#SES SF: Jeffrey Hayzlett Drops Knowledge on Marketers and Bombs on Obstructionists

SAN FRANCISCO – Jeffrey Hayzlett was raring to go yesterday morning, opening SES SF with his booming voice that carried throughout a standing-room only crowd. The former global CMO of Eastman Kodak and upcoming host of a primetime TV show on Bloomberg shared his vision for marketing in the digital age while denouncing the “obstructionists,” as he put it, who block and evade change and innovation every step of the way.

“I’m known as somewhat of a cowboy,” the South Dakota native says, explaining why he calls things as he sees fit and without trepidation over the egos he bruises in the process. Only a select few can act as an arbiter of marketing like Hayzlett, and he revels in this role.

As he writes in the foreword to his latest book, “Running the Gauntlet,” Hayzlett has a message for all the naysayers, opportunists, and obstructionists who get in the way of driving change and fight to keep everything as the status quo. “We will beat you,” he says.

“No one gets up in the morning and says I can’t wait to be stupid. I’m talking about driving change for a reason,” he adds. “We need to be agents of change, or what I like to call clock changers.”

What’s a clock changer? For Hayzlett it’s both figurative and literal. Prior to his first meeting with the marketing team at Kodak, he moved the clock ahead about 20 to 30 minutes and waited to see how his new colleagues would react. Days went by with the clock still running ahead, and it perplexed an entire room full of marketers who couldn’t quite figure out why or how the clock was incorrect. Finally, one employee stepped up, placed a chair under the clock, and proceeded to correct the time.

“I named her my chief of staff the next day,” he says. “Those of us in the C-suite are looking for clock changers…I’m talking about white buffalos, certainly the most scarce animal in the corporate world.”

Hayzlett shares his quintessential tips for marketers while weaving together the lessons learned and mistakes he and countless others have made along the way. When it comes to failure, a topic he became intimately involved with at Kodak as the company careened toward bankruptcy, he believes there are five reasons why companies fail today. And it starts with fear.

“We fail because we’re afraid…We’re survivalists, that’s what we do,” he says. “If you want to be a maestro, you’ve got to learn to play a lot of bad notes.” Those notes, good or bad, should cause tension because that’s what marketers do, he says. “Your job is to create tension and cognitive dissonance,” Hayzlett adds. “Cause tension every single day, every single moment,” he says. Everyone knows the mantra “no pain, no gain” that is typically applied to sports, but why isn’t it applied to business? “For search and certainly marketing, that should be your charter,” he adds.

Stirring up the pot won’t always be smooth, in fact you can almost guarantee it won’t, but when troubles arise the onus is on every employee within your organization to be radically transparent, according to Hayzlett. If you’re struggling, need help, or otherwise, speak up and be honest about it. “That’s what teams do. If you look at any great team, any great organization, they operate with radical transparency.”

If nothing can be gained without pain, the same is also true for the translation of risks to rewards. “Your job is to take risk. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re probably quite frankly from time to time going to embarrass the company,” he says. “But remember, no one died. That’s your job.”

The fifth cog in the wheel of failed companies is that of promises either broken or unfulfilled, Hayzlett says. The value of any relationship between a company and its customer hinges on “mutual conditions of satisfaction,” he adds. Simple promises might seem meaningless on the surface, but when those mutual conditions of satisfaction are broken so too goes any chance of improving (or perhaps even retaining) the relationship with that customer.

“A brand is a promised delivery,” Hayzlett says. “What is the promise that you’re trying to deliver? We want to focus on that.”

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