Act with audacity and lead at speed

"The world is in perpetual motion, and we must invent the things of tomorrow. One must go before others, be determined and exacting and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity."

Words spiralling through history that are relevant to ambitious marketers today. The inspiring widowed wine-maker the Veuve Clicquot wrote this in 1860 to her great-grandchild, urging a sense of urgency and audacity.

Marketers today need to operate at pace, with intelligence and with courage, in a world which is perpetual (and perplexing) motion. How do we do this?

The need for speed
We are emerging from a decade of disruption in business. Game-changing tech advances have driven it, and an epidemic of impatience the result. The hot breath of the shareholder pushes change and our audiences expecting everything superfast, in Amazon Prime-swipe time.

The need for speed for business leaders intensified even more dramatically as we’ve had to respond rapidly to COVID-19, sprinting to change and pivoting at pace. The pressure has been intense and the lessons learnt this year have been remarkable.

Pace-setters act with velocity
Research for my book Superfast: Lead at Speed (published by John Murray Press) explored sustainable ways to navigate this pace race. Analysing 100 business leaders around the world we discovered the strongest were those who didn’t just respond by rushing, but who learnt to be pace-setters; to ensure they built in pauses to think and plan, but who also structured to move fast when needed. Their secret was also understanding the difference of acting with velocity; speed but in the right direction. Great leaders set the direction and help teams move with purpose as well as pace.

Marketing matters
In this fast-moving, fast-changing world, those who work in marketing are key. To succeed, businesses must keep pace with the complex, changing expectations of their audience. Understanding and tracking the rapidly evolving customer or consumer expectations is the responsibility of marketing. An organisation which is truly customer-centric makes high-velocity decision.

Marketers are the connectors, those who join up thinking inside business and connect the consumer to commercial outcomes. But, despite the fact that marketing excellence and leadership has never been more urgently needed, those in the industry are under serious pressure every day. While audience expectations are changing at warpspeed, so are the ways in which we can respond and the choices we have to communicate with, track and understand them. This is time-consuming and complex to navigate.

As well as dealing with decisions around data, marketers also need to be exceptional communicators. ‘Of course!’ I hear you cry. And yes, they need to communicate to their audiences externally but today so much of the challenge is communicating internally; justifying investment in straightened times, bringing the brand to life ‘inside-out’ and influencing organisation decisions. All done with no certainty or guarantees.

When the world is this way, marketers need to be brave. To stand out and do things differently requires courage from those leading, to zig when others zag and to act without certainty. The fastest-moving tech cultures, like Google, have always employed people who are ‘comfortable with ambiguity’. Pattern-recognition from the past is no help when the future is changing so quickly. We need the smartest people in marketing to also be bravest with calculated risk. This is not an easy job and all the most impressive marketing leaders I know reflect on how alone they can feel.

The power of connections
The answer to this lies in a recognition that we cannot do this alone. Great marketers have always recognised the power of connections (between ideas and people). I joined as Global CEO of The Marketing Society this year. We’re network of progressive marketers who work together to empower brave leadership; helping each other do well in our careers and do good in the world. We understand we can do more when we don’t do it alone.

This starts when needing to think differently. ‘Borrowing brains’, seeking diverse perspectives and working with thinking-partners will dramatically accelerate abilities. Anyone who likes to go faster likes a shortcut; learning from others' experiences is a brilliant way to speed up decision-making. Our network share ideas, stimulate thinking and encourage each other to be changemakers and groundbreakers, to innovate and accelerate, to lead organisations that make an impact and make a difference.

A community of connections helps support each other and together set an amazing agenda in a world that’s moving superfast and shows no sign of slowing down.

A leader recently described this year as ‘Ninja-hard’ times which I prefer as a description to the cliché of unprecedented. The incredible Veuve Cliquot transformed the champagne industry through widowhood, war and revolution. Great things are possible, even in tough times, when marketers lead with the support of others and are ready to ‘act with audacity’.

This article is contributed by Sophie Devonshire, CEO of The Marketing Society.