otherwise, practitioners are sitting on the train, reading your piece on their phones, thinking “wow. My peers are so much farther along than me.” The truth is, most are not. It’s an illusion.
Speak to where customers are today, while painting a bright future for what they could have tomorrow. This will have more impact than lofty predictions.
In marketing, we can’t afford to be so full of BS about the future of our space. It’s become a joke.
Founders, you don’t need to always fake the illusion that you are somehow light years ahead of the market. No, investors don’t want to hear it. They know the companies that build billion-dollar industries are solving an addressable market problem, at the moment of need, with an eye to what’s to come.
Next time you write a prediction for the year ahead, do a quick gut check.
Now... where’s the champagne? I’m still celebrating.
My friend Samantha opens her new book, Unleash Possible, with this line:
An investor, a CEO and a CMO walk into a boardroom…
If you’re waiting for the punchline, it’s in the form of 15 chapters filled with hard-fought lessons picked up in the real world, from the perspective of someone who has spent her career growing businesses one product launch, sales pitch, customer interview and marketing campaign at a time.
I worked alongside Samantha over the course of the past few months editing every word in this powerful book. 15 case studies, 66,957 words, and 406,311 characters later, it is a real testament to what it takes to be successful in high-growth organizations today.
The book focuses on three core sections, and they are each important areas of concern for business leaders who want to, wait for it… unleash what’s possible. (See what I did there?) They are three things every business leader should focus on in the coming year:
- The motivation - and the metrics - that matter.
Hiring, and motivating, top talent is one of the most difficult pressures facing business leaders today, especially in digital marketing.
Understanding what drives your team, what fosters collaboration and true brainstorming, and what makes people LOVE to come to work every day and produce for you is critical. Hint: it’s not just about work perks like beer on tap (though that definitely doesn’t hurt.)
The keys are empowerment and trust.
What’s more, when measuring your marketing efforts, don’t get bogged down in activity-based metrics like click-through-rates. Tell a story with your numbers. Demonstrate your impact in the language the rest of the business uses: revenue and growth.
- The most important marketing stakeholder: Sales.
“Collaboration and alignment.”
These are the most over-used and under-implemented buzzwords I hear when someone is describing the relationship marketers have with their counterparts in sales.
(Can I get an Amen?)
There is a real, concentrated effort behind true sales and marketing alignment.
It requires consistent input, joint efforts over time, and working in tandem on shared goals (see focus area #1). This doesn’t work if it’s just lip service.
It requires compromise, and creating common ground on items like:
- who your target customers really are (I especially recommend the chapter in this book on the dangers of only chasing the c-suite)
- how to develop accounts together (yes, Account Based Marketing)
- how to execute outbound efforts without sales tearing their hair out
None of these efforts can happen in a silo. I won’t spoil the book, but here’s a tip: ice cream can help.
- Applying buyer-driven guardrails to every tactic you deploy.
From my time as CMO of Cintell, the topic of being customer-centric has always been near and dear to me (watch my TEDx talk on the topic.)
It’s a simple difference of mindset that separates the “meh” and mediocre marketers from those who are high-performing. Customer-centric businesses have always been more profitable, but today, more than ever, it’s easy to lose sight of this fundamental aspect of our roles. We’re so busy, there are so many tools, never enough time.
In the book, Samantha applies the concept of being buyer-driven to a variety of marketing fundamentals. The takeaway for business leaders today is simple: if you’re not making decisions, whether strategic or tactical, with radical empathy for your buyer, your competitors will.
Whether you’re writing marketing content, creating email campaigns to nurture buyers over time with marketing automation, designing a referral program, wrangling together your CRM database, or crafting a PR strategy (all of which is discussed in this book, yes really), all of it starts, and ends, with your buyer - not with you.
You know that thought you have every now and again?
“I really should write a book.”
It’s usually followed by thoughts of “nah, I don’t have that kind of time,” or “nobody will read it.”
