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Time to Lead. Right Now. No Excuses.

  |  July 25, 2006   |  Comments

Everyone's entitled to reap the dividends of small (or bold) acts of leadership. Here's the low-hanging fruit.

Lead!

That's my simple message today. Please listen! Remember, I'm talking to you -- not your superior, your boss, or the person who owns your budget.

We're all -- each and every one of us -- at a critical inflection point in marketing. The new marketing model is finally breaking out and finding its voice. It's time for us to get out of our shells and lead.

Trust me, you'll kick yourself if you sit on the sidelines. Our organizations -- our brands, our agencies, our businesses -- are starving for leadership. They may not have this tattooed on their foreheads, they may even be a bit embarrassed and ashamed that they're so far behind. But believe me, they want and need you leadership.

The evidence of disruption is everywhere, from media fragmentation to the explosion of consumer-generated media (CGM). We all have an unprecedented opportunity to put our imprimatur on this exciting period of change.

And it's an imprimatur we can be proud of, even 20 years from now, because marketing appears to be moving in a direction that puts the consumer more squarely in the center. Who wouldn't want to be associated with that?

Leadership doesn't necessarily require rank, pedigree, or experience. It does require a healthy share of intuition, instinct, initiative, even innocence. The good news here is we all sense and feel the changes, especially as consumers ourselves, so it's time to act on our good judgment

Seeding the Conversation... Well Before Blogs

Procter & Gamble taught me tons, including best practices and fact-book learning. But when I look back on my experience, the activities that give me the deepest sense of pride were basically off-the-plan acts of leadership that deepened my sense of ownership about the new face of marketing.

Fresh out of business school back in 1995, for example, I was surprised by the lack of internal conversation or dialogue about the Web at P&G. I decided, in my small way, to change things. I launched an e-mail discussion group that I promptly branded, borrowing from a popular P&G slogan, "Net-Net, The Net." To further market the list, I started sending a short newsletter with various blog-like blurbs, branding it "Surf n' Suds."

Not unlike what's happening in today's social media environment, a community of curious and like-minded folks quickly joined the group, eventually growing to a globally diverse 500-plus subscribers by the time I left the company. Some turned out to be quite senior members of the organization. I knew I'd acquired an odd level of power and influence when I received a curious e-mail from P&G's CIO, politely asking whether he and four other managers could join my mailing list.

Rumor has it the list thrives today. One of its very first participants, Franz Dill, is now one of P&G's most prolific and effective internal bloggers.

What's important is I didn't wait for a research brief, white paper, or fact-book green light to take action. In some respects, I was just lucky to see a unmet need and fill it before anyone else did. I also didn't let the naysayers (every organization has plenty) slow me down because I was acting on my own bread-and-butter intuition, based on my experience with CompuServe discussion boards and the very early version of AOL. We all have that.

Empower Those Who Get It

A year later, I had another idea. What if P&G invited its summer interns to formally advise the company on online marketing? The logic was students in college were closest to the technology and might just intuitively direct the company to better ideas for harnessing the digital future.

My brand manager, Chris Lansing (now CMO of Peets Coffee), immediately bought into the concept. Knowing it had cross-brand benefits, she encouraged me to shoot my idea to our relatively new global VP of marketing, Denis Beausejour. Beausejour immediately embraced the concept, with resources to boot.

As it turned out, the entire management team, including then-CEO John Pepper, enthusiastically jumped on board. They viewed the interns as a catalyst and source of energy for a large organization still struggling over whether employees should even have access to the Web.

Pepper, in particular, met with the interns on numerous occasions and even supported their first major recommendation: that P&G create an interactive marketing team and budget. This helped fund my first interactive job outside of the "traditional" brand.

The intern panel continues to this day. It's served as a gateway for some of P&G's best interactive thinkers. Bob Gilbreath, for example, led an intern team on word-of-mouth marketing (long before the birth of WOMMA) and later became brand manager of the hugely successful, word-of-mouth-enabled Mr. Clean AutoDry. He's now CMO of BridgeWorldwide, one of P&G's top interactive shops.

Interestingly, the energy and recommendations from the program sourced the energy we needed to give momentum to an otherwise fledging corporate interactive marketing effort. Just two years later, P&G made the cover of "Advertising Age" as the Interactive Marketer of the Year.

A New Age of Leadership

Small steps can move the needle. The good news is opportunity is everywhere. Because the lines of ownership are so ambiguous and fuzzy these days, everyone's entitled to reap the dividends of small or bold acts of leadership.

Here's the low-hanging fruit:

  • Interactive marketing: Consumer attention is clearly online. Carpe diem!

  • Brand Web sites: Most brand Web sites are desperately in need of upgrades. Sound the alarm, dust off the sites, and bring them to life.

  • Consumer affairs: The rules of listening are changing before our eyes. Consumers who talk matter. Be a hero in your organization and lead this change.

  • Market research: We're moving from a time-stamped, rep-panel model to one of tapping fluid, unsolicited conversations for insight. Push this along!

  • The future of TV: TV is coming right back at us. We need not look any further than YouTube to find inspiration for initiatives we can lead for our brands.

  • Internal collaboration: We're only in the first inning of corporate blogs. Some of the best ones, I dare say, will be internal. Write the memo that makes that happen.

When you look back at your marketing career and your kids ask about your place in the revolution, you want to look them in the eye and say, "I was there and helped lead the future of a better marketing." We can also take great pride in knowing we drove tremendous shareholder value in the process.

It's there, folks. Take it!

Meet Pete at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose, August 7-10, 2006, at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.

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ClickZ Live Chicago (Nov 3-6) will deliver over 50 sessions across 4 days and 10 individual tracks, including Data-Driven Marketing, Social, Mobile, Display, Search and Email. Check out the full agenda, or register and attend one of the best ClickZ events yet!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pete Blackshaw

Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."

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