Marketing amidst mass corporate culture shifts – it’s a two way street

2019 CEO studies by PwC, Deloitte, McKinsey, Gartner, Forrester, IDC –they all say the same thing:
digital business remains the CEO’s #1 priority.

In a recent study, PwC asked CEOs to grade themselves on the company’s use of data to drive digital business initiatives. They compared how CEO’s responded based on two factors: comprehensiveness and criticality. How comprehensive is the data the organization collects and analyzes versus how important or critical is that data to digital business success, the 5 biggest gaps CEO’s believe they have:

  1. Data on customer needs: Are customers happy?
  2. Data on brand reputation: Are we trusted and respected?
  3. Data to compare against industry peers: Are we unique?
  4. Data on risk exposure: Are we safe?
  5. Data on employee needs: Are employees engaged?

To best answer these questions, we explored what CEO’s believe enables digital business success, and it came down to three: data, technology and talent. Given these are the top 3 digital business enablers, we looked to see if CEOs are putting money where their mouth is relative to these enablers – where is more of the new money going?

  • Data: 77% of the new money is to close the comprehensive vs critical gaps we discussed above.
  • Technology: 74% of the new money is going towards technology to help drive workforce productivity and efficiency – to make the workforce more performance minded.
  • Talent: 64% of the new money is going towards changing the culture to be more data centric and move faster.

The one thing about digital capabilities and information technology spend…it’s worth nothing unless your people and your culture embrace the change.

The 10,000 foot view

80% of enterprises will change their culture by 2021 as a way to accelerate their digital business strategy. 89% of CEO feel that culture directly impacts the bottom-line metrics of the organization

Baby boomers are retiring. GenXers are climbing the ranks. GenY & GenZ now make up 59% of the global workforce. Corporate cultures are shifting because they have to.  The cultures of the past are not made for such a diverse, digital, mobile and collaborative workforce. No wonder CEO’s say talent management is a top digital business enabler. At the same time, no wonder more employees in the US changed jobs in 2018 than ever before – 40 Million of them according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s safe to say that culture has a huge impact on job satisfaction. A recent Gartner study found that the number of employees regretting their job decision increased nearly 50% over the past decade

So, who owns culture?

Ultimately, the CEO owns the culture, but when it comes to making culture change happen, they look to the CHRO (People) and the CIO (Technology). Not surprising, considering talent and technology are 2 of the top 3 digital business enablers. Corporate Executive Board’s Future of Work 2019 study found when it comes to driving employee engagement and growth, technology is the number one lever to pull – more than skill development or rewards and recognition.

73% of human resources leaders believe that significantly changing the technologies employees use for work will drive better engagement & enable growth. 

This not only aligns to the CEO’s digital business enablers and investment priorities, it also aligns to what 88% of CEO’s stress the CIO’s top priority is – increasing employee productivity and organizational efficiency. In other words, being performance driven. This is evidenced by Gartner’s projection that 70% of CIO’s will have invested in some sort of employee collaboration platform by 2021. No doubt, technology is where CIO’s and CHRO’s find common ground. This is why many CEOs anoint them the agents of change and task them with building a collaborative culture.

Collaboration cultures drive results.

According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2019, nearly one-third of organizations have adopted a collaborative culture. When asked: How much work is done in teams vs. hierarchical functional lines? 31% of companies said most if not all work is done collaboratively in teams. And, thus far over half (53%) of the companies that have built collaborative cultures have seen significant results relative to bottom line metrics around innovation, recruiting and retaining talent, customer experience, strategic initiatives, growth targets, and revenue and profits.

Right now my head’s spinning from stat-overload, so let’s recap.

  • CEOs say digital business is the priority
  • CEOs recognize they have gaps in digital maturity
  • CEOs invest “new money” in digital capabilities, technology and culture
  • CEOs anoint CIOs & CHROs the drivers of culture change
  • CIOs & CHROs see technology as their primary path
  • CIOs and CHROs build a collaborative culture
  • Collaborative cultures drive results
So what does all of this mean for marketing? It’s a two-way street

I go back to the original digital business gaps: Are customers happy? Are we trusted and respected? Are we unique? Are we safe? Are employees engaged? These very questions are at the core of our market[ing] research


At the 10,000 foot view, our mission is to tell a company story through our go-to-market that sparks interest. In order to do this, we need to answer one simple question: are we trusted and respected? If our customer’s mission is to build a collaborative culture, then are we living up to their needs as a trusted and respected brand that enables said culture?  At the same time, are we enabling their brand to be trusted and respected.

