Interview with Marketing and Customer Leadership Expert Thomas Barta
Thomas BartaThomas has consulted and marketed for over 20 years, in 14 industries, in 45 countries. Each year, he gives more than 40 keynote speeches and workshops for companies, industry associations, and universities. His clients include many of the world’s most prominent companies, including over two dozen from the Fortune 500.

Thomas’s research-based concept of Customer Leadership brings a new perspective to the world of marketing, which we discuss in more detail in this interview. So without further ado, allow me to introduce today’s guest – Thomas Barta.

Hi Thomas, thanks so much for stopping by Activia's Expert Insights corner. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself for our readers?

In a nutshell, I help marketing leaders raise and achieve their growth aspirations. Although I’m a former marketer and McKinsey partner, I’m not doing much marketing anymore. Instead, I’m working with marketers to help them raise their profile and create more impact as leaders.
How did you become interested in leadership, specifically for marketing?

When I was a marketer myself, I loved my job. Yet, even in a consumer-facing company I thought marketing could have more influence. That’s why I started to work for McKinsey, where I became a partner. My aim was to teach CEOs the importance of marketing. Yet, over time, I learned that most CEOs understand marketing pretty well.

But the marketers weren’t doing a great job connecting with CEOs. Other leaders did this more effectively. As a dean of McKinsey’s internal leadership program, I had gained lots of experience for how leaders create impact—without having reporting lines. That’s when the loop started to close. I believe if we can teach more marketers what we teach McKinsey leaders (influencing without authority), everybody will be better off.

Could you briefly explain to us your concept of Customer Leadership?

That’s pretty straightforward. The most successful marketing leaders are those who help their company maximize the overlap between its own and its customers’ needs. My coauthor, Patrick Barwise, and I call this overlap the “Value Creation Zone”— or “V-Zone” for short. Successful customer leadership is about maximizing the V-Zone. This means marketers must continue to understand customer needs. But they must become better at understanding the needs of the company — and try to maximize that overlap.

The 12 Powers of a Marketing LeaderYour new book, The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader: How to Succeed by Building Customer and Company Value, is due for release later this year. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

Thank you for asking. The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader isn’t a marketing book. It’s the first leadership book for marketers based on the largest study ever undertaken into marketing leadership.

My coauthor, Patrick Barwise, and I analysed detailed original data on over 1,200 marketing leaders and more than 68,000 existing 360-degree assessments of both marketing and non-marketing business leaders. The research revealed 12 essential traits that can make or break marketers’ business impact and career success.

What are some of the common problems and challenges you deal with when working with marketing leaders, and how do you address them?

Marketing leaders are facing three big gaps, as I like to call them: 1. Most of marketers’ work is about the future—and making the case for the future inside a company can be hard. There’ll be many skeptics. 2: The majority of the people who need to change to make a great customer experience happen don’t report to marketing—they can simply say "no". 3. Technology is changing so fast, every marketer is constantly busy trying to catch up with new trends and technology.

But you’ve asked me what marketers need to do. Here’s my advice: Start to accept that doing marketing is different from leading marketing. Functional skills matter. But the most successful marketers know how to:
  • Mobilize your boss: Make an impact at the highest level and align marketing with the company’s priorities.
  • Mobilize your colleagues: Inspire and support your non-marketing colleagues to meet customers’ needs better than the competition.
  • Mobilize your team: Build and hone a winning marketing team. Become a leader of leaders.
  • Mobilize yourself: Focus on goals that will benefit your customers, company, and long-term career.

Finally, is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

There’s some really good news: in our study, personality (how you are wired) wasn’t a big success driver of marketing leaders’ success. In other words: you can learn the skills to lead marketing. We have just put a free marketing leadership profile test online at, for all marketers who want to test their skills.

Success as a marketer is a choice!

You can pre order a copy of Thomas’s new book, The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader: How to Succeed by Building Customer and Company Value, on Amazon, or if you’d like to connect with Thomas, you can follow him on Twitter @ThomasBarta.