Fear, Promises, and Change in the C Suite

As I look back over my time at SES: San Francisco, there are a few things that really stand out.  First and foremost, all three keynotes to open the mornings were really wonderful.  They were inspirational, at times informative, and at times quite funny.  The conference opened with keynote speaker Jeffrey Hayzlett, former CMO of Eastman Kodak and well-known from appearances on Celebrity Apprentice and author of several books which have topped the NYTimes best-sellers list (including Running the Gauntlet and The Mirror Test).  He was a dynamic force in the room, setting a great tone for that first day.  In a room filled with primarily tech people, many of whom are not the most… lively… people at the party, he was able to engage the audience and inspire all of us with his message.

Change is vital in the marketing world and in the C suite.  Change – at times it is an overused buzzword, at others a dirty word, and still others an incomprehensible goal. Change can be good or bad or indifferent, but change for change sake is bad. But what the world needs more of are “clock changers.”  He told a story of a time he adjusted all the clocks in a room and called a meeting of his department. People noticed the clocks were off and tried to figure out who to call, what to do, what department to report it to (sound familiar?).  There was a lot of complaint but not a lot of action.  Then one day a woman pulled up a chair, stepped up, and changed the clocks herself (despite heels and a dress).  The next day he made her his chief of staff.  Clock changers are people that are leaders, problem solvers, the ones who bring solution and reinforce goals. They are change agents to the process. They step up – figuratively and at times, literally, on a chair above the rest and do what needs to be done.  I think we all long to be clock changers but very few people have what it takes to be real change agents.

In the digital space, being a clock changer means bringing solutions to clients that demonstrate value connecting the user to the experience they want to have in the digital space.  It’s easy to say “we need to figure out what the user wants,” but it’s harder to provide those solutions backed up by real ideas.  But there is no excuse – bring solutions to the table that pinpoint what the customer wants and then do it.  With data, analytics, user testing, and offline channel metrics, there is no excuse anymore for not bringing change to the digital space and improving customer experience.

There are reasons why companies fail – things that stop good companies from becoming great companies and Hayzlett touched on each of these, providing stories to back up his reasoning.  I’ve experienced every single one from my time as a digital analyst to my time managing search engine marketing operations to the struggles I’ve faced in my own company.

  • The number one reason companies fail is fear.  They fear change, they fear failure, they fear embarrassment, or they fear irrelevance.  Fear is not a good reason to allow your company to fail. Fear inhibits change, it inhibits growth, it inhibits the creative direction and development of your employees.
  • Tension, or a fear of tension, or a lack of tension causes failure. Healthy debate is a great thing and a valuable way to grow your company.  Marketers jobs are to create tension.  Without tension, you can’t experience growth.
  • A lack of radical transparency can cause failure.  You need to talk about all the things you don’t want to talk about.  In the C Suite, you can’t ignore the elephant in the room.  Any great organization operates with radical transparency – you have to ask for help, be honest, be a team.  This point is so important to me in my own company.  I left the corporate world because I was so sick of the lack of honesty and the lack of transparency in an agency between clients, sales, and operations. Everything felt dishonest, guarded, and things were kept from clients in hopes of retaining them.  But the fact is, you can’t engender loyalty with your customers without being radically transparent.
  • Risk. Sometimes you need to take risks.  Try things.  In marketing, it is expected that you’re going to fail.  It sucks when you fail, but you are going to fail at some point.  Push the envelope, take risks.  You might embarrass the company from time to time, but what if you discover a tremendous opportunity with your risks? What if you discover a tremendous profit potential by simply thinking outside the box?  Take risks.
  • Promises are another reason companies fail.  You have to understand that there are implied mutual conditions of satisfaction in promises. You have to deliver on promises made.

The last thing that Hayzlett really touched on was the idea of brand and your elevator pitch.  He encouraged us to work on your 118 elevator pitch – 8 seconds for the hook and 110 to explain the value you provide to someone else; he touches on this more with his book, but I plan to work on this more with my own company. Brevity has never been my strength, but in this, it is so crucial to explain my brand, my experience, my passion, and my promise in less than two minutes.

What is the promise you’re trying to deliver? In the realm of digital space, he said (in his typical filter-free way), if your brand sucks offline, it’s going to suck online.  In my market and with my clients, frequently small businesses rather than the enterprise level customers of many of the conference attendees, the online branding sucks and they wonder why the company isn’t experiencing the tremendous growth they were hoping for.  They provide wonderful offline experiences but they aren’t authentic in the online experience.  It’s time to catch up and it’s my job to help them get there.

The speech was wonderful.  I heard whisperings that a few (very few) people might have been offended.  To that I say, it sucks to be them.  If they lost out on the inspirational message, then they are not clock changers.  They aren’t the ones in the room who will stand on a chair and fix problems.  They are the ones crippled by fear and a fear of tension.  But I am not afraid of tension.  I am a clock changer.  It’s time to go back to my clients and help them give their customers what they need for success.

Time to go change the clocks.

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