Igniting Transformational Growth: Four Lessons In Fire-Starting For CMOs

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On Marketing

April 28, 2016

This article is by Guy Hayward, global CEO, KBS.

Every once in awhile, a gift will drop into the lap of some unsuspecting marketer, seemingly out of nowhere. Some lucky employees in the Vans marketing department woke up earlier this year to find “Damn Daniel” taking the internet by storm, racking up tens of millions of YouTube views, and a trip to Ellen for their now-coveted white sneakers, all without spending a cent of their precious marketing budget.

Another example is the Girl Scouts’ recent star turn at the Oscars, when Chris Rock turned the award show into a commercial for their cookies, garnering the brand an estimated $5.5 million in free advertising and media.

These are the sorts of cultural moments brands spend lots of time and money trying to create, and they seem to do it with greater success at the local or national level. But if you are a global CMO, how can you pull off this kind of “fire-starting” in your key markets around the world?

The challenge is that so much of the role of the global CMO can be about planning and controlling what happens in local markets. And while completely logical, this kind of static, structured approach to marketing can stifle spontaneous and shareable creativity, which by definition requires relinquishing some control. Effective “fire-starting” demands a shift in the traditional mindset of tightly controlled brand stewardship, toward a model that embraces the unpredictability of the new media landscape.

Here are a few suggestions on how to create the conditions that will start fires of your own around the world…

Systemize spontaneity. A local CMO’s ability to act or react immediately to what is happening in his or her market is of the utmost importance in today’s non-stop media environment. It’s also a bit of a given at this point. But what isn’t always so obvious is the role a global CMO plays in all of this. For example, although traditional brand planning is still important, a Brazilian CMO should be able to call his or her global CMO out of the blue and say, “We have a great, new idea. Let’s make it happen.” Rather than adding this idea to the docket for next year or killing it completely to avoid hassle, it’s imperative that immediate action be a possibility, and it’s a global CMO’s job to make that the case.

Let some risk into the equation. In casual conversation while gearing up for the World Cup, my former colleagues and I realized that England’s best Rugby kicker, Jonny Wilkinson, and soccer star David Beckham both wore Adidas boots. Spotting an opportunity, we quickly made a film starring the two players that ended up launching Adidas into the spotlight around the World Cup. The film was successful for two reasons: because we understood the Adidas brand inside and out and because Adidas had a culture that enabled all parties to act quickly and create powerful, unplanned work. When a company culture is centered around eliminating risk, you take away an employee’s space to forge ideas based on common sense and their own experiences—the very kind of ideas that get the most traction with today’s audiences.

Budget accordingly. Ensure there’s a sizeable portion of budget unallocated, say 20%, in order to create financial flexibility for the unexpected. This will ensure that when these bright, unplanned moments pop up, they can be executed. Let me be clear, it’s not about abandoning planning and flying by the seat of your pants. Instead, it’s about giving yourself the freedom to take chances and the ability to seize important opportunities as they arise.

Know where fires should be lit. There is no need to create fires in every market. A global CMO should know which of the markets will have the biggest impact on the brand. Focus on big markets first, where a substantial fire can really impact the business globally but also on the markets where you trust the people – people who are likely to start the right kind of fire.

You don’t have to take my word on all this. Tor Myhren, the incoming VP of marketing at Apple and one of the ad industry’s most respected creative leaders, describes the challenges himself: “Producing work at the speed of pop culture, so that our brands are fast enough to draft off the fleeting conversations and fascinations driven by mass media, celebrity gossip, tech trends and memes—that’s our biggest challenge…. This is a trend that will never reverse, so we better get used to it.”

There is a pressing need for brands to get not just their leaders’ heads but also their internal systems around this because real-time strategy and opportunity are not going away. With the right structure, it’s possible to free up people and funding to create a safe space that allows ideas to spark and come to life, at speed. Ideas that start fires.

This article was written by On Marketing from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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