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The Whole Marketer Podcast – Episode 22 - Labyrinth Marketing
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The Whole Marketer Podcast – Episode 22

Leadership skills: with guest Thomas Barta

Thomas Barta Ep22 Leadership Skills

Episode #22. Marketing Leadership is the soft skill featured in this episode, as Abby is joined by Thomas Barta – Marketer, Masterclass course founder and Author of ‘The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader’. Thomas shares lots of wonderful, practical examples of challenges facing today’s marketer and elaborates on some of 12 key skills from his book, including knowing how to influence, having a dream and building credibility. Plus why as a marketer you need to behave a bit more like the finance department, listen to find out why… Thomas has kindly shared a worksheet to accompany this episode, click below to download.

FREE DOWNLOAD_The-12-powers-of-a-marketing-leader-Ch1





Resources/brands mentioned in this podcast:

12 Powers of a Marketing Leader – by Thomas Barta and Patrick Barwise

Marketing Masterclass

Ken Kutaragi

Syl Saller



Sponsored by Labyrinth Marketing


FULL TRANSCRIPT (with timecode)


00:00:00:20 – 00:00:03:25

This podcast is brought to you by Labyrinth Marketing.


00:00:04:25 – 00:00:07:20

Hello and welcome to the Whole Marketer podcast.


00:00:14:08 – 00:00:59:03

I’m Abby Dixon, your host, and shortly we’ll be joined by Thomas Barta, the author of The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader. Today’s podcast is all about the skills and behaviours we need to have as a marketing leader of today. And I make no apology that this is the third episode in a row that talks about marketing leadership. In our previous two, we were joined by Sherilyn Shackell talking about the role the marketing academy gives the next generation of marketing leaders and prior to that we talked about the role of a CMO, the Pete Markey at TSB. Shortly we’ll be joined by Thomas Barta prior to writing the number one marketing leadership book, The Twelve Powers of a Marketing Leader with Patrick Barwise, our client side roles as well as was a consultant at McKinsey.


00:00:59:22 – 00:01:02:04

So, Thomas, welcome to the Whole Marketer podcast.


00:01:02:10 – 00:01:03:27

Thank you for having me. Hello.


00:01:04:27 – 00:01:12:12

So I’m going to start with a big, juicy question up front, which is what drove you to write the 12 powers of the marketing leader?


00:01:12:21 – 00:01:48:01

So I could give you a short answer, which would be I definitely want a book that helps marketers have more influence. The real answer is when I was six, I wanted to become a marketer. In fact, I want to become an advertising person. I was the only kid, I guess, in the entire school who was not interested in any movie, but only in advertising. I knew all the ads. I could play them out. I loved it. My parents said, do not go into marketing. That’s wrong. I did it anyway. Became a marketing manager, marketing director for the whole career in FMCG. And then I got sick and tired of marketing because I felt the bloody finance people are making the decisions.


00:01:48:16 – 00:02:19:15

Why on earth is nobody listening to marketing? And that was a consumer concern that I felt. Of course, I was exaggerated. So I decided to quit, joined McKinsey to tell the CEOs how marketing works then only to find out that they already knew how marketing works. But what was fascinating, when you sit in a room with clients senior client’s boardroom as a consultant yourself, just like bird’s eye view of things, you see the market as the non-marketers and you felt you could almost tell who was getting the money.


00:02:20:00 – 00:02:50:10

And many times it weren’t the marketers because some other people had just had, you know, smarter ways of kind of getting their way. Of course, sometimes they had it easier if they were in finance. And I felt, you know, that’s terrible. You know, we need to really to step up in a boardroom. We need to get marketers all to power. And at the same time, I was leading McKinsey’s internal leadership program. That’s a global program where we help McKinsey partners have influence without authority. And I felt, wow, that’s something we need in the marketing industry.


00:02:50:12 – 00:03:13:07

So I left McKinsey, set out, did the largest ever research on the success of marketers together with so many Patrick Barwise. And yeah, we wrote a book about it. So that’s the whole story. And ever since my interest is basically continuing with spreading the word because marketing is the most exciting and I think rewarding job in the world of business. I agree. If we have more influence. There will be even more fun.