It’s simply not true. While writing a book like this is a great and enormous endeavor, it is totally worth it. When practitioners like Samantha, who have some solid and real advice to offer their peers put pen to paper, things like Unleash Possible are born. I personally believe the world of business is better off with this book in it.
And like all great and enormous endeavors, it’s totally surreal to see the final result in my hands. I’ll leave you with two points to consider (and trust me, I have read every word.)
You’ll want to keep it nearby. Unleash Possible is one of those books that you keep near your desk for reference. It will be something you read with a pen in one hand, ready to underline passages and make notes in the margins. The ideas within aren’t fluffy, they’re not out-of-reach, and they’re not intangible.
If you’re been following the hype problem in marketing, this book might be exactly what marketers seek these days.
You don’t need to be a marketer to learn from - and act on - this book. The chapters within are geared for CEOs, leaders in sales, investors, and more as it contains all the practical perspective you need to understand the charter of marketing today.
Congratulations to Samantha on this professional achievement. Thank you for including me in the journey, and for sharing your perspective with the world.
Now, who’s next?
My friend Samantha Stone, founder of the Marketing Advisory Network, recently published a compelling study on B2B sales and marketing collaboration (no registration to download.) From an industry survey, the study examined an unhealthy tension between these two groups, a concept Samantha describes as "so common we almost accept it as inevitable."
While there are myriad tools, processes, and trainings that can improve many of the problem areas outlined in the study, one in particular stands out to me as... shockingly... easy to implement.
It's cost-effective, doesn't require much time or an investment in technology, and really only requires us to change some basic behavior in order to execute:
Direct marketing interaction with buyers.
Revolutionary, I know. In the report, Samantha found that sharing the interaction with customers leads to real results.
Marketers at organizations that exceed revenue goals are 2X as likely to participate in customer and prospect meetings as those that miss revenue goals.
She writes "the most successful organizations have broken down the unspoken barrier between marketing and buyers. Often, the gap is caused by a combination of too busy marketers who feel no time exists to speak with buyers, and a resistant sales team who wants to "protect" their account. The result is a lack of engagement and insight."
What to listen for:
I was very glad at the opportunity to contribute to the report. Inside, I share a list of things to listen for when marketers join sales calls, including:
- what topics, pain points, and pressures are top-of-mind (this is great fodder for new content topics).
- what questions buyers have during their purchase process (and what your reps can and can not answer).
- what sales methodologies and tools are working (and which are being ignored).
- what sales enablement materials your team is missing.
- if your marketing messaging is resonating as intended.
- how targeted and qualified your leads really are.
Other key findings:
From a survey of 123 B2B organizations spanning business services, high tech, and other industries, Samantha learned:
- 67% of respondents do NOT reward sales teams for supporting marketing objectives (although most report marketing objectives align to greater business goals)
- 57% of organizations report that less than 85% of leads delivered by marketing are followed up by sales
- Organizations that exceeded revenue goals in the last 12 months are 3X as likely than those who miss revenue goals to have marketing own pipeline acceleration, not just lead generation.
- When asked to rate marketing’s value to sales in the past 12 months, nearly 50% of sales respondents reported significant improvement, while less than 20% of marketers agreed.
- The biggest opportunity for common ground (lead followup) is a missed opportunity. Less than 20% of marketers indicated that sales followed up on 95%+ leads delivered by marketing. But sales thinks they are doing a much better job, 50% of respondents in sales reported that 95%+ of sales leads delivered are followed up with.
The study was conducted by Samantha Stone of the Marketing Advisory Network and sponsored by QuotaFactory.
Whole Foods has made headlines this week for its announcement to introduce a new chain of stores to attract the mysterious millennial generation. Stock prices suffered, and media coverage has been largely negative as analysts and industry insiders debate whether this approach will effectively hit home with the intended target of 18-34 year old consumers.
