Holland & Barrett’s Lysa Hardy on why CMOs should become chief customer officers

Holland & Barrett CMO Lysa Hardy encourages marketers to step out of their comfort zone and start doing more.

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It’s time that marketers shake off the shackles of worrying about not being seen as serious in the boardroom and recognise that the greatest limitation on us is our own assumptions. Too many of us believe that only the sales team can lead a project on revitalising store fit-out, or that property portfolio analysis should be left to the finance department but the combination of customer understanding and creativity that we naturally have makes us more than capable of shining in unexpected areas.

The reality is it’s often actually us, the marketers, who doubt we can deliver beyond our existing remit. The fear of being seen as ‘just’ the person responsible for PR stunts, expensive advertising and social is as widespread as it is inaccurate.

I should know, because that was certainly how I felt until I realised there is a marketing angle to everything we do as a business, so I could contribute a lot more.

A big turning point for me was being selected for the Marketing Academy’s year-long Fellowship and meeting other CMOs from across different industries and my mentors, who included retail expert Sir Stuart Rose, O2 CEO Ronan Dunn and Unilever executive vice-president Amanda Sourry. While I knew I could contribute more, my mentors encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and start actually doing more.

Meeting with my peers and mentors and hearing about their personal journeys was fascinating and there were some consistent themes, particularly around spending time at the coalface, prioritising time to think and looking at ways you can add more value to the business and bring the customer to the forefront.

It’s tough to put into practice, but I think it’s true in any sector whether it’s FMCG or finance, that the truly creative marketers have their best ideas when they’ve had time to think. The eureka moment may not happen during the window for thinking you’ve given yourself, in fact, I’ll bet that it won’t. But the process of stepping back and having time to think kick-starts the process that ends with your lightbulb moment, even if that moment comes a week later when you’re midway through your commute.

As a result of their guidance, I decided to see myself as a chief customer officer. After all, with the data that we now have at our fingertips and our ability to analyse this to understand trends and respond rapidly to what our customers are telling us, we are hugely valuable. We just need to recognise that for ourselves and speak up.

So I invested more time in reaching into other areas of the business, like operations, finance and IT, and put myself forward for board projects which stretched me and changed the way I was perceived. I discovered that I knew more about all the other areas of the business than I gave myself credit for.

Of course, as a CMO, you can only step up at board level if your team are able to manage without having 100% of your attention. Another big part of my personal journey, and where my Marketing Academy mentors also offered great insight, was shifting from being a results-orientated leader to understanding that my job is to coach people around me to make their own decisions and conclusions, and perform beyond their own expectations.

This is an exciting time to be a marketer and there are huge changes happening that give us the chance to grow our skills and value within our organisations. I believe that if we can make the journey from CMO to acting as chief customer officer in the boardroom, there’s no reason why the next job after that can’t be CEO.

Lysa Hardy is CMO at NBTY, owner of Holland & Barrett, and alumni of the Marketing Academy Fellowship 2014.

The Marketing Academy Fellowship is a unique development programme which gives a select group of exceptional marketing leaders the experience and exposure to become CEOs. Designed and delivered in partnership with McKinsey & Company and sponsored by ISBA, Adobe and British Airways, the programme includes masterclasses on board stewardship, mentoring and executive coaching’

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