00:03:13:26 – 00:03:31:06

So it’s all about giving marketers the skills to have great influence in the C Suite. That’s right. Or in any suite. Yeah, because I suppose we’re marketing leaders from the start of our career, aren’t we? Regardless if we’re running a campaign or we’re running the total department, we’re leading. And everybody can say no.


00:03:31:08 – 00:03:46:25

I mean, if you think about it, you know, as a marketer, you sign up for a job where everybody can say no, mean you have your boss consent or your colleagues can say no, consumers can say no. Anyone, your customers, you have very little form of power. So if you don’t know how to influence, it’s very hard to do any good marketing.


00:03:47:00 – 00:03:56:15

So that’s a really interesting point, influence. I mean, what other skills do you think the marketers needs in order to influence at board level or any level within the organisation?


00:03:56:17 – 00:04:29:21

So there’s a number of things you step back first. What we found when we did this massive research on the success of marketers is that, first of all, influencing skills matter more than marketing skills. In fact, they were fifty five percent of what made us sort of first step is realizing this. And if you’re very honest, you know, if you starting out in marketing and you’re moving to a big city and you go to London or to New York or to Shanghai and you’re getting 100 emails a day and everybody tells you Steve Jobs was great, and if anybody asks your parents what you’re doing, you can’t really they can’t explain it.


00:04:29:23 – 00:05:08:04

Right, because it’s a weird world. And it is world nobody really tells you that what you learn in university and what business school in the course of the technical marketing is your entry ticket. And then it’s all about influence. Nobody tells you this. So it all starts with realizing that your ideas are only as good as your ability to make them happen, which for many marketers can become kind of a shock because you think you have all the skills. So let me do it. But then more practically, what we found is that leading marketing is like a 360-degree job.


00:05:08:27 – 00:05:43:19

You’ve got to be able to mobilize your boss’s so the people above you to help them make better decisions, so don’t just accept what comes through you’ve got to change that. All colleagues, right? All the people I know, you know, sales and accounting and production. Right. Who could just say, no, you got to learn those skills and we can go in the second, in more detail what they are. But of course, sometimes you’re also leading a team, you’ve got to get that right. And then, of course, there’s yourself, because marketing is a job, it’s very easy to get overruled by other people. So you’ve got to have a lot of strength, of vision, of dreams, many dreams to keep you going.


00:05:44:00 – 00:05:47:09

So it’s like a 360 degree leadership job.


00:05:47:20 – 00:05:57:00

Which leads me on quite nicely to my next question. Having read your lovely book, The 12 Powers of the Marketing Leader, could you just give us an overview of what those 12 powers are?


00:05:57:06 – 00:06:33:00

Absolutely. And it may be I’ll simplified it a little, but I think there are some some key big themes here. I mean, first off, I said, all right, it’s all about and secondly, it’s a boss, team, colleagues yourself. When you think about the real big drivers of success, the first is that’s also one of the top powers is getting to decide the value creation. What it means is that as a marketer, you always have to serve the customers and the company. You know, the PlayStation Sony is the most important product only exists because Ken Kutaragi, a young engineer, convinced a Sony management that A, customers want this.


00:06:33:02 – 00:07:14:02

And he really made the case, you know, all the things that you have liked to have I guess they had visuals at the time and Betamax things, but also data Sony will thrive when it gets into gaming and that this is possible and they can make money. And, you know, it’s technically so the value creation zone, which is basically that overlap between company needs and customer needs, that’s where you as a marketer have power, in fact, that the only zone where you have power. And many marketers probably aren’t exactly clear on what their value creations zone is and the ones that thrive are the ones that expand, the ones that make it larger, the ones that convince a company that wants to convince the customer.


00:07:14:07 – 00:07:45:17

So that’s the first part I think is crucial. Mm hmm. The second element is you’ve got to get inside the revenue cap. If you think about a typical CEO or they think a lot about revenue, they think a lot about cost. And then they think about that strategy and organisation and other things. But where the market what are you if you are on revenue, you will automatically be put into the cost bucket. And if you’re honest, cost is something that people are trying to reduce. So it needs to be investment.


00:07:46:21 – 00:07:59:21

Yeah, but exactly. But investment for what? For revenue. So it’s very clear sort of whole idea of I’m going to do something. And everybody believes that one day it’s going to be awesome is a complete dream.


