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Professional Services, Marketing Organization, Marketing Talent Development, Marketing Leadership

3 Traits Marketing Leaders Need During COVID-19 and Beyond

An exceptionally wise mentor of mine has often reminded me, “sometimes in life, the hardest thing we have to do is to LEARN to sit in the uncomfortable space”.

And that’s what EVERY marketing leader I coach is trying to learn to do right now. To quote Brene Brown on her newly launched podcast, we’re in the “FFT’s – the First Friggin’ Times” – of EVERYTHING. So for starters, be kind to yourself AND admit that this is hard. Few of us enjoy the feeling of learning something new under pressure, and that’s exactly how every day feels right now. So allow yourself to take a breath in that “uncomfortable space” and just know, you ARE doing it, you’re learning. You and I, and all of us, are learning how to live in this current reality. One day at a time.

In my work coaching Marketing leaders these past few weeks, some clear themes have emerged around leadership in the “uncomfortable space” that I’d like to pass along. Specifically, as we unpack the unprecedented reality we are living in, learning in, and leading through, three clear leadership traits keep surfacing as critical, now more than ever. Interestingly enough, these same three themes are vital to the success of marketing. So let’s dive in, shall we?

1. Empathy

Are you familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist in the 1940s who created a pyramid-like design structure to demonstrate that we humans have a certain number of needs and that those needs build on each other, i.e. to ascend the rungs of the need pyramid to the higher-level needs, humans need to ensure that their most basic needs are met first. At the very top of that pyramid are our most evolved needs, including self-actualization and esteem, but to get there, we first need to clear the lower level hurdles such as safety, security, shelter, and basic wellbeing.

For the past number of years, most of our marketing messaging has met our customers where we perceived them to be, which was somewhere towards the top of the pyramid. But with COVID-19, our customers, being the humans that they are, have plummeted to the bottom rungs of this pyramid. So if we don’t understand this and adjust our tone, outreach, and messaging accordingly, then we will not be able to meet our customers where they stand today.

It’s time to re-engage, re-listen, and relearn. And it’s not just for marketing’s sake. The best Marketing leaders I know are leading with a fresh dose of genuine empathy, and then sharing what they learn internally — with sales counterparts, with the CEO, C-suite, board, and the entire company. The modern marketing leader must transform their content marketing into a responsive voice of trust. Content marketing drives three crucial pillars of B2B marketing transformation: engaged connection, quality conversation, and measurable results. More people will be spending time at home over the coming months. Brands can provide lighthearted or informative and/or encouraging content to people looking for support. All stakeholders need to adjust messaging to address their customers’ new reality and engage with them more thoughtfully and authentically.

2. Agility

For starters, in terms of quick wins: go all-in on agile. Agile marketing embraces the benefits of quick releases, focused experimentation, and centricity around the customer. It has historically been all about short sprints, but today’s version of agility needs to be about hyperspeed. Marketing pivots and messaging redirects should happen in a matter of days, not weeks. For marketing leaders, this means creating an environment where decisions get pushed down deeper into the organization, empowering more people to make those decisions, and celebrating the wins that come from building an agile culture of continuous learning.

3. Positivity

I’ve always described myself as a “Ruthless Optimist”, and my tagline on my twitter account reads, “I strive to begin and end each day with gratitude and roll with whatever transpires in the hours in between.” If I’m being honest, I’ve never felt more challenged to be this version of myself. Can you relate? A perspective that helps me right now as a leader, as a marketer, and also just simply as a HUMAN: keep on keeping on.

Before you assume positivity is all about rose-colored glasses and strategies of baseless hope, take this into consideration: according to organizational psychologist Shawn Achor, “Only 25 percent of job successes are predicted by IQ. 75 percent of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support, and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.”

The best marketing leaders I coach understand that positivity means not focusing on weakness, but putting an emphasis on strengths. In fact, Gallup Organization has found that focusing on strengths virtually eliminates active disengagement. So as marketing leaders, the worst thing we can do is to ignore our customers. As leaders inside marketing organizations, the worst thing we can do is to ignore our employees. Gallup found that when managers fail to give feedback, they fail to engage 98% of employees, but when they focus on strengths, they can reduce disengagement to less than 1%. As managers, we are hard-wired for fixing problems and it’s very, very easy to look for things to fix, rather than to encourage the behavior you want to see more of. It’s a paradigm we have to learn to turn on its ear.

As the SVP of Talent Optimization, I am providing executive coaching services to Marketing Executives to help them modulate their leadership approach in this situation. Click here to learn more about these services. Or reach out directly if you have a specific question you’d like to discuss.

Julie Zadow

Senior Vice President, CMO in Residence

Julie brings over 20 years of marketing leadership experience to her role as Demand Spring’s CMO in Residence. She has served as the head of Marketing and CMO for various software, services, and advisory organizations in the New York and Boston regions, and she is also the Founder of PinchHitCMO, a fractional marketing leadership firm.

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