Four Industry Icons Share How To Thrive, Not Just Survive, In A Rapidly Changing Marketplace
Ask any marketer. The number one reason companies fail to stay relevant to consumers is that they fail to see changes in the road ahead soon enough to shift strategies. Obviously, the ability to see ahead, shift ahead, and seize opportunities before someone else does is hard to do under any market conditions. Given the marketing conditions that exist today – volatile, complex, and rapidly changing – it has become exponentially harder. That said, what skills are required to not just survive, but thrive, in today’s hyperactive marketplace?
Rather than ask just any marketer, I had the privilege of posing this question to the four industry icons who will be inducted into The Marketing Hall of Fame produced by the American Marketing Association of New York on June 7, 2023. These thought-leaders, lauded for their notable successes and outstanding contributions in the field of marketing, include Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, Chris Capossela, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Microsoft, Amy Fuller, former Accenture Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, and Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Mastercard.
While their career paths are as unique as their respective industries, the conversations I had with each of them reflected the challenges they all share. Each honoree emphasized that, given the constant state of flux, businesses of every size must be ready and able to adapt, to identify new ways to lead, to mobilize employees, to make decisions quickly and create solutions. In other words, they must have resiliency - the capacity to absorb stress, recover critical functionality, and thrive in altered circumstances. Each expressed that resilient companies can move quickly from assessment to action, enabling them to see and seize
That said, resiliency is one of the character traits responsible, in part, for each of these honoree’s personal success stories. Over the course of their careers, each has demonstrated an ability to cope with disruptive changes and adapt, to motivate peers and employees, and to successfully navigate through uncertainty and changing circumstances, only getting stronger as a result. They know what it takes for businesses – and marketers - to flourish in such a fast-shifting environment. Here is a bit of their advice.
“One thing I tell my students is don’t begin brainstorming with constraints. Take an idea to an extreme and balance your way back. Don’t start thinking practically. Go all in, and let the constraints come later.”
Known for his pioneering work in behavioral economics, Dan helps companies grow by looking at things from new angles. His interests span a wide range of behaviors and his, sometimes unusual, experiments often demonstrate profound ideas that fly in the face of common wisdom. Advising a range of entities from organizations to governments, many of his projects address social issues, from helping those in historically excluded populations stay in school, to how to address traffic congestion, to reducing government bureaucracy.
With a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and a Ph.D. in business administration, what Dan does lies between psychology and economics. He asks questions economists would ask but, instead of assuming straightaway that people behave rationally, he just observes how people behave. His bestselling books about behavioral economics, Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality, and most recently Misbelief, focus on the systemic irrationalities of human behavior. Put simply, they are about how people actually act in the marketplace, as opposed to how they should or would if they were rational beings. “Our irrational behaviors are neither random nor senseless,” Dan told me. “They are systemic and predictable. We make the same mistakes over and over, because of the basic wiring of our brains.”
“When it comes to the marketing,” he said, “the tragic mistake is that marketers often participate too late in the process. Their role is to understand consumer preferences and demands and their unique skills allow them to see this better than the person in the room crunching numbers.” As for all the data available today, Dan remarked “While there is lots of data, and that is good, we still need to watch people, understand what is driving behavior. Big data is like teenagers and sex. Everyone talks about it, but no one really knows what to do.”
Known for his wide-ranging and incisive research, as well as his accessible communication style (and sense of humor), resiliency has played a critical part in Dan’s personal and professional success. His immersive introduction to irrationality took place many years ago when he was overcoming injuries sustained in an explosion. Over the course of his recovery, he was desperate for distraction. The one he chose was observation: he began to pay attention to the oddities of human behavior and what drives people to behave the way they do. He became engrossed with the idea that we repeatedly and predictably make the wrong decisions in many aspects of our lives and that research could help change some of these patterns. As for the role resilience plays in a fast-changing marketplace, he remarked, “Because of the growth of uncertainty, resilience is one of the most important things that marketers need to strive for.”
“We are maniacally focused on business model bravery - reinventing the company’s business model to embrace whatever the new world needs to be.”
Early in his career, six years after joining Microsoft, Chris was given an interesting opportunity. One of his bosses recommended him for the job of being the speechwriter for then-CEO Bill Gates. He spent the years from 1997 to 1999 traveling the world with Gates, watching the dot-com revolution unfold alongside one of tech’s richest, most-powerful CEOs, editing speeches together with him at fast-food drive-thru restaurants, and assisting Gates with live Windows product demonstrations. There is no question that the experience required resiliency and quick-thinking.
Fast forward a bit, for the last nine years Chris continues to count on these skills, running Microsoft’s worldwide marketing across both the consumer and commercial businesses. He also runs digital direct sales, and retail partner sales, for all Microsoft products. As the company transformed from a campus of warring software and hardware producers to a cloud business, Chris played a key role in unifying the company around a strong brand purpose: To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. He has shifted Microsoft’s brand image and voice to be more human, more relatable and more forward looking.
During our conversation, Chris highlighted the importance of reinventing oneself to keep up with the accelerating changes in business. “This has become a lot easier to do,” he said, “as the company has been forced to change with the times. Satya Nadella, our CEO, instilled in the leadership team the need to reinvent the way each of us does our jobs, to reinvent the entire company in order to stay in business. More than that, every one of the discipline leaders has been pushed to innovate beyond the actual engineering and the products we build.”