00:07:59:27 – 00:08:19:03

It doesn’t exist and no business leader in the world thinks this way. The other thing, this is going to work and we’re going to get this by then or this is not going to work and we’re going to cut it. It’s a really simple world. And what we hope to do is to help many marketers see the brutal reality.


00:08:20:10 – 00:08:52:07

And if you aren’t a revenue camp and you aren’t a cost camp and you’re screwed, seriously, unless your boss likes you like a lot and doesn’t care about the budget, but the third one is there was one on language, I think if you want to be part of an organisation, you have to speak the language of the organisation. Yeah, I agree. And what’s interesting is what we found is that marketers were excellent at customer insights who don’t know the company insights, so how the company takes and what it does and how it makes the things. And these marketers have real career issues.


00:08:52:14 – 00:09:36:04

So your customer knowledge is actually internally, right, valued significantly less than your knowledge of the company. So, for example, we have become much as if you can just change department for an airline, you know, do two weeks of sales go three weeks into a factory, go four weeks into distribution, whatever. So you understand what’s going on. That now, that language that’s been spoken there is like hugely important for you. Skip the team part because there’s a huge element on how you build teams that ask for forgiveness, but not for permission to force the area, which is as a marketer, you’ve got to have a vision for what you want the future to look like, because you will find so many hurdles in your job that if you hang on to a dream, it’s useful.


00:09:36:06 – 00:09:50:03

The LG formerly called Lucky Gold Star, which is now LG life’s good global brand. They only have a U.S. household business because at the time a young finance guy who took the business had a dream of having the LG logo in Times Square.


00:09:50:20 – 00:10:04:10

And just that dream kept him going. And I met him some kind of amazing guy for many years. He basically pushed with almost no budget, a big plans and built that entire business. He needed to have that dream. Right.


00:10:04:15 – 00:10:21:11

I couldn’t agree more Thomas, taking the time out to have that dream about where you want to take the business, the brand, the organisation, and, you know, being able to translate it to others in the organisation that when you do, they feel it’s so palpably also that they want to be part of it.


00:10:21:13 – 00:10:23:25

That’s right. It’s perfectly summarized.


00:10:23:27 – 00:10:47:04

You can see they need to see the fire in your eyes. The conviction and the commitment that you stand up and say, this is where I believe we should take the organisation. This is why are you with me? And I am committed to lead you to get there. That’s right. And I don’t think enough people do that, believe enough people dream big enough. If I’m honest as well, it’s obvious that it is inspirational. Yeah and it can be very confusing.


00:10:47:06 – 00:10:58:24

Right. You join an organisation, you get your job description, you have some skills that the organisation thinks are useful in the hiring discussions to tell you are we really need you and we need your skills.


00:10:58:26 – 00:11:30:10

And you think has I’m going to come and going to help. Right. But the day you join, you’re basically part of the big team and then you have your little job and then all of a sudden you see these streams, people saying this and that, and you think, oh, we want to be customer focused is not what we said. Right. Well, there are other things going on. There’s a mismatch of what people promise people a job and then what happened. So I think even if you’re very young as a marketer, it’s very important that you step back at times and say, what am I doing here? And yes, if I know how to do Facebook marketing, that’s really helpful. But it’s a tiny part of marketing.


00:11:30:12 – 00:12:00:00

And because maybe they’re wrong, you know, you could easily join a dying company and get a great budget for social media marketing and the whole thing goes under. And you wouldn’t change it because you thought that’s why my job is to do this piece so that everybody in the company is almost asked to step back. And it’s harder, of course, when you’re very young and you haven’t a ton of experience. Still, you know, you can have a dream. You can think, if this was my firm, where would I take it? So I think it’s important, as you said, for every marketer, at every tiny level to sometimes for a second, what is the dream?


00:12:00:02 – 00:12:24:22

What would I do if this was my place? Very powerful and being entrepreneurial and brave with that and kind of stepping into your own and stepping into your power to actually voice what you can see? I think some people can see it just they don’t share it in fear of failure or in fear of kind of rejection or whatever that may be. I always say five, four, three, two, one. Do it without fear, say it before the fear kicks in.


