Positivity and real relationships make marketing ‘heroes’, says Diageo CMO

Collaboration, relationships, positivity and the ability to turn challenges into advantages are the keys to being a leader in marketing, according to Diageo CMO Syl Saller.

As Diageo looks to drive sales growth, having missed its objectives in the latest quarter of its financial year, the drink maker’s marketing boss says good leaders have the most important role in driving growth and in developing the next generation of marketers.

Speaking at a Marketing Society event this week (3 February), Saller said one of the keys to being a “hero” in marketing leadership is the ability to turn volatility and complexity into an advantage, highlighting the company’s ability to drive growth in Turkey despite a ban on alcohol communications and political tensions as a success story in this realm.

“In this volatile and uncertain world, those who know how to operate in emerging markets will be the winners,” she said. “You have to operate within the bounds of the restrictions you face.”

She said this is done through collaboration with a focus on growth, citing “building real relationships” as a key to success.

“Real relationships are not only key to growth but the substance of what I do, and they last longer than short term results,” she said. “We have to assume positive intent in people, have a deep understanding and empathy for others, have a genuine respect for people and their point of view, bring trust and candour to every interaction and defy the instinct to rely on ourselves.”

This theme of positivity is rooted in Saller’s leadership strategy, as she states that a positive outlook has been proven to enhance performance.

“Happiness fuels success, not the other way around,” she said.

The company will look to this strategy, to its employees and to driving penetration with its consumers as it attempts to turn around sales and translate its year of successful creative work to results, Saller says.

“We need to keep recruiting people to the brands,” she said. “We haven’t been experiencing growth because we haven’t been recruiting enough, so we’re looking hard at penetration.”

Her strategy also echoes recent research that shows marketers will have a greater role the overall strategy of a business in the future.

“It’s important to Diageo to have a common language between marketing and finance, while other companies can see marketing as more tangential,” she says. “Companies that have marketers are the top do much better in terms of having a holistic picture.”