One motivating factor for the decision is the sheer size of this generation. This year millennials will overtake Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation in the US with 75.3 million members, according to recent population projects released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Yum, Stale Buzzword Soup
But the issue with Whole Foods’ strategy in making this proclamation exists largely in the way in which it was positioned to the public.
Few details were included in the announcement, only that these new, smaller stores will offer all-natural food at lower prices and be specifically geared to this demographic segment. They will be “tech-savvy,” more “streamlined” in design, and “unlike any of the other stores you’re seeing out there” (whatever that means).
IMHMO (In My Humble Millennial Opinion), Whole Foods is cooking up some buzzword soup and we’re all invited to take a sip - despite the fact that it’s getting a little stale.
Robyn Bolton sums it up nicely in her article for the Harvard Business Review:
By describing this new concept as “geared toward millennial shoppers,” Whole Foods is essentially saying one (or both) of the following:
- Gen X and Baby Boomer shoppers are fine with or even prefer old, cluttered stores that sell a confusing array of stuff at high prices.
- We (Whole Foods) need to create new stores because our current ones are old and cluttered and sell all sorts of poorly organized stuff at high prices.
At least – that’s what consumers of all generations are reading between the lines.
Stale Demographic Segmentation
Robyn suggests the issue here is really in a flawed, underlying segmentation approach that is too reliant on demographics alone.
“By relying on demographics to define a consumer base, executives are implicitly, or explicitly, saying that all people of a certain demographic (in this case the same age cohort) are the same and that they are also distinctly different from everyone in other demographics.”
She argues that a better way to approach this would have been to consider the jobs-to-be-done.
Notable Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen first introduced the concept of “jobs-to-be-done” about 12 year ago. This strategy takes a different approach to market segmentation, using the deeper motivations surrounding use of a product than the traditional demographic details such as age, race, location, etc.
“By understanding consumers’ jobs, companies can identify what drives their behavior and their buying decisions—and then create offerings that resolve their most important and unsatisfied jobs,” writes Robyn.
These new stores from Whole Foods may exist to meet a variety of jobs-to-be-done ranging from functional to social to emotional, but these jobs are not specific to the millennial generation, and details remain to be seen exactly how they will differentiate.
I can’t help but wonder if this announcement would have fared better in the minds of the consumers for which it was intended had Whole Foods taken a more modern approach to segmentation, or at least conveyed that message more clearly in their announcement.
Whole Foods missed an opportunity to position the new stores in a highly relevant way, instead opting to go the general, irrelevant, and potentially offensive route to a generation of 75.3 million consumers who so greatly value their individuality.
“The hunt for happiness has evolved.”
I have always been interested in why people do the things they do. It’s a question I constantly ask within the framework of my life as a marketer.
On a more personal level, I apply this curiosity to people and situations on an everyday basis. If we have a conversation, I am likely wondering why you said the things you said. It’s become very much a habit. Much can be learned by asking “why?”
The answer often reveals juicy insights for a marketing or sales strategy, in parallel to my startup, Cintell. But the implications of the question go far beyond this application. Motivation is connected to the greater state of our society and culture.
A Brave New World
Particularly in the most recent decade, the ways in which we shop and consume are drastically different than ever before. Because of that, there’s a swell of new thinking, research, and ideas that I find fascinating.
One such resource is Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy from Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and professor who is now on my bucket list to meet in the hopes of gaining an ounce of her brilliance.
She warns marketers that what has worked before won’t work today. To make matters worse, things are changing so quickly that marketers have less time to get ready. They need to be ready.
The technological, social, and emotional changes that are now influencing consumers are easily relatable. They all apply to most of you reading this post. But consider them in the framework of marketing and it’s clear to see our work has been cut out for us.
After digesting her excellent book on a recent flight, I offer 3 truths about consumers today, and 4 strategies as presented by Kit.
Truth #1:Buyers think differently than before
Technology use is literally rewiring our brains. Smartphones, or what Resource CEO Kelly Mooney calls “weapons of personal empowerment” have changed us.
