Category: Leadership and Marketing
Want to Be a Leader? Have the Courage to Take a Stand

Via David Edelman on LinkedIn

My favorite character in The Wizard of Oz is the cowardly lion. He steals the show with his humor and pathos. I’ve been thinking about his quest a lot recently because it goes to the core of what real leadership needs today: Courage.

Marketers are living in a risky time. They’re under a lot of pressure to perform at a time of great change and uncertainty. Today’s customer decision journey has unleashed a wave of creative destruction. In the face of this challenge (and huge opportunity), I am surprised how often marketers shrink from risk. I see strong pressure to go with what has been working in the past. When it comes to social media, fear of risk creates institutional speak instead of human conversation. Investments in digital capabilities are reviewed for what they can enable in cost reductions from other channels, less for how they can build brand ties, switching costs, or open up new areas for growth.

Here is the truth: In today’s world stasis is death, the status quo is the enemy, and the biggest risk is taking no risks. Leadership requires the courage to take a stand for change. That courage unlocks innovation, which is absolutely critical if companies want to get ahead of their customers’ journeys and shape their expectations. Creating new journeys might even be patentable. But that requires risk, experimentation, and a recognition that many of the structures that made it easier to manage a company in the past — such as channel-based P&L’s — prevent a brand from delivering the right experience for the future.

Several colleagues recently published a great article in Harvard Business Review on the value of managing customer journeys (you can read it here). The piece makes a compelling case about the power of customer journeys in driving growth, and I find myself wondering how to advise my clients on leadership.

In such a world, leaders have to pull the rip cord and make change happen. Leaders should be asking what the most important 10-25 journeys are that move the needle on customer value, and then change whatever needs to be changed to improve them. They should throw out org charts and focus on building “SWAT” teams that pull in the right people no matter what group they’re in. They should have “journey innovation labs” to drive new experiments, track outcomes, and scale what works. And finance teams looking at where better performance across the journeys creates higher returns, and using that to guide allocations of budgets.

One CMO client of mine did make a big change. He redesigned the planning processes to force managers to lay out their latest understanding of the decision journey and then describe how that will change their marketing strategy. He wanted to see explicit discussions of trade-offs between new customer acquisition and expanding their relationships with existing customers. He questioned the paid media that their agencies’ mix models seemed to sanction, and demanded that they move spend into “owned” channels such as email, web site messaging, and mobile messaging. He also wanted to see the media opportunities available from their e-commerce trade partners added as an explicit channel to consider.

Doing all of this resulted in radical shifts in their spend — 50% of their budgets moving from ad spend in the “consider” phase to much more invested in social and direct spend for the “evaluate, experience, and advocate” phases. They have dramatically improved their marketing ROI. But the change didn’t stop. Customer service and in-product packaging report to the CMO now, enabling him to coordinate more of the total journey.

This isn’t easy. Making big bets on new technologies and behaviors isn’t easy. Shaking up organizations isn’t easy. Taking a risk isn’t easy. But it’s absolutely necessary today. And only leaders with real courage can make it happen.

What do you think are those traits we most need in leadership today?