marketing collaboration

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?

The knee bone is connected to the...

I’ve been battling an issue on and off for the past 6 years.

It’s my knee.

You see, it bothers me when I walk. It’s not a pain, it’s a sound. It clicks. And it’s really annoying. It clicks when I bend it, walk up stairs, wall down stairs, run, do a lunge. You get the visual. It hasn’t always been the problem. For a long time it just really hurt. It hurt so much that I went to PT, had an MRI, thought I was destined for surgery to repair something in there.  I’m too mobile to have a knee problem. I’ve got my Portuguese Water Dog Bowie in Agility training, I run, ski in the winter, work-out, hike, kick-box, you get the picture - activities that need a healthy knee.

When we have an issue with a body part (in this example, my knee), we should investigate the entire system of mechanics, not the first area that shows the wear and tear.

I’ve come to find out it’s all the parts that support that joint (in this case my knee joint) where the discovery should begin in order to isolate the weakness in performance. I didn’t understand this until my incredible Pilates/Massage Trainer Julia Hollas (Corpo Kinetic in Berkeley) redirected my thinking. When I took my first class with her, she asked, “What do you want to work out today?”. I said, “Oh, abs, my core, my fat under my arm, etc…”. Julia took one head-to-toe scan of my body as I stood there in my shorts and t-shirt and smiled, “Great, let’s start with your hips”. Hips.

I didn’t think I had any problem with my hips. They didn’t hurt, they worked like they were supposed to…until she began to “peel the onion” for me.

Because my hips were not strong, my large quads were working overtime (there are two/three sets of quad muscles, my large quads were fine it was my small inner-quad muscle (vastus medialis) right above the inner kneecap that wasn’t firing). And because the large quads did too much work, the hamstrings on the back of my leg were lazy and not doing their job supporting the knee…oh and let’s not forget, my feet were also doing too much work, so that the muscles around the knee weren’t firing because they relied on my two feet…

Who knew that walking and our knees were a part of an incredibly sophisticated network of cooperation and collaboration of my quads, hamstrings, glutes, feet, and hips. The eye-opener for me was that in order to get the knee performing and in its most healthy state again, Julia and I would be in a constant weekly struggle to break these over-use/under-use habits of different critical points of movement. It’s a constant process…a bit of a yin/yang. But it’s an incredible statement about how our body mechanics rely on a system of collaboration between individual sets of high-performing muscles/joints/tendons, etc…when if one team-member is working in overdrive, and others are less than optimal, everything can go to hell.  

Which brings me to this, the lesson in understanding your systems. When uncovering your systems, whether it be your body or your team at work, figure out how much effort you are spending to understand the underlying parts of the performance in each area (your knee, your team, channel, workstream, etc…). Someone has to continually have a handle on a macro-view of what’s going on to see where the tendencies are for strengths and weaknesses.  

Without someone like Julia (who has full-body knowledge) I never would have gotten to a place of understanding about the "whole" part, not just the "individual" parts. This is true in your work-life too. If you take a step out, and away from your systems, what do you see? Are there weaknesses in one place?  Many places? We tend to roll-up everything into a performance metric or benchmark, or we tend to look at individual metrics, but in reality, it's looking at every metric that then rolls into defining the whole, not just that uber benchmark (sales, revenue, customers, etc…).

I would love to hear your ways of tackling this total view of all of it, in your work, in your knee, in your life.

In the meantime, the knee saga continues...