Can Mindfulness Save Marketing?

In a time when marketers are being pushed to consider more data, market through more channels, be accountable to more metrics, answer harder questions and generally DO more across the board, it’s worth asking: When is it too much? Is the multitasking and attention-splitting actually killing your marketing?

Lisa Nirell, author of the book “The Mindful Marketer” and chief energy officer at the consultancy “EnergizeGrowth” believes they are. Her book looks at the price marketers pay for this chaotic environment, and how the meditative ideal of “mindfulness” can help.

We sat down with Nirell to discuss how these ideas fit into today’s marketing role.

Target Marketing: What is mindfulness in marketing, and why do you find it to be essential to today’s marketers? What does it take to get there?

Lisa Nirell: In general, mindfulness is defined as non-judgmental awareness. It is about staying focused on the task at hand without judgement. Mindfulness reached a tipping point in the U.S. in early 2014, when Time featured a cover article on the linkages between meditation and neuroscience.

Thanks to thousands of studies on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, we are now witnessing a backlash against overdoing, overspending, overeating and overworking. Radical, demanding, “always on” new buyer behaviors, big data, and cloud-based marketing are only exacerbating this phenomenon.

Mindfulness practices allow us to experience a new way of living and working. This, in turn, helps us make better decisions and work more productively with our teams and customers.

Mindless marketing leads to poor customer relationships, high team turnover, and a lower quality of life. It usually appears in the form of overdoing and multitasking.

The good news is that there is no “there.” Mindful marketing is not about doing more, it’s about being more. My book outlines myriad behaviors and simple practices that help us be mindful marketers.

TM: Does that mindset conflict with the multichannel, always-on, always-connected customers we hear about so much today?

LN: Mindfulness teaches us how to step back and be the observer of these social patterns. While designing your marketing approaches, do you want to bring peace of mind, simplicity and harmony to your customers? Or pour gasoline on their fires of anxiety, hurry and worry?

Marketing leaders choose to spend their time in three areas: fixing yesterday’s chronic issues, daily decision-making and email inbox management, and designing the future. While many marketing executives may have strategic titles such as “CMO” or “VP of Marketing,” they struggle to make time for the latter. This relegates them to “order taker” mode — a perpetual McDonald’s drive-through window for the rest of the organization.

Overload is a choice. It’s our responsibility to know when it’s time to turn off our email, social media feeds, and just allow our brains to process information. There is a fine line between being informed and inundated.

Mindfulness practices are a gateway towards becoming a market-maker, a fearless and effective communicator, and a visionary for their customers.

Some of my favorite mindful marketing organizations include TripAdvisor and Miraval Arizona. Both CMOs, whom I profiled in my book, have deployed simple yet profound practices to help their teams invent new customer and guest programs, and avoid over-investing in frenetic, “always on” behaviors.

TM: How does that help return on marketing investment (ROI)?

LN: Short-term mindsets on the true value of marketing persist. Obsession with weekly sales, dashboards and comparisons of revenues over time and lead conversion rates can cause this short term myopia.

Mindful marketers take a more holistic approach to planning and measurement. They consider future income streams such as brand repute and value, lifetime customer value, the value of inventory, and the quality of the customers they are attracting.

My book offers several new models that will not only expand your view on the value you create for your organization. They will also show you how other marketing leaders are creating greater impact on their company’s revenue and brand repute. I admire companies such as Get Satisfaction, Salesforce, Google and The Huffington Post for stretching our thinking around how we measure value and return on marketing investment.

4. How does mindfulness play out in the boardroom, where marketers are often being asked to be more accountable and communicate more metrics-based information to justify the marketing investment?

The cause differs from one company to the next.

First, CMOs may not yet be well educated in the area of marketing analytics tools — yet the CEO expects them to report quantitative results. Analytics have forever changed the CEO’s expectations on marketing. Some marketing leaders have started hiring data scientists to help them decode the big data puzzle. In order to thrive in today’s economy, marketing’s hunches and intuition must be accompanied by some supporting data. For example, both the CEO and the board expect the CMO to benchmark performance against competitors and industry peers, and then test those assumptions.

Here’s another troubling behavior that is a great way to erode board confidence: peppering the conversation with a litany of tactical activities, such as trade shows, awards, sponsorships and Twitter campaigns. Instead, frame your executive level meeting discussions by reporting marketing’s progress against activities that are driving revenue, retention and brand equity.

Finally, Marketing must align with the reporting cadence of the rest of the organization. Most companies embrace a certain weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual reporting rhythm. While the VP of sales reports how your company is tracking against forecast, the CFO reports on how earnings, revenues and renewals compare to previous quarters. The VP of customer support shares progress with the Net Promoter Score.

Conversely, the VP of marketing typically reverts to a “Greek” reporting cadence. They may report on the latest social media campaign, a customer briefing or a big trade show at one meeting. Then, in subsequent months, they report on a completely different set of activities. If that behavior describes your marketing group, then you’ll lose street cred with the C-suite.

These five causes of CEO misalignment are not insurmountable. Mindfulness gives you some powerful methods to work more effectively. For example, it teaches us to be curious and practice investigation. This is the ability to understand and observe the true nature of all things. It’s your reality check to help you see things as they really are. When you assume you already know what customers want because you think you are the most senior or smartest person in the room, you are probably inflicting unnecessary suffering on yourself and others.

With that in mind, be sure to align your executive meeting reports, reporting cadence, and language with your department peers (including customer service, finance and sales). Report on your annual and quarterly progress against key metrics and strategic company goals. Ensure you report on demand creation activities in the early portion of your meetings.

During these meetings, downplay highlights on tactical issues, such as a logo design, website updates or customer events. They can be reported on a “need-to-know” basis or in an email summary. When you prepare for a board meeting, be sure your slides are designed to look and sound consistent with the others being presented.

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.