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19 October 2020

Talking leadership in marketing with Mark Schaefer

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Mark Schaefer social card

In this episode of the Leadership, the Future and Tea podcast, hosts Andy and Iain interview Marketing mogul Mark Schaefer.

Andy Davies (AD): 

Welcome everybody to this special guest episode of Leadership, the Future and Tea, and today I'm joined by Mark Schaefer . Mark is a globally recognised blogger, speaker, educator, consultant and author of seven bestselling books. He's also the co-host of The Marketing Companion - one of the top 10 marketing podcasts on iTunes. Mark, I'm keen to learn from you and your leadership experiences with the marketing background as well. We firmly believe that leaders occur at all levels throughout the organisation. It really is about attitude for people that makes them that leader. So, one of the questions we ask everybody is who's your leadership role model and why?

Mark Schaefer (MS): 

That's an easy one to answer. One of my great heroes was the great American author and consultant Peter Drucker. I got to study under Professor Drucker for three years at the Claremont Graduate University, when I was getting my MBA, and that was really a life changing experience. There's not a week that goes by that I don't hear his voice in my head. He has that kind of an impact on people. He was a very kind man as well. There was nothing ostentatious about him whatsoever, he was like a grandfather. He was just very accessible and very kind. And you would never know he was world famous and works with the biggest companies in the world because he graded my papers and I kept all them all which were graded by Peter Drucker.

AD:

What did you learn from leaders about traits that you can really look for in the future when trying to appoint someone?

MS: 

The biggest lesson that Dr. Drucker taught me, and it was hard to escape this lesson if you were ever around him, was this idea of humility. He would get very, very angry because the people who would be in these classes were lucky, it was a very competitive programme to even get into. I was at the time the youngest person ever admitted to the programme. So, most of the people in this programme were like vice presidents – they’ve done everything; they've seen everything; they know everything. In each of the classes, Dr. Drucker would teach by the case study method. We would dissect these problems and the instinct of these experienced leaders was to solve the problem, and he would get so angry. He would say:

“What makes you believe that you're so gifted? How can you be so arrogant that these people who have been working in this company for 30 years, they can't figure out the problem? But you can.”

Your role is not to have all the right answers but to ask the right questions - that's your goal. If they can just ask the right question, they'll get to the answer. And that's what your role is, as a leader. You don't have to know everything. You don't have to have every answer, but you've got to ask the right questions. And that has been a powerful impact on my leadership style and on my consulting style - never go in and tell people what to do. But if you ask the right questions, they'll find the answer on their own.

Iain Moffat (IM):

It’s funny how people have preconceived ideas of leadership. Especially during COVID, you need to be vulnerable and open to work in collaboration with people in such uncertain times.

MS: 

It's ironic, in some ways, that people think that they can just show how smart they are, that it's a sign of strength. But really, it takes a lot of courage to be humble, patient and even vulnerable. Vulnerability is a real key aspect of gaining trust and that's such an important leadership trait. The companies that are standing out right now are those who are expressing true vulnerability, who are acknowledging the pain and the suffering instead of some advertising script. Those are the companies that will be remembered on the other side.

AD:

Are you starting to see changes and leaders becoming more vulnerable, or are you still seeing the old-school style of leadership where they are trying to hide behind something?

MS: 

Andy, I think that is a fascinating question. I mean, from a human perspective, the crisis that we're in right now is so disturbing and unsettling, but from a from an academic perspective, it is absolutely fascinating to watch.

In the last book I wrote called Marketing Rebellion, the subtitle was: “The most human company wins”. And I believe that, with all my heart and every fibre in my body, that is the sort of tone we need to take with consumers today. We need to get off a script. And we need to show this human voice. Some people have been telling me: “Mark, what you wrote about in your book is absolutely coming true in this pandemic”.

The pandemic is accelerating and amplifying things. What we're seeing is the companies that don't know how to get off the script and who are following an advertising playbook are looking foolish. They're becoming memes. These are the ones that are saying: “Oh, we're with you in these uncertain times.” That's the script. Now, the companies that are rolling up their sleeves and feeding people, or dismissing their rent, or getting down in the trenches and making masks and serving hospital workers. Those are the ones that are going to become legendary in time. Those are the ones that are created to create a long-lasting emotional connection, because it's real, and it's true, and it's human. This is an opportunity for every person, every brand and every company to get off that script and really show what you're made of. Begin to ask yourself, what's the DNA of your company? What's the heart? What's the soul? You say you care? Well then go do something. Take that marketing budget and go do something that's going to make you legendary.