At the 100 foot view, our mission revolves around customer success and optimizing their experience with us in order to build an army of advocates. Answering the simple question “are customers happy?” is the basis for our research.  If our customer’s culture is rooted in productivity and efficiency, is the customer experience we deliver actually productive and efficient – for them?

The 1000 foot view

Where the rubber meets the road is square in the middle of our research aperture – the 1000 foot view. Enabling digital business cannot start and stop with being a trusted and respected brand and knowing if our customers are happy.  The path from customer needs to brand and back again travels through the buyer. The product story we tell is all about enabling the buyer and giving them reasons to engage with us. Here we center our research on the levers we can pull (data, technology, talent) that not only help buyers be unique, safe and engaged, but prove that our product is unique, safe and that our employees across the organization help our buyer answer these questions. Again, it’s a two-way street. Yes, we as a vendor want to be differentiated and deliver value to our buyers, but at the same time, our buyers want to feel they are delivering differentiation and value to the employee base and customers they serve.

If we fail answering these very questions (Are customers happy | Are we trusted and respected | Are we unique | Are we safe | Are employees engaged), and fail at enabling our buyers to answer these questions inside their own organizations, then we both fail being a trusted and respected brand.  And if that happens, neither of our customers will ever be truly happy.

Market vs. Market[ing] research: striking the right balance

When it comes to market research projects, what is the optimal research mix?
Too many companies do market research for market research sake. There must be a clear focus for the research and it must support business objectives. One thing we learned as a market research and product marketing team is striking the optimal balance comes down to three words: clarity, conviction and confidence.

Clarity comes when the research we do consistently points us to the same market problem and the market opportunity to solve it.  Conviction comes when we know we have effectively identified and defined our target buyers making up the buying committee and mapped the buyers’ journey.  Confidence comes when patterns emerge in our customer data that paint a clear picture of our ideal customer profile, and our buyers’ ideal customer experience.

We break our market research projects and priorities down by what we call our research aperture:

  • Clarity – 10000 foot view:  Our vision for this stage is to define the market problem and business needs. Here we look at big macro market trends. In our world it’s stuff like digital transformation, generation shifts in the workforce, the gig economy and associated increases in employee turnover.  We look at how these macro trends impact IT and Security priorities at the C-level and thus technology budgets and spend.
  • Conviction – 1000 foot view:  Our vision for this stage is to identify our ideal target personae and their pains. We focus on identifying the target decision makers, influencers and motivators that make up our buying committee and their challenges. We then map the buyers journey and identify the role each member plays at each stage of the journey and the information they need to move from one stage to the next. What we end up with is a fully baked buyer enablement map that shapes our content strategy.
  • Confidence – 100 foot view: Our vision for this stage is define our ideal customer profile. Here we rely most on voice of customer data. This is the aperture where we map the ideal customer journey from purchase to on-board to education to adoption and usage to advisory and advocacy. We do countless customer interviews and look for data patterns identifying opportunities to optimize the customer experience at every stage of the journey. Optimize the customer journey and we optimize retention, expansion and ultimately build and army of customer advocates.

Here is a general breakdown of the approach:


When it comes to striking the right balance, it depends on where you are in your go-to-market maturity relative to your aperture (market, buyer, customer).  We found that most of our 10000 foot view macro-level market research activities are baked.  We know our company story and direction – we have clarity.

Today, it’s more about building conviction and confidence and prioritizing the 1000 and below aperture.   The beauty of the 1000 and 100 foot views is that they are highly actionable and have the ability to drive immediate results. We have moved from market research to market[ing] research with two clear objectives and goals:

  • Buyer Insights – The 1000 foot view:  Focus our research on enhancing the product story and optimizing how we enable the buyer to move through their journey. It’s all about engagement. What messages work, what content, in what formats through what vehicles. Are we providing the information they need to continue to engage and move through their buyers journey?  We do this in close partnership and collaboration with our digital demand and field marketing teams.
  • Customer Insights – The 100 foot view:  Focus our research wholly on customer success with the goal to optimize the customer experience and their journey from purchase to advocacy. Very similar to buyer insights, customer insights focus on answering many of the same questions: what messages work, what content, in what formats through what vehicles. Are we providing the information customers need to  move through the customer journey?  We do this research in close partnership and collaboration with our customer marketing and customer experience teams.

