Every company, product, and service starts as a dream, which is one of the reasons I believe dreams are the most powerful force on the planet.
And yet as powerful as that force may be, most companies and most brands will die full of potential. To be clear, some don’t deserve to survive. They’re either relevant but not distinctive, distinctive but not relevant, or worse yet, neither relevant nor distinctive. However, many companies and brands that are both relevant and distinctive die or don’t achieve their full potential. Why?
One of the root causes is they lose sight of the dream. Compounding the issue: Far too many leaders today dream vaguely and dread specifically. When the dream for the company or any initiative within the company is vague, it lacks teeth, and the organization will default to focusing on all the dreads and things that could go wrong. This paralyzes you from taking meaningful action—and prevents you from unleashing the full potential of your company or you as a leader.
Dream Like You Mean It
As a CMO, one of your most important challenges is to ensure that the entire organization dreams specifically and dreads vaguely—rather than the opposite, not only with the overarching dream for the company, but also for any new marketing campaign, innovation program, or new brand launch. Each of these initiatives should have its own specific dream, and yet so many that I see with my clients are vague. I often see vision statements like: “We want to be the market leader.” Or: “The role of brand X is to act as a fighter in our portfolio.” These are vague dreams.
As a leader, you should make these as consumer-centered as possible, as specific as possible, and as time-bound as possible. Keep everyone’s eyes on the specific dream, and they will be better equipped to address the issues (dreads) one by one. One of John F. Kennedy’s dreams was very specific: that within a decade, the U.S. would send a man to the moon and bring him safely back to earth. (That last part’s important!) We had no idea how to do it, but stayed focused on the specific dream, addressed the issues one by one, and achieved the dream ahead of schedule. Had the dream been vague, we would have been paralyzed by all the challenges we needed to overcome and it would have never happened.
Climb The Ladder Of Intentionality
With your specific dream in hand, as CMO you need to ensure that everyone in the organization—from the CEO on down—is highly intentional about the specific dream. This is what I called the “ladder of intentionality.” You can’t just write something down in a memo and hope it will drive the organization to action. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been much less effective had he just written his dream down in a memo.
You have to declare your intentionality in such a way that the whole organization is talking about it. That’s the highest rung on the ladder. How many times have you seen the CEO of a company declare the dream of the company to be more innovative, but change little in the structure or processes to enable it to happen? That’s low intentionality in action, and it’s crippling. The higher you climb on the ladder, the more intentional you get. No matter where you or your team is on the ladder today, put an action plan in place to climb higher and enable the specific dream for the company to come to life.
Ready Yourself, Your Crew, And Your Ship
With a clearly articulated and specific dream and a high level of intentionality, you are now in a position to ready yourself, your crew, and your ship. All too often, in my work with companies of all sizes, I find poorly thought-through strategies. In fact, what are often articulated as strategies are nothing more than objectives. Many of these are due to a lack of thorough analysis, training, testing, competitive analysis, etc.
What are you going to do and how are you going to act in a way that is unique to your company and will give you sustained advantage over time? To get to really powerful strategies, you need to ensure that you, your organization, and the entire company is planning and preparing well. Michael Phelps would never have become the most decorated Olympian of all time if his dream had been vague, his intentionality had been low, and if he’d failed to ready himself and his crew. He had a very specific dream, was highly intentional about it, and pursued distinctive and competitively advantaged training and preparation strategies. There were no short cuts. The same applies for you and your business.
Summon Your Courage
Having worked through the three steps above, you must now help the organization build the courage to set sail—to untie the lines and venture out into the unknown—to do things that have never been done. Amazon had never been done before. Neither had Microsoft, nor Facebook, nor Tesla.
You must have the courage to keep going in the face of adversity, remembering that everything is difficult before it is easy. You must summon the courage to trust yourself and your team—because barring a few exceptions, you can’t do it on your own. You must have the courage to ask for help and give it. If you don’t ask for help, you will not learn and you’ll fall short. Practice building your courage on a daily basis on the small stuff, and you’ll be prepared to be much more courageous on the big stuff.
At a foundational level, your role as CMO is to increase consumer demand for your brand so that more people will buy more of your product or service, for longer and (typically) at a higher price than the competition. The failure rate at this is over 80% in consumer goods and services. Approaching your challenges by dreaming specifically and dreading vaguely; climbing the ladder of intentionality; readying yourself and your crew; and summoning your courage will increase your odds of success and help you ensure that yours is not one of those companies that dies full of potential.