Blog Post

Leadership lessons from NorthStar Connect 2023, and the power of putting people-first

analytic partners
analytic partners 05.24.2023

American rock climber Tommy Caldwell could have cut his legendary ascent of the Dawn Wall by over a full week. Instead of summiting alone and climbing straight into a warm bed, he decided to wait for his partner to overcome a challenging pitch so they could complete the journey together, making history in the process.

This story from our annual NorthStar Connect’s keynote speaker was particularly poignant considering the many conversations over the course of the event about the need to bring people within an organization along the journey to drive adoption of analytics programs. Over the course of the exclusive, two-day customer conference earlier this month, marketing leaders from across industries discussed how to rebrand the role of marketing, expand the definition of what’s possible, and the importance of putting people-first.

Three critical key leadership characteristics identified throughout the event were:

  1. The ability to educate others. Whether or not you should schedule office hours is debatable, but marketers must become professors of their business in order to disabuse notions that website conversion rates and customer acquisition costs are telling the full story of value creation. By relying on ‘report card’ metrics like ROAS or fragmented campaign measurement, organizations are lacking the comprehensive view needed to grow the business.

    Leaders must build faith in the system, especially during challenging times, by teaching others how siloed metrics can cause harm when signals are misinterpreted, and show how a more holistic approach can help explain why shifts are really happening.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t also succeed fast. In fact, small, quick wins are essential to building trust and credibility with others in your organization, and identifying areas where small adjustments can make a big impact on how to balance expectations for short- and long-term success.

  2. Setting an example by embracing technology. Another NorthStar Connect featured speaker, Kelsey Chickering, Principal Analyst at Forrester, told attendees during her presentation not to fear getting replaced by AI. Instead, fear getting replaced by people who learn how to use AI.

    Similarly, marketing and analytics leaders must set and example for others. They must take advantage of the technology and tools at their disposal to test and learn, explore emerging channels, or simply get better answers to good questions, whether that’s geo-lift testing to identify the right markets, parsing out brand’s impact on revenue, or encompassing external, non-marketing factors to budget and forecast accurately.

  3. The willingness to challenge assumptions. Sometimes leaders must embrace what Tommy Caldwell calls “elective hardship.” It’s time for marketers to help their organizations challenge comfortable assumptions around marketing investment, leveraging scenario planning to take control of the narrative, and providing a fuller picture so leaders can make better choices.

    If they can better define the opportunity cost of cutting spend, or provide forecasts for how much market share can be taken when competitors pull back, they will earn the opportunity to work more closely with internal stakeholders across the enterprise, and invest more strategically for future commercial success.

Marketing is the heartbeat of every organization. If you stop the heart, you stop the business. It was resoundingly clear from our speakers and attendees at NorthStar Connect that we must do everything to strengthen that muscle and not be led astray or focused on the wrong objectives. We can’t allow our organizations to be distracted by the unhealthy, but highly snackable, metrics that keep us from achieving our desired ends and obscure the true goal of building commercial intelligence. When trying to transform how analytics is used to make data-driven decisions, we need to condition the entire body for both sprint and distance races.

If there’s one takeaway from the marketing and industry leaders at NorthStar Connect 2023, it’s that marketing teams from every industry are all facing common challenges that can lead to shared opportunities and broader successes. Through partnership and collaboration with other experts in our field and developing universal best practices, we can inspire each other to become unstoppable in our search for business growth.