In the end, our research mix came down to the level of clarity, confidence and conviction we have in the market problem, the target buyer personae and their pains and our ideal customer profile.  We’ve spent the last 12+ months doing the work and we’ve checked those boxes.  How do we know?  The business objectives and goals for the year tell us we are ready.   So, now it’s time to shift our mix and start focusing on research that helps the sales, marketing, customer experience and product teams deliver results.  That’s where the fun is…research that drives results – go figure.

Sales kickoff season – the perfect time for everyone to find focus, find balance.

It’ that time of year where we start mapping business goals to marketing objectives and key results (OKRs).  It’s therapeutic because it feels like a fresh start, like clicking the reset button on a new year.
It’s our job as leaders to find the focus and help our teams prioritize time, energy and attention to the stuff that matters. I  committed to this in my previous post – finding the balance from working all the time to timing all the work.  This is easier said than done.  I refer back to a post titled “How Agile Marketing Combats Burnout.”  Ironically, it was posted exactly one year ago today, so it must be that time of year.  The post talks about “The Plague of Context Switching” and that research shows the more stuff we add to our plate, the more distracted, frustrated and stressed-out we get, and the more time we waste. We lose our focus.
Lose focus. Lose Balance.
The same post cites  the 2019 Marketing Happiness Report from MarketingProfs that found a shocking 73% of marketers fail at completing work because we keep getting interrupted by more work.  The work comes from leaders, marketing peers, or  others throughout the organization who may have their own goals, objectives and thus priorities.  What our teams end up with is massive  backlogs of tasks, and if we look closely, many may not even align to the goals and objectives we set as marketing leaders.  The end result – we miss the very results we are driving our teams to accomplish.
“We’re psychologically hard-wired to finish things, so if we leave a task undone our brains can’t let it go. Our focus will remain split until we’re able to check that item off our to-do list.”
Find Focus. Find Balance.
As marketing leaders, we need to agree on our core objectives / priorities / focus areas – our OKRs.  We all need to be on the same page in how we message our OKRs to the greater marketing team and cross-functional partners. The leaders of our cross-functional teams need to understand our OKRs and identify how our may (or may not) align to their own.  Most importantly, we need to empower our marketing team members to say “NO” to the things that don’t align. MarketingProfs highlighted that we are failing miserably at this.  When they asked marketers how often they say “NO” to projects that come across their desk:
  • 12% never say no
  • 41% say no a few times per year
  • 14% say no a few times per month
  • 4% say no a few times per week
  • 3% say no every day
  • 26% I don’t have the autonomy/authority to say no

More than half of marketers (53%) either never say no, or say no only a few times a year, and 26% believe they do NOT have the autonomy or authority to say no?! No wonder our teams have massive backlogs. No wonder we are forced to divide our time among tasks, thus giving the more critical work less of our mental energy and focus. What we end up being is a bunch of context-switching, multitasking,  task mastering tacticians.

Finding focus starts by cutting our backlog.  Research shows that if we cut our backlogs in half,  the time to complete projects is cut in half.   It’s a perfect time to do so. It’s a new year with fresh goals, objectives and desired results.  Imagine if we could take any project or task on our plate that fails to ladder up to our goals or objectives and de-prioritize, or better yet, decommission.  We should all take a good long look at what’s on our plate and make that call.  I am going through this very exercise with my own backlog and that of my team’s.

Last week was our 2020 Global Kickoff. We learned our corporate goals and objectives for the year.  We know what we need to do. Now, as leaders, it’s up to us to prioritize and empower ourselves and our teams to focus. We find the focus, we find the balance. And in the process, have a lot of fun delivering results.

Embracing the change in my Talent DNA


In a leadership role, I’m a believer in playing to one’s strengths – including my own.  I’m also a believer in building upon one’s strengths, and that true balance comes from harnessing your strengths both personally and professionally.  That said, I’m a fan of Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment. It defines strength as “Your Talent DNA – the ways you most naturally think, feel and behave,”   and it follows one simple formula:  Strength = Talent x Investment. I recently took my strengths assessment for the second time in 3 years, and my talent DNAhow I naturally think, feel and behave – changed.  I took the time to reflect on how and why strengths change and what it means for me and my team.

