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Marketing Leadership, like Respect, is not Granted but Earned

The Marketing Doctor’s Survival Notes” by Jeff Poulos was featured in the Hayzlett Book Club. This is part one of a two-part guest blog series where he discusses key topics from his book.

After thirty years of working for corporations and non-profit organizations large and small, there are only a few overriding truths I’ve seen as unconditionally applicable. The first and most important is that as part of an organization or company, when working with others toward a common goal, the leadership position is one that is earned through action, not granted by title.

Despite what B-school instructors and textbooks may tell you, education, degrees, title, status, wardrobe, or familial relations to the top position will not confer a leadership role to anyone automatically. Each of those is only a tool, a trait, an element of the whole that makes an effective leader. Having a vision for the outcome or result you want is a good trait, handy to have around, but it alone does not confer leadership status on anyone. Acting on that vision, while respecting and considering the other inputs you receive, does. Confidence in your actions alone does not confer a leadership position, but confidently considering the possibilities, gathering information, following where that information takes you, and making an informed decision and acting on it without fear of failure, does.

Marketing as a function is probably the most powerful force within a given organization. It’s the bridge between the product or service and the customer, the access point for the company to enter the consumer’s psyche, the way to get inside the buyer’s head and make an impression. No other function has the reach, the breadth, the depth of understanding of the full range of values of the company, the product or service, and the management’s view of it, than the marketing department. So why is there so much extra effort required to justify investments in marketing activity, to allow marketing’s voice to be heard during important decision-making events, to include them in the process by which the company’s future is charted? In many cases marketing is seen as a service bureau within the organization, filling requests from everyone from sales to accounting to the c-suite, for just the right image, or just the right verbiage to close a sale, to creating and producing a pitch perfect event speech for the CEO. But it can be so much more, given the chance.

Some companies seem to “get it” and understand the wisdom of including “the creatives” in the decision-making process. That’s no accident. Those departments have earned the respect of the c-suite leaders by showing their value repeatedly in ways that are easily understood and respected by senior management. Marketing has some tremendously powerful tools for justifying their worth, but if they use the traditional marketing language and metrics to show it, they may as well be speaking Norwegian. To earn the respect of those who would be king, you have to speak the right language, and to show the contribution in terms that are easily measured, benchmarked and compared to other metrics already in place. Show the value using terms like capitol investment return, sales volume, revenue targets, year-over-year growth, and other business-universal terms, not in marketing jargon like brand awareness level, and social media engagements, or KPI.

By taking a leadership role, and making the effort to learn their language, not make them learn yours, you’ve shown that you respect their work and their worth, and they will be in a position to reciprocate. In short, you have to give to get, and when you do, you’ll be amazed how that leadership position takes shape quickly and indelibly, and your ability to assess, attack and achieve the goals you set rises exponentially.

About the Author: David Poulos, Chief Consultant at Granite Partners, has been providing marketing guidance and expertise to clients firms large and small for over 30 years. Speaker, thought leader and author, he wrote “The Marketing Doctor’s Survival Notes” and published over 20 articles on marketing and business. Specialties include non-profit membership marketing, tradeshow marketing, direct mail, and full-scale strategic marketing campaigns. He can be reached via the web at www.granite-part.com.

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