Among the lessons the leadership team has learned over the course of their reinvention is to focus less on their competitors’ customers and focus more on what they call their Microsoft fans. “Our fans can teach us far more about what’s wrong with our offerings than our competitors can,” he explained. “We’ve found that the people who can teach us the most about ourselves are the people who use our products, already. They are co-inventing with us – helping us build the future.”
Chris’s interest in technology began when, as a young boy, he wrote a reservation system for his family’s small Italian restaurant. Among the many things he learned from working in the restaurant business was what to look for when hiring employees. It’s a lesson that has made the transition to his current role. “We are moving at such an incredible rate of change,” he said, “that grit and resilience are absolutes. There are so many variables, and you’re likely going to have some tough days and have the wind taken out of your sails. There are 100 things that could go wrong in a restaurant. You never know what’s coming. You have to be up for a bit of crazy. Up for a bit of chaos. The same is true in our business, in any business, today. We look for people who’ve done great work, of course, but also those who can ride a roller coaster and triumph.”
“Business strategy writes marketing strategy, but it only tells you what to do, not how to do it. The “how” is the skill of marketers, and it requires knowing how to use creativity as the competitive driver.”
As a child, Amy spent many of her weekends and summers living off the grid on a primitive island in upstate New York on the Saint Lawrence River. Remarking on the experience as it related to her career path, she said, “It was highly educational in so many ways, especially how it relates to how you solve problems and how you approach innovation.” This is a lesson that has stayed with her and has motivated her in some of her most challenging business situations. As she put it, “There is no playbook, and even if there were, you’d still have to revise it continually. You might think you’re up to date, but that lasts for about a millisecond before there is much more to learn.”
Amy and her team at Accenture put this lesson to the test during the Covid pandemic which happened in the midst of several decisive strategic initiatives transforming the company. “I am convinced that the reason we were able to deliver the most influential marketing work during that period is that we created a culture that was not driven by fear and anxiety, but with genuine teamwork. The environment we created allowed us to work with incredible speed, even when we were all working remotely. My favorite saying for my team was ‘early, ugly, and often.’ The best thinking is rarely delivered the first time and in a vacuum. Let’s look at ideas together, gently, early in the project, and at frequent intervals. Getting it right was absolutely important, but the iterative process was essential to working through ideas to get it right.”
Amy, an experienced global marketer with a blend of agency and client-side executive roles, has helped build brands for some of the world’s best-known companies. While at Accenture, she was charged with transforming and modernizing its marketing, and the company experienced the largest-ever growth in business and in brand value. Prior to joining Accenture, she served as senior managing director of global brand at Deloitte, and at Mastercard Worldwide where, as head of global consumer marketing, she led the team that developed and deployed the iconic and award-winning “Priceless” campaign at a pivotal time for business – which contributed to one of the most successful IPOs in business.
Asked about advice she would give to marketing people and to people who want to get into marketing, she said, “Knowing what you don’t know and figuring out how to compensate for that is critical to success. It’s a field of continuous growth and continuous reeducation. You want to learn as much as you possibly can and understand that being uncomfortable is positive, as it motivates learning and action.” Relative to resiliency? “The ability to take on new things and to handle the ambiguous questions that come with being in a disruptive business are essential to success.”
“The top marketers are like Leonardo Da Vinci using the right side and the left sides of the brain and bringing them together.”
“If you are a marketer about to begin your career, you could not have joined the field at a better time,” Raja began our conversation. “You can do things without the traditional and historical constraints. The industry is not simply evolving, it is actually rapidly getting transformed. We are in the midst of a huge inflection point and the best marketers must be prepared to tap into this brave new future. Because there is so much changing, marketers have to educate themselves constantly.”
A Wall Street Journal-bestselling author, his book, Quantum Marketing: Mastering the New Marketing Mindset for Tomorrow’s Consumers, has become a touchstone for marketing leaders and academics around the world. “At this stage of my career,” he remarked, “I still spend time educating myself because there is so much happening. You need to be able to connect the dots across various areas, various technologies, back to your business, back to the craft of marketing.”
As CMO of Mastercard, Raja has transformed the company into one of the fastest-growing brands in the world. On the cutting edge of experiential, multisensory marketing programs for consumers and customers around the world, he has extended Mastercard’s reach and impact by embracing artificial intelligence and Web3 technologies, pioneering new standards in inclusive design. In addition to serving as the company’s CMO, he is founding president of its healthcare business, driving value for the healthcare industry through innovations in data analytics, AI and cybersecurity solutions. “There are so many fundamental shifts happening in marketing now,” Raja said, “you have to be prepared to continually test the waters, always be ready and resilient enough to tap into this brave new future.”
Again, while their backstories may be varied, each of the four iconic marketers being honored by the American Marketing Association share the belief that, given a marketplace that will only continue to change in unpredictable ways, the value and importance of resilience as a factor in success cannot be emphasized enough. The ability to see opportunities, and have the wherewithal to seize them, is a skill that will only become more critical to marketers who want to not just survive, but thrive in whatever this “brave new future” holds.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.
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