00:12:24:28 – 00:12:58:24

I mean, if you’re honest, of course, companies aren’t places that rewards bravery know. All right. I mean, companies reward success. And if you are completely off or you’re just very brave all the time, they’ll end up firing you. So I think when it comes to these things, of course, you have to pick your battles. And I think that’s the art, right? As a marketer, as a leader, what is it that is really important? The trick also is and we talk about this in the book and the 12 powers is that there is something like idiosyncracy credits.


00:12:59:04 – 00:13:09:08

If you are new, people won’t listen to you. That’s the truth. You’ve got to add some value first. If nobody wants to work with a smart ass, I mean, people want to work with people who make them look good.


00:13:09:13 – 00:13:41:24

Alright so the trick is as a marketer is you’ve got to have your dream. You got to have your fire. But then, of course, you’ve got to do it in a way that people find this is useful. But even if you have different perspectives. And you always need to ask yourself, do I have enough credibility? Have I helped enough to be able to make big, bold statements, but then if you have helped, then of course you can start to make these statements. I think it’s trading this all the time, right? Building credibility. But once you have I think that is also your almost your obligation to stand up and say, all right, guys, you know, here’s something that I think is different.


00:13:41:26 – 00:13:43:10

We should do differently. And here’s why.


00:13:43:17 – 00:14:18:25

And I think that’s really interesting. That links to one of your earlier points, Thomas, around. You know, until you’ve got the credibility, you have to talk the business’ language. So don’t as a marketeer come forward and say, oh, I see this opportunity with this target audience, for example. Yes, that might be valid. There might be no one tapping into that when you do your perceptual mapping or whatever it may be. But translate that into the commercial revenue opportunity, whatever commercial term is that that business chases and position it that way actually is a 20 million or billion opportunity here.


00:14:20:03 – 00:14:33:06

That’s when people start going, OK. Take me through how you believe we can get there. So it comes from a dream to a plan, if you will, with a commercial benefit. And that’s what’s going to get people’s attention as opposed to I have a dream without the validation.


00:14:33:10 – 00:14:40:07

I mean, you could call this marketing, right? I mean, we wouldn’t go out to customers and say, you know. Without validating or testing for sure.


00:14:41:22 – 00:15:07:20

on your perceptual map, we’ve seen that you have the following. Is not how we talk right? Right. 100 percent, we say, will make you more happy, or we give you more this on that. Yeah, I think it’s just if you think about it, you market to the customers outside, but you also market internally. And that means the right positioning of what you do, the right language around it. And the good news is because people are marketers we should be good at it, just need to apply it internally.


00:15:08:07 – 00:15:25:17

Yeah, I don’t think people do that enough. So I think it’s a really good piece of advice there, Thomas. And then thinking about just generally skills as you rolled this work out and worked with a variety of organisations, do you think there’s a kind of consistent skills that people either lack or need in order to to bring these principles to life?


00:15:25:19 – 00:15:37:15

We’re just in the middle, actually, of a master class Syl Saller and I have been running the marketing leadership master class and we have a big bunch of people currently debating in that class what the real challenges are.


00:15:37:20 – 00:16:11:17

And there is one topic that got a lot of attention and that tells me that there is something in here and it’s the ability to zoom, to zoom out, see the big picture, but to zoom in and see the detail and let me explain why this matters. I mean, this world is getting really more complex every single day. I mean think just think about you’re GP, right? I mean, everyday, like X number of journal articles about new diseases and new treatments coming out. I mean, it’s like it’s impossible for anybody to comprehend.


00:16:11:23 – 00:16:44:04

Marketing is kind of like similar. I mean, so many people go to a digital marketing conference and they go home. And when you ask them, do you understand all of this, they say no. And even the really good ones. Right. Because there’s just too much. It’s impossible. Nobody can understand this like everything. It’s impossible. So then that brings people into a very fascinating situation where you have to know enough detail for your job to be effective. I mean, even if you’re very senior, you can’t just say I give everything to my team and I’ll do it right.


00:16:45:00 – 00:16:56:01

I give it a masterclass in the master class just migrated to a new platform where people can debate very deeply. I tell you what, Syl and I of course, we have the strategy for the course.


