From marketer to marketing leader

To maximise your business impact and career success as a marketer, you need the 12 powers of a marketing leader.


"Many marketers are great at doing marketing,” says former McKinsey partner Thomas Barta. “They excel at things like customer understanding, brand communications and social media campaigns. But many wish they had more traction inside their companies. They work hard to help the business grow but their efforts don’t always translate into internal influence and stellar careers.”

Successful marketing leaders all have something in common: they enable their companies to connect their customers’ needs with their own needs as a business. Finding this overlap, by ensuring that the marketing team focuses on what matters to the CEO as well as on what matters to customers, is the first step to successful marketing leadership.

For instance, your CEO’s priority may be to increase the retention and value of existing customers, rather than investing time, effort and money on acquiring new ones who won’t stay long enough to justify the resources spent on attracting them.

Barta and Barwise have a name for the place where customer needs and company needs meet: the value creation zone, or ‘V-Zone’, for short. “Marketing leadership is ultimately about helping the company maximise the V-Zone,” says Professor Barwise.
The V-Zone graphic from the 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader_TW
Some marketing leaders are better at this than others. To find out how the good ones do it, Barta and Barwise gave 1,232 senior marketers from 71 countries an extensive online self-assessment, to understand what they know, how they lead and how successful they consider themselves in terms of both their impact on business performance and their personal career success. They also analysed existing 360-degree data - from bosses, peers and direct reports - on another 7,429 marketing and non-marketing leaders (in finance, operations, sales etc) – a total of 67,278 assessments. Finally, they interviewed over 100 CMOs, CEOs and leadership experts on what it takes to be a successful marketing leader.

Through their research, they found 12 sets of behaviours that drive marketing leaders’ business impact and career success. Technical marketing skills were important but even more important was senior marketers’ broader business and leadership skills and behaviours – the ’12 Powers of a Marketing Leader’ of their book title.

The 12 powers of a marketing leader

The ’12 Powers’ fall into four sub-groups.


Power #1: Tackle only big issues

Work inside the V-Zone on big issues that matter for both customers and the company (as judged by the CEO). Put a price tag on your work, so people see why what you’re doing matters.

Power #2: Deliver returns, no matter what

Financial returns should be your priority. Being seen as an effective investor will also help your standing at the top, and ultimately, make more resources available to you.

Power #3: Surround yourself with the best

Mobilising your boss is easier if you work with the best external people who will deliver great work.


Power #4: Hit the head and heart

You can’t mobilise colleagues if they don’t listen to you. Tell them a real-life story that offers hope. Get in to their hearts as well as their heads.

Power #5: Walk the halls
As a marketer, you won’t change the world by sitting at your desk. You have to go out and engage people, including your non-marketing colleagues, to make things happen. This is one of the most important of the 12 powers.

Power #6: You go first

Aim to lead from the front. Be the change you want to see. Act as a role model for others.


Power #7: Get the mix right

Build a team with the right mix of creative, analytical and leadership skills. Align the team closely around a common goal.

Power #8: Cover them in trust

To enlarge the V-Zone, you need a team where people have the trust and confidence to ask for forgiveness if things go wrong, not for permission before they do anything.

Power #9: Let the outcomes speak

Love it or hate it, as team leader you are also the judge. You must set standards, weigh performance and ensure consequences when needed.


Power #10: Fall in love with your world

As a marketing leader, you need to know your stuff, not only about customers and the market but also about the company’s products and how they are supplied.

Power #11: Know how you inspire

Inspiration is a marketing leader’s biggest weapon. The more you understand why and how you inspire people today, the more you can build on these abilities to mobilise others – and stop doing things that have the opposite effect.

Power #12: Aim higher

The road ahead will sometimes be bumpy. Successful marketing leaders aim high and hang on to their dream to make big things happen – even against the odds.

Marketing leaders face special challenges because, even more that other functional leaders, they have to bridge three distinct gaps:

A trust gap: Most marketing work is around future ‘known unknowns’ like projected income. So people may be reluctant to trust what you say.

A power gap: Most of the people you rely on to deliver the customer experience work in other functions and don’t report to you. You have to work by engagement and persuasion.

A skills gap: Marketing is changing fast. It is impossible to keep up with it all. That is not your fault, but a challenge nonetheless, and may distract you from developing your wider business and leadership skills.

The good news is that all of this can be learnt. You were not born a marketing leader: nobody is. In fact, Barta and Barwise found that the well-established ‘big five’ personality traits (openness to experience, dependability/self-discipline, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional resilience) together accounted for only 3% of the variance in senior marketers’ business impact, and 9% of the variance in their their career success, as a proportion of the total variance explained by the 12 powers in combination.

“Your personality matters a bit, and as a marketer, you’re probably somewhat different from your non-marketing peers,” says Barta. “But leading marketing successfully takes specific skills you couldn’t possibly be born with. Personality is only a secondary factor. So no excuses: whoever you are and whatever your personality, if you’re a competent marketer you can almost certainly become a successful marketing leader.”

‘The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader: How to Succeed by Building Customer and Company Value’ by Thomas Barta and Patrick Barwise is published by McGraw-Hill.

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