Re-Humanizing Marketing: Five Teams Of Executives Collaborate On A Purpose-Driven Approach – Forbes

Half a trillion dollars. That’s the amount spent on marketing worldwide, every year. There is power in that amount—and responsibility.

To tackle that responsibility, Forbes Ignite and Smartsheet are reimagining how the profession works and how it can be used as a force for good in the world. That half a trillion dollars can work for all of us—but it will take a broad effort to make it happen.

For starters, we brought together a community of purpose-driven marketers and executives who are dedicated to creating a human-centered way of doing business that unites positive impacts with profits. In a world that’s evolving rapidly, these marketers sought to find ways to create change—in order to generate impact within the industry and move it forward.

In teams, the workshop participants started brainstorming—each tackling a specific question. They discussed, disagreed and iterated. In the end, they developed five ideas that provide viable pathways forward.

As businesses are forced to become more agile, an effective implementation of the strategies uncovered could alter the way we do business. That’s where Smartsheet comes in. Smartsheet is the platform for dynamic work. It transforms the way organizations work, enabling greater agility, action and effectiveness so that businesses can compete in a constantly changing world.

While we’re still at the beginning of the journey, here’s a look at the teams’ new approaches to create more human-centric marketing.

Their ideas explored how to:

Clockwise from top left: Mark Stouse, CEO, Proof Analytics; Karuna Rawal, CMO, Nature’s Fynd; Andy Peart, CMO, Artificial Solutions.

One group of marketing executives tackled how to create broad consensus at speed and scale. The central idea is that if leaders decentralize decision making, they can build a culture of employee empowerment. That would allow them to more quickly achieve consensus by serving only the pertinent information to the right stakeholders at the right time. 

True consensus is essential not only to avoid major mistakes, but also to create employee empowerment that breeds amazing customer experiences. Because the process of consensus is so slow, most organizations prefer top-down dictates or half measures that give the illusion of consensus. These decision makers also fear a loss of control because of potential poor outcomes and a perceived loss of status and power.

Decentralized decision making does not mean that managers become less valuable. But their role needs to shift from “command and control” to “coordination and empowerment.” To incentivize senior leaders to loosen their grip, they need something to compensate for their perceived negatives. One solution is creating a digital process that drastically reduces the time it takes to review and approve plans, releasing managers to take on their new role across a broader portfolio of responsibilities than would otherwise have been possible. This creates a sense of empowerment among leaders rather than a fear of loss.  

Communicate with all stakeholders about how the new process will address previous problems and positively impact each stakeholder’s results. One approach to incentives is to gamify the digital decision-making process, where each participant can earn points for fulfilling their part. Consider creating a user-friendly and fun digital template to make the collaboration feel like playing a team sport. Assign each participant a role where they score points by fulfilling their part of the process. Those who go above and beyond get extra points tied to perks and compensation. Simplicity and ease of use are key to success.

Clockwise from top left: Nick Stagge, CMO, Wooly; Soyoung Kang, CMO, Evolution of Smooth (eos); Sarah Muckler-Visser, Director of Microsoft Partner Ecosystem, Microsoft; Pete Brace, Marketing and Development Lead, Northwestern University; Mame McCutchin, Director, Ogilvy.

In reimagining marketing, chief marketing officers can enable their employees to create positive behavior. Key to this, according to this team of executives, is redefining how success is measured across an organization. Connecting short- and long-term goals is key—to tie a company’s short-term financial interests to its long-term investments in doing good.

List important causes, then create a ranking approach to assess how well they align with the values of stakeholders and the organization’s capabilities. Select the causes that meet the criteria. This approach aims to automate and streamline as much of the process as possible. That makes it easier to get initial buy-in and long-term commitment.

When people closest to the work can make decisions and innovate themselves, marketers can pivot and make an impact in a human-centered way. Crucial to that is linking executive, individual and departmental incentives to a more long-term focused measure of return. Making sure that framework is consistently updated and tracked creates a way to get everyone to understand the long-term consequences of short-term actions.

These new incentive structures can be imposed by companies on each other through contagious processes, and bottom-up through customers who hold the companies accountable. It would be ideal to create this model with the collaboration of analysts from Wall Street. This will ensure their buy-in and make it more realistic for a company to be rewarded by investors.

Clockwise from top left: Rex Briggs, Chairman & Founder, Marketing Evolution; Erica Thompson, CMO, Human Health Project; Kevin Dunckley, Chief Innovation and Sustainability Officer, HH Global; Arya Barirani, CMO, Global Logic; Ellie Mirman, CMO, Crayon.

For true purpose-driven change, this team of marketers explored how to sync the values of an organization, its employees and its customers. One approach is to build a community of brand champions and critics that will serve as a sounding board. This community can help companies avoid missteps while providing immediate answers to important questions about day-to-day work products.

