Home » Stop Messaging, Start Making Meaning: The Secrets of Growth CMOs

Stop Messaging, Start Making Meaning: The Secrets of Growth CMOs

by | Mar 27, 2020

By Lisa Nirell

Has your inbox felt like a junk box this week? Mine certainly has.

Many retailers, lenders and hospitality companies are dispensing pablum. Every message sounds identical: “We know it is a difficult time, and we are here for you.”

Every CMO and PR professional behind this insipid messaging needs to re-examine where they are expending their energy. It’s time to stop creating “me too” messaging and start making something meaningful.

As I connect daily with the hundreds of CMOs and business owners in our community, I’m seeing a schism between marketing “order takers” and growth champions. Here’s how they differ:

Order takers focus on canned communications. Growth champions focus on conversations.

One of my CMO clients markets technology solutions to nonprofits and schools. Their customers are freezing budgets and facing immense financial stress. Her company shifted their incentives for their business development reps (BDRs) from number of product demos booked to the number of meaningful conversations and thought leadership exchanged. They put the pause button on lead generation metrics. Those customers will remember how you made them feel when the recovery begins—and it will.

Defy the norm, team up with Sales, and engage in conversations. Stop hiding behind online surveys, overly-protective sales reps, and email campaigns.

Order takers live in “future fear.” Growth champions fuel focus.

In addition to focusing on business continuity, you have another important job right now: to help your teams remain calm, healthy, safe and engaged.

Most networks are fomenting fear for things beyond our control. The news is repetitive, and it’s not breaking! One of my clients became paralyzed by the sheer possibility that COVID-19 may surge again in the Fall.

Be bold. Ask your teams to turn off the 24 x 7 newsfeed. Briefly check the news twice daily and channel your energy towards something you can control: delivering your expertise and value.

Eckhardt Tolle addresses this topic brilliantly in this YouTube video. I encourage you and your team to watch this video. His wise words helped me let go of some fear. I can now replace it with present moment focus, and on things I can control.

Order takers measure volume. Growth champions measure value.

Some branding and marketing leaders are still relying too heavily on vanity metrics. In my latest book, The Mindful Marketer, I outline the risks associated with these output-centered measures. They are temporary and seldom link to a business continuity model.

For the time being, nobody cares how many new Instagram followers you secured.

This is a great time to take stock of how you communicate with stakeholders on the value you are delivering, not volume. Be willing to report on new, short-term metrics, such as customer retention and online engagement. Stay agile as we navigate unchartered economic waters–and be willing to adjust those incentives and metrics every 2-4 weeks.

Downplay highlights on tactical issues, such as a logo design, Twitter campaigns, website updates, or virtual events. They can be reported on a “need-to-know” basis or in an email summary.

One of our CMO clients in Northern VA has witnessed a significant increase in retention of their top people by adjusting bonuses and priorities to these new market dynamics—and their double-digit revenue growth and strong NPS scores reflect that.

Order takers are specialists. Growth champions are strategists.

During these unprecedented times, we can either dig in our heels and narrow our focus on our specialty areas. Or, we can be open to seeking out new opportunities to serve.

Dive into your customer’s world and be open to designing new solutions and advisory services to address their short-term needs. Chances are that they face at least one of these three challenges:

  • Pressure to find innovative ways to retain their top customers and top line revenue
  • Retaining top talent by increasing engagement and reducing stress
  • Rapidly changing their strategy to adapt to new market and human interactions, such as populism, recession fears, and government interventions

My top clients are joining forces with Sales and Customer Support to reach their top accounts, partners, and scheduling live discussions. Your customers have time on their hands. The two most powerful questions you can ask are:

  • What is the biggest challenge you’re facing?
  • What can I do to help?

If your customer replies with “I don’t know, what can you suggest?” be generous with your time. Ask great questions and offer recommendations.

If customers say something that surprises you, stay in the moment. When it makes sense, offer other resources outside of what your company offers. Make introductions.

By keeping these discussions strategic, you will discover that some customers were unaware of the full spectrum of value you can offer. You’re earning the right to spend time with the economic buyers, not the tire-kickers or evaluators, and be viewed as a trusted source.

Our organizations need more growth champions right now. Armed with a new mindset and meaningful actions, you can clean out the clutter—not only in your inbox, but in your customer’s.

Copyright 2020, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

Lisa Nirell, the founder of EnergizeGrowth® LLC, helps marketers and CEOs accelerate marketing innovation and growth. Top companies such as Adobe, Google, LinkedIN, and Hilton hire Lisa to formulate new strategies and launch breakthrough marketing ideas.

She also leads the Marketing Leaders of DC™ and Atlanta, a private peer group dedicated to helping CMOs thrive.

Lisa is the award-winning author of The Mindful Marketer and EnergizeGrowth NOW. She’s also a contributor to ForbesCMO, CMO.com, FastCompany. She was recently inducted into Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches Program.

Lisa draws her innovation inspiration from open water swimming, meditation, 5Rhythms dance, and adventure travel. Download her latest insights and Mindful Marketing Quiz at lisanirell.com

About the Author

Capitol Communicator and sponsors host various guest postings on relevant topics of interest to the advertising, marketing, public relations and media professional community that Capitol Communicator serves.


  1. Jennifer Carter

    This article resonated with me on many different levels. I love “Order takers are specialists. Growth champions are strategists.” My company, Wilkins Media, is an Out-of-Home Media Buying Specialist who partners with advertising agencies. We have over 800 ad agency partners, and needless to say our industry is not in an ideal place right now. However, our CEO has endless optimism. We quickly shifted to arrange for our partners to be able to cancel, change, pause, or delay media plans and offered other creative ways to assist our agencies to come out with as minimal pain as possible. We also have been offering out-of-the-box ideas to them to remain relative. Not all OOH are billboards or transit. There are so many innovative ways to reach people in their homes besides tv or digitally, such as advertising on pizza boxes or in delivery service bags, grocery store digitals or pole banners in those same shopping centers. Being a resource for our agency partners and knowing we have their back have set us on a path of differentiation. Thanks for the strategies Lisa!

    • Lisa L. Nirell

      Jennifer, I am impressed by the flexibility you and your CEO are exhibiting. Agility is key in these changing times.

      I hope our free learning resources give you some additional ideas and strategies…because the recovery WILL happen. You sound as if you will be prepared.

      Here is the link for our resources: https://lisanirell.com/free-resources-marketing-innovation/

      Keep me posted on your progress.



  1. Stop Messaging, Start Making Meaning: The Secrets of Growth CMOs - Lisa Nirell - […] *Reposted from Lisa Nirell’s article in Capitol Communicator […]

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