How to Build the Trust and Support to take a Challenger approach

Being a marketing manager for a challenger brand is not an easy job. Marketing is one of the least trusted executive positions, so developing the trust and support to take a strong challenger approach will require a dedicated effort. Marketing leaders should focus on these seven key things: start dumb, focus on business metrics, develop a clear marketing plan, co-create with the leadership team, build confidence, have a strong philosophy, and be the champion. Through these steps, marketing leaders can develop the trust and support from their colleagues to confidently move ahead.

This is the third article in our Challenger Marketing series you can find article two, ‘Define the fight’ here.

Marketing is a tough job. And being a marketing manager for a challenger brand is even tougher. As we covered in the first article, you have to get everything right when you’re the challenger brand. You don’t have the resources or the luxury of time that the market leaders have. You have to make hard calls, focus and execute exceptionally. The pressure to get all this right combined with the relentless focus on growing the business in the short term creates tension. So, how in this climate do you build the trust of the CEO to commit to the work required to undertake a successful challenger marketing plan?

Firstly, this isn’t a quick one-conversation job. You need to treat this as a campaign of its own, one that could take two to three months, maybe longer. I would start by looking to build trust and confidence not only with the CEO, but with the whole leadership team. Marketing is one of the least trusted exec positions, 80% of CEOs don’t trust or are unimpressed by their head of marketing, in contrast the same research reports that CFOs and CIOs are trusted 90% of the time1. So, how do we address this gap?  

There are seven key things Marketing leaders can focus on to achieve this.

1. Start Dumb.

Is a superpower and it is the strongest at the beginning of a new relationship. Don’t buy into the narrative that you have to have 10 years in the industry to have an opinion. You have experiences with all sorts of other brands and with this new business you have the ability to start with a blank sheet of paper. First seek to understand, don’t make any assumptions. Take the time to talk to all your C-suite peers about the business and the challenges. Understand from your marketing team what the focus has been and what their plans are. Review the research you have on the market, on your customers. Within all of this there will be gaps. Take the time to build out the knowledge you need to develop a sound platform for action.

2. Business first.

As the customer champion, you should be driving or at least having a major say in shaping the organisation's strategic goals to deliver to the ever-changing wants and needs of the customer. Everything you do should be tightly aligned to helping deliver the broader company goals. Don't talk about marketing metrics, talk business metrics. Yes, we need to manage brand equity, reach, tarps and impressions, funnels, CTRs and CTAs - but these are all meaningless to the board, CEO and leadership team unless you paint the connection back to hard business metrics. Demonstrate how your challenger approach will drive; sales, revenue, leads, growth, profit, turnover, satisfaction, loyalty.

3. Develop a clear marketing plan.

Make sure your challenger plan is embedded in the business plan, make sure you have a roadmap. It will need a business case and you will need to report back against it. Even though you know instinctively what needs to happen, that it just makes sense, you need to make the case for it, you need to have the rationale and arguments to support your plans, and you need to get the broader leadership team to buy into it too.

4. Co-create with the leadership team.

To do that you need to understand what each person in the leadership team is trying to achieve and why. Understand their plans and objectives and demonstrate the alignment between what you are both doing to achieve the organisation's overall goals. Marketing needs to intricately understand and care about how the whole business works - how operations deliver, the complexity and timeframe of IT projects, what's challenging the sales team, and whether or not people are aligned to the organisation's purpose and values. Without this alignment, any acquisition wins may be short-lived.  

‘Marketing often has the direct result of making every other department's life harder.’

When you develop your marketing plan you will need the leadership team’s support. Marketing often has the direct result of making every other department's life harder. Developing new products, delivering faster, lowering costs, improving digital experience and service etc etc etc. So if you understand what they are wanting to achieve you are in a better place to co-create a plan that includes your activity while helping them achieve their goals. Doing this will force you to understand their priorities and will build buyin for your activities. And through the process they will understand how you are going to support them.

5. Build confidence.

Don't over-promise, be realistic about what time and resources you will need. Then take the leadership team along with you. If they don't understand the plan and rationale, then they are unlikely to have the same confidence as you do. You may need to help them understand - take them through case studies, share research, recommend articles or books to read. Bring them on the journey with you. Keep the team up-to-date with what is happening in the marketplace. Report on progress regularly.  

6. Have a strong philosophy

It's critically important to explain to the business the challenger process you are going to follow. Get them to understand what it’s going to take. You need to take the time to develop your point of view and ensure your plans are backed up by credible research rather than guessing or chasing the latest shiny marketing fad.

Then be the champion and passionately share your strategic point of view on how your marketing plan will drive results. Define your fight and develop a plan to win via customer intimacy, product leadership, operational excellence, or sustainably. What drives you - community, customers or shareholders? Be clear on your focus on building brands versus driving growth through tactical promotions. Having clarity around these topics will help your CEO and leadership colleagues understand what drives your marketing philosophy and approach, how it underpins your plans, and how it will significantly increase the businesses chances of winning.

We are in a marketing renaissance period, early in my career the leading marketing thinkers were Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell - with books like Purple Cow and the Tipping Point. Both smart thought leaders, but can you expect the CEO to take marketing seriously with a book recommendation called Purple Cow? Today we have a raft of Marketing thought leaders that base their thinking in research and data, Byron Sharp, Mark Riston, Peter Field and our very own James Hurman are much more credible thought leaders providing us with a quantitative marketing science approach, backed by research. Spend the time to read, learn and understand these modern marketing principles and adapt them to your industry and situation.  

7. Tell stories.

Share your experiences, talk about your mistakes and your wins. Find case studies, share those. Bring in outside speakers to share stories and case studies, bring in other marketers from other industries who have been through this process. Be tenacious and tell those stories over and over again.  

While we now operate in a world where long-term planning of any type feels like a luxury, Marketing leaders need to champion a longer-term vision. Regardless of the ongoing global challenges and shifting timeframes, you will need to develop a clear marketing vision for the business, collaborate and share your philosophy and approach, use the research to support a clear plan to get there and be clear about the metrics you're using to measure your progress. If you have a vision, a credible plan, clear goals and business metrics, then I'm sure your CEO will buy into that.