We want quick fixes to our problems, we want what’s new, we are empowered, and we seek transparency. We have a new set of emotional needs as buyers. We’re more easily distracted and have less tolerance for ambiguity – and nearly everything else that requires patience.
We are driven by an anxiety to keep track of information and an expectation that we be available around the clock. The result is continuous partial attention, a phrase attributed to Gary Small. Our brains are being trained for speed – scanning and processing mountains of information rather than focus, paying attention to detail, and patience.
Truth #2: Buyers are more guarded, but seek connection and respect
Human connection is on par with food, water, and shelter. It forms the foundations for happiness and the source of meaning and purpose in life – and yet we’ve never been more alone. Kit points out a paradox of modern society. “Although we’re genetically predisposed to connect, we can actually survive on our own. And that’s what we’re increasingly doing.”
This results in more isolation and a more “me”-centric society. Our lives are increasingly more superficial and disconnected as communication takes place via technology. This has led to a rise in our fundamental need to be seen, respected, and connected. Marketers take note.
Truth #3: Buyers are crankier, edgier, and more anxious
Even though we are still optimists by nature, we as buyers approach the market with more emotionality. Our moods and emotions have a tremendous impact on how we perceive the world, including our perceptions of brands, products, and retailers. This affects how buyers process information and make decisions – emotions enter into the appraisal and trade-off functions of buying decisions.
Narcissism is an important factor in the current state of things, as well. As narcissism is on the rise, and knowing that to some extent it exists in all of us, Kit advises marketers to harness the allure of specialness, exclusivity, secrets, and social ranking systems.
In a world where everything feels available to everyone anytime, the old-fashioned thrill of finding something special, unique and exclusive is more appealing than ever. A rare find, like a private invitation or exclusive offering, bonds consumers to a retailer or brand.
What to do?
Strategy #1: Understand that “tried and true” is simply tired and old.
Today, value is placed in what is new. “Consumers have a passionate sense of exploration, especially with technology. There’s a fertile appetite for ‘new.’” – John Digles
Brands that incorporate technology and innovation into their offerings are viewed as simply smarter, cooler, and more consumer-centric. They simply feel more relevant to modern consumers. Digital technology is so integrated into the lives of consumers, it’s like an additional body part.
“Just as consumers won’t eat, sleep, work, or play without it, they’re not shopping without it either.”
Strategy #2: Be authentic. Be the real deal.
Fewer than 3 in 10 Americans say that corporate America’s reputation is positive. The perception here is that businesses have become the antithesis of humanity. Today’s consumers are defensive and distrustful, and today’s marketers are therefore working from a deficit of trust.
As Kit says, “the key to regaining the trust of wary consumers is to get real. Humanized, authentic brands that act transparently and live up to their images are beloved.”
Deep down, buyers “want to be able to relax their guard and buy and love products without vigilance – and the brands that offer them that security have a competitive advantage.” Yes, they are dazzled by “new” and eager to explore options but they want comfort, simplicity, and pleasure of doing business with brands they know and trust.
Kit also write a line of pure poetry, in my opinion. “There’s another reason why authenticity and the real deal are so potent today – they’re the antidote to our online lives. As more and more of our time is spent in a photoshopped, intangible, and virtual online world, we increasingly crave what feels real and genuine.”
Strategy #3: Make the consumer the star.
Aspirational marketing is gone - to an extent. As individualistic consumers, we are more responsive to marketers who appear to honor, admire, and serve us.
“The consumer wants to be the star – and in a very personal way. The secret to cool is to make your customers feel cool – and smart for choosing your brand. The appreciated customer is one who’s invited to participate.”
Strategy #4: Keep it simple, but more intense.
“It takes more, faster, harder, better to break through our technology-juiced, hyperstimulated brains. Everything has to be ramped up a bit to get attention and inspire actions.”
With a world of options at our fingertips, so much to choose from, no constraints on when and where to purchase, today’s shopper needs a jolt of emotional intensity to pull the trigger on a purchase.
