How do I convince my boss to modernize our marketing?

modernize our marketing

I’ve taught at Rutgers University for nearly 12 years and I’ve received some form of this question in most of them: “I’ve learned a lot, and I know we need to modernize our marketing, but how do I convince my boss?”

Most of my students in these university classes are mid- to senior-level marketing professionals and are frustrated about being locked in an outdated business mindset. They want to move ahead to a process that is more human-centric, rather than advertising/broadcast-oriented, but how do you move an organization along with you?

Here’s the good news. I know how to do it and I’ll tell you today. Here’s the bad news: It’s not easy.

Support from the top

Here is a very short story with a powerful lesson:

My first marketing job was in a large company before the days of email. Hard to believe, right? My boss at the time stubbornly resisted the move to email. He said he wanted every message he received to be documented, on paper, and in a file in a desk drawer.

One day, his manager — a powerful vice president at the corporate headquarters — called my boss to ask why he had not been responding to his emails. Truth was, my boss had never even logged in! Within five minutes of this call, my boss was on email for the rest of his career.

What happened here?

  1. There was an entrenched anti-progress culture.
  2. My boss could not be influenced to change by me or anybody working for him.
  3. Change happened quickly when the person at the top actively demonstrated an expectation of a new work habit.

And that’s how it works. It really is that simple.

There’s no such thing as a grassroots cultural change. Organizational change comes when there is not just an understanding at the top, but a demonstration that this change is part of a new way of doing business.

I define “leader” in this case as the person in an organization responsible for strategy, owns the budget, and is at a high enough level that everybody who has to change ultimately reports to that person.

For example, let’s say your boss says, “It’s time to modernize our marketing,” but to for this to work, the change has to be supported by both marketing and sales (another department!). It’s not enough for just the marketing leader to support you. Both of these departments funnel up to somebody on the org chart and that is the person who has to sponsor the change and get everybody on board.

The sticky problem of “convince”

modernize our marketingThere is an important and intentional word in this headline — “convince.”

Whenever I hear that word in a question, I wince.

Hearing “convince” means the boss is probably not on board. If the leader isn’t advocating the change, it won’t happen.

As I demonstrated in my little email story, simply agreeing to change or saying the words “it’s time to modernize our marketing” is not enough. A boss has to demonstrate that change by:

  • Personally demonstrating support of the change
  • Asking questions about progress in staff meetings
  • Institutionalizing the change through measurements on a dashboard
  • Making this expectation part of a performance review process

This is a critical point.

If a leader puts out a memo simply SAYING that we need to modernize our marketing without actively showing it, your detractors will sense this is just another “program” and wait it out, or actively work against you until it inevitably fails. The leader has to actively show relentless and continuous support and hold people accountable if the change is going to occur.

Great leaders pursue change

I don’t want you to be discouraged by this reality. Most great leaders WANT to understand. They know they need to adapt and adopt to be effective.

So, in many cases, cultural change starts with education. It could be passing along relevant articles about new marketing realities, bringing in an outside expert, hosting lunch and learn sessions, or even creating a bit of anxiety by pointing out that competitors are taking the lead.

In my experience, great leaders will listen to compelling threats and opportunities. They’ll want to know what they need to do to pivot and remain competitive (i.e. employed!).

The real problem occurs if a leader is weak, bureaucratic, and close-minded. The reality is, the culture will not change in that case and you’re stuck. You’ll either have to come to terms with your situation and wait for this person to move on, or find a better work situation.

That’s my view of cultural change in a nutshell. Executing long-lasting change is complex and I don’t want to over-simplify the task, but it has to start at the top. Hope this helps!

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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