Sunday, April 06, 2008

Servant-Leader Marketing

“So, the fact is, I’m curious as to what you think of the idea of Servant-Leader Marketing?” asked the Chief Marketing Officer as the meeting was finishing up.

“You’ve of course heard of Servant-Leadership?” he said. No doubt noticing my dumbfounded look, he continued. “It’s about leading by serving the needs of those
you lead.”

Not wanting to appear as if I had forgotten to read the latest Harvard Business Review, I responded, “Yes, yes, of course.”

“I find it sometimes helps to change the language before trying to convince people to change their actions,” he said.

Back at the office, I immediately went online to check out the definition of Servant-Leadership. Reading what it said, I saw how the CMO could be on to something.

Wikipedia defines it this way: Servant leadership is an approach to leadership development, coined and defined by Robert Greenleaf and advanced by several authors such as Stephen Covey, Peter Block, Peter Senge, Max De Pree, Margaret Wheatley, Ken Blanchard, and others. Servant-leadership emphasizes the leader's role as steward of the resources (human, financial and otherwise) provided by the organization. It encourages leaders to serve others while staying focused on achieving results in line with the organization's values and integrity.

Now if you just take that last sentence and substitute the word “brands” where it says “leaders,” it would read like this. It encourages brands to serve others while staying focused on achieving results in line with the organization’s values and integrity.

In other words, what the CMO is proposing through Servant-Leader Marketing is for brands to start serving consumers, rather than continuing to demand that consumers march to the beat of the brand’s drum.

Yes, it’s about giving up control. But what I find interesting about Servant-Leader Marketing, is that even though the brand has given up control, it’s still leading the process.

In other words, it’s a way for brands to regain control by relinquishing it.

Kind of interesting when you consider how control has already shifted over to the consumer in regards to the way they receive a brand’s messaging. Fruitless as it may be, the majority of marketers are still trying to prevent this shift from happening.

Lookng backwards instead of forwards.

A Servant-Leader Marketer, on the other hand, would understand that they are regaining control by allowing consumers to have control over when, and if, they watch the brand’s advertising.

It’s interesting to imagine how the digital platform would change if brands started to think that their role was to lead by serving the needs of viewers.

Is forcing viewers to watch by disabling fast-forward capabilities serving the needs of viewers?

Is intruding on a viewer’s program, not once, but repeatedly, in the course of thirty minutes, serving the needs of viewers?

You know the answer.

The fact is, everyone knows the answer.

But still, little is done to affect change.

So maybe this CMO is onto something by suggesting that if we change the language first, a change in our actions will follow. After all, by giving this new way of marketing a name, it starts to legitimize it.

Which, in turn, makes it easier for others to adopt.

If nothing else, it would at least allow every CMO to ask themselves the same question. Are we practicing Servant-Leader Marketing?

And, if not, then what is it exactly that we are doing?

And, even more importantly, why?

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