21 April 2021

Marketing and Leadership. Barbara Del Neri’s reflections

Over the past ten years we have already experienced epochal turning points: the Internet has made all kinds of information available to us in real time, mobile phones allow us to work anywhere and at any time, virtual shopping platforms have changed our consumption habits; social media is transforming social and emotional relationships between people, work is being increasingly done in an agile way. The Covid pandemic has almost certainly accelerated trends already in place. How has the way marketing is done changed and what should we expect in the coming years?


The fascinating thing about this work is that there are a few basic elements that do not change, or rather that should not change, while many other aspects, which in the past have evolved slowly, are now changing quickly and in a disruptive way in terms of the connection between brands and the consumer.


What certainly remains constant is the centrality of the consumer, the obsession with being consumer centric (focusing on the needs of the consumer) as they would say in Amazon, or the consumer is the boss as per the definition given to us by Procter & Gamble. The underlying element to always start from is consumer insight, namely that little or big truth about the consumer that is sometimes explicitly expressed, while at other times it needs to be dug up by good marketers such as ourselves, given its power to open people’s minds and hearts.


Nowadays, to be a leading brand it is essential, first and foremost, to talk about the why as well as what. So the Purpose is represented by the social role of a brand, by the type of position it takes on important issues concerning people’s lives. Brands have the power to influence society and culture, especially if they have large means and communication budgets at their disposal, and thus they also have a great responsibility towards society. One need only think of the many committed campaigns such as those of Nike or Pantene on inclusivity.


The other key aspect is that today, in order to be present and relevant in people’s lives, a brand must be ubiquitous, both monitoring and ever-present on all the channels used by people (social media, e-commerce). In my experience in China, I was able to appreciate how the consumer increasingly uses digital tools for purchases, believing that this saves him time which he can then dedicate to something else; although he still does not give up the pleasure of shopping in person as he wishes to enjoy the experience. We have gone from the division and sequencing between knowledge of the brand (awareness) and its purchase to a much more varied purchasing process. The skills between marketing and commerce are thus more fluid, with technology playing a central role in terms of the accuracy of targetting (reaching a particular range of possible consumers) and the personalization of the message, as well as the understanding of data and analytics (software tools that allow you to find correlations, analyze time series, simulate scenarios, segment customers and conduct data and text mixing activities). Mass marketing has been replaced by precision marketing (mass-precision marketing), also in the market of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG – Fast Moving Consumer Goods).

To summarize, today’s marketer must be a bit like Leonardo da Vinci, a blend of art – creativity and listening – and science – data analysis, trend analysis, digital skills.


In this new world, women can make a difference by creating a new sustainable model of leadership. Tell us about your leadership experience and history.


I have had the benefit of two strokes of fortune.


To have grown up with many examples of positive leadership and of people, women and men, who inspired me and from whom I have drawn rules of behavior (role models), according to my standards of leadership.

And to have an innate tendency to lead by engagement, or to make sure that the vision or goal genuinely becomes that of the team, in which everyone feels they can contribute, feels included and part of something. If you have the ability, as well as having a strategic vision, to transfer energy to people, to enhance talents, to make sure that everyone is in the role where they can express their potential, half the work is done. A leader should communicate a sense of belonging to something greater, coupled with great individual responsibility in achieving results.

In general, I strongly believe in the value of diversity in all sectors. With regard to gender differences, if the population is divided fifty-fifty between men and women, then companies, institutions and in particular business also have the task of representing them and devoting themselves to them fairly.


I believe that, without falling into unnecessary stereotypes, women, perhaps due to the multitasking skills they must have in managing many different situations at the same time, on average develop adaptability and empathy which allow them to quickly connect different ideas. The skill that the female gender must improve, on the other hand, is risk taking, or the ability to cast the heart beyond the obstacle and to put oneself forward, even when one is not one hundred percent prepared. On the contrary, men propose themselves and have much more self-confidence even when they are less prepared. Furthermore, men are much better at grouping, camaraderie or roping together, while women are more individualistic. They are perhaps used to thinking that they have to do it alone, to seeing another woman at the top as a threat and not as a help, whereas men, being simpler and more direct, are effective and capable in this regard.


What are the characteristics that a leader should have?


Today and increasingly in the coming years, to be a leader it will not be enough to be able to count on qualifications, positions, a good mindset and strategic vision. In addition to a cold mind capable of distilling opportunities and problems clearly and quickly, of knowing how to make decisions in a resolute way, it will be necessary to have the ability to follow and act with the heart by connecting with one’s own and others’ emotions. It will be increasingly crucial to know how to connect empathically with one’s consumers, customers, suppliers and above all with people in one’s work team. The leader must be visible, approachable, ready to listen and admit his mistakes, be a leader promoted and recognized by the organization, someone who calls himself a people first leader. Basically, he must have the three Hs: head, heart, and hands. In addition to the mind and the heart, a leader needs “to have his hands in the pie”. In other words, he must be able to carry things through, to lay down the great strategies, to roll up his sleeves if there are problems and be part of the team he leads, putting himself on the same level as others and shortening distances between people.


What advice would you give to those who would like to work in marketing in the next few years?

Be a learning machine in the fullest possible sense. Today, soft skills are more important than other abilities and notions, because what is valid today may not be so in six months. Just think of the impact that the pandemic has had on all aspects of our lives and how it has changed decisions, trends and consumption. So agility, adaptation, ability and desire to get back into the game, to get out of one’s comfort zone, to experiment, to innovate, are essential above all else for those who want to make marketing their mission. A marketer will also need to learn from failures and share the lessons learned with their team.

He will always have to fluctuate between art and science, between creativity and competence, feeding on technology and digitization, showing curiosity for the world of start-ups and knowing how to interpret big data.

I think more generally it is crucial to define one’s own purpose. My advice is to be authentic – in taking to heart and working for the corporate and brand objective and in the way in which it is communicated to colleagues and consumers – while ensuring respect for the value of transparency. My invitation is not to conform to what one is not. It is important to have a passion to pursue, to look for a job that inspires, to become competent enough to be paid to carry it out. We must never stop dreaming, thinking big, working while having fun.

Life comes around only once and it is too precious not to try to make even the 6/8/10 hours of work a commitment that still makes us happy!


Barbara Del Neri, Vice President Brand & Digital


Chiara Rinaldi, Journalist