Horst, a Fortune 500 chief marketing officer, addresses the marketing challenges posed by a fractious political climate.
Horst’s on-target observations in this excellent debut speak to urgent, relatively recent issues for marketers. He begins with an overview of the new reality: “A perfect storm of forces has created an environment where brands can instantly become this week’s focus for indignant and increasingly activist consumers, energized social media influencers, and news media hungry for headlines.” The first part of the book covers the broader elements of tribalism, fear and mistrust, fake news, and the politicization of just about everything. The author makes a key point about the impact on companies: They cannot stand on the sidelines, because “their every word and action will be scrutinized and judged, as will every silence and inaction.” In the second section, the author concentrates on the “new rules” of marketing. Particularly intriguing is Horst’s “Brand Risk-Relevance Curve,” which ranges from “head in sand” to a brand’s values and purpose to the “polar position” it might adopt on current issues. Rather than discuss rules in isolation, Horst weaves in several examples. For instance, Patagonia’s decision to directly confront President Donald Trump on public land policy illustrates how one brand can pursue a bold position regardless of the potential consequences. He also takes aim at a number of assumptions that deserve to be challenged. For example: Does relying on such marketing technologies as big data and sophisticated analytics obscure the need for marketers to connect with consumers in an effort to gain qualitative insights? Such salient observations lend a richness to the guide.
“Leading Under Fire,” the third part of this well-crafted work, is sure to be relevant to executives whose responsibilities extend well beyond brand marketing. Horst begins by examining many of the reasons leaders might not want to engage in a “social/political agenda.” In giving voice to these objections, the author demonstrates the polarization he has been discussing in the first two-thirds of the book while laying the groundwork for his closing argument. Horst suggests there is an inevitability to a storm of some sort hitting a brand and that it’s a leader’s responsibility to anticipate it. His advice with regard to responding under fire is smart, pragmatic, and thoughtful. The concluding chapter comprises commentary from several senior marketing executives at brands and agencies who speak openly about whether the new marketing reality is here to stay. This section, at times sobering, is remarkable for its consistency of message. Horst does not presuppose the action a marketer needs to take; rather, he counsels that the reader “learn how to navigate the new realities and, better yet, take control of them and of your destiny.”
Timely, smart, and stimulating; should provoke a re-evaluation of brand marketing strategy.