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David Bowie Marketing

What’s Your Marketing Super Power?

What’s your marketing super power? Personal examples of how our marketing super powers have helped us navigate our careers. There will be a few tips in there for you to identify yours and truly realize the importance of aptitude over skills.


Episode 005 TOPICS:


  • How do your marketing superpowers help you navigate your career?

  • Power of curiosity – a skill you can practice.

  • What we learn from David Bowie and Richard Branson.

  • Focus on the consumer/customer journey – what’s the pain point, make it a little better/remove the friction.

Across the Pond- Marketing Transformed.

5. What’s Your Marketing Superpower?



I think it’s going to be a good one today. Got a lot to talk about, so I’m going to crack on. On this week’s show we’re going to talk about a few personal examples of marketing and how our marketing superpowers have helped us navigate our careers. A few tips in here to identify yours, and truly realise the aptitudes and the role that that has with skills. We’ll spend a bit of time arguing the case as to why curiosity is a key muscle to build, and how unlocking that will lead to great things, both on a personal and professional level- that’s the hope as well. So, I think we’ll start off today just looking at attitude and its role, Sam, in twenty years’ time what do you think will be the key skill for a marketer?


My crystal ball in front of me Chris, I have to say - it’s not working today, so who knows. All I know is that we will have to keep learning, that will be the key thing to enable us to do well. 


Exactly, I mean it is impossible to see into the future and predict the skills that will be needed, but I would certainly stake money that the attributes: collaboration, curiosity, tenacity, empathy, solution seeking, logical thinking and definitely resilience- that might be number one actually-  for the world we’re living in at the moment. And in a way these have always been the bedrock of the marketer’s skills at various times, different aspects have been dialled up and down. Marketers have always been good with interpersonal skills, whether it was making deals in Adland or Soho back in the day, or communicating with billions over social media, that communication skill has been a core part of what we are. But I think now marketeers are stretching their analytical minds and that has bought a new breed of marketing into the mix as well.

 I am a great believer of that we all have that superpower, sometimes it takes us a while to find it, but it is important to find and is inside their somewhere.  Cast our minds back to ancient times- I was kind of thinking about this and I think there are about five types, even back to the days of the arenas and the forums, the  Greeks and the Romans. 

You have:

  1. the  marketing snake charmer, the great story teller to command the audience; 

  2. the marketing soothsayer, the visionary, looking into the future at what might well happen and how it’s going to affect the world and what we should do about it;

  3. we had the mathematician- the analyst in these days; 

  4. the median, connecting people, 

  5. and finally the magician or the illusionist, if were honest I suppose, creating value out of thin air.


What do you reckon Sam, which one of those do you reckon you would be?  


Super Sam and Captain Chris


I’m probably going for all of them- no, I’d say the medium one seems probably the best fit and I think you’re right, these are different types. I love the illustration there of the five M’s and the mathematician, medium, magician etcetera, and I think we all have bits of all of them, but which one do we lean to, I think I’d go with the medium one, do you have one where you have a tendency or an innate ability?


That’s a good one, I would have to say, if I had to choose, it would be about the soothsayer: being about future trends, looking at future trends, thinking about the future and thinking about how it’s going to affect our lives, looking at how technology can help improve people’s lives, so that would be closest. Anyway, bringing us back to the modern day, tell us about your superpower, where would you rate that? 


I talked about the medium connecting people, but I think my superpower is building social capital. It’s that creative resourcefulness, that connects you to people and processes, or solutions that will maximise your impact, what that means is ‘connecting the pipes’. How I would really describe what I do, working in different countries, being from Ghana in heritage, being bought up in the UK, learning different languages from my heritage. Then I lived in Switzerland and picked up French and German when I lived in Germany, having all those different experiences, driving on different sides of the road. All those experiences of all of those different things.  

