Marketing today is all about data — both collecting it and using it to gain insight on customers, products, and the state of the market. But Beth Comstock, former CMO and Vice Chair of GE, believes this predilection for proof and guarantees has caused marketers to forget a valuable piece of the puzzle: creativity.
Creativity breeds change — something that nowadays scares marketers more than it ignites them. But the pace of change is quick, and to ignore it is detrimental to our success. So what is Beth’s advice? To embrace this change and look toward the future with a dose of imagination, keeping an eye on where the world is going rather than just where it’s been.
“Impossible becomes inevitable in the blink of an eye.” - Beth Comstock
In her keynote at Signals 19, Beth explained that the market — and by extension, marketing — is constantly changing, and we can no longer ignore it. To help us out, she gave us three key ways that we can begin embracing and enacting change in both the workplace and our lives.
1. Grant yourself permission
In her time at big-name companies like GE and NBC, Beth had a lot of great ideas — but she also had a lot of gatekeepers who could stop her from bringing her ideas to fruition with a simple “no.” But Beth refused to take the word “no” at face value. Instead, she changed her perspective.
She started to think of “no” as “not yet.” Rather than accepting “no” as a failure, feeling defeated, and moving on to the next thing, she took it as a challenge. She began to look for ways to improve her idea and find another way to make it happen.
Organizations are not always open to change, but Beth believes marketers need to be, and we should continue to fight for that change and refuse to give up after one “no.”
2. Make room for discovery
While many marketers spend their days with their heads buried in computers, Beth has a different approach. She spends at least 10% of her time on discovery — that is, getting out of the office, living in the market, and getting an edge on the future.
“To get an edge, you have to be willing to go weird.” - Beth Comstock
Beth described her “going on 3s” approach, or her way to tell if something interesting is becoming a trend. Every time she sees something that sparks her curiosity, she writes it down. If she sees it a second time, she writes it down again. By the third time, she can be sure it’s something important.
Think of all the things we once thought were weird or inconsequential — from nuclear energy to ride sharing to wallets on our mobile phones — that later became trends. If we aren’t actively looking for and paying attention to them, we won’t see them until it’s too late.
3. Embrace difficulty
A big part of change is not just embracing it, but turning it into action. In order to do that, Beth believes we have to be open to having tough conversations — and maybe even failing.
As a team leader, Beth believes it’s important to invite in criticism; to beat up ideas and see if they’re sturdy enough to go the distance. She wants her teammates to feel comfortable telling her things she doesn’t want to hear and be open to having difficult conversations in order to face reality and allow for the possibility of failure.
“If failure is not an option, then neither is success.” - Beth Comstock
Fear of failure is the biggest thing that holds us back from change — but it shouldn’t. Beth shared that we need to trust our teammates and ourselves to make room for experimentation, create options, and build confidence.
Throughout Signals — from keynotes to product demos — we heard a lot about data and the importance of using it to drive our marketing decisions. But for Beth, data isn’t everything. As we work to embrace change, we shouldn’t throw out data, but we also shouldn’t let it rob us of our creativity.
“Don’t get rid of optimization, make room for inspiration.” - Beth Comstock
Bryn Smith is a Digital Marketing Coordinator at Cheetah Digital. Throughout her career, she has provided digital and content support for nearly every area of digital marketing, including lead generation, blogs, social media, websites, apps, email, and more.