Speaking with Thomas Barta
Thomas Barta, former McKinsey partner and one of the world’s leading marketing leadership experts speaks to Elen Lewis about how to be brave without getting sacked.
What qualities make a successful CMO?
Successful CMOs are inspirational, tenacious, and have a passion for customers—that’s how they make things happen internally and in the market.
What is the most important business lesson you have learned?
A great strategy is worth nothing without great execution. Too many good marketing ideas never see the light of day.
What advice can you offer someone who wants to increase their influence within an organisation?
1. Make sure the issues you’re tackling are big. Issues that are big for customers, but also big on the agenda for the company. In your organization, don’t work under the radar!
2. Most people who create the customer experience don’t report to you. How can you persuade them to act? Hit the head and the heart. To follow you, some need facts, other need hope. And there’s no shortcut. You need to walk the halls and talk to them. In the same way that customers don’t buy your stuff automatically, neither do internal stakeholders – persuading them is your job.
3. Leading marketing is a big task—you won’t succeed on your own. Build a tribe – leaders beneath you who will fight the same battles, have the same idea and make things happen on your behalf.
4. Inspiration is your biggest weapon. It will give you the tenacity to carry on when things are really difficult. Inspiring others is how we make things happen. The key? You’ve got to be inspired first!
What advice would you offer to someone just starting out in the industry?
1. Don’t start out in marketing—if you can. The best marketers are those who understand the products, the market and the rest of the organisation. Make sure you get coverage in other places as early as you can.
2. You’re serving two customer groups, never forget that - – external customers and those within your company.
3. Just do it – marketing is the coolest job in the world.
What’s the bravest thing a marketer can do without being sacked?
There are no guarantees! Being brave in marketing means standing up for your customers. Your chances of not being sacked increase when you have evidence or data to back up your argument. People may disagree with you—but rarely with customers.
What are the biggest barriers preventing marketers from being brave?
I don’t think there are physical barriers. The barrier lies within individuals. If you’re not truly passionate about what you’re doing, you don’t care enough and then you don’t take risks. Why would you? The key to being brave is to care deeply about your work as marketer.
Your latest book is all about the 12 powers of a marketing leader – how does this overlap with courage?
Everything you do as a marketer is about the future! By nature, you have to be courageous to shape this future. In The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader we show you sources for your courage. If you know how to lead and how to operate within an organisation, your courage will grow. Without courage it’s very hard to be an effective marketer. We need more marketers to be more courageous more often!
What advice would you offer your 17-year-old self?
Trust your gut (I mean: really).
What book is on your bedside table?
Right now it’s the ‘Evolution of Everything’ by Matt Ridley – which analyses why things we see in the world are less planned than we think.
Tell us a secret
At times, I miss doing marketing...