Marketers must be curious and recognise their egos, say Post Office and Virgin Media CMOs

In an Advertising Week Europe panel session, top marketers from the Post Office, Virgin Media and Marks & Spencer shared their take on the biggest challenges facing business leaders aiming for growth.

Post Office CMO Pete Markey: marketers must understand what's happening in the business
Post Office CMO Pete Markey: marketers must understand what's happening in the business

Marketers need to stay curious or risk falling behind, said the Post Office’s outgoing chief marketing officer Pete Markey, who will become brand communications and marketing director at Aviva from 1 May.

Too often, business units fail to be curious about the business around them - I’ve worked places where people don’t know the core numbers of how their business makes money

Markey said that it was important for marketers to be both "internally and externally" curious - meaning to take an active interest in goings on in both their competitive set, and within their company - and warned this could be easy to forget, especially for a market leader.

"You’ve got to have an external lens, of being curious about your competitors, the industry and the sectors you’re in," he said.

"When you are a business in the strongest position, sometimes you don’t feel like looking out your window, because you think: well, we’re number one, we don’t need to look.

"And I think that’s a very dangerous position. At your peril, you ignore competition, you ignore that curiosity.

Markey also called on marketers to take a keener interest in their own workplaces.

"Too often, business units fail to be curious about the business around them," he said. "I’ve worked places where people don’t know the core numbers of how their business makes money or how things work.

"Don’t just be a marketer team sat over here, doing what you do, but be curious and interact with the teams around you.

"What drives the other functions? Get involved with HR, the customer team, find out what’s going on in the organisation."

Leaders without egos don't exist

Kerris Bright, chief marketing officer at Virgin Media, told the audience that business leaders needed to acknowledge their own egos in order to collaborate effectively.

Making sure you can move very quickly in a way that makes sure everyone feels involved and connected is a massive challenge

"Every job spec I see asks for a leader without ego, but those things don’t exist," she said. "You have to have ego to want to drive and do something.

"But to really transform businesses requires huge amounts of collaboration at the top.

"Trying to balance those behavioural skills that have maybe helped you cut through and stand out on your way up, to then be the leader of a business and to need to really collaborate - that’s a conflict for some people actually, it’s something that people struggle with."

Markey and Bright were speaking at a panel session on the ‘Secrets of Growth Drivers’, discussing the findings of the Growth Drivers Study, a piece of research by Brand Learning.

The study identified seven hallmarks of growth drivers: Customer centricity, Cultivating talent, Commitment, Courage, Curiosity, Collaboration and Conscious speed.

The third panelist - M&S' director of loyalty, customer insights and analytics Nathan Ansell - identified conscious speed as the most challenging of these to achieve. 

"There's a very high need to collaborate across our organisation, and making sure you can move very quickly on the right things in a way that makes sure everyone feels involved and connected is a massive challenge," he said.