Kit recommends removing interference and noise such as product complexity, confusing processes, or waiting to make the shopping experience more intense, and therefore more effective.
For marketers, understand that consumers will spend less time exploring detailed information and will consider a wider variety of sources when searching for product solutions. They are looking for faster, simpler solutions to match the way they think.
I am so drawn to any media on the subject of understanding consumer behavior, see my post “How Did We Get Here?” for an example of what Freud did for the field in the early 1900's.
I have immense respect for those in the field such as Kit who are trained in the art and science of ethnography and psychology. I am equally grateful and inspired by their research and insights keeping us on the forefront of how our world is changing buying habits, and the resulting strategy we as marketers need to adopt.
The other night, I found myself asking "how did we get here?" I wasn't referring to humanity - though the more reality TV I watch the more I wonder how we ever devolved to consider this entertainment - but I specifically wondered how we arrived at this point in marketing?
We're at a confluence of art, heart and science in our industry, and it's changed the meaning of a career in marketing, increased the impact we have in our organizations, and led to a swell of innovation in the past decade as data + technology explodes with possibility.
We've certainly seen a shift from mass-marketing to personalized journeys and experiences - a move celebrated by many, especially the beleaguered consumer.
But to understand where we're going, I wanted to look at where we've been - and found myself curious as to where it all started.
I stumbled across the documentary Century of the Self. Released in 2002 by Adam Curtis and the BBC, it's free to view online and I'd recommend watching if you're interested in psychology, marketing, propaganda, consumerism, or all of the above.
Did you know Edward Bernays - the inventor of public relations - was Freud's nephew?
Bernays took Freud's ideas about human beings (you know, those repressed inner sexual desires of all humans) and used it to manipulate the masses.
He showed American corporations how to make people want things they didn't need by linking mass produced goods to unconscious desires.
Does this sound familiar?
Beginning in the early 20's, New York banks funded department stores across America - the vehicle for mass-produced goods - and Bernays' job was to produce a new type of customer.
He began to create many of the techniques of mass consumer persuasion that we now live with every day, fueling retail, fashion, and media industries.
Bernays was employed by publisher William Randolph Hearst to promote his new women's magazines. He glamorized them by placing articles and advertisements that linked products made by his other clients to famous film stars like Clara Bow - who was also his client. (Go figure.)
He began the practice of product placement in movies, and dressed the stars at the film's premiere with clothes and jewelry from other firms he represented.
He was the first person to tell a car company they could sell cars as symbols of male sexuality.
He employed psychologists to issue reports to say that products were good for you and then pretended they were independent studies.
He organized fashion shows in department stores and paid celebrities to repeat the new and essential message: you buy things not for need, but to express your inner sense of self to others.
We all have grown up with these techniques as the de facto way the world works today, and how we experience brands. To know it all came from the mind of one man influenced by his psychoanalyst uncle.... #mindblown.
Not a People Person
Perhaps the most revealing fact about Bernays was his lack of people skills. The documentary goes on to say he was inarticulate, rather funny looking, and not great with people one on one.
He was uniquely knowledgable about how people in large numbers react to knowledge and ideas. He was famous for understanding the mind of a crowd.
In fact, one of his biggest fans was Hitler's propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels.
He strikes me as the anti-marketer of today, as our industry has evolved to embrace techniques that are not solely mass-targeted, but rather driven by our understanding of the personal, unique needs of our buyers.
From mind-control to empathy. Tricks and illusion to authenticity.
How did we get here? In part, we can thank Mr. Bernays.
And now that we know the history... how fast can we continue to revolutionize the marketing function to be the advocates for the customer, rather than the puppet masters of the masses?
Recently, at Logan airport here in Boston, I picked up a copy of the Harvard Business Review. This has become a common habit of mine before a flight, as I welcome the uninterrupted reading time and chance to feel a little smarter than when I boarded. What really caught my eye this time was the cover story, “The Authenticity Paradox.”
