Don't be a casualty of 'tiara syndrome', says Nationwide's CMO
A view from Sara Bennison

Don't be a casualty of 'tiara syndrome', says Nationwide's CMO

Nationwide's chief marketing officer Sara Bennison shares the advice that has guided her throughout her career.

Proverbs endure as there are some universal truths that remain, however much our world changes. So this week’s life lessons will sound suspiciously familiar.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link

With the explosion of channels, marketing is more than ever a team sport, with brand reputation only as strong as the weakest creator of its experience.

What goes around comes around

Teams operate on trust. The end never justifies the wrong means. Personal values and reputation trump all.

Fortune favours the brave

Nothing brings a team together like a clear ambition and sense of purpose. Defining those and bringing them to life is my job. It’s something that marketing folk should excel at.

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys

When I say team, I don’t just mean the people working for you directly – I mean the agency partners who will be the engine room of much of your success.

Being respectful is what wins the hearts and minds that will spark the brilliant thought upon which success is built. Having had a career straddling both sides of the fence, I know which clients attracted the discretionary effort that delivered market-beating return on investment.

One-half of the world does not know how the other half lives

Great ideas start with true insight and an openness to views that are not yours. It’s all too easy to live in a bubble, which is why I love retail businesses as my most inspiring days are those spent with frontline colleagues and the people we serve.

Children and fools tell the truth

Insight is not the preserve of focus groups. My most reliable research methodology is Lottie – my daughter is interested in my work, definitely no fool and has saved me from many mishaps with her unvarnished feedback.

Fine words butter no parsnips

Lottie, like your target audience, can sniff out dodgy spin like no-one else. Which is why, though I love words, it’s the action that I always start with. The cake before the icing.

A fish always rots from the head down

It’s important not to overthink things. If life were purely rational, there would be a negligible role for marketing. Keep your "gut feel" exercised and don’t ignore the physical, instinctive response to an idea or situation.

A miss is as good as a mile

The point of a powerful brand is to give your business the incremental advantage over others doing effectively the same thing. That’s why every detail has to be obsessed over.

Don’t change horses midstream

In a fast-forward world, the lure of "the next big thing" is very seductive. Enduring success means sticking at something long enough for people not so fascinated by your brand to notice and care.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Challenging times present the most extraordinary opportunities. Joining the world of financial services for the first time a week before Lehman Brothers’ collapse meant that I have had no shortage of that.

From a global economic perspective, none of that was ideal. However, as a marketer, what an opportunity to rewrite the rules of the sector and the role of the brand.

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness

I’ve come to the conclusion that being an eternal optimist is the most important personality trait in our world. Every day is about seeing possibilities and lighting the way within and beyond your organisation.

If anything can go wrong, it will. Although that has to be mixed with healthy paranoia or, as many people have called it, my "witch’s instinct".

And finally… it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease

This one is primarily for women out there who are still outnumbered at a senior level, wondering why they have been overlooked. Sheryl Sandberg calls it the "tiara syndrome" in Lean In – waiting for someone to "crown" you for your quiet, dutiful endeavours and then losing out to someone noisier and seemingly more shallow.

I’ve learnt to find an authentic way to "squeak" – cringing at seeing my face on this page but hoping that it helps others to become the best version of themselves.

Sara Bennison is the chief marketing officer at Nationwide. She has previously worked at ad agencies and at brands including Barclays, where she spent seven years, most recently as chief marketing officer.