I recently had the opportunity to interact with several inspiring marketing professionals from the region. While their stories couldn’t be more different, there was one trait that, in my opinion, enabled them to achieve stellar success.

Each and every one of them was brave. Not just bold, brave.

There is a subtle distinction. Standing up for what we believe in situations that make us uncomfortable is being brave. Acknowledging our failures and learning from them is brave. Saying “No” when everyone expects you to say “Yes” is being brave.

Standing up for your customer in the board room is arguably brave.

The way we do business is transforming at a staggering pace. With digital transformation, economic uncertainty, looming climate change, geopolitical tensions and indeed diminishing brand loyalty among New-Age customers, as well as their need for instant gratification, the remit of a marketing professional is also changing dramatically.

A ‘No’ can well be the starting point for a fresh attempt
Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/©Gulf News

More importantly, today’s consumer expects a brand to use its power to bring about positive change in the world. It’s with this in mind, our industry is beginning to push boundaries, tackle taboos, have uncomfortable conversations and think about the humanity in everything we do. This new narrative is changing something else. Marketing leaders aren’t just trying to grow their brands, they’re working out how to make the world a better place.

If I take my own story, it started in January 2017 when I became the chief executive of The Marketing Society. I needed to be brave and I decided I would use the opportunity to encourage others to be brave too.

There are the CMOs who are leading the rallying cry for our industry, the people who are driving growth in their businesses by being innovative and creative. They are the marketers who stand taller than their peers, consistently and tirelessly representing the customer within their organisations.

It means being brave about brand decisions — knowing when to return to your roots, and understanding how to flex and stretch your brand without it snapping. It means trusting your agency to be your partner.

There have been so many times when I have been said “No”. It’s a powerful word that can make you even more determined. And, to be honest, when people tell me something is impossible or that it can’t happen, I can’t help myself but try and prove them wrong.

I always believe I can find another way. But I also think that saying no is often a braver option than just saying yes, and going along with the norm.

Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi Arabian woman to climb Mount Everest, said that for her it all began with the word “No. Raha, who spoke at our Brave Conference in London, is an amazing woman who scales mountains and knocks down societal barriers in the process. When she reached an age where other girls in Saudi Arabia were thinking about settling down and getting married, Raha was working out how she could persuade her father to let her climb her first peak, Kilimanjaro.

She has since scaled the seven summits. Her story — and especially the way she talked about her relationship with the two-letter word “No” — really resonated with me.

So don’t let the little voices hold you back. Syl Saller, Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer at Diageo, talks about the way that we can all practice bravery and that it gets easier with time. She said that we must not let the little voices hold us back … but we must learn to quieten them.

It’s about confidence. She asked everyone to write down the one or two things that make them braver. For me, I keep coming back to that word “No” and, like Raha, I see the word as a challenge rather than a closed door. It can be braver to say no than to accept the status quo.

And it starts with the power of caring about what you do. It starts with the important conversations we’re having today; share stories, talk about what really matters. Find the other people, like you, who care. Together we can make a difference because now it’s time to start doing as well as talking.

The future leader has to be able to take chances, go against the norm, and bring humanity to a faceless corporation. This is the most powerful way a company can make a meaningful connection with its audiences, and that as we all know is the lifeblood of any brand.

Gemma Greaves is CEO at The Marketing Society.