Have you specialised yourself out of leadership?

An article caught my eye recently, lamenting the high number of marketers in the APAC region who were on the move, looking for new opportunities. The reasons cited were pay, but also poor professional development and too few opportunities for marketers to become CEOs.

We’ve long said that the job of marketing is to drive customer-centered growth – and to do this, marketing leaders need to be able to lead across and through the organisation. This gives marketers a particular leadership challenge, rooted in being insightful about customer behaviour, and getting the organisation to act on this by engaging with customers, across touchpoints, in the best way.

Back in the mists of time, brand managers were employed and developed to do this right from the start of their career. Most obviously, this was in global FMCG organisations, where junior marketers were often given responsibility akin to being a general manager of 2 or 3 SKUs or a small brand. As they progressed, the number and importance of the SKUs increased, but essentially the role of acting as general manager with responsibility across the P&L and delivery of the brand, was the same. Many a dark morning have I been on a factory line, as a marketer, going through the latest samples of a new product.

However, as marketing has become more complex, specialist roles have been created to meet evolving customer needs. It became impossible for that junior brand manager alone to be able to deliver performance by taking a general marketing management approach so in order to excel in the market,  a whole battery of new roles have been created. This week’s vacancies I encountered online include a Social Media Coordinator; Head of Customer Experience (Digital); Partnerships Marketing Manager and Shopper Insights Executive. All requiring specialist skills, proven in that space, for a number of years.

So where does this mean that marketing leadership is going to come from in the future? Do we run the risk of losing the ability to become marketing leaders, driving the broad growth agenda that is needed in order to fulfil the role of marketing?

As leaders, a key role we play is in building the capabilities of our teams and organisation. And in a highly competitive talent market, investing in our people is a key source of competitive advantage. So we need to be able to grow talent from within, and to do that, we need to create a talent agenda that will generate the marketing leaders of the future. This means enabling people to move around the operating model, so they can build expertise in multiple areas, not just one, and support their journey from operator to manager to leader.  If we don’t, we run the risk of jeopardising marketers’ ability to play the leadership role our customers need them to.

If you are currently pursuing a senior marketing leadership role, we recommend The Marketing Society's International Marketing Leaders Programme run in partnership with Brand Learning, in either Singapore or London.  You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Customer-Centred Leadership.

For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s customer-centred leadership capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly through LinkedIn. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Customer-Centred Leadership.

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