Winning is Hard

Vision is a CMOs most underutilized weapon. Nothing adds more value to your brand. Nothing else compares when it comes to fueling business growth at scale. Yet, too often, vision sits on the sidelines like a dragon at the Battle of Winterfell (I figure any GoT mention should help SEO). Vision, our game-changing asset gets set aside while we obsess over incremental tactics.

I get it.

It’s in our nature. Brand health and human health are pretty similar. If the promise of a lifetime of well-being felt as good as instant gratification, we’d all eat better, live smarter and spend our time more wisely. So, yea, it’s harder to do what’s best for you. That’s why there is probably about the same percentage of thriving brands as there are happy people. 

We gravitate to what we can measure. But we can’t let that divert us from focusing on what it takes to win. And you won’t win if your most powerful asset isn’t in the game. `Nothing against data-led optimization here. It’s essential, high-value work. But vision is what enables differentiation, creativity, innovation, inspiration and alignment. Without vision, optimization is a fast road to parity.

What can we do about it? First, let’s recognize the paradox; your most valuable brand tool is also the least measurable. That sucks when you think about the accountability gauntlet you have to live through; revenue meetings every Tuesday morning, the ever-present marketing dashboard, quarterly leadership team performance reviews, the $250,000 attribution model and on-going C-Suite scrutiny of whether marketing is an investment or cost center. Not a highly receptive environment for talking about brand vision, platform and relationships.

So don’t.

Vision is about one thing - winning.

Every project has a win. Increasing sales, gaining share, acquiring new customers, successfully launching a new product, elevating the brand. Equate your vision directly to the win. All those famous brands we love to talk about do it every day. The vision sets in motion an unstoppable chain of events that determine your fortunes. Make it 1) inspired enough to rally a diverse team around a shared mission, 2) clear enough to provide an achievable (yet ambitious) picture of success and 3) actionable enough to guide how individual contributions ladder up to the collective win. 

Think about the best work you’ve been a part of. Was the magic conjured by a series of A/B tests, or was it a vision that motivated a team to achieve something special? 

Final thought about the most common scenario. Just about everyone articulates some sort of vision early in the process. The truly hard part is making that vision a compelling, on-going factor in every marketing decision throughout the entire process. It’s hard to keep that flame lit, but it’s what great, dynamic CMOs do to build iconic, enduring brands.

That ended kind of abruptly. Even I have some questions for me:

Q: What evidence do you have that vision is so important?

A: There are many studies from folks like HBR/EY (link) and Korn Ferry (link) about how companies who embrace and activate vision/purpose/strategy significantly outperform their peers. But I’ll cite one from, of all places, the Project Management Institute (link). I use them to illustrate my point about activating the vision in your go-to-market work. Projects (campaigns) are where that happens. They say that over 1/3 of projects fail, and every one of their reasons point back to strategy [or in this case lack of]. While this is universal across all categories, I find this correlates strongly with how marketing falls short because the value of the vision wasn’t realized.

Q: I already spent a lot of time articulating an awesome vision, so, I’m good to go, right?

A: Glad you asked, I wanted to talk more about this. That’s a great first step, but you still have work to do. You need to make sure that vision is infused everywhere along the journey. From the brief, through the integrated campaign process, creative reviews, channel strategies and in-market activation and optimization.

Q: You said that brand vision isn’t measurable, so how will we ever know what it’s contributing? 

A: Well, that’s a mischaracterization of what I said. My point is that it’s less measurable with less immediacy than your performance marketing activities. The full answer is kind of long, but the key is to avoid making your brand tracker an isolated study. (Perhaps a topic for a future post).

Q: Can you expand a bit, maybe by doing a play on words?

A: A powerful vision takes the blinders off. Channels can work in concert. It’s why your social content, customer service, experiential, brand experts and the rest work in additive, versus siloed, ways

Q: Why don’t you like optimization?

A: Wow, did anyone even read what I wrote? I’m an optimization fan. Think of it like building a race car. If everyone went off on their own making state-of-the-art components…. sorry, petered out there, analogies bore me when you know where they’re headed. 

Q: But if I spend more time doing vision-led versus data-led stuff, I’ll get fired, won’t I?

A: Maybe. But it’s not like CMOs are lasting very long right now anyway, so, what do you have to lose?