Awareness: The Key to Marketing Leadership

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marketing leadership and awarenessI’ve been enchanted by the concept of “awareness,” in marketing and in business of late. It started with a brief exchange with Liz Strauss at SOBCon Chicago, a 2-day interactive business “think tank” that moves ideas to action. Liz is an international business strategist, and one of the co-founders of SOBCon. She has been battling cancer of the throat since last year and her ability to speak is diminished, so I was trying to be good and not make Liz talk.

Well, Liz is unstoppable and can make an impact with or without a strong voice. With one sentence, she pushed me down a path of pondering how marketing is leadership, and that, just like in leadership, to be effective at marketing you have to start with awareness.

Here’s how this happened. It was the final conference night and I was saying goodbye to SOBCon friends when Terry Starbucker, Liz’s SOBCon partner, asked, “what did you think?” I gushed, it was phenomenal for me and I had three customer service changes I was going to make first thing on Monday. Liz waved at me from the other end of the table and asked softly, “what changes?”

I rattled them off, finishing with the idea that we’re going to add a work quality score to our standing prioritization meeting.

“How do you define quality?” Liz asked.

I was a bit surprised, but undeterred in my excitement I geekily answered, “well, we want to deliver the best quality work, we have benchmarks and a process…” Liz raised her hand and I stopped. I leaned in closer and she said, “just think of this, when the customer is not aware of the quality, you are not adding quality, you are adding cost.”

I blinked. A few times. Tears of gratitude came to my eyes. I was humbled. And from that day on I’ve been thinking a lot about the place of awareness in marketing. I thought about the simple pause that Liz gave me, “just think of this.” I thought of how my focus on quality may overlook cost, and as a marketer I am responsible for both. I thought of perceptions and awareness, and I thought of marketing leadership.

We often think of marketing as strategy and execution, sometimes as innovation, rarely as leadership. Good marketing is leadership. What would happen if we applied the principles of leadership to marketing?

First, what is leadership? If you Google it you will find the results ironic. Apparently leadership is being in a position of leading, or being a leader. Well, no wonder we have so many bad leaders, not even the dictionary is able to give a clear definition!

So I turned to my leadership coaches at Tiara International. In our conversations over the months I noticed they see leadership as a practice. As something that is always moving, that is dynamic. It’s also personal, thus hard to define. It’s an expression of how an individual or a group goes about reaching a goal.

According to Tiara International, true leadership is about how we build on our unique strengths to effortlessly inspire others and have influence.

So, let’s look at a marketing campaign as a situation in which we build on our unique strengths, as a brand, to find a way that will effortlessly inspire others and have influence. You may say, “Wait, marketing is about promotions and selling a product.”

Sorry to break it to you but sales is the outcome of marketing. Marketing in itself is a process that requires we:

1. Identify strengths (awareness)

2. Build upon these strengths through storytelling, community involvement, consumer dialogue, and more (as your strengths inspire you)

3. Build all of these in a way that inspires and compels

We all have a choice to make. We can go about our jobs mechanically. In the social marketer’s case, for example, we can just keep thinking of Facebook and Twitter and tactics and strategies, and restate and redo the same things over and over again.   Or we can go about our jobs with the purpose of utilizing our strengths, our marketing experience, and the channels available to us to inspire others to action. It is truly a choice all marketers have to make.

I will stop here. Why? Because I want to pass on and not take away from what Liz and the Tiara International ladies taught me.

Just think. What if?

Is your marketing leadership, or is it just a prescribed series of promotional activities? How will you change your marketing to inspire? 

P.S. There is a call for donations for a fundraiser for Liz. Please consider lending a hand.

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Since founding Lightspan, Mana has quickly established herself as one of Chicago's leading voices in social media and digital marketing. A decisive problem-solver fluent in five languages, Mana believes in clear objectives, simple solutions and the power of purpose in marketing. Credos: "No excuses" and "Find a way!"
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