From a business point of view; I’ve seen different cultures, seen different viewpoints, seen different mindsets and attitudes and have been able to serve them all up at the same time to solve a problem. Certainly I’m always curious, poking around in the archives, opening a door to some room, finding the archivist in there and being around people. So for me it’s the different ideas pulling different people together and then serving them up at the right time to the right people and joining people in terms of working teams as well. Definitely inviting a diverse group of people who are often thinking “why am I here?” and often that’s the first question and that’s brilliant because then you know if they’re not quite sure, they’re not prepared and they can just be their authentic self, it’s that idea of connecting people, ideas and processes, and one of the ways to do that- what I believe is being innately curious so I wondered what your thoughts of connecting a thread through curiosity, how do you see that idea Chris? 


Look, to be honest, without curiosity we’re yesterday’s people. That sounds quite blunt, but I think it’s true without being open minded we become outdated very quickly, and that’s on a personal as well a professional level.  As you know I am a big music fan and this is a quote from one of the most creative musicians ever: what I have is malevolent curiosity, that’s what drives my need to write and what leads me to think of things probably a little askew, I do tend to take a different perspective than most people.’ Any ideas who it was, Sam? 


Yeah I think I’m going to have to phone a friend or ask the audience a bit more I’m afraid. 


Yeah well, he certainly is not in this world at the moment and it’s a male, English songwriter- Ok, I’m going to tell you- it’s David Bowie. The original star man, the original visionary in terms of painting a picture with music as to this world outside of ours. If you think about reinvention, developing new ideas, going against the tide, convincing people to come along to your way of thinking, bridging the generation gap, I mean that’s what curiosity gets you. I think David Bowie embodies that really, all of that applies to him and I think as a creative influence and curious about not just this world but future worlds- that sums it up nicely for me.


Four Drivers of Curiosity


Yeah, you know I think having David bowie as inspiration is awesome and what I know and believe is: yes, there’s going to be some of the innate ability and talent and obviously he’s a genius so if we’re all going to be like Bowie it’s going to be a bit tough in terms of aspiration. But I actually think curiosity is a skill, and you can practice and get better, you can hone that skill and there are a few ways to think about what is curiosity and how to apply that and get better. 

Firstly, inquisitiveness- the power in asking questions, and I talked in a couple of episodes the power of asking questions the why, “how might we” and “we can if” type of approach or what can we do if is the response to that. So the power of being inquisitive is always something we can practice, focus less about what you’re going to say, listen and think about a question you can ask to propel the situation, pull out ideas or a passion point, or a challenge in the concern that the person/other people have. So that’s a starting point. 

The next one is creativity, which is about the novel solutions and the courage to challenge the status quo and that’s what creativity is. It’s not just oh I can paint, I can sing, I can dance but it’s the courage to challenge the status quo and use your voice and speak up is a key skill that we can all develop. 

The third one is: getting uncomfortable and that means immersing in new environments, and I love the word ‘mysterious’. Things we describe as mysterious are perfect opportunities to get uncomfortable, or things that are complex are the perfect opportunity to get uncomfortable and that could be with food, people, the environment or even what we read or what we watch, so all of those areas give us an opportunity to get uncomfortable, get you out of your comfort zone and have that challenge, go after things that are complicated ta first because you will learn and you will get better. 

The fourth one is openness, being open to people’s ideas the new or different ideas that you may have. Immersing in variety, we all know about eating tapas - that’s all about variety, being positively exposed to what’s going on in the outside world, and I think that for me those four drivers of curiosity are great skills and great muscles that we can build. And you need to make this happen. 

Make the time. You need leaders who encourage the time for the above so something you can work into your day to day basis, and hourly basis.  But think about those four things of inquisitiveness, creativity, getting uncomfortable and being open to new things and how you respond when someone says something you haven’t heard before.  For me it was walking into a new role when I was on Kenmore. I’d just been in the US about nine months, started a new role and there was a part of the portfolio that had new appliances, and we created this new logo, new packaging and artwork and everything was rolling, everything was printed and it was all being packaged up.  I noticed something slightly off- but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it; it just looked and felt different to what we had in the prior version.  

