Escape the dangers of the digital intrusion movement

Lisa Nirrell looks at how to balance digital and social disruption with in marketing leadership

“Craig, will you please turn off your phone while we eat lunch?”

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say that at a restaurant—and I am one of those people who has asked several peers to do this. Craig, a longstanding client, was one of the worst offenders.

Get ready to possibly be offended: I find it downright disrespectful for colleagues to regularly glance at their phones while we attempt meaningful, face-to-face conversations. Many of us feel as if we owe our mobile devices our undivided attention. Sometimes, we even give it a seat at the dinner table. I refer to this trend as the digital intrusion movement, or DIM.

Here are a few indicators that you may be headed to a DIM place:

  1. Health and vitality take a back seat to 24-hour access: Think about the myriad professionals who encourage more technology usage to drive the speed of execution and access. It ruins the distinctions between being “responsive” and “always available”.

  2. Communication shortcuts open the door to misunderstandings and malevolence: Think of the ludicrous acronyms that have infiltrated our electronic conversations. They were ostensibly designed to save time. Terms that did not exist 10 years ago include IMHO (in my humble opinion); LOL (laugh out loud), and TTFN (ta-ta for now).

    When we constantly use these insipid acronyms, we are telling the recipient we simply do not have time for a real discussion, let alone proper use of our language.

  3. The online herd mentality prevails: CMOs and CFOs often tell me sad tales of their five- and six-figure forays into social media and big data initiatives, only to report that they have little to show for their efforts. In lieu of scheduling more time actually talking to customers, they are spending time learning how to use Facebook’s advanced features. This type of activity only guarantees one thing: You will have more people randomly endorsing and liking you.

Thankfully, not all work environments are dim. Several leaders constantly design ways to restore harmony in their digital lives. LinkedIn’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, encourages walking outdoors for his meetings. Padma Warrior, Cisco’s chief technology and strategy officer, meditates daily and dedicates her weekends to haiku and painting. And high-performing organisations such as General Mills, Google and Target are using consciousness-raising practices—like meditation, conscious communication, mindfulness and yoga—to foster focused leaders who make better decisions. And none of these practices require any devices.

These leaders share three mindful attributes:

Articulateness

An articulate marketing leader is a confident marketing leader. Possessing a broad vocabulary and using it effectively across offline and online communications channels can separate the persuasive from the passive.

Selective use of technology can avoid DIM habits from recurring. Twitter, for example, can be a marketing leader’s ally. Although social media is not a substitute for more substantial, personalised interactions with our teams, customers and senior leadership executives, it has forced many of us to become more succinct and consistent with interactions across our online and offline channels.

An articulate marketer also uses memorable storytelling and powerful language to convey the organisation’s vision across every communication channel. Author, Brian Solis, believes that “new [online media] tools can bring people together and unite them under a common front or a concerted mission.

At the centre of any revolution is the desire to bring about change… it always comes down to people, shared experiences, and a common ambition… And it is people who need each other for leadership, support and inspiration.”

Aggregation

A strategic marketing leader gains inspiration in unusual places. They actively seek patterns across seemingly disparate avenues. I find my greatest inspiration and new ideas by spending time with people outside of my industry and by visiting new countries.

When I spent a day touring Zappos, the innovative online retailer in Nevada, I had no previous experience or understanding of online retailing, yet I knew that Zappos’ commitment to creating “wow” customer service experiences could inspire and inform my clients in other industries. What struck me was their commitment to traditional offline communication methods. They do not limit the time that an agent spends with each customer. Co-founder, Tony Hsieh, lets the agents determine how much time is required to deliver the “wow”.

Adaptability

How quickly can you shift gears during times of rapid change? Being adaptable is something that has taken me a couple of decades to embrace. I will never forget a conference I attended that featured the late Stephen Covey, a highly acclaimed leadership expert and the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I was told prior to the conference that I would never get to schedule a live interview with Stephen due to his full schedule. While I felt disappointed, I was also surprised by what happened next.

At the last moment, a Los Angeles Times reporter cancelled, and an interview time slot opened. I had just seven minutes to prepare for a live meeting with Stephen. I faced a metaphorical fork in the road, so I silently panicked and considered my options. Should I fake it and act as if I was prepared, or should I tell him I did not plan for this in advance?

I chose the latter option. When I told Stephen I was unprepared, he offered me an oatmeal cookie. We were off and running. It was the best 35-minute, in-the-moment interview I can remember.

These qualities help you manage the DIM aspects of today’s hyper-connected world. Try on a few new habits for size. They will shed new light on how you interact with the world, and with your customers.

About the author

Lisa Nirell is the chief energy officer for EnergizeGrowth, an organisation dedicated to helping companies grow mindshare and market share. As a marketing leadership advisor, growth strategist and award-winning author, she brings provocative insights and practical marketing wisdom to her clients. They experience higher revenues, accelerated profits and improved team execution. Her customers include Adobe, Infor, Oracle, GenRe and Bozzuto.

Lisa also contributes regularly to Fast Company and The Huffington Post. Her latest book, The Mindful Marketer: How to Stay Present and Profitable in a Data-Driven World, is now available as well. This practical planning guide helps marketing leaders and CEOs make better decisions, align their teams and attract loyal customers by applying Pan-Asian principles.

This article originally appeared in the CMO Council’s Magnified enewsletter, September 2014.

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