AD:

I read an interesting thing the other day, and it was a post from the CEO of L.L. Bean who basically turned part of their warehousing into a distribution centre for a food bank.

MS: 

That's fantastic and that’s just part of their DNA. That’s authentic to the brand. They're not doing that for PR spin. They're just doing it because it's the right thing to do.

IM:

People are going to choose whether they work for somebody based on this experience. Questions will be asked such as “Tell me some examples of how your contributions to society?” Because that's a magnetic pole for the next generation of workforce.

MS:

One of the things that I talk about in the book was talking to a fellow who was a brand manager for Nike, who has now moved to Adidas. He was talking about some promotions that he did for the World Cup, and he did these activations down in the neighbourhoods in the favelas of Sao Paulo. He was saying, to be a successful company and a successful brand, you can't be in a community, you must be of the community. People only trust it if they see it. How are you impacting my life? This gets to your point about employees of the future. If they have some firsthand experience and you are having a direct impact on something in their life, in their career, in their community, in their family, they're going to remember that. They're going to talk about that and they're going to seek you out as an employer.

IM:

A thought that springs to mind is the Edelman Trust Barometer. The last 20 years, what they've done is they've said there are four entities. There's the Government, there is the organisations in the private sector, there's NGOs, and there's the media. It kind of feels like the abstract of your book about this idea of how much of the percentage of the marketplace marketers can influence because there's this community.

MS:

I kind of got chills down my spine when you said that because I mean, it's something I believe in very strongly because when a lot of this traditional advertising and marketing is fading away. People are spending more and more time with streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Spotify, or maybe even audio books. There's no advertising. We're watching more TV than ever and seeing less advertising than ever. We're listening to more music than ever, but we're hearing less advertising than ever.

Now, belonging and community are big words that are fraught with a lot of emotion. And when I wrote about this in my book, I approached it very sceptically, can you really feel like you belong to a company or a brand. We're in a world where people spend more and more time on social media. And people feel more isolated, more alone, more depressed. To the point where it's a health crisis. Yeah, forget about the pandemic. One of my favourite authors and marketers, Martin Lindstorm, just put out an article on projects that are being created right now. We're conditioning a generation that's going to have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome because we've been fearful of so much for so long, week after week after week, this is going to result in long term implications for our employees, for our organisations, for our customers. We're going to have to be cognizant of this and connect in that way for a long time to come and belonging and community is going to be a big part of that.

AD:

I'm going to ask you about Facebook next because I know that you said recently that you have communities on Facebook that you probably get more out of that than on some of your LinkedIn, Twitter or other platforms.

We’ve been hearing a lot in the media recently about the decrease in advertising spend being spent on Facebook, but it seems that Zuckerberg is seeming this to be like a blip rather than a permanent sort of heading downwards. What's your take?

MS:

I was literally aghast when I gasp but not surprised at Zuckerberg’s take on this because it's pure arrogance. What he's referring to is that the vast majority of the revenue on Facebook is not big companies, it's small to medium sized companies. It's other sorts of organisations and nonprofits and universities and political campaigns. It is a blip. So, even if it goes away and stays away, it's still a blip. Just the pure arrogance of that statement just reinforces to me that Facebook is really a company with no moral compass. It really has a problem at the top with the leadership. I think eventually that's going to make that company implode. It's exactly what's gotten them cold in front of congressional teachers. Lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit. Because Facebook never does the right thing until they're caught, they can't build trust. They're not proactive. We discussed in a wonderful investigative report from the Wall Street Journal, where Facebook’s own research showed that their algorithms are contributing to hate and divisiveness. The growth in hate groups on Facebook was propelled by their own algorithms. Now, they knew this years ago, they put together a team to figure it out and combat this but Zuckerberg ignored it.

It's like watching a bunch of bullies fighting on the playground. You don't really want to be part of the bullies, but you can't keep yourself from watching the fight. People are spending more time on Facebook that drives ad views that drives time on site. So, hate is good for business. And that's why Zuckerberg is reluctant to make these changes. And I, by the way, I don't dismiss the idea that this is a very complicated problem. I mean, and it's not an easy one to solve. But I think the thing that just makes me sick to my stomach is that Zuckerberg has just ignored it and denied the problem, even when his own people said that there's a problem. Because, as I said, he just doesn't do the right thing until he gets caught.

IM:

What do you see as the most important attributes of leadership and how it should change post COVID? Also, what are some of your own personal experiences?

