Fair Exchange: Where crazy chaos must meet structure & fact
by Erna George (@) Whether CEOs move around or stay, they do have the mandate to surround themselves with a board of experts who each aim for excellence which the CEO directs and sets the pace to be followed. In marketing, we don’t have this mandate. We do, however, expect marketing team members to be able to be brilliant at diverse areas — from the structure of detail, processes, analysis to leading people and projects all the way to being creative and innovative. But is it feasible for marketers to strive to be everything for all seasons and goals?
I’m of the school of thought that, for every season in a business, there’s a particular CEO. I’m sure you’ve heard about the ‘turnaround CEO’, who helps reverse negative performance and shape a positive future. Then there’s the ‘people’s CEO’, who helps develop a strong cohesive culture and moves people to consolidate and build. I’m not saying that CEOs don’t have the skills to cover everything from turnaround and efficiency to building but, typically, each CEO has a ‘go-to’ approach, a specialisation of sorts that may be matched and used effectively to a particular phase of a business for great effect — especially during tough times or significant changes.
Multiplicity of skills
I, like Jim Metcalf, am of the firm belief that marketers need a bit of crazy to come up with fresh thinking, challenge the norms and inspire others to see a new vision. Somehow, the eccentricities shown by engineers, or even accountants, are often forgiven or overlooked but, with marketers, the craziness is often seen as flighty and flimsy.
Marketers need to back up the ‘crazy’ with commercial acumen and data analysis. A highly innovative brand manager, known for stellar ideas, always needs the skills to showcase a strong business case, the strategic influencing competency and the sales skills to convince the most sceptical senior executive of its merit with little show of ego — a fair amount to ask. These people are hard to find, and those you train to deliver this are hard to keep, given the high demand out there.
I have worked with people who are geniuses at budget management, project management or writing briefs, yet ask them to lead people or engage with and persuade stakeholders and they bumble around like a bull in a china shop. Or people who have great skills for data analysis but struggle with critical thinking around less data-driven areas. Marketing people need a spectrum of skills and competencies that cover individual delivery and delivery through others to good commercial abilities and creative flair. How many realise this?
A multiplicity of skills is required, with the ability to balance the more-structured with the more-creative and the EQ to know when to play which skill. Many hear ‘marketing’ and think of the bright lights of big launches and new innovative media and advertising without considering the data-sourcing, number-crunching and effective influencing of others required. Great marketing has the power to shift brands and business towards success but, as Spidey says, “with great power, comes great responsibility” and I am still frustrated by the many new graduates I speak to who don’t understand what this looks like in the world of marketing!
While you can ensure that the marketing team has data experts and digital experts in support, each marketer still needs to develop skills that allow a holistic approach integrating multiple business disciplines and understanding how these relate to each other to manage them effectively, while creating fresh thinking and embracing new technology. Balancing the innovative with pragmatic implementation, commercial with consumer need and more. And, with the pressure on profits, must be willing to get their hands dirty wherever it is required.
Identifying and enticing these people to your team is a challenge. While much of this aptitude will develop with experience and skills may be taught, we need people who are flexible without being pushovers, resilient in dealing with change and failure, and with a strong desire, willingness and ability to learn. Therefore, a solid recruitment process is critical and having an HR team who ‘gets’ marketing will improve your success levels exponentially.
Once recruited, a solid learning programme is a must, be it on-the-job and/or formal training to learn your organisation, key people and processes, as well as essential skills. In addition to this, assisting team members in uncovering their core strengths and blind-spots helps unlock potential plus establish a common language to continuously shift from good to great.
For me, this was the personality-traits test, Insights Discovery Colour Energies, to which I was recently introduced. This system uses four colour ‘energies’ to explain more about who each person is and their preference or ‘go-to’ behaviour-style.
- Fiery Red energy is authoritative — a director and extrovert
- Sunshine Yellow is highly positive — these people radiate positive energy and focus on good relationships to persuade and bring others along
- Earth Green energies focus on values and the reason things are or need to be. They are very personal in their approach and value people and relationships.
- Cool Blues are introverted and want to understand and analyse all the details for the world around them.
Framework of understanding
By using this framework, you may improve individual effectiveness based on the understanding of development areas (eg both long-term development plans and quick preparation for critical interactions), harness collective strengths across team members more effectively, and encourage constructive feedback with a common language eg in my team you will hear, “I am embracing my blue today” or “I need a red perspective”. The former means ‘I need to analyse and connect more with data than people, please’ while the latter means ‘I need a clean-cut decisive view — no-more whys or why-nots’. It also means that the team is more cognisant and therefore more understanding of each person’s context, and this creates an atmosphere of support and acceptance — at least on some days.
The other great benefit is to identify how to build teams and recruit people. Too many reds and conversations would be short and details few, with too many chiefs overall. Too many blues and there could be analysis-paralysis. Having a blend of the energies ensure that there’s a good mix of detail focus, decisive action, emphasis on purpose and people leadership.
This is tough stuff and I don’t have a solution. All I know is that there aren’t enough people who come with the skills ready to go, and the search for the person strong in all fields may be like looking for the Holy Grail. So rather:
- Ensure a well-rounded recruitment process that focuses beyond skills to competencies, such as adaptability, resilience and a hunger for learning, and personality traits to check fit
- Have a clear training programme in place and mentors to drive learning through the team
- Consider an internal tool to develop self-awareness and self and team development opportunities to unlock potential continuously
What we may also need to consider is that, while we want to attract the best and the brightest, if we demystify what marketing is really about, it becomes known for the balance between crazy creative and solid structure and processes, and so we’ll gain more stature and attract the right people. Lastly, for those leading the teams, balance the needs and expectations of the perfect working team (needed now, please) with a robust programme to develop people for the future.
If anyone has a solution, please let me know — I’m keen to learn and try new approaches.
After starting at Unilever in a classical marketing role, Erna George (@) explored the agency side of life, first as a partner at Fountainhead Design, followed by the manic and inspiring world of consultancy at Added Value. She has returned to client-side, leading the marketing team in the Cereals, Accompaniments & Baking Division at Pioneer Foods. Her monthly “Fair Exchange” column on MarkLives concerns business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland.