Kevin Adema
Kevin Adema 27 February 2017

Context Marketing—putting it into profitable action (Part 2 of 3)

I’m sure you’ve seen one of the thousands of social media feeds comparing managers to leaders. And I’m sure most people who read those posts want themselves to be in the leader category and not the manager category. (if that’s not you, feel free to abandon this article).

This is part 2 where we’ll cover: What marketing leaders must do (strategic action set) to present it (the new mindset) for seamless acceptance into their business (priming the way for future success).

In part 1 we covered, what actually is the new mindset and the very real and powerful challenges it’s causing. To recap:

  1. How the entrenched 100-year old marketing approach of talking AT an audience is failing brands today (citing studies from Forrester, Accenture, Forbes, Sapient, etc.)
  2. How the Dialogue Age™of today demands a new mindset toward customer engagement: Digital Gunpowder™: talking WITH not talking AT (also see earlier work where we delineate the 4 stages of product-centric vs. customer centric thinking)
  3. Five very powerful reasons why this mindset is not being adopted (citing studies from HBR): Loss of control, Loss of face, concerns about competence, etc.

Disclaimer: Part 3 is where you’ll get the tactical “5 steps marketers must follow”. This article is about leadership and not management; Brands need properly trained leaders if the new digital mindset is going to take hold. Keep reading…

To reinforce the new mindset, Vision Critical authored: “9 notable examples of customer centric moves” providing proof of how success can be realized. It also includes great commentary from Bill Macaitis, CMO of Slack, from his interview with Mashable, where he says:

“The voice of the customer has never been stronger with the rise of social…and how that begins and ends with a great experience for their customers. More companies will move toward customer-centric metrics.”

Notable examples include:

  1. Apparel company REI brilliantly honored their desired audience by closing it’s stores on Black Friday, encouraging people to not shop, connect with family and friends and get outside via their #OptOutside campaign
  2. How Electronic Arts is in the midst of their impressive turnaround under the leadership of Andrew Wilson. He openly said: “we weren’t thinking about everything we were doing in the context of the player’s experience”. That’s changed with their new player-focused approach.
  3. McDonald’s turnaround (global sales up 2.7%) citing “listening to customer feedback” as key to some early wins.
  4. Italian soccer club, AS Roma’s new fan-centric digital program. Paul Rogers, AS Roma’s head of digital openly said: “This digital generation no longer wants to be passive consumers of content. They [the consumer] don’t want to be broadcast to or told what they can and can’t consume.

The conclusion from the work:

Brands must be customer obsessed and companies that aren’t prioritizing customer intelligence are at the risk of falling behind.

Today, it’s not your fault. But tomorrow, it will be.

In closing part 1, we used the metaphor of comparing digital to a child: digital has passed its infancy stage and how it’s now a budding toddler and marketers are responsible for bringing it into maturity. Apply that same metaphor now to the digital leadership challenge, think for just a moment: if parents don’t “parent” a toddler, that child’s terrible two’s behavior will manifest itself into nightmarish antics and that child will remain un-reared, unruly and under-appreciated. But…it’s not the child’s fault: The parents must invest the time, effort, care and love to ensure the child learns, grows and develops.

Carrying that motif forward, in our Digital Gunpowder™work we speak to how marketing has changed forever because of digital. Similarly, the lives of a couple change forever because of a child. Can we do marketing exactly like we used to do before digital? NO. Can a couple live their life exactly like they used to before a child? NO.

What does a couple do once they have a child? They research, read, invest, care for and ultimately, find new ways to live a great life within the framework of being a parent.

What do marketing leaders do once they have digital?

I’m sure you’ve seen one of the thousands of social media feeds comparing managers to leaders. And I’m sure, most people who read those posts are wanting themselves to be in the leader category and not the manager category. (if that’s not you, feel free to abandon this article)

We’ve taken highlights from’s leader vs. manager comparison and applied it to digital:

The marketing leadership challenge: it starts with you

“leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work” - Seth Godin

In seeking to bring digital’s new mindset into action, there are three parts to Seth’s quote that need to be broken down and understood:

  1. The art (the actions)
  2. The people (the who)
  3. Ideas that work (the what)

Working backwards...