00:16:56:03 – 00:17:29:15

Of course, we knew exactly what we wanted to do with it, but when it came to the actual platform, we believe we had to zoom in. We had to actually get our hands dirty. We had to play with it to a level of that you would only play with it if you were a programmer, because we wanted to know exactly what people experience and every single step when they’re posting something, when I ask a question, how does it look like? But then, of course, someone was setting up the thing on a server and we said, we can’t do that. That’s your job. Right? So what I mean is this ability to zoom and in marketing, it’s the same.


00:17:29:17 – 00:18:01:10

Just imagine you you just get hired and your job is to do and you run a social media channel any, LinkedIn. Yeah, but of course, you have to be very good at LinkedIn and that’s why you get hired. But then is LinkedIn a good idea in the first place. How much should we spend, which should we go away and say, why don’t we do like emails to people and say that ability to zoom out and say, okay, what are we trying to do here? But then again, to zoom in and say, I know exactly which button to click on LinkedIn.


00:18:02:14 – 00:18:02:29



00:18:03:01 – 00:18:29:19

That ability is becoming more and more and more important. And it doesn’t mean you need to have more detail all the time. It’s not that. It’s about like which detail is hot that I really need to know it and which detail isn’t important so I can give it to someone. But then do I really understand the big picture? Like, a lens zoom in and zoom out and all leaders and it’s particular marketing need to do this more and more and more every day.


00:18:30:15 – 00:19:08:13

And that’s a skill everybody can try. It’s not difficult. You just step back and say, if I own this firm or what I do, and then you go back and say, OK, let’s look at LinkedIn, which are the skills that I need in LinkedIn and a lot of detail to be even better. Sorry, that was quite lengthy, but I felt the zooming ability. I think that’s something I think will keep us busy for quite a while in marketing especially. And that’s my last point, that marketing is quite wide, because if you think about it, if you really think that marketing is price, promotion place and product, there isn’t much left in the company is only HR, and finance really right.


00:19:08:20 – 00:19:13:18

So it’s big if you want to make it big. So that’s why zoom in matters a lot.


00:19:13:27 – 00:19:48:20

Yeah, that makes sense. And I think the example that you gave is a really interesting one is actually. Where to zoo, in your example, customer experience, where to zoom, so they actually not only dreaming big of where you want to take things, but actually really understand the experience of the consumers or the customer going to have so that you can make it the best it can be. Because, you know, to your point about product place, price promotion, we know that people are striving for, you know, experience exchange and so on instead. So how do we make sure that it moves from a product proposition to actually an experience that they are willing to buy into?


00:19:48:22 – 00:20:06:07

By the way, here’s a trick for customer experience. The tip No. One is as a marketer, never claim you own the customer experience because you don’t. I mean, think about, you know, the United Airlines case where they were dragging a paying passenger plane is watching.


00:20:06:09 – 00:20:15:04

Right. As a marketer, you never, ever owned the customer experience. The customer experience is the result of everything the company does. And by nature, you don’t own this.


00:20:15:09 – 00:20:28:08

In fact, claiming you own it, in fact, measuring it and then telling it’s your job to make it better. You’re setting yourself up for a very big failure because you can never deliver that.


00:20:29:17 – 00:20:59:10

Use the trick that finance uses. Why is finance so powerful? The finance doesn’t bring customers. Finance doesn’t run the business. They don’t invent products. All they’re doing is telling everybody else how they’re doing. Think about finance would never claim we owned the business. They’d say, no, it’s not our job, but we’re telling you how it’s good. Marketers can do exactly the same. Many markets have data and if they don’t, you can very easily get data like basic data on what customers think and what have you.


00:20:59:12 – 00:21:05:12

You don’t claim you’re in charge, but claim you’re telling everybody how they’re doing.


00:21:06:09 – 00:21:28:26

And when you do and when you produce inconsistent reports that department A is doing great. Department B, and so-and-so and department C is always a problem with customers. And you continuously shared the data, by the way. It’s a very sharp weapon, be careful. And you can put yourself in a very powerful position because it’s no longer your job to fix it. But you have the transparency and it’s their job to fix it.


00:21:29:06 – 00:21:36:21

And that’s when the power of the customer experience and marketing come together. I agree when you’re the voice. Yeah, but you like finance, right?