I had recently published a post on the importance of authenticity to millennials (Introducing the Millennial CMO) in which I encouraged brands, especially B2B, to get rid of the BS, and re-invigorate authenticity into their marketing.
But authenticity is not a universally positive trait. This excellent article by author Herminia Ibarra gave me interesting new insight into the limits of authenticity as it applies to our careers and leadership styles.
What is Authenticity in Business?
For me, I equate authenticity with honesty. It’s traditionally used to describe a work of art that is an original, not a copy. However, in the article Ibarra expounds the idea that authenticity is used in leadership as an identity trait that actually may cause some leaders to get “stuck.”
“When we view authenticity as an unwavering sense of self, we struggle to take on new challenges and bigger roles. The reality is that people learn – and change – who they are through experience.”
Leaders may latch on to authenticity as an excuse for sticking with what’s comfortable. But, and this is something I feel every day as a new entrepreneur, few jobs allow for us to stay in our comfort zones forever.
“As we strive to improve our game, a clear and firm sense of self is a compass that helps us navigate choices and progress toward our goals. But when we’re looking to change our game, a too-rigid self concept becomes an anchor that keeps us from sailing forth.”
Ibarra suggests that by trying out different leadership styles and behaviors, we grow more than we would through introspection alone. She calls this approach “adaptive authenticity.”
Those who can develop their personal styles are described as chameleons. They are able and willing to adapt to the demands of a situation without feeling fake, or like an imposter.
Those with a tendency to express what they really think and feel, even when it runs counter to situation demands, are dubbed “true-to-selfers” and may stick too long with what’s comfortable instead of evolving as they gain insight and experience.
Ex: Know Your Audience
The way I see it, adaptive authenticity is in part applying the basics of marketing to your career and day-to-day leadership style. Know your audience, and adapt to suit their needs.
For example, the article describes a senior manager who was very successful – doubled revenue, redesigned core processes in her unit.
But her boss didn’t consider her to be an inspirational leader, and the chairman of the board at her parent company often became impatient at her detail oriented presentation style.
She knew she wasn’t communicating effectively in her role as a board member. Her feedback was to “step up and do the vision thing” but to her, it felt like manipulation. She refused to, quote “play on people’s emotions,” and create emotional messages to inspire/influence others, instead choosing to rely on facts, figures, and spreadsheets.
As a result, she seemed to pursue contradicting goals by pushing hard on the facts instead of pulling the board chairman in as a valued ally.
This is about seeing our jobs as a collective win – not just a selfish pursuit. It’s about selling ourselves effectively and understanding the dynamics around us.
Yum... Humble Pie
Negative feedback is key to improvement. However, the article points out that many leaders often convince themselves that dysfunctional aspects of their “natural” style are the inevitable price of being effective.
For example, Margaret Thatcher.
“Those who worked with her knew she could be merciless if someone failed to prepare as thoroughly as she did. She was capable of humiliating a staff member in public, she was a notoriously bad listener, and she believed that compromise was cowardice. As she became known to the world as the “Iron Lady,” Thatcher grew more and more convinced of the rightness of her ideas and the necessity of her coercive methods. She could beat anyone into submission with the power of her rhetoric and conviction, and she only got better at it. Eventually, though, it was her undoing—she was ousted by her own cabinet.”
How to be Adaptively Authentic
Ibarra suggests thinking of leadership development as trying on possible selves. It’s OK to be inconsistent from one day to the next. That’s not being a fake; it’s how we experiment to figure out what’s right for new challenges and circumstances we face.
“Such growth doesn’t require a radical personality makeover. Small changes – in the way we carry ourselves, the way we communicate, the way we interact – often make a world of difference in how effectively we lead. The adaptive approach to authenticity can make us feel like imposters, but it’s outside our comfort zones that we learn the most about leading effectively.”
Be yourself. But to succeed as a leader, we must be willing to evolve what that means over time.