Align internal stakeholders around the vision of not only listening to customers and stakeholders, but also making them a part of the extended team. If customers who provide quality feedback feel like a valued part of the team, they are more likely to engage frequently. Include your organization’s critics in the exchange of ideas. This can also be an opportunity to turn critics into champions through active listening.

Ask employees to invite a handful of their friends, including both those who love the company and those who are critical, to participate in the community. Starting with people who have a personal connection to the company will create the best chance that individuals will be motivated to participate. Position the group as a way to bring these individuals into the internal decision-making process in a way that makes them feel respected. 

Research shows that CEO engagement is a major factor in building trust. To show respect for the community at the highest level, include a post from the CEO explaining the company’s proposed positioning and actions—and how the company plans to create a positive impact while still making money. If people have to ask, “How do you make money?” they won’t trust the initiative is authentic.

Clockwise from top left: Genefa Murphy, CMO, Microfocus; Elizabeth Paul, Chief Strategy Officer, The Martin Agency.

Lack of transparency creates a lack of trust. Lack of trust erodes lifetime customer value. For a truly human-centered approach, the CMOs in this group stressed the importance of incentivizing companies to be as transparent as possible—without imposing arbitrary rules and regulations. Transparency doesn’t happen by accident; it’s a concerted effort to communicate and requires well-documented processes that cut across silos.

On the flip side, highlight the damage to the brand’s reputation due to lack of transparency, in a world that is a far more transparent place than it used to be. An organization’s stakeholders have higher transparency expectations, and they can seek out information from third-party sources. So the company is better off controlling the message.    

Creating a mechanism for transparency to stakeholders and the public will discourage backsliding and build trust—which leads directly to profitability. Start with a digital template that lists areas where a company could be more transparent, evidence of transparency and a scoring system. Relevant stakeholders in each company will need to fill out such a transparency assessment alongside an internal ombudsperson or auditor to keep the process honest. Assign the required transparency levels for each area, rewards for those who score higher and accountability measures for those who fall below the desired scores.

A company’s total social impact can reach its full potential only if its partners adopt good behavior as well. Creating contagious processes means that companies, and their impact, are woven together. Otherwise, whatever positive actions the organization undertakes will be offset by misbehaviors among vendors and partners who produce key parts of its service. Therefore, companies should also require all suppliers and partners to complete the same transparency assessment and score above a designated threshold in order to renew or expand contracts. By specifying that all suppliers will be judged for contract renewal and increases based on their scores in this assessment, a powerful set of incentives is put in place to transform the entire value chain.

Clockwise from top left: Nick Davis, Faculty Chair of Innovation, Singularity University; Lisa Johnston, CMO, AVEVA; Michelle Killebrew, VP & Head of Marketing, PwC Ventures; Peter Horst, CEO, PSB.

With many worthwhile causes—and many action opportunities for brands—it can be challenging for companies to know where to start. This group of CMOs found that the best actions are those that leverage the strengths and capabilities a company already has. Companies can use a framework to reveal such capabilities, some of which may not be obvious, that can play a role in solving societal challenges.

This approach assures skeptical stakeholders that the actions taken to solve societal challenges are strategic and aligned with the company’s financial goals. Creating a framework helps ensure choices can be made more logically and consistently. Such a framework should also have a scoring system to assess the real-life impacts that the company’s actions have on the intended beneficiaries. A feedback loop incorporated into this process enables continuous improvement while also assessing the impacts of the actions the company takes. 

Listen to customers, communities and employees to understand how they view the social challenges of the changing world that the company should be addressing. Make sure to consider all the pressing issues of the day, such as systemic racism, and the role that your company can play in helping solve them. 

Many companies are uniquely positioned to tackle specific issues. Financial institutions can use their knowledge and resources to promote saving, thus helping to ease economic inequality. Technologically savvy companies in different fields can contribute to digitally created equality by, for instance, creating mobile banking systems for the unbanked, or providing remote access to education. Make sure to also explore capabilities that are less obvious. For example, companies with big fleets of cars moving around the country can ask their drivers to alert organizations fighting human trafficking if they see suspicious activity.

Moving Forward

The implications of these findings position marketing as an impetus for change. By creating new measures of economic success—accounting for the well-being of all stakeholders and connecting short-term actions with long-term goals—companies will be forced to think about the future today. When executed with a compelling set of incentives, some of these approaches can even create widespread change among partners and suppliers. 

But this work is just beginning: Each idea requires a more detailed and practical plan, and a way to connect them into one comprehensive effort. The success of this new strategy for change will depend on its execution, which is in turn contingent on the ease and efficiency of implementation. This approach envisions a framework that merges the best of human effort with the best in technology to effect change for the better.