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CMO 2.0 Influencer Conversation with Tom Asacker

tomasackerI truly enjoyed my CMO 2.0 Influencer conversation with Tom Asacker – who I consider a friend and also admire as an original marketing thinker. Tom is the author of multiple books, including Opportunity Screams: Unlocking Hearts and Minds in Today’s Idea Economy, and also blogs at A Clear Eye. Before becoming a successful author and speaker, Tom started his career at GE, where he participated in a management buyout of an electronics firm. After that he became the founder and CEO for a medical devices company.

The first topic we tackled is that of marketing in a world where everyone, including executives, is increasingly overwhelmed with the amount of information that is coming at them. Tom is convinced that most executives need to pause and rethink their purpose and how they will execute that purpose. While the priorities of marketing have not changed all that much  - drive top line growth and grow marketshare -, those are results that come from understanding and feeding the hungers of your audiences and the customer insights, and from better defining one’s brand and how to deliver a differentiated value proposition. Marketing executives cannot optimize their way to success by measuring everything and everyone to death. They need to care deeply about their audience and create unique value that improves their audience’s lives. You cannot expect results from spreading messages all over the place hoping that somehow you will connect with the feelings of your audience – you have to really care.

Marketers also have to rethink their content, and develop it in a way that it will travel in those circles where buying recommendations are being made. That means that we have to understand what value people will derive from using the content we develop with others. After all, most people only do what they value – and that is true for making recommendations and reusing vendor content. Marketers need to switch from their traditional inside-out perspective and start looking at everything they do through the eyes of their audiences.

People need to realize that everything in the marketplace has changed – the amount of products and services is overwhelming, and the amount of information is overwhelming, buyers’ attitudes about how they filter and process information and how they are making their decisions has changed.

Next we switched to one of Tom’s favorite topics – branding. Branding is of course something that exists in the mind of a customer – it’s an expectation of value that gets created through interactions in the marketplace. Those interactions can include advertising, pricing, social exchanges with other users, packaging, financing options or interactions with company employees. As you can see, many of these interactions are happening with touch points that are somewhat controlled by the company. So to say that the consumer owns the brand is a fallacy. Tom wishes we would have a Deming-like figure in the branding space – someone who could influence how everyone in a company feels responsible for the brand.

About engagement, Tom said: “People at successful companies love what they do, they believe in what it is they get up in the morning and go to work to do every day. Secondly they love who they do it for; the’re interested in in their audience and what they’re all about and how to improve their lives and how to make things better. And the third thing, is which I call engagement, is that they like the process of keeping what they do and what they love connected to others: others’ interest and others’ values. They love the idea of injecting energy into their idea and bringing it to life for everyone’s benefit.” How is that for a definition of engagement? Much better than most definitions being bantered around in the agency space if you ask me.

Continuing on the topic of engagement, Tom described the three steps you need to follow to engage people – three steps that are described in more detail in his latest book “Opportunity Screams: Unlocking Hearts and Minds in Today’s Idea Economy.” The first step is you want to engage people’s conscious attention. How do you get someone to stop and think about what’s being presented? You do that by charming them and by providing some cue to value. Once you feed their hungers and you’re reflective of them and their self-identities, you entice them to participate. All they want to do then is believe, and you can help them believe in what you do by conveying purpose through your actions, by stimulating interaction and sharing like you discuss all the time. But you always have to have value and unfortunately most businesses don’t believe in the distinctive value they add to people’s lives.

You cannot have a conversation with Tom without talking about culture and so we talked about this whole notion that culture trumps strategy, and what that means for older companies that may not have ideal cultures to roll out new strategies. In older companies you often have what Tom calls cultural immune systems that end up blocking new ideas and new perspectives. Leaders need to be aware of this and be willing to take off their cultural glasses and expose themselves to new ideas (Note that we will be conducting a research project on culture and strategy in partnership with the Schulich School of Business at York University, email me if interested).

“Business is about people, it’s about culture, it’s about feelings, it’s a way to help people feel prosperity and well being. It’s not about numbers,” said Tom, and I must say that I could not agree more.

We talked about a lot more things than can be captured in this blog post. I hope you will find the time to listen to the podcast.

Other things we discussed include:

  • How Drucker’s moto that business is marketing never materialized
  • The importance of the last transaction on the brand perception
  • How the expectations that we have from brands has soared
  • The role (or lack thereof) of agencies in meaning making
  • How engagement is not the same as sustained attention
  • The resistance of middle management to cultural changes
  • Ways to change corporate cultures that do not involve a near-death experience
  • The importance of finding meaning at work and being able to bring passion to work

As usual you can listen to the full conversation at the CMO 2.0 Site.

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