MS:

I think it just accelerates where we needed to be in the first place.  I hope COVID is going to drive a greater empathy, a great truly greater humanity, not just lip service but truly an understanding, and a humanity that wasn't there before. And if you don't take this opportunity to start moving in that direction you're just going to be a dinosaur.

AD:

So, you’re really asking companies to seize the opportunity? You become that human company that people want them to be.

MS:

Yeah, I'll give you an example. I won't name the company, but I was working with a company, a big multinational company, and the entire executive board is white, and there's one female on the entire executive board of this global company. They came out with this announcement and the CEO had this very formal setting in this script. He said, “We’re making a commitment today to double the number of African American employees in our company. Now, to me that’s kind of tone deaf, because it seems like the right thing, but that's something they should have done in the 80s. Then even the term African American isn't really the term that's being used today, because there's a lot of people of colour that may not have an African heritage.

So, to me, that's a company still following the script. It's not that there's empathy. There's no feeling. There's no understanding. You're reading something that a lawyer put in front of you. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, maybe it's the best that culture can do right now. And it is an evolution. But I mean, to me a statement like that you're so far behind from where you need to be. Where's the vulnerability? Here's what I want to hear him say: “Wow, we have been so wrong. Look at our board. I look around wonder where we have been in this world? I'm personally committed to this and as the leader of this company I am going to move this company forward, not just check a box and fill a quota, but I want to change the company, the culture of that company. This is what I'm responsible for. I'm going to change the culture of this company to be more understanding, more inclusive, fairer to everyone.” That's what I want to hear.

IM:

What are some of the kind of key things that you see leaders doing that are really making a difference?

MS:

Well, one of the things I look for is that the best run companies tend to do everything well. So, I always start to look there first. What are the companies who are continually outperforming their competitors, who are the ones whose stock price continues to go up and who have a good reputation to be a good employer? Who are the ones doing the right things for the environment? I tend to go to those places first, and you could almost predict they're going to be ahead of the pack. They're going to be the ones who are sensitive to what's going on and responding to that. I'm really encouraged by what I'm seeing from small businesses right now. They don't have to go through all the protocol, all the legal approvals. They don't have to go through all that stuff. The owner is the culture.

You do the right thing and you express your empathy and your compassion and your humanity. And those are the companies that I think are really setting the pace right now.

AD:

My passionate belief is that small companies now have a massive opportunity that otherwise they wouldn't have had. And it's down to those leaders to say, right, I'm going to seize this opportunity - it's our chance to get a piece of the pie that the big boys probably wouldn't have allowed us to get before.

Now I want to talk about Twitter and LinkedIn and what the big tech and social companies like this could be doing…

MS:

I think there's three big trends I would look at. Number one is going to be new laws and regulations that are going to happen after the next presidential election. So, every candidate, even opposing candidates, have agreed that something's got to be done around social media and the monopolistic behaviours of the five big tech companies. So, I think starting sometime next year, there could be some significant changes and shifts. Well, I think another thing to watch is that Apple is really taking the lead around privacy and security. They've made some announcements just in the last week that could really impact how people go to go to market online and how they advertise online.

Now, we've always found ways to shift and adjust and I think that's also an important trend. That’s going to continue and we're going to have to continue to shift and adjust because that's what our consumers want. That's part of this Marketing Rebellion I talked about in my book, and what I've shown through history, that every time consumers rebel against companies, they always win. I realise we can't hold on to what we want. We have to recognise what is and get ahead of the curve. The third thing I would say is that social media is tending to stratify by demographic. The only group that's really growing on Facebook is 55 and over, everybody sort of loves Instagram and YouTube. And if you're 13 to 18, you probably love Snapchat. That's where you spend all your time. And if you're under 18, you're probably migrating now to Tik Tok. If you think about the main social media platforms, there has not been a tremendous amount of change in the last 10 years, let's say other than Snapchat, Tik Tok has come in and Google+ went away and that's been about it. Now, I would say that the next generation coming up behind Gen Z, they're going to look at their older brothers and sisters and say that they're on Tick Tock. We’ve got to find something else.

IM:

Yeah. So, it’s all about identity, right?

MS:

Yeah, that's about it. It's more about identity than technology. I think that's going to be the point of differentiation for social media in the future. I mean, the reason that Google+ failed is because people really only have a bandwidth for one type of social media platform. Someone says, “I'm going to be the next Twitter right away”. We already have a Twitter; it works just fine. And what Google+ was saying is, “We're going to be the next Facebook, we're going to be better than Facebook”. And you just can't do that. They didn't have enough technology. They didn't have enough points of differentiation. They didn't have enough IP and their marketing of it was horrendous. So, it was destined to fail

IM:

I'm going to sound sad because I remember that. But I liked the concept. I think I ended up having five connections, but Google+ had their circles. Do you remember how they had those? I thought those circles were so satisfying.

