Daniel Burstein

Corporate Creativity: Managing your marketing team (and career) to balance innovation and execution

October 28th, 2014

You, my friend, are a knowledge worker.

All marketers are.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it was first coined by management guru Peter Drucker in the 50s.

Of Drucker’s six factors for knowledge worker productivity, the one I want to discuss in today’s MarketingSherpa blog post is:

“Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.”

This sounds like the perfect description of the challenges facing the modern marketer today.


Come up with out-of-the-box ideas (while sitting in a box)

Corporate CreativityNo longer can you rely on reaching potential customers by running a TV ad on the three major networks. Marketers must find innovative ways to use an endless (and growing) array of channels to reach customers.

They must combine smart uses of data and metrics to understand what their customers want and make sure they are delivering that content effectively (while proving the effectiveness to business leaders).

They must also combine this innovative thinking with persistence and process-orientation. After all, marketers must be able to execute these campaigns in complex corporate environments while managing budgets, agency and vendor relationships and corporate policy.

Essentially, marketers need corporate creativity.


Is corporate creativity an oxymoron?

“Creativity” is defined as “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”

Also, the connotation of “corporate” is “Oppressively awful in that numbingly ‘cubicle in a hermetically-sealed office’ kind of way: lacking good quality, morality or ethics, excellence, creativity, spontaneity, kindness, love, integrity, beauty or intrinsic worth and meaning,” according to the ever-reliable Urban Dictionary.

In other words, these two aspects of marketing success do not necessarily go hand-in-hand  — innovation and execution.

It is your challenge as a marketing leader to make sure your team (and even your agencies and vendors) never lose that wild spark when working on your brand and campaigns.

Yet, they must be able to execute, manage projects and deliver on time and on budget.

Quite the conundrum. It’s a challenge that deeply interests me, so when I recently came across an article by Joe Robinson in Entrepreneur magazine, “The Secret to Increased Productivity: Taking Time Off,” I knew I had to talk to Jeff Stibel, CEO, Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. and author of Wired for Thought from Harvard Business Press and Breakpoint from Palgrave Macmillan Trade.

“When you’re thinking about a problem, it’s confined to one or two regions in the brain, but the solution may not be in those areas,” Jeff said. “By resting, the information sits in your brain and then percolates across other sections of the brain.”

Jeff has a unique perspective on the issue because he’s not only a businessman — his background is in studying the human brain. He earned a Masters of Science from Brown University for graduate study in cognitive and linguistic sciences.

He understands the balance necessary between the go-go-go, always-on, always-executing corporate mentality and the artist in all of us who needs what he needs to come up with creative ideas. After all, innovation cannot be captured in a project plan.

To help make this happen at his company, the approximately 700 employees at Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. can choose from recovery options such as yoga classes, spinning, surfing lessons, massages and significant flextime.

I interviewed Jeff to give MarketingSherpa blog readers some ideas for improving how they manage their marketing teams and their own careers, and he shared the importance of testing and how he uses the “failure wall.”

However, I wanted to balance this new knowledge about the brain with a discussion about the mind as well, so I also interviewed Lisa Nirell, author of The Mindful Marketer: How to Stay Present and Profitable in a Data-Driven World.

Lisa also has a unique perspective when it comes to marketing, bringing her experience in Buddhism, yoga and meditation to the world of corporate marketing. Lisa is, as the title of her book suggests, an advocate for marketers to take a mindful approach and to create healthier, more sustainable organizations.

We’ve recently given away Lisa’s book in the MarketingSherpa Book Giveaway, and this week we’re giving away Jeff’s latest book — Breakpoint.

Below is the edited interview with Jeff Stibel and Lisa Nirell:


“Encourage failure” and combine “mindfulness and critical thinking”

MarketingSherpa: Modern marketing takes an interesting combination of skills. You need to understand data, but you of course still need that creativity. And with the growth of digital, previous deadlines that forced marketers to have a break between projects (having to FedEx creative executions to out-of-town clients, go-to-print dates, etc.) have been replaced by always-on digital platforms that are endlessly hungry for campaigns and content.

How would you advise marketers adapt to this new way of working? What have you seen successful and unsuccessful marketers do?

Jeff Stibel: Test, test and test. Marketing today is less about big brand advertising and creative and far more about iterative design. The old adage of not knowing where 50% of marketing is going is just that — old.

