Kellogg’s Shekar Khosla on why empathy and commercial acumen makes a marketing leader

Both empathy and business acumen are needed to be a leader, says Kellogg's Khosla

The marketing industry is an exciting and challenging place to be at the moment. Disruption faces all industries at a faster rate and the marketer is at the pointy end, right in the fray with the customers driving the change and mounting higher expectations day after day.

To lead in this environment requires specific skills and, as The Marketing Society launches its Marketing Leaders Programme Asia 2018, The Drum asks some of the most prominent marketing leaders… what does it take to be a marketing leader in 2018?

Shekar Khosla, chief commercial officer of Kellogg, Australia, Asia and Africa, says it’s about a mixture of empathy and commercial acumen.

What does it take to be a marketing leader?

Empathy and commercial acumen. The former to design better solutions which solve consumer problems - perceived and real - and the latter to monetise the opportunity.

In addition, I would say a marketing leader needs to be the crucible for cross-functional working. This requires the marketing leader to understand and appreciate the challenges of finance, supply chain and R&D etc. It is no good to just have consumer insights, the actualisation of opportunity requires cross-functional partnership and the marketing leader needs to do exactly that. Lead.

What are three key attributes a future marketing leader needs and why?

In addition to empathy and commercial acumen, the future, which is now, requires marketers to be even more agile and have deep data affinity. The world’s of media, content and transactions is collapsing into one. In this new world, marketers need to be as comfortable with dynamic creative as they are with agile optimisation. Reading signals, making sense and responding in flight as opposed to erstwhile batch process of campaigns. It is an exciting future. And it is now.

How important is training or mentorship to marketer growth?

One word, critical. But it is not only about training and mentioning your team but indeed continuously investing in yourself. There has never been a better time to be a lifelong student of the profession.

Has the role of the marketer shifted and what does that mean for leadership skills?

The marketing department has always been the nucleus of commercial operations. It however, needs to be more self-accountable. Return on marketing investments has been a fuzzy subject but with measurable and real-time data analytics, the marketers can finally sit in the boardroom and table marketing ROI with as much confidence as our finance colleagues do for other commercial spend. This requires marketers to build financial skills and navigate brand investments better.

What makes a marketer stand out as a leader of the future?

Empathy for the consumers they serve and growth engineers, rather than architects of presentations. Growth is challenging and the mantra for leaders is ‘Grow or Go’. There are no grey areas.

Can you be a leader by just doing the day job? Or should marketers be doing extra-curricular work?

Brand’s exist and grow as long as they have relevance in the community. If you are not growing then the consumers and community are suggesting dwindling relevance. As a marketer, therefore, we need to serve not just consumers but deliver broader benefit for the community. I would encourage brand’s to find broader purpose and then brand leaders should live that purpose. Clearly then there is no demarcation between a day job and living your purpose.

What's next - does a marketer make a good CEO?

Absolutely. Goes back to the point of marketer’s being the central force which brings all functions to row in the same direction. Equally, as a CEO one has the opportunity to seek broader partnerships and further the organisation purpose.

Catch up on why The Observatory’s Richard Bleasdale thinks magnetism is essential for marketing leaders.

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