00:21:36:23 – 00:21:49:17

You’re neutralized, which means you to tell people fix it. So that’s my advice. My tip is don’t claim you own it. My advice is find a way to tell everybody else how they’re doing, do it consistently and put you into a position of power.


00:21:49:19 – 00:21:58:12

Yeah. Great piece of advice. Get the organisation working cross-functionally to deliver that ultimate experience, not taking full ownership. I love that. So far, it’s very, very true.


00:21:59:05 – 00:22:04:15

So thinking back to your marketing career, have you got any highs or lows that you’d like to share with anyone?


00:22:06:15 – 00:22:16:05

The lows were all the moments. Again, so I did something I shouldn’t have done in marketing. I love a story that starts with I did something I shouldn’t have done.


00:22:16:11 – 00:22:46:11

I was once in charge, a very iconic product to take a lot of technology to make people can’t really do without it. And some people have taken the bathroom in the bedroom, of course, you know what I mean. I was in charge of kitchen towel. That was my brand. And people told me, grow this brand and it was everything in the bag of my tricks. You know, I, you know, advertising, promotion, you know, new packaging, new designs. I you know, I really went all in and I grew this brand. I did. In fact, it was it was a success.


00:22:46:16 – 00:23:29:00

It grew on time. My boss was happy and I actually got a promotion out of it. The truth is, I should not have done this because he was the brutal truth about kitchen towel. Customers don’t care. In fact, I sometimes felt that kitchen towel only exists to make every other product look really interesting. And this is a market that is about no price or about like a radical innovation. Yeah, we were a high cost firm. We didn’t have a radical innovation. We should have sold this business then and not 10 years later, for I think in the end it was like one dollar because I destroyed a ton of value by simply just following my job description.


00:23:29:02 – 00:24:03:15

That was stupid. Now, at the time, I didn’t know better. But with hindsight, I think that was and when I realized this, in fact, I wrote my MBA thesis about it. That was that really depressed me because I felt I’ve just now written up by the last couple of years. I basically did the wrong thing. So that was my career low. I think that also there was a time of budget cuts and I quit. The high were actually not long ago. I had the idea in 2013. It took quite a while to build. We did this, we had people on the course and now people are coming back and saying, this has changed how I’ve done my career.


00:24:03:17 – 00:24:36:04

It was a success. So these moments when all of a sudden a big idea that I had long time ago and wasn’t sure whether it was the right idea and people were laughing at it because leadership and marketing seriously is not big. If you think about it, the market leader is the only currently and I think I hope you will change this, which is awesome. But one of the very few leadership books for marketers, in fact, it was for a while the only leadership problem and nobody cares. And there are very few causes that talk about this. So when you start something like this that doesn’t exist, there’s typically a reason because people aren’t interested.


00:24:36:23 – 00:24:46:15

But when this then turns into something that is over some years as powerful, that was quite rewarding. And that call from the one person I was actually half a year ago is probably one of my career highlights.


00:24:46:24 – 00:24:55:01

That’s great. I love that. Any opportunity and platform when you’ve got a passion to be able to spread the word just lights you up on the inside doesn’t it. Wonderful?


00:24:55:03 – 00:25:04:11

I always finish my podcast with another juicy question, which is what one piece of advice would you give for marketers of today or tomorrow?


00:25:04:13 – 00:25:19:08

The main piece, I would say is in marketing, don’t work hard, work your way up and then hope one day that will make you influential. It’s the other way around.


00:25:19:27 – 00:25:28:27

Very early on, learn how to influence so all the great ideas you have actually have a chance to make it.


00:25:29:13 – 00:25:35:05

That’s really powerful. The power of influence. Thank you so much for your time today, Thomas.


00:25:35:24 – 00:25:49:05

Well, thank you for having me. And it was a joy to be here. And I wish you personally, I wish you a lot of luck with your book, the Whole Marketer that’s coming out. And I do hope people will read it because we need more influential marketers.


00:25:49:09 – 00:26:02:17

Thank you. That’s so kind, Thomas, thank you for your time again. Today was a pleasure. Thank you. Thank you for tuning in to the Whole Marketer podcast. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. Please do click follow below for more weekly podcasts, Thank you.




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