Marketing Leadership in the Digital Age


What’s the difference between traditional leadership and digital leadership?

“Digital leaders are made—not born,” said Harvard professor, author, and entrepreneur Erik Qualman during his keynote speech at the Executive Conference during the 2015 SAS Global Forum in Dallas. He was addressing a ballroom full of senior marketers who were there to learn more about leadership in the digital age.

Qualman, author of Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business, said that today’s marketing leaders have to know when to apply tried-and-true principles—and when to infuse digital savvy into their strategies: “You simply can’t replace face-to-face connections. But it’s the great companies that figure out that balance.”

So how can marketers find that balance?

Qualman said that it’s all about playing to your company’s strengths. To do that, marketers must follow a simple acronym: STAMP, which stands for simplification, truth, action, mapping, and people.

“Simplification means chucking the idea of multitasking,” he explained. “Essentially, you prioritize one task over another.” Marketers should recognize that this is true for not only their teams, but for customers, too. He says, for example, that audiences almost always are on multiple devices while watching television. So, why not simplify that interaction with your brand? In 2012 Volkswagon created a Super Bowl commercial for Passat—with no dialogue. Take a look:

Viewers didn’t even need to turn up the volume. In essence, marketers at Volkswagen simplified the experience for consumers so that it was easy to engage with the brand’s message. “People were able to comprehend dialogue without dialogue; very simple,” Qualman explained.

Being true is the next step to leading in the digital age, and it’s all about finding your passion. “Write down—in 140 characters—what you want to show up when you Google your name or brand,” he insisted. “In other words, focus on your digital stamp; we all have one.”

In addition to simplification and truth, integrity in the digital age is an absolute essential for a brand. Consumers want to trust a brand—and its values—before making a purchase. “It used to be that integrity is what you stood for behind closed doors, and reputation is what you were known for in public,” Qualman explained. “In a digital world, they’re now one and the same.”

As marketers begin to consider these steps, they need to also take action. Qualman said that doesn’t just mean listening to current and potential customers—although that’s important. It means genuinely responding, taking action, and fessing up when your team has made a mistake: “It’s about being flawsome. All of us have flaws, including companies. When we make a mistake, open up to it, and then take advantage of it.”

He says that marketers need to also map out the digital landscape, rather than just jump into platforms such as social media or mobile, without a plan. Figure out what’s truly organic to your brand. And connect with people; don’t be fearful of praising someone in public. “Post it forward,” Qualman said.

As he wrapped up his final remarks, Qualman encouraged marketers to try new ideas and tools, and of course, not to be afraid to leave their digital footprints: “I’d rather fail than not even try.”

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