I'm willing to bet we all just drunkenly slur something that resembles the tune while the fireworks thankfully drown us out.
But in my entirely-sober state of writing this post, I looked up the lyrics and origin.
I learned that the song is widely used to signify other situations than the coming of a new year, symbolizing other "endings/new beginnings" -- including farewells, funerals, graduations, the end of a party, the election of a new government, the last lowering of a Union Jack as a British colony achieves independence, in the Royal Navy, and even as a signal that a retail store is about to close for the day. (That last one is pretty awesome.)
The song rings true this New Year's Eve, as I reflect on the lessons learned from my professional endeavors of 2014. But in the spirit of new beginnings, I wanted to share 7 of my resolutions for 2015, as I dive head-first into the full launch of Cintell.
The first four resolutions are professional goals to help make the venture a success in our first year of business. The latter three are more personal: 1. Be Customer-Centric.
This is not only our mantra and tagline at Cintell, it's my #1 resolution for 2015. What our team is building will put the customer (and all their juicy insight) at the very center of your business to guide stronger decision-making. To this end, I plan to practice what I preach. This means building with our users in mind, adapting quickly to feedback, and allowing data collected to guide decision-making (rather than assumptions.)
2. Collect More Emails.
As 2015 is a year of growth and user acquisition following our beta launch, we need to be focused heavily on email marketing and email acquisition. This sounds easy! But it translates to incorporating compelling calls to action early and often throughout all of Cintell's forthcoming marketing. That reminds me... have you joined our beta announcement list yet?
3. Test More. Measure More. Optimize More. Repeat.
The exciting part of a start-up is beginning with a blank canvas. The terrifying part of a start-up is beginning with a blank canvas. Funny how that works out. In 2015 our team is laser-focused on testing and measuring as much as possible to optimize efforts such as user acquisition and engagement. Similar to the Lean UX approach we need to put a stake in the ground first, and calibrate our efforts later.
4. Get the Village Involved
We all know it takes a village to raise a child. Well, this startup is my baby. And I'm fortunate to know some of the smartest, most badass marketing and entrepreneurship experts in my career to-date. It's been inspiring to bring our ideas to them and hear both their validation and their candid feedback to strengthen our vision. In 2015 a top resolution for us is to continue to sanity-check our assumptions and direction. Thanks in advance, village.
3 personal resolutions for 2015:
5. Allow Myself to Make Mistakes
We are our own worst critics. In 2015 I'll mess up. More than once. But for every time I do, there's a lesson to be learned. And before we get all Kumbaya in this post, this lesson comes from experience. Beating yourself up is part of the game; do it quickly, accept responsibility, note what you can do to fix/avoid it, then shake it off like Taylor Swift and move the f*ck on.
6. Write More. Write Better!
This one is self-explanatory for my profession, as marketing is driven by compelling, empathetic content. "The key to being a better writer is to be a more productive one. More simply: the key to being a better writer is to write." - Ann Handley. So, write I will. Luckily, whether you choose to read is your decision.
7. Focus on Self-Improvement, Every Day
This one is inspired in part by Cintell's CEO, Apparao, who is focused heavily on creating an environment that supports self-betterment and improvement. He believes each member of our team should constantly be investing in learning how to do what we do better, faster, and stronger. That's not only critical to achieving the lofty goals we've set for the business in 2015, it's how we're going to continue to elevate our own careers. And it's one of the many reasons I am fortunate to work with him every day.
Happy New Year to you! May 2015 bring you adventure, fulfillment, and growth.
Let me set the scene.
EXT. OUTSIDE CORTHELL MUSIC HALL, GORHAM, MAINE
I was on the phone with my father, having just completed a performance to the entirety of my musical school at the University of Southern Maine (in case you’re wondering the song selection was the beautiful Morceau Symphonique for Trombone and Piano by Alexandre Guilmant. Let this article also serve as a confession that I play trombone. Moving on…)
I admitted to him that although this performance meant the successful end of my sophomore fall semester, I wasn’t sure if a career in Music Education was right for me. I … dramatic pause… deep breath… wanted to transfer schools and pursue a career in marketing.
