Lessons for marketing leaders, from Steve Jobs

28th November 2019
Author: Nick Mason
Posted in: Impact & ROI, People, skills and leadership

When Steve Jobs transformed Apple’s entire marketing strategy in the 90s, it laid the foundational changes that turned the company into the giant it is today. Being able to make these huge changes is something most CMOs can only dream of. Getting the rest of the c-suite to place their trust in marketing is becoming an increasingly difficult task, as expectations of marketing and marketing’s activities fail to align. Here’s how I think marketers can make Steve Jobs-like impacts to their businesses and bring marketing into its golden age:

What’s going on with marketing?

What do all of these brands have in common?

List of various brands who had CMO movement in 2019They all had their CMO move on in 2019, according to Spencer Stuart’s latest CMO movements list. They comment: “Transitions are happening at an unprecedented rate”.

Why is there so much turnover at the top level of marketing? Dr Kim Whitler argues that fundamentally this is down to a lack of alignment between the CEO and the CMO. 

At least 70% of CEOs now expect CMOs to lead revenue growth. In fact, according to Gartner, the number of CEOs saying that growth is one of their top three business priorities has increased by 32% since last year.

Many also believe that they’re wasting money on questionable marketing activities, which I find particularly interesting considering we live in the data era where everything’s reportable and capable of demonstrating ROI.

The (not quite) golden age of marketing

Something that I don’t understand about marketing is that we should be entering a golden age, but we don’t seem to be there yet.

Buyers now complete 70% of their journey online. More and more buying stages are completed by interacting with digital materials and not speaking individually with face-to-face salespeople. These interactions that are needed to generate revenue for the business are increasingly mediated by marketing.

I was at a roundtable recently where a marketer heard that stat and responded:

“Great, all I need is another 30% and I can get rid of the sales team altogether.”

Whether we agree with her statement or not, it’s clear that marketing is moving people towards the sale far more than it was before.

And what do all of those digital touchpoints give us? Data. Insights. Information we can and should be feeding back to the business about our audiences.

Shot of a group of programmers working together on a computer code at night

Everyone has some sort of digital device in their pocket. The amount of data to be mined for insights is going to grow exponentially over time. We should be the source of all information for the business – what our customers like, what they don’t like, what worked, what didn’t work, where they’re based, what trends are appearing – this is stuff that we should all be looking to have our fingertips on because this is the future of the business.

Surely digital opens the door to far more impactful ways to communicate with our audience, while simultaneously providing the data and insights we need to actually close more business? So why doesn’t this seem to be happening and why are CEOs expressing frustration with marketing?

What would Steve Jobs do?

You might not think of Steve Jobs as a marketer, but if you watch interviews with him it’s pretty obvious that he thinks like one. When Steve came to take over Apple in the 90s, everything he changed was relevant to marketing – he scrapped complicated product lines, simplified messaging, and redefined Apple as a brand backed by passionate people hungry to change the world. 

Steve truly believed in his changes and because of that, they were expressed throughout everything the company did. This shows that when marketing thinking gets into the right places and is supported in the right way, we can do amazing things. 

Look at Apple today. Is it a technology company or a marketing company? It sells smartphones and computers, sure, but how much do we actually know about how it compares to android?

Various phones on a table

What we really see is their marketing. Companies like Samsung have really caught onto this in the last few years. If you look at their adverts they’re all experiential, emotive, and based on what the brand means to the individual. They don’t talk about megapixels and gigahertz anymore. 

The battle isn’t decided by who has the best tech, but by who has the best marketing. Your product has to be at a certain level of quality, of course, but it’s the marketing that persuades and convinces people to actually buy.

Steve Jobs is obviously a genius, so how can we mere mortal marketers get into a position where we have the same ability to make these changes?

Experience is the new battleground

With the majority of the buyer’s journey now being completed online, the experience that we offer throughout these digital touchpoints becomes of paramount importance. And this is echoed by several studies.

Forbes says that 90% of global 500 execs recognize that the experience we offer is the new B2B battleground. Forrester finds that 72% of businesses now say improving their customer experience is their top priority.

Since this is all taking place digitally, marketing should be taking the lead on this.

Bridging the gap between marketing and sales

Focusing on experience is something I think marketing is naturally drawn to. But we have to go beyond this if we want to elevate our position within the business. And, yes, that means looking at the sales side of the coin.

A new study by Forrester Consulting, on commission by Turtl, found that there’s a disconnect between what marketing is doing and what sales needs in terms of data:

  • 94% of sales leaders say their firm struggles with generating insights from marketing-created content and experiences.
  • The majority say marketing rarely provides content and insights to help move deals forward.
  • But marketers did not rank this amongst their top challenges.
  • The majority say marketing needs to provide better insights to aid qualification, cross-sale opportunities, and buyer motivation.

Read the full study here:Gif of the front page of a Turtl Doc

The marketing arsenal

Marketing has so much potential in the battle for change. We have numerous tools at our disposal which can bring real value to the business.

Firstly, we can generate deep prospect insights for sales as touchpoints become increasingly digital. All of the data we’re collecting should be fed back to sales to help them close more deals, speak to the right audience, close quicker, drive more revenue, spot cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, etc. The interactions with our content are gold dust to salespeople.

Secondly, we can spot missed opportunities. Data doesn’t just tell us the things we’re looking for, it also tells us things we didn’t even know to look for. Where are the opportunities that are slipping through the net? Is there demand and interest in areas we don’t know about? How can we start to deliver on these things?

Thirdly, experience. While this is something B2C marketers are already doing well, I think there is a big push among B2B marketers to emphasize customer experience. Cisco, for example, realized that it was putting all of its energy into its products, when really it needed to be fostering relationships with customers and prospects through creating better experiences with its brand.

Be more Steve Jobs

I recently saw a slide at a conference by someone from Salesforce. It said that marketers have a huge amount of data, all we have to do is figure out how that data can help us advocate for change.

When you use data to prove the success of a marketing activity, you build trust. When you have more trust, the business allows you to make more changes. This positive loop raises marketing’s position within the company and gives us more influence than we’ve ever had before.

To make the kind of changes Steve Jobs made to Apple, marketers need to stop being on the backfoot and look towards driving the agenda. We’re living in an increasingly digital world where people buy online, interact with digital content, and generate data constantly. If marketing truly owns this part of the business, they hold the keys to the future.