My Talent DNA in 2016

I took the CliftonStrength Assessment (aka StrengthsFinder) for the first time in 2016 and told me I lead with Strategic Thinking.  In 2016, my top 5 strengths were:

  1. Achiever – You work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. You take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.
  2. Strategic – You create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, you can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
  3. Relator – You enjoy close relationships with others. You find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
  4. Includer – You accept others. You show awareness of those who feel left out and make an effort to include them.
  5. Maximizer – You focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. You seek to transform something strong into something superb.

I’m a believer in the power environment has on the way one thinks, works, and relates to others.  When I first took the assessment in 2016, my environment was much different. My kids were in their mid teens.  Our 1 year old chocolate lab puppy became a tripawd.  We were in the middle of completing a home remodel and I was traveling 3 weeks out of the month – everywhere from Seattle to Singapore.  I had just changed employers. I moved from an established large, publicly traded technology manufacturer with three competitors to a software start-up one thousandth the size in an industry with thousands of companies competing for buyer mindshare. I moved from being a relatively remote worker to an environment where I was physically sitting side by side with my marketing peers. I was a people leader for the first time. My team was a team of 2 – myself and 1 direct report. The pace was a thousand times faster and in my new role, the stakes were higher.  No wonder I thrived on being busy and productive, quickly spotting opportunities for improvement and making sure I included and maximized the strengths of my team. I was playing to my strengths.

My Talent DNA in 2019

Fast forward to 2019, and my environment was much different. I have a daughter in college and one touring colleges. My chocolate tripawd was still an energy sucking lab at age 4.  I was traveling much less but working much longer hours (my love can attest to that). In the 3 year span, my team grew from 1 to 4 to 8 direct reports. We were still finding ourselves and our groove competing for mindshare in a security software space that is crowded, complex, and wrought with chaos.  I was filling in for my boss who was on maternity leave. I was speaking up more, directing & delegating more and forcing myself to focus on execution because time was not a luxury. We were on the cusp of something big –  waiting to be sure we dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s was not an option.

Needless to say, my environment had changed. I took the CliftonStrengths assessment a second time in 2019,  and my top 5 strengths shifted, some quite dramatically. I went from being a Strategic Thinker in 2016 to being Execution-minded with my top 5 strengths being:

  1. Achiever – You work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. You take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.
  2. Consistency – You are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same. You crave stable routines and clear rules and procedures that everyone can follow (moved up 26 positions in the 34 CliftonStrengths).
  3. Learner – You have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. The process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites you (moved up 6 positions in the 34 CliftonStrengths).
  4. Competition – You measure your progress against the performance of others. You strive to win first place and revel in contests (moved up 22 positions in the 34 CliftonStrengths).
  5. Includer – You accept others. You show awareness of those who feel left out and make an effort to include them.

Being an “Achiever” and an “Includer” remained core strengths in my top 5 which is not surprising given my personal discomfort  with downtime and a lack of acceptance.  I’ve always been curious, so “Learner” moving up 6 spots feels right. (Heck, I titled my blog myndfuel 5 years ago for a reason).  What surprised me most were the dramatic shifts relative to my needs for “Consistency” and that I thrive on “Competition.” Incidentally, my strengths as a “Relator” and a “Maximizer” – what feels like the opposite of competitiveness – shifted from my top 5 to my bottom 10 in the 34 Clifton Strengths. What the hell is going on!? Have I become less of a team player? Have I lost focus on the growth and development of my team? Is it all about me? That was my immediate reaction and in all honesty, harsh opposition to my new found “strengths.”

I shared my results with my team and reflected on the 3 year span between assessments.  A lot happened in 3 years.  My very environment changed. I had a larger seat at the table – a table of decision makers, drivers, directors, delegators.  I was forced to adapt to this new environment and establish new strengths that centered on getting sh*t done.  I came to the realization that I had a team of rock-star marketers that I could trust and confide in. I was given the luxury of not having to be involved in every single decision they made. I reflected on the fact that in my 3 year journey, my team would tell me, “give us more, we got this, and we got your back.” My very strengths around being a relator, includer and maximizer actually paved the way for my team to want to take on more.  They allowed me to get a lot more focused on getting the sh*t done that I believed mattered most – and that required full focus.

