Marketing Planning in an Interdependent World

Thank you, Tiffany Shlain. Your award-winning film, Connected, was an unexpected summer treat. It heightened my awareness of the need for marketing leaders to recognize their growing interdependency on others.

As I have mentioned in recent Fast Company posts, CMOs no longer “own” every aspect of marketing. They cannot operate in an isolated fashion. They must establish stakeholder relationships that support, activate, and measure interactions and brand experiences. Every initiative must either create communities, generate good leads, drive revenues, edify the brand, or perpetuate positive customer experiences.

Now, let’s talk about this film for a moment, and how it relates to how CMOs lead. Connected made its global debut in 2011. Throughout her documentary, Shlain weaves her own personal, life-changing moments with examples of political and social leaders whose policies–often fueled by short-term thinking–caused long-term and often irreparable damage.

Shlain is a filmmaker, a founder of The Webby Awards, and a dynamic speaker. She is certainly no stranger to the knowledge-building power of the Web. Yet she is capable of stepping back and asking tough questions, such as “If we pride ourselves in knowing so much more, why do we often struggle to see the bigger picture?”

Look at what happened in China in 1958 when Mao Zedong ignored the bigger picture. In his infinite wisdom, he launched the campaign against the “Four Pests”–mosquitoes, flies, rats, and sparrows, which ate grain, seeds that could have otherwise been eaten by people. His plan backfired–sparrows eat locusts, and once they were gone, the locust populations boomed, ate all the crops, and resulted in a famine that killed millions.

Marketing leaders certainly don’t demonstrate that level of hubris in their everyday lives. Yet this sad slice of Chinese history illustrates how an obsession with short-term results and highly independent thinking can kill a perfectly innocent company.

At my recent CMO breakfast, participants prioritized their biggest concerns. You will notice that some are short-term priorities, and others are longer term in nature. Here are some ways to ensure you proactively consider the long-term implications of each:

    1. Continually educate the C-suite on your company’s message. Make this a lifelong mission. Start by interviewing your key customers, strategic partners, and lost customers. Why does your company matter? What is the construct to illustrate your offer? How do you deliver on that offer? Finally, what is the social proof that supports how you deliver on your promises? My friend Deb Lavoy refers to these four questions in a brilliantly thoughtful market positioning model she calls the Narrative Hierarchy.


    1. Measure marketing ROI in simple, measurable terms. When I met with Heidi Melin, CMO of Eloqua, I was impressed by her ability to divide her attention equally between creative and marketing operations endeavors. This can be challenging when your company’s purpose is to evangelize companies on marketing analytics! Today, Eloqua claims its rightful space in Gartner Group’s revenue performance management magic quadrant. She encourages peers to “measure the things you can with your demand generation activities, and tie the things above the sales funnel (such as branding) to other metrics. In the executive level dashboards I have developed in previous companies, we look at softer areas such as organic search–are changes happening?” Melin creates color-coded dashboards using red, yellow and green color coding to summarize progress.


  1. Manage complexity by first managing your mindset. Surround yourself with positive leaders who are committed to societal improvement, lifelong learning, and peer feedback. Spend one more day per month with customers or observing sales calls. Say “no thank you” to low priority activities, and include a “stop doing” list in your marketing planning meetings. Stay clear of exhaustive, fatalistic discussions around politics and economics. They seldom advance our critical thinking and collaboration skills as business. And, most importantly, create a community of like-minded leaders where you can spend a few hours focused on the big picture. I am honored to have launched a CMO community that achieves just that.

The concept of “free and independent states” just doesn’t fully describe the new world of marketing. While the theme of independence served the U.S. (and marketing leaders) quite well for over 200 years and has spawned endless songs of freedom, fireworks, and family gatherings, the term “interdependence” is now more appropriate.

This month, I celebrate marketing interdependence. Please join me, and share your comments here.

And remember to order your copy of Connected.

Related articles:

[Image: Flickr user Scottnj]


copyright 2012, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

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