The new model is to leverage data and micro-campaigns to deliver results through evolution. Marketing campaigns should start small, evolve and grow.


MS: Glassdoor recently released a list of the “20 Best Jobs for Work-life Balance.” Of them, five are often found in marketing departments or agencies (data scientist, SEO specialist, social media manager, user experience designer, corporate communications).

How do you define work-life balance? Do you find marketers that have a good work-life balance? And why is it important (or unimportant) to the ultimate marketing performance of their companies and clients?

JS: I think I have a different view than many on work-life balance, and it’s this: If you love what you’re doing, you don’t need to be balanced.

All too often it seems that “work-life balance” is a euphemism for a balance between things you hate to do and things you actually like to do, and I don’t think those two things should ever be balanced. I’d prefer to spend close to 100% of my time doing things I want to do, and that’s a possibility when you love your work.

All of the positions you mentioned are exciting jobs that involve challenge and growth, so it makes sense that those people feel a better sense of balance. Life’s simply too short not to love your job, and I believe that marketers have a leg up because marketing is such an exciting, constantly changing field.


MS: Can you tell us about a major problem or two you overcame in your career? How did your work style benefit you in overcoming those problems?

Lisa Nirell: In 1999, my dream job came to a screeching halt. At the time, I was a Senior Partner with a top sales consultancy, OnTarget. The founder of OnTarget sold the company to Siebel Systems (now Oracle), and our culture changed quickly.

We shifted from being an entrepreneurial, innovative $50M consulting firm to a pimple on the behind of a $1B elephant. Overnight, the focus went from client intimacy to optimizing efficiency, from delivering valuable services to driving more software license sales.

Neither my values nor my work style aligned with Siebel’s, and I made a horrible employee. I was a fish out of water. My business coach helped me discover my true values and ideal life. His coaching and my extended family gave me the courage to plan my exit. I created a strategy to walk away from a high-paying, ostensibly prestigious position. I have never looked back.


MS: We’ve mostly talked about advice to the marketers themselves, but now let’s talk about advice for anyone who runs or leads a marketing team. Jeff, you run a company with 700 employees. What do you do to maximize your employees’ productivity, creativity and effectiveness?

Lisa, you research CEOs and CMOs. What advice would you give to other leaders?

JS: If you encourage creativity and passion, the rest will flow naturally, and one way to truly encourage creativity is to encourage failure.

At my company, we converted a plain white wall into a “failure wall,” where employees, partners and guests write down their mistakes and what they learned. Putting a failure on the wall is much more of a badge of honor than an embarrassment. When failure is destigmatized in a company culture, it gives everyone free rein to do more than just make a safe choice. It gives them free rein to do something truly innovative, even if the first few times (or the first 100 times) don’t work.

LN: Mindfulness and critical thinking are the secret sauces for today’s marketing leaders. I define mindfulness as staying present and focused on the task at hand in a non-judgmental way. It is a quality that can help us navigate through this digital age and respond in a balanced, thoughtful way to whatever our customers and stakeholders throw at us.

Carol Stratford, former Vice President of Marketing of Miraval Arizona, fostered these qualities as soon as she joined Miraval in 2011. For example, in lieu of indoor, seated 1:1 weekly status meetings, she made extensive use of the Miraval amenities. Carol told me “I take one of my team members every week, and we walk around the property. We are able to discuss things we might not do in an office setting.” She also attended 60% of Miraval’s programs in her first few months of joining. This accelerated her learning curve, provided a direct perspective on the guest experience and helped her embody Miraval’s values.

Her efforts contributed greatly to Miraval’s financial performance. During her tenure, they celebrated eight out of 12 record months in the history of the resort in terms of revenue and occupancy and won an innovation award from iSpa for a new online guest tool called MyMiraval.


MS: What can startups learn from enterprises, in terms of keeping their knowledge workers able to come up with novel solutions to their challenges and vice versa?

LN: This question is tricky because it assumes startups can and should learn from enterprises. Let startups first focus on the “must list.” They must identify their perfect customer. They must be committed to disrupting the status quo or standing out from extant competitors. They must create a predictable stream of revenue, and they must create a sustainable, mindful culture that is driven by a noble purpose.

Once they have reached that stage, it makes sense for them to emulate companies that have reached the next rung.


Photo Attribution: Mr. Fish


We’re giving away Jeff’s book — Breakpoint — to five lucky winners in this week’s MarketingSherpa Book Giveaway.


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Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

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