MS:

And you know what that is today - Facebook groups? They didn't do anything that Facebook couldn't copy - that was the big problem. I mean, the person who had the most followers on Google+ was Mark Zuckerberg.

IM:

If you had the opportunity to go into a premium educational establishment that was generating the next round of CMOs, what would you tell them they need to change in their course?

MS:

That's really a great question. It's one I'm very passionate about because I am an educator. I've spent the last 11 years teaching in the Graduate Programme at Rutgers University in the New York area. I also do a lot of guest lecturing at universities, because a lot of my books are used as textbooks and I'm very proud of that.  It's practical and it's the real world. I got into a discussion the other day about it, somebody who wanted my help, they said, “I'm creating a textbook,” I said, “What is a textbook? It's something that's overpriced and has out of date information.” Why don't we assign blog posts instead of textbooks? The biggest issue in marketing education by far. And it's that the leaders in most programmes are completely out of touch with reality. I think I can say this with authority and maybe more authority than almost anyone because I go to so many universities and meet so many of these educators and they're just out of touch. Maybe they cut their teeth in the business world 10 years ago or even 15 years ago. They're not really being encouraged in the university to participate in social media to build a personal brand or to create online content. I mean, it's shocking. I was at a university, a big university in the Midwest, maybe a year and a half ago. And a professor came up, she was a baby, mid 40s, and I gave a talk to a big room of people and she said, “Mark, I've never really gotten into social media.” Now. She's a marketing professor. “I've never really gotten into social media. You think I should?” And I want to tell you that there are still major universities in America that do not have a single digital marketing course.

AD:

Well, I went up to one of the top five universities in the UK last year and did some guest lectures up there. Let me tell you, the approach of the professor was very simple - she wanted to get in people like me with real life experience.

I've got I've got two more questions for you though. The first question is, what's your leadership legacy going to be Mark?

MS:

I'm going to answer that in a little bit of a roundabout way. When the pandemic hit, I was very disoriented because I lost all my business in a period of three days. And it's percolating back, thank goodness, but it's like I was a teacher without classes and a consultant without customers and a professional speaker without an audience and where do I fit in this world? So, to answer your question, I actually sort of recently reflected on this and realised that I'm a teacher in everything that I do. And what I realised is that the world just needs me to teach something new right now. So, I think my legacy will be, Mark Schaefer, as a person who was just very generous. He held nothing back. He gave his best ideas. And most importantly, he contributed original insights that helped our profession grow.

AD:

Awesome, what a fantastic legacy. Finally, Mark, are there any resources you’d like to leave us with?

MS:

I think the book I wrote a few years ago titled Known stands as my greatest contribution to the business world because every week, someone sends me a note and saying “This changed my life.” You're lucky to hear that once in your life. And I hear that every week.

AD:

I just want to endorse that. I wrote to you on LinkedIn, and that's how we got connected. And for me, it was a life changer. I read it, and I take the time normally reading books, but I read this thing within about 36 hours of getting it I was absolutely hooked on it.

I just didn't want to put it down. There were so many things that it gave me. The biggest word I'd say is about confidence; on social media especially. It’s inspirational and I've referenced this book time and time again.

MS:

That is the feeling of everybody that I know that has read it. The other thing that I'm passionate about is the shakeout we’re going to have in this pandemic. It's going to be competitive. Please, if this is the right time for you, read this book.

The other book is ‘Marketing Rebellion’, and this is my newer book that is really a wake-up call for business and marketing. Two thirds of our marketing is occurring without us. How do we get invited to those conversations that requires an entirely new mindset toward marketing? And I think we just don't have a choice. We have to understand these changes. And this isn't Mark Schaefer, and his opinion of the world, this is research. This is data. I'm Deloitte and McKinsey and Harvard and, millions of dollars’ worth of research I’m very proud of that book too. It's actually hit number one on Amazon for marketing and advertising.

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Andy Davies

As an expert in human resources and a member of the CIPD, Andy is now responsible for developing the implementation strategy for People First partners. Passionate about the future of HR, employee engagement and performance management, Andy often writes and offers best practice advice on the need for archaic HR practices to evolve in order for organisations to stay relevant within the ever-changing world of work

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