5 Lessons in Marketing, Branding and Life from a Marketing Veteran


Last week, 2,800 marketers descended on Orlando for the Association of National Advertiser’s “Masters of Marketing” conference.

While this event didn’t have any formal connection to our similarly named series about marketing, it did underscore something that I think about a lot: it takes inspiration, dedication and moxie to create breakthrough marketing.

While I got to see some of marketing’s brightest minds wax poetic last week, I was particularly awe-struck by Jim Stengel’s speech. Stengel offered his “5 Lessons in Marketing, in Branding, in Life,” a return to a 2008 ANA speech that he gave while still the marketing guru for Procter and Gamble.

Now, on his own, Stengel’s lessons are still the same, with a few caveats.

#1 “Effective, inspiring leaders put people at the center of all they do.”

I couldn’t agree more with Stengel here. “Talent and organizational energy is the ONLY competitive advantage today,” he said. “Everything else can be copied, your unique blend of people and culture cannot.”

The biggest trap among managers and leaders is to over-manage and over-lead. But most of the time, great leadership is setting a tone that inspires and motivates. There’s no need to micromanage when your team regularly goes above-and-beyond to create amazing work.

Stengel goes on to share some sage advice from Warren Buffet. “Always work with people you love and respect.”

#2 Engage Your Hearts and Minds in Everything You Do

That was Stengel’s advice in 2008. In 2014, he added “on your customer’s terms.” Megan Garcia, Altitude’s resident social media whiz, is always reminding me that marketing is no longer B2B, but “H2H: Human to Human.” And like any genuine human relationships, putting your heart and mind out there in a compassionate way will always trump self-interest. “We must be there for our customers all the time – 24 hours a day – because they indeed expect it.”

#3 Focus on Your Business, Brand and People 

The constant demand for productivity can often make us forget the big picture. Stengel shared this frankly terrifying statistic: “Some brand managers spend 80 percent of their day in meetings to coordinate their activities with those of other internal groups.”

It’s easy as a CMO to get caught up in the moment on specific goals, benchmarks and tasks. But every now and then we need to sit down, think, re-evaluate and re-frame.  Are those activities really worth it?

#4 Creativity Rules

“In an IBM survey of 1,500 CEOs,” Stengel notes, “creativity was ranked as the most important leadership competency in the future.” We’ve talked about creativity a lot before here on the Altitude blog, but it’s such an important (and complex) topic that it always bears additional scrutiny.

One quote from Stengel resonated with me: “The enemy of creativity is the fear of failure.” On one end, your personal confidence and motivation can make or break you in the creativite world. But from the standpoint of a manager, stop and think, am I creating a culture that inspires fear or fearlessness?

#5 Have a Purpose

Stengel points to companies like Google, Nike and Pinterest as examples of companies that “have a higher order ideal at their center, and activate it in all they do, grow faster than their competition.”

There are two facets to this: first, your employees need purpose and passion. Compensation is a fine motivator, but nothing motivates better than passion. Secondly, companies need purpose to connect with their consumers.

Stengel’s speech, while my favorite, certainly wasn’t the only memorable event from the ANA conference. Check out AdWeek’s amazing coverage for more.