Full Focus.

Focus is defined by Clifton as “the powerful ability to prioritize, set goals and work efficiently, avoiding time-consuming distractions and staying on track toward an overall objective.” A big part of my  journey included adopting Michael Hyatt’s  Full Focus Planner – a Christmas gift from my previous manager and now friend.  I started the Full Focus Planner in January 2017 and have committed to it every quarter since. I established a rigor around breaking down annual personal and professional goals into quarterly, weekly and daily goals – the little wins.  When it came to getting sh*t done, I had to prioritize, commit, drive and track to results and outcomes on a daily, weekly and quarterly basis.  No wonder the “Focus” strength climbed from #21 in 2016 to #6 in 2019.

In January 2019, I went through a similar reflection and committed to some things that needed more focus:

  • Balance – from working on work to working on me.
  • Meetings – from meetings taking time to making time for meetings.
  • Rituals – from letting things happen to making things happen.
  • Leadership – from wanting perfect strategy to executing imperfect plans.
  • Teamwork – from prescribing their path to trusting their journey.
  • Growth – from adding up little wins to little wins that add up.

Looking back, I did pretty well staying focused on four of my six guiding principles. Admittedly, I still have a lot of work to do in the time department. I’m a bit off-balance. That said, following Chris Brogan’s lead, I’m committing to my three words for 2020:

  • Build – from my personal to our personnel brand
  • Believe – from seeking all the answers to trusting all the work
  • Balance – from working all the time to timing all the work.

As leaders, our environment is in a constant state of change. If it wasn’t, then we would never challenge ourselves, push ourselves, grow or develop as leaders.  The same is true for our teams.  Leadership is not only about embracing the change around us. It’s about guiding our teams through that change and embracing the change in each individual team member – starting with yourself.

Good enough is no longer good enough


Seventy-seven percent of information security leaders say that the most significant risk to an organization is employees doing their jobs however they want, with no regard to data security protocols or rules. When asked if your company experienced a data breach in the last 18 months, what was the cause of the data breach? 50% of information security leaders said it manifested inside the company as a result of an employee action. Incidentally, only 28% cited external actors (e.g. hackers, ransomware, malware).

89% of information security leaders believe the fast paced cultural model of their business puts their company at greater risk of data security threats.

Knowing their stance on culture, we then asked Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) about their priorities. Despite CISOs’ belief that fast paced culture models, employee risk and workforce culture changes rank last in terms of their priorities.  So we asked, how good is your security for data risks that manifest inside an organization (aka those “no one wants to admit they exist” –  insider threats).

Their answer: It’s good enough.

“Good enough” is probably the worst answer you want to hear to any question about security, yet that’s often the “brutal truth” and it’s no longer good enough.

I’m sure CISOs love it when vendors say, “it’s not a matter of if insider threat happens,  it’s a matter of when.”  I argue it’s not even a matter of when – it’s a matter of fact.  It’s already happening and happening everyday. Working for a security company that focuses on data risk detection, we do a ton of research and our research draws a clear correlation between growing insider threats the very culture change many CEOs are driving.

80% of enterprises will change their culture by 2021 as a way to accelerate their digital business strategy

The external forces of culture change are too strong to ignore: Boomers are retiring. GenX is climbing the ranks. GenY is now the largest segment of the workforce, and Gen Z is beginning to enter the workforce in mass. Such forces are defining the new digital workforce, and with it, new attitudes about data:

  • 72% of employees believe their work is their property
  • 60% of employees admit to taking data with them from job to job
  • 8 of the top 10  collaboration tools employees use are in the cloud

Given the attitudes of this next-gen workforce around data and the growing insider threat problem, shouldn’t the CISO take a proactive security strategy to future proof the digital business culture? Shouldn’t CISOs be at the center of the culture change?   Shouldn’t the CISO have a seat at the culture change table?

We say yes. It’s time for CISOs to be viewed as business enablers and not blockers. It’s time the CISO is viewed as a partner in driving the very data-driven, performance-based and collaborative culture digital businesses need to succeed. If 80% of enterprises will change their culture by 2021, then the CISO is there to secure it.

(Source: Code42)