Today’s marketing leaders are being asked to take on more responsibility and lead initiatives that expand beyond brand growth to data-driven innovation and differentiating customer experiences. With these shifting expectations comes the need for marketers to expand their leadership capabilities as well, as the stakeholders they must influence swell beyond marketing into many more (and different) business units.

For many marketers, this will involve a shift from operational leadership to strategic leadership. Different business units have different histories, different challenges, different goals, and different reasons for why things can’t change. Requests to do things differently made at a tactical level most probably will meet resistance unless stakeholders understand – and buy in to – the reasons for why.

And “why” is difficult. It must justify a shift in focus from short-term tactical wins that fulfill business unit quotas to longer-term strategic goals that affect the organization as a whole.

Strategic leadership is all about getting numerous and diverse stakeholders to buy in to the why. It requires taking a broader view and articulating a vision that promotes success across the entire organization. It involves linking the present to the future and formulating a plan for how to get there. It demands cultivating a community that is ready, willing and able to work from a shared sense of purpose.

For many marketers used to leading at an operational level, this shift from tactics to vision can seem overwhelming and uncomfortable. Marketers can take a shortcut, however, to defining an effective vision. While enterprise-wide customer experience initiatives is one of the things requiring marketers to develop broader strategic leadership skills, customer experience also is the thing that can provide focus and structure to “vision and purpose” that cuts across business units.

Where vision can seem esoteric, customers and their needs are concrete. Where strategy can seem cold and rational, the highs and lows of a customer’s experience of an organization can create empathy. Where serving the bottom line may not spark inspiration, serving customers can provide a sense of purpose. Defining the aspirational goals for your overall customer experience can provide the vision that congregates disparate stakeholders into a cohesive organization with a shared commitment.

Vision is not strategy – it’s part of the toolkit of strategic leadership that provides motivation for organizational change. An effective vision makes the abstract concrete, and for many organizations, focus on your aspirational customer experience is an easy route to common understanding.

For more on developing a digital vision (subscription required), see “CMO Perspective: Develop a Digital Vision That Sticks” (ID G00321073).

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