Want to Make a Bigger Impact This Year? Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Kick Old Habits and Take Some Chances, CMOs

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Shawn Parr
Shawn Parr
There's something rather invigorating about this time of the year. We've said goodbye to last year; we've got all of our lessons, successes and failures processed. Now we're back to work with vigor, ready to learn and to produce. We're armed with a large dose of optimism and that infectious energy of a leader hungry to make the year ahead count. Here are a few recommendations that might help you think about how to make 2011 the most successful year yet:

Ignite a fire on the inside
Think about how you can ignite a new level of passion and pride in your brand internally, and invest time to do so, as it has the potential to pay significant dividends on a number of fronts. This could include an engaging summit that brings all of your colleagues together to talk about what's next for the brand, or it could include a company-wide event that inspires pride in all members of your company.

Collaborate courageously and manage expectations deliberately
Everyone has an opinion about marketing, and everyone wants to tell you how to do your job. Play in the sandbox differently this year: Be clear and specific in setting expectations about what you need from your colleagues and your CEO, let them know where their ideas and input are needed and valuable, and make it very clear when you just need them to be informed and aware. Have the courage to tell them when their input is not wanted, not well informed and when it is just plain unhelpful.

Look for new passion and pressure points
Understanding what gets people out of bed in the morning or what makes them drive three extra miles out of their way for a particular brand of coffee is all about passion points. Making sure you understand these as well as the "piss-off" points in your service experience present new opportunities for innovation in 2011. Take the time to ensure you know what really makes your customers tick and what their passion and pressure points are. Challenge your research teams to think about consumer and trend research from a different perspective. Don't just validate what you already know -- have them dig deeper, have them turn their methodologies upside down so they get you up close and personal with the passion and the pain.

Love thy customer more deeply
You have your brand-tracking study back for the year and it looks good, tick the box. Same-store sales are up, tick the box. Stop. Everyone knows the 80/20 rule and every one of us has just been dragged through the pains of the past 18 months, but how many of us are really thinking about innovating around customer appreciation? Think about it. You have been given permission to love your most loyal customers, to show them appreciation in return for loyalty and frequency, and what do you give them? Coupons. This is an opportunity space for the most inventive and forward-thinking mobile and coupons, but think about this like a business within a business.

Examine your conscience (and your footprints, too)
Get in and take a good hard look at how effectively you're managing your "social responsibilities" and your "social conscience." Does your company genuinely care about the issues you promote, or are you faking it? Do you communicate what you're doing in a clear and compelling fashion? Are the stories woven into your products? Do your efforts connect with your consumers? When it comes to your carbon footprint, take the time to look at it through the eyes of your customer and examine where you can reduce your overall footprint, including packaging, material use and your supply-chain inputs. There's a story to be told here and opportunities for differentiation and a deeper connection with your customers.

Do digital justice
If you're not thinking about digital as a core discipline inside of your team with a significant budget and the best minds, you're leaving a significant opportunity on the table. Now's the time to think of digital as a medium for content, a new distribution channel and a multidimensional place to connect with your customers as well as meet new ones. Devote the time and look at where you are digitally, be brutally honest, and ask whether you're really doing your brand and your customers justice.

It's made where? Make it in the USA
It's no secret that we've sent a significant amount of our jobs overseas in the past decade and when we turn over a product, it often says, "Made in Other Country." This is an opportunity to explore the origin story and look at what products you might be able to innovate around that could be made in the USA, creating new U.S. jobs and new reasons to connect your customers with your brand. At the same time, it presents an opportunity to dig deeper into the origin story of every product you make and look for opportunities to tell the story more effectively.

Partner with a passion
To keep agency relationships fresh, your partners need to be motivated, rewarded for great work, and evaluated fairly and constructively. If you've been in long-term relationships, they get comfortable and often tired. If you're constantly revolving the door, there's a whole other set of significant challenges there. Think about briefing your partners to elevate their own performance and to work closely with you to create a mutual evaluation program where you both get to look for opportunities to improve and elevate your game. Think about doing this annually like you do with your internal team; think about performance bonuses for outstanding work and a functional disciplinary process for poor performance. Show your passion for agency partnerships, and think about planning an annual summit to bring them together to help you plan for the year ahead and exchange ideas and energy for your brand.

Ask for a bigger budget now
There's no time like the present to increase your budget and your resources to grab mindshare, shelf space and a leap on what's next.

Create thinking time
You're among the most creative and forward-thinking problem-solver your company has, but you rarely get five minutes alone to actually think clearly. Close your door for an hour every day, or every other day. Don't schedule meetings, don't take calls for that hour, use the time to think and to plan. Take the time to inspire yourself, to talk with other CMOs, a colleague at another company; call each of the principals at your agency partners to share a challenge or ideas. Think of it like your daily professional workout: It's good for you and good for your brand's health.

Shawn Parr is CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy in San Diego whose clients have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen and American Eagle Outfitters.
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