Among the many factors that separate winners from losers in marketing today, perhaps the most critical is the ability to deal successfully with the accelerating pace of change and disruption. How do you keep your product, your brand, or your organization relevant to consumers in the face of continuous revolutions and evolutions in the marketplace? The best marketers have not only figured out what it takes to stay relevant, they are motivated by the challenge.
It was about this topic that I had the privilege of talking to Wendy Clark, CEO of DDB, Ann Lewnes, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Adobe, and Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Unilever, who will be inducted at an event on April 16 in New York into the 2019 AMA New York Marketing Hall of Fame: https://www.marketinghalloffame.org/
While each of these recognized “best marketers” grew their careers in different categories, they share the same philosophy about what it takes to stay ahead of consumer demands in a frenetic world. First of all, marketers who succeed in the face an ever-changing market know how to unlock the power of collaboration. They are passionate about this, recognizing that working in a collaborative way enables people to move more quickly, in a more fluid and agile fashion, which makes for greater efficiency. That it’s a way to effectively combine skills, resources, talent and experience in order to not just see, but quickly seize opportunities as they arise.
Second is the ability to stay focused on your roots, your history, your founding (or founder’s) vision while at the same time tapping into the contemporary zeitgeist. It’s the ability to have one foot in the past and another in the present and the nimbleness to achieve just the right balance in an authentic way.
“Collaboration between thought partners, consumers, and communities is absolutely critical,” Clark told me during our discussion. “The skill of the future is deep collaboration, not your own territorialism, not your own personal success, not the propagation of your own idea. It’s a willingness at all levels and in every facet of an organization to roll up your sleeves and hear and listen to each other and want to build on one another’s idea, not replace one another’s ideas. Our clients today are demanding solutions that are good and fast. To achieve this you need massively talented people who are happy to build the Lego set together knowing that everyone’s bricks will make the product better. No single person can drive success. Bottom line outcomes come from collaborative teams. If we are not hiring, training, inculcating this idea, we will not get the answers we are seeking.”
Clark stepped into her role as CEO of DDB after remarkable stints as CMO at Coca-Cola and AT&T. I asked her how her responsibilities on the client side of the equation has helped inform her role as the leader of a major advertising firm. “I have a tremendous respect for the history and legacy of brands,” she said. “The formula for Coca-Cola hasn’t changed for over 100 years, nor has the brand positioning as a beacon of happiness and refreshment. AT&T also has an incredible legacy. The ability to reach out and touch someone functionally and emotionally. I believe that having a steady sense of who you are as a brand, where you come from, and interpreting the brand’s vision within the dynamic of the current marketplace is what marketing is all about. As a leader, I feel that I am responsible for three things. To set the vision, as in ‘We’re going to climb that mountain;’ to remove barriers and motivate the entire organization to execute the vision; and to hold people accountable for their roles in achieving the objective.”
Ann Lewnes, who joined Adobe after 20 years as VP of Marketing at Intel, also spoke directly about the importance of having a vision founded on brand legacy. “Software is a people business and Adobe’s culture is rooted in the belief that our people are our most precious asset and good ideas can come from anywhere in the company,” she said. “I’ve had the good fortune to be at two companies that have grown exponentially because their leaders saw a perhaps audacious opportunity and went for it. It’s amazing how much people can raise their potential if they are given something incredibly exciting to strive for.”
Lewnes said she thinks in terms of “flag planters” and “road builders,” a notion she credited to her boss Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe. “He told me the business world is made up of both types of players, and you need both to have a successful organization.
What changed the game for me at Adobe was being given the opportunity to be a flag planter for digital marketing years before many other marketers were willing to take the risk. Because we are a technology company we knew it would hit our target the right way. It was an ‘out there’ strategy at the time, but due to the incredible efforts of my amazing team of creatives, marketing strategists, data scientists, media experts and product managers, we made it happen.
The key to a big organizational success is helping people understand how they fit intoa greater vision, how success is based on shared goals. It’s important for people to appreciate the impact of what they are doing. Everyone needs to work collaboratively – no silos!”
Eliminating silos was among the earliest initiatives Keith Weed undertook as CMO of Unilever, from which he will retire this May after 35 years with the consumer-products giant. Seeing an opportunity to lead the firm’s plan to double revenue while halving its environmental impact, he took on the unusual role of overseeing marketing, communications and sustainable business.
It became his job to tangibly deliver on the vision of this highly innovative and collaborative model. “You can align any team and you can achieve many things if everyone is clear about what you are trying to achieve,” he told me. “One of the first things I did in my global role nine years ago was to rework our business strategy with then CEO, Paul Polman. We created a point of view about how Unilever was going to differentiate itself, the idea being that as the world became more challenging and more complex, people would expect more from brands to help them in their day-to-day lives. They want brands with purpose. Brands that help both environmentally and socially.
Once you communicate how you are going to differentiate your brand, it aligns people within the organization in the way you want to go. Unilever’s sales revenue has grown every single year over the last nine years – grown our profits, grown ahead of the market, ahead of the competition, providing great shareholder return. It’s a social and economic case. If you align with what people need and want, it’s good for business, good for the planet, good for everybody.”
Unilever has the second-largest marketing budget in the world, spending $8.4 billion. Over 2.5 billion people a day use its products. “The role of marketing as I see it is identifying those deeper human needs and providing solutions,” Weed said. “Good marketing is like a heat-seeking missile. Always approximately on target, but continually changing direction to make sure it evolves with consumers. Our vision is to put people first and understand where the world is going. If marketers are truly focused on what society and people want, then your brand will remain relevant.”
Given the accelerating pace of change, understanding what matters to people and delivering meaningful solutions is the greatest challenge that marketers face today.
Well aware of this challenge, the 2019 AMA inductees, Wendy Clark, Ann Lewnes and Keith Weed, share an understanding of the two essential elements required to meet it head on, and with great success: the power of collaborative efforts and the importance of staying focused on a shared vision. They know that no matter how much the world changes, this philosophy will always hold true.