According to a study presented at a recent American Marketing Association conference, 25 percent of CEOs in the U.S. come from a sales and marketing background. The same study also revealed that marketing CEOs tend to gravitate to consumer product goods (CPG) organizations, specifically food, wholesale trade and retail.
So, why do marketing CEOs make effective leaders, and what can the other 75 percent learn and apply to their organizations? First, let’s look at how marketing CEOs are wired.
2 Common Traits of Highly Successful Marketing CEOs
- Inherent customer-comes-first philosophy. Successful marketing CEOs put themselves in their customers’ shoes. They think like the customer and understand the customer. Being customer focused comes naturally for marketing CEOs because they built their careers around putting the customer first.
- Superior product differentiation know-how. Not only do marketing CEOs understand the importance of product differentiation, they've also learned how to position products to increase profitability.
If the other 75 percent can tap into these sensibilities, they'll be better prepared to lead companies that grow profitably and ultimately create more value for shareholders.
4 Lessons the Other 75% Can Learn From Marketing CEOs
Whether you come from a general business management, finance, technology or family-owned business background, there are four valuable lessons retail executives can learn from marketing CEOs:
No. 1: Making a strategic shift? Get your timing right.
Domino's Pizza CEO J. Patrick Doyle got his feet wet on the sales and marketing side of the business, and his success turning the pizza chain around is legendary. When Doyle joined Domino's in 2007, the company trailed both Pizza Hut and Papa John's in the pizza delivery world.
In order to move Domino's from No. 3 to No. 1, Doyle set out to figure out what the disconnect was between consumers and the brand. He knew the answer wasn’t as simple as launching a new marketing campaign because he came from a marketing background. He also knew Domino's would have to resolve any real or perceived problems with the brand and its products. Then, when the timing was right — when those problems were fixed — Doyle would tell those customers HOW the company fixed things.
No. 2: Turn to your customers for insight.
In order for Doyle to find out what was wrong with Domino's, he took an outside-in approach. He didn’t assume the company knew what needed to be fixed. Doyle relied on market research to find out what was wrong from the customer’s perspective.
Through a series of surveys and focus groups, Doyle discovered that poor quality of ingredients and a cumbersome ordering process were turning customers off.
No. 3: Figure out how your product solves customer problems. This will enable you to differentiate your brand in the market.
Since Domino's customers were tired of eating overly processed, average-tasting food, the company added more fresh ingredients to improve product quality. Next, Domino's fixed its ordering process by streamlining online ordering and developing one of the best pizza ordering apps ever.
Once Domino's had resolved the problems with the food quality and ordering experience, Doyle and his team broadcasted the news to customers. Remember that classic 2010 Domino's commercial where the walls surrounding a real focus group slide back and the participants find themselves in the middle of a dairy farm in Wisconsin?
The campaign’s messaging illustrated how the company fixed its food quality problem in one way by including 100 percent real milk in its cheese. This ad and others helped change consumers’ perceptions about Domino's food quality, and did so in an authentic and compelling fashion.
Subsequent marketing campaigns about the quality ingredients and cutting-edge technology Domino's offers continue to position the company as the leader in the pizza delivery business.
No. 4: Take steps to ensure brand experience aligns with brand expectations.
Marketing CEOs intuitively know how to build consistent brand experiences. Therefore, every time a customer comes in contact with their brand — website, social media, email, contact center or in-store — that experience aligns with what the customer expects.
One retailer that does this really well is Target. The company describes its culture as fast, fun and friendly. Target markets this mantra to employees, and as a result, customers experience shorter lines, better products and friendlier employees than many of the retailer's competitors.
Thinking Like a Marketing CEO Can Give the Other 75% an Edge
If you’re leading a retail organization today and want to not only survive the current tumultuous retail landscape, but thrive, let your customers guide you. By delivering the products and services they want and doing so in an authentic way, you’ll be able to distinguish your brand from the pack and do so profitably.
Terri Maxwell is founder and CEO of Share On Purpose, Inc., a multimillion dollar business cultivator. Terri launches game-changing companies, while training emerging leaders to run these brands.