IBM’s UK CMO: Marketing leadership means being brave, bold and quick to market

IBM’s UK CMO Lisa Gilbert reflects on the findings of Marketing Week’s ‘Anatomy of a Leader’ research, arguing that marketing leadership involves being quick to adapt to new realities while respecting the perennial need for commercial focus.

Marketing leadershipThis month saw the launch of Marketing Week’s ‘Anatomy of a Leader’ project, examining the distinguishing characteristics required for marketing leadership.

In today’s marketing environment, I am seeing varied and insightful analyses into what it takes to truly differentiate as a marketer and build those stand-out, memorable campaigns. There were some interesting findings in this survey; some struck a chord with me and others spurred more of a debate.

READ MORE: Do you have the Anatomy of a Leader?

I don’t think that there is any question about the findings that strategic thinking, commercial awareness and a commitment to innovation are essential skills for the modern marketer. And honestly, even 50 years ago the conclusion would have been the same. The trick here is to have the ability to build for tomorrow, but deliver for today – very often two diametrically opposed tasks where at times one must be traded off for the other.

What is changing in marketing leadership, and across industries, is the speed of delivery. To work at the speed of business today, you must be agile enough to innovate and execute faster than ever.

I’ve found that waiting for perfection just doesn’t cut it: it’s about being ‘perfect enough’, putting your product or service out into the market and responding quickly to your clients to make it better and better.

That kind of mantra requires a certain element of cultural shift. I want to encourage my team to adopt that ‘go for it’ attitude, which is truly in line with what it takes to build a challenger brand – to be bold and brave.

It’s interesting that Marketing Week’s survey showed only 7% of marketers think assertiveness is becoming less important; bravery is still clearly a prevailing characteristic of the modern marketer. It only supports IBM CEO Ginni Rometty’s notion that “growth and comfort do not coexist”.

On that note, to be a brand which stands the test of time, you must be true to your values, open and authentic or you will be found out rather quickly. This shifts your responsibility away from managing your brand and more towards being true to the character of your company. I think this is reflected pretty adeptly by Abraham Lincoln’s words: “Character is like a tree, reputation is like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it. The tree is the real thing.”

Marketing leadership requires new capabilities

An important aspect here is the ability to tell stories. It’s not about B2B or B2C anymore, It’s business to person. Companies don’t buy technology, people do.

We’re engaging with people on an individual level to demonstrate how technology is augmenting human potential. Ultimately, stories have formed the foundations of human communication since the dawn of time and stand as the most important method of strengthening a brand.

Data science emerged in the top five most important responsibilities in Marketing Week’s survey, which is an important recognition. As the world changes, the role of marketing changes and this has been true throughout for a long time.

If I were to look into my crystal ball, the ability to harness data, make sense of it and use those insights to deliver brand value is where I believe we should place our bets.

The trick is to have the ability to build for tomorrow, but deliver for today – very often two diametrically opposed tasks.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI), or ‘augmented intelligence’ as we are terming it, has been something of particular interest to IBM. The exciting aspect here is using deep insight to augment our human and in-hand marketing capability. We need to embrace this change because that’s the only way we’re going to disrupt and grow.

Whereas marketing was traditionally seen as a right-brain activity for creatives looking to tell stories and capture the emotions and imaginations of their target audience (and this is still the case), the role of the left brain is only growing in prominence.

Data insight into all aspects of business, as well as customers, is providing marketers with an even deeper understanding of the opportunities behind a campaign, how to win the hearts of consumers and how to execute in the most efficient and compelling way.

READ MORE: Anatomy of a Leader – The practical skills you need to get to the top

I am seeing that in my marketing team, and am piloting four cognitive projects to glean more understanding of aspects ranging from employee engagement to programmatic media buying, having our Watson AI learn with every interaction.

The ‘Anatomy of a Leader’ survey highlighted how the role of marketing continues to evolve, while the fundamental principles remain the same. That holy grail of complete customer empathy and successful engagement becomes even more coveted: the ability to tap into the emotions and behaviours of consumers to truly personalise experience, moving to a new level as data proliferates. On that basis, the three aspects below epitomise the anatomy of a marketing leader.

  • Create a purpose, a ‘moonshot’, for your team to chase
  • Build disruption into your leadership
  • Be brave