Barwise: The 3 things stopping marketers from raising their executive influence

London Business Schol emeritus professor of management and marketing, Patrick Barwise, identifies the core leadership gaps CMOs must address to achieve business success

Patrick Barwise
Patrick Barwise

Marketers must tackle the power, trust and skills gaps in their organisation by harnessing true leadership qualities if they hope to attain their rightful place as influential business executives.

That’s the view of London Business School emeritus professor of management and marketing, Patrick Barwise, who offered up ways marketers can more successfully find business success during a special lunch in Sydney hosted by the Australian Marketing Institute and Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Barwise said the industry has known for 30 years that the marketing concept works and companies find success by profitably meeting customer needs.

“We also know CEOs and top executives do understand the value of brand equity,” he told attendees. “That’s for their own perverse reason that other things being equal, CEOs and top executives are willing to be paid less if the firm has strong brands.

“And in research published only last year among the top peer review journals, we know having a CMO at the top table, and an influential marketing department, does help drive customer focus and short and long-term business performance.”

The problem, according to Barwise, is many marketers have only limited business impact and career success.

“Marketing in terms of focus is important, but marketers often aren’t,” he said.

In an attempt to understand why, Barwise has co-authored a new book, 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, with ex-McKinsey partner, Thomas Barta, based on self-assessments of more than 1200 global marketers and 7400 marketing and non-marketing leaders. In it, the pair identify three major reasons why marketers are not influential. The first is the “trust gap”.

“Marketing is most about the future, but what do you think when someone tries to tell you what’s going to happen in future? You’re usually sceptical,” Barwise said. “When you as a marketer stand next to someone in finance or operations, much of what you say will always sound less reliable, because it is. As a marketer, you’ll always face a trust gap.”

The second gap is the “power gap”. While there are many areas of a business involved in creating customer experiences, most don’t report to marketing, Barwise noted. It’s therefore imperative marketers earn their support.

The third gap is the skills gap, and Barwise said marketing leaders can no longer be an expert on every component of marketing. “There is just too much and it’s changing too fast – half of what the 23-year olds are doing didn’t exist when the CMO was 23,” he commented. “You will always have a skills gap and it’ll probably be getting worse, rather than getting better.”

Yet despite the hurdles, Barwise and Barta’s research showed several marketing leaders are achieving business impact. This was not because of gender, whether they’re in the B2B or B2C field, or even personality. And while functional skills and the type of company a marketer works have some bearing, the real differentiator is leadership skills.

“It means most competent marketers have it in themselves to be great marketing leaders – this can be learned,” he said. “The most successful weren’t just good at doing marketing, they excelled at leading marketing, which is something quite different.”

Barwise offered several key ways to help marketers lead. The first is to close the trust gap by mobilising the boss and colleagues.

“To be relevant to your boss, you must tackle the big issues. That means meeting two sets of needs: The customer’s needs, and the company’s needs,” he said.

Barwise recommended finding the ‘value creation zone’ where these two circles intersect. “If you only work at what customers want, you won’t get much attention or support at the top for the company and you’re likely to get fired,” he claimed. “And if you only look at what your boss wants, you will create useless products and also may get fired.”

Another way of mobilising the boss is by delivering demonstrable returns. Barwise advised using metrics as well as intelligent explanations to communicate the reasons for what you’re doing, and the evidence behind it.

Tip two is to bridge the power gap by walking the halls and working with non-marketing colleagues to make marketing relevant. “You can’t mobilise your colleagues if they don’t listen to you, but you can tell them a story that gets under their skin and captures their hearts,” he said.

“When Ford was close to collapse, the CMO gave people hope by telling them that for generations of drivers, the blue logo stood for pride and personal adventure. Let’s bring that back.”

Tip three from Barwise is to bridge the skills gap by becoming a leader of leaders and mobilising your team. “This is the century of marketing leaders,” he said. “Your role is to build a team with best mix of skills for your particular market, brand and strategy, then help them to be brilliant.”

One way of doing this is by identifying 2-3 distinctive skills that will enable the organisation to make the biggest difference in the market in terms of value creation, he suggested. These could include pricing analytics, sales support or consumer insights.

Another is to “teach the team to ask for forgiveness, not permission. “It’s about letting the outcomes speak for themselves – this is not about soft management , it’s tough management that’s performance oriented, but that’s based on trust and support,”Barwise said.

Barwise’s final tip is to know how to inspire. “You can’t tell your boss or colleagues what to do, or these days even tell your team what to do if you want to hang on to the best people,” Barwise said. “But you can inspire them, providing you yourself are inspired first.

“Whatever it is that inspires you, people need to see that flicker in your eyes.”

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