I braced myself for his angry response: What about all the private lessons, school tours around the country, long drives just for an audition, beautiful (expensive) new instrument, and years invested in a degree teaching musical theory?
In hindsight, I should have known my father would respond how he did. With a chuckle (yes, a chuckle), he shared some aspirational but damn inspirational career advice.
“Go for it. Find what you love, and find a way to make a living out of it.”
In other words, be authentically you. Then go get paid for it.
He warmly assured me that I would make a great marketer. That I could, and I quote, “talk a dog off a meat wagon.” (Hey, takes one to know one, Dad.)
Fast forward a few months and I was back home in Boston getting a crash course in marketing, social media, gender theory, hipster fashion and clove cigarettes at Emerson College.
Millennials and Marketing
I’m very fortunate not only for my very supportive parents and comfortable, middle-class suburban upbringing, but to have been born of a generation following Generation X (born after the post-World War II baby boon).
The exact definition of a millennial varies, but I’m prone to go with that of Time Magazine, which dates us as born between 1980-2000. I fall towards the older end of the spectrum but happily accept “digital native” as a characteristic.
There is a lot of bad press given to the millennial generation, and some for good reason. We’re called the trophy generation, given hardware just to participate. We’re known as narcissistic and distracted, unable to connect with our peers due to the availability of digital friendships and the public narratives of our adventures, cataloged and published forever in photos and status updates.
And while I’m sure there are plenty in my generation brought up to be narcissistic, egotistical, overly naïve individuals, I’m also quite confident that these traits abound in other generations.
Relative to marketing, a recent article in Advertising Age claims that millennials havethe highest branding IQ of any generation. The same author believes we’ve been acting as a CSMO (chief self-marketing officer) for years, promoting our own brands, without concern for buzzwords like “content” or “journey,” because to us, these tactics are just what people do. Our social communities are engaged and strong, and we have the (over) confidence to ask for a seat at the table.
A good set of characteristics for any marketer, if you ask me.
But there is one value that embodies my generation that was left out of that AdAge piece, one that supports a new perspective of marketing, branding, and shapes how we affect these strategies in the future:
We’re obsessed with it. We as a generation look right through fluff, buzzwords and lazy marketing (as many consumers do.) But my generation in particular hates it. Like good cultural rebels we react to brands attempting to tell us who we are with virulent detestation.
Read this excellent Forbes article for a more in-depth look at the importance of authenticity to millennials, and the shaping of our cultural business identity from the rise of the Organizational Man in the 1950’s to today’s millennial idealism full of energy, hope, and the true “self.”
I believe that to be a B2B company catered for the 21st century buyer, we have to re-invigorate authenticity into our brands.
We can start today by publishing content and materials in a language that doesn’t make the intended reader want to grab the nearest stapler and poke their eyes out. (Sorry for that visual.) Plenty has been written about how. Start with Ann Handley’s13 Writing Rules, for example.
Brands can create authenticity by spending more time, and yes, more money, to understand who their buyers are, and letting it inform everything from product to marketing to sales to service. By talking to buyers as the human beings that they are.
As a millennial, and as a marketer, I hope to embody this reality, to bridge the gap between a buyer and a business with some humanity.
I’ve recently started an entrepreneurial journey with the brilliant Apparao Karri, who I worked with at B2B data services firm NetProspex. We’ve co-founded an organization called Cintell (short for Customer Intelligence) devoted to putting thecustomer back at the center of marketing, sales, product, and every function of an organization.
Because isn’t that how it’s meant to be in the first place?
Whether or not you think it’s time for a Millennial CMO, here I am. Living my father’s advice of doing things authentically my way, and yes, getting paid for it. And like a good millennial, I'll be sharing the journey. Stay tuned, and buckle up!