The ideas that work:

See above campaign mentions and for the sake of redundancy, see the countless examples from Part 1 that don’t.

(Feel free to also see Forbes[i] study that says: “only 32% of brand marketers believe they’re executing and effective digital strategy”; Accenture Digital’s study[ii] where: “only 45% of executives believe digital will achieve business objectives” and “only 6% of brand leaders believe their agency can help fix this digital problem” or Marketing Week’s report[iii] where they said that: “Only 8% of brands are ‘very satisfied’ with their agency partners.”)

The people:

This is a massive swath of reality: we work in a multi-generational workforce (Boomers to Gen Z’s) with a host of differing attitudes, comfort zones with technology, expectations, etc. But thanks to some great powerful work from Dr. Marty Durden, the leaders of today can begin to see a clear path forward:

Durden – an Athletic Director from Houston, TX – conducted research at a basketball camp (300+ athletes, equal number of males / females) assessing the impact power of “servant-leader coaching” as a causal link to player motivation. The results not only give great insights but also serve as a simple checklist for today’s leaders to assess current cultures (and perhaps where change may be needed if change is actually going to happen).

Seven leadership traits were assessed to uncover what best impacted motivation and then broken down into two groups: most impactful vs. less impactful. (you can see my full article on this here)

The results of the study clearly indicate 4 character traits that provide the greatest motivational value:

  1. Trust - Demonstrating confidence in others to succeed; keeping promises
  2. Love – (not romantic) Placing unconditional value upon the individual as a person and not what that person offers
  3. Empowering Others - Developing/mentoring others/teaching
  4. Vision for the Followers - Helping team members to imagine their potential to succeed; helping others to establish goals

Durden draws a poignant challenging conclusion for today’s marketing leader who wants to bring the must-have, new mindset into business:

“People are motivated by people who they trust, who demonstrate love (true care) toward them, and who see their worth and seek to develop them. It comes as no surprise that trust and love remain timeless virtues in the modern world. It is an affirmation of servant-leadership to discover how research confirms that authentic core values are cross-generational constructs that remain relevant motivators…”

A simple marketing leader self-checklist of Durden’s most impactful “big 4”:

  1. Are you showing trust or are you remaining in control and giving orders?
  2. Are you placing value on the individual (the consumer’s true needs) or are you seeing them for what they offer (sales transactions, share growth, etc.)
  3. Are you developing / mentoring and teaching others the new mindset (and have you invested the time and resources yourself to know it)
  4. Are you providing vision – what does the future look like and how are we going to get there?

(remember, as a leader, your followers are asking this same set of questions about you)

The art:

Addressing then the art of “how” and applied directly to today’s digital-business world, Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones in their key leadership work titled: “Why Should Anyone be Led by You?” underline how: “the most destructive existing force operating in institutions is something called technical rationality – that is, rationality without morality.” Manifesting this into operations, it becomes exceedingly frightening “for the efficiencies and capacity to dehumanize people.”

At the forefront of a marketer’s strategic leadership paradigm must be a concentrated effort to “humanize” the brand.

Marketing is the application of skills that fuse human-behavior and business together. As you seek to bring this forward in a way that empowers change AND in a way that supports being a true leader, there are a two paradigms that your audience(s) must see from you immediately:

  1. Invest in knowledge: Thousands of marketing managers know how to “do digital”. As a leader, you’re working to create great marketers. (remember what David Ogilvy said about great marketers: “They know more than the other marketers”.) To do this, you must train them, teach them, coach them and empower them to manage and deliver customer-first brands.
  2. Invest in and change your marketing focus from how to sell (4P promotional focus) to focusing on how to engage (Dialogue Age focus).

Up next:

Part 3: The 5 steps marketers must follow to ensure Customer-first/Context Marketing acceptance, adoption and ultimately profitable growth.

Leaders: if you’re looking to act now and train yourself or your team in the 5 key areas of digital business (Dialogue Age strategy, selling digital programs, digital customer profiling, content in context and analytics/insights), feel free to review our Mastering Digital Strategy certification program.






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