As 2018’s Marketing Academy scholars graduate from their 10 month program, Marketingasks Hannah Sturrock to share some insight into what happens when some of Australia’s best marketers collide.
A funny thing happened in March 2018.
30 clever and ambitious people from competing agencies and brands, were thrown together in a (rumoured to be haunted) quarantine station in Manly.
They had been hand picked for the 2018 Marketing Academy scholarship programme one week prior, and had briefly met their fellow scholars a couple of days earlier at a launch event in Barangaroo. This was to be their first ‘bootcamp’ for the year.
They knew they were going to learn about leadership, which made sense, because they’d all done very well professionally and were focused on getting to the next stage in their careers. They had also completed lots of training and workshops before, and were prepared for an intensive five days.
They were all individual high performers and hardwired to approach their peers and colleagues with a certain cool wariness, given they’d competed hard to win a place on the programme.
If they were honest and focused on personal growth. Growth that would lead to bigger roles with more responsibility. Growth that might allow them to join boards. Growth that would build their profiles in the industry.
Gathered in a sun-filled, convict-era building, they shared their bios and got out their notebooks.
Within 48 hours, this group of marketers had formed a tribe with a closeness that usually takes years to generate. Scholars shared stories, fears and secrets and listened to their cohort describe their own wrestles with self-belief and direction. They were vulnerable, embarrassed, sad and confused. They were heard. They were supported. They were protected.
They really had been quarantined. But this segregation, and the real point of the scholarship programme, was to inspire something powerful and transformative in the cohort, something more important than growth, something we now realise is in critically short supply: trust.
What was this magical medicine? How could we manufacture more? It was addictive and effective!
Over the next six months at The Marketing Academy, we learned a lot about trust in theory.
- Trust is distinctly human. It’s about human interaction, real conversations.
- Human beings are inherently social and trusting animals who want to be led
- We cannot form trust through the internet – the ‘mirror neuron’ doesn’t light up when you send an email.
- Trust comes from a common set of values and beliefs.
- Trust affects a leader’s impact and the company’s bottom line more than any other single thing.
- Trust allows us to be economic with our cognitive capital.
- Trust requires reciprocity.
As scholars, our experience felt more visceral than the theory. It felt more powerful than a headline. It seemed more complex than a set of shared values.
So we selected trust as our pirate flag, our mantra and our bumper sticker.
The trust contract
Trust is the glue. Trust is the foundation. Trust is the contract.
Trust is the reason we buy, the reason we follow and the reason we believe in anything.
But trust is difficult. Trust is dynamic. Trust is easily lost and not so easily regained. In marketing, building trust in brands is essential. In business, inspiring trust in our leaders and our team is the key to extraordinary performance. In life, cultivating trust in ourselves is the cure for anxiety, fear and guilt.
But as a society, we’ve squandered our trust stores in pursuit of perpetual growth – growth at the expense of all other metrics.
Like Dr Seuss’ Lorax, we are staring at a social landscape that has been overfarmed for profit, decimated by ethical drought and poisoned by politics and security breaches.
It’s a self-perpetuating state; in a climate of distrust, our tribal bonds are weakened, our ethical standards lowered, and we revert to basic survival instincts, binary choices, command and control leadership, partisan politics, Game of Thrones-style battles for supremacy and market share.
Leading the renaissance
Under these conditions, in this climate and context, the priority must be to reverse the decay and start to plant, grow and nurture new sources of trust, so we don’t need to retreat to our insular positions on the fringe.
So while we all shake our heads and observe the ravaged landscape, who is working to regenerate? Who is looking for solutions? Who is listening to the Truffula trees?
We believe the trust renaissance starts with leadership.
Redefining growth to regenerate trust
Unfortunately there’s no quick strategy to manufacture or reinstate trust – unless we all attend five day boot camps at spooky convict outposts….
In order to generate more trust in ourselves, our communities, our brands and our institutions, we need to replenish the very soil we are working with. We are ready for a new breed of leaders who are prepared to put in the work, to dig the societal soil with good, ethical humus and tend it daily with conscientious action and intention. Slowly, we can begin to change the overriding culture of ‘growth at all costs’ to a more sustainable model of net social progress.
Hannah Sturrock is group head at The Hallway