As I looked at it I realised they removed Spanish from the packaging, and when I started asking questions why ?  There wasn’t really a good answer other than ‘ we just thought it was clean and crisper’ but as I started doing the research it turned out that a quarter of our readers had Spanish heritage or had a predisposition to using Spanish as a language, and they essentially felt we were taking something away from them - and that was just a risk which no one had proactively thought about. I had been in the job a few weeks and I raised it with the general manager, and ultimately  put the business case together and she said actually that makes sense, so we had to scrap packaging that had been produced, make those changes and introduce Spanish to the labels.


I bet you were popular.


Well exactly, and having that courage there, and looking back now years later of course it was the right thing to do, but at the time it was “who’s this new guy coming in and wanting things to change”. Well it was the right change to make and it was just through feeling that something was off, and then realising ah that’s what was off and then having the courage to get uncomfortable and having an organisation just open to listening and ultimately we achieved double digit sales in that product portfolio, so it was definitely financially beneficial, but also as I say the right thing to do but the right business thing to do. 


I think also there you bring us onto our theme for next week, courage, the courage of being brave and I think that does go hand in hand with curiosity, and like you say it’s also about creating an environment where that’s welcomed and not seen as something to be afraid of as well, a kay factor I think and we’ve all been working at organisations where that isn’t the case I think.


How have you seen it plan out Chris, how has curiosity played out in marketing from your perspective? 

The Case of Curious Chris


Well I think the first one is about asking questions, that inquisitive nature is hugely important. Asking those series of questions what problem does it solve? Why should I care? Who is it for? What makes this special? Obviously the questions may change but they’re ones that I tend to come back to time and time again because I think it teases out most of the things we should be taking as second nature in marketing. And that’s a big part of being curious, it should feel natural to ask those questions, but it should also feel uncomfortable until you have a good answer. Now that doesn’t have to be hugely confrontational and end up in an argument or whatever but I think there can be an uncomfortableness if you feel you haven’t got a good enough answer and I think we have to get over that, because when you do get a good answer then you know, you have that feeling and both parties think ok the light has just switched on for both of us now. When you’re angry enough or excited enough about something to demand an answer as well and that’s important- the passion to actually really care about this stuff, instead of just going through the motions, there’s nothing worse than those five questions that I’ve just outlined, being on a tick box sheet which says ‘we must ask x and y before we move on’, you know that doesn’t do anyone any favours.


Yeah that makes sense, absolutely, the using your voice and speaking up and speaking out is critical. 


Yeah and you know another quote- I’m not going quote mad this week I promise but I thought this was really pertinent when I was researching this subject: hold tight to your childhood spirit of wonder, curiosity and adventure. That was from Richard Branson during the launch of the Virgin Galactic unity- and that says it all to me, you know that idea of childhood curiosity and wonder and I think if we were all able to hang on to a bit it would be a much better place and talking about his experience. That’s what embodies the Virgin brand as well and the hundreds of companies that try to look at the where is the clear space, where is the things that need fixing, what can I do to improve the customers lives, and you know he was talking about the Virgin Galactic dream was just a dream from fifty years ago. 

I met him when I was just starting out as a marketing exec twenty four years ago or something, I met him again when I was CMO of Virgin Wines, but you know when I started out on my career I went on this interview for Virgin Ultimate, which used to market things like Necker Island, some of the luxury properties that Virgin had. I went along to this building, had been given the address by the recruiter for the interview and it was all pretty dark and I rang on the doorbell and suddenly it dawned on me that I was actually in his house, and I’m sitting in his living room waiting to be called in and I’m looking around and there’s pictures of his kids and the awards and at first maybe I thought I was on candid camera or something. But within ten minutes someone went and grabbed me, took me up to the meeting room and I sort of relaxed a little and thought I’ll wait and meet the manager. Then he walks in and the first thing he does is introduce himself.  Which I thought was kind of unnecessary actually but very nice because thinking yes I do know you, this is your house but he said who are you? and then he said what are you here for, what’s the job? And I thought it had a massive impact on me right through my career, of course he can’t be like that with every employee. 

But to take the time to get to know some of the potential people that might be working at your organisation, and to be inquisitive and to care I think really shows the type of culture that he wants to create as well. So you know made a big impact think and let’s face is- storytelling is what Virgin do well, but what they also so well is look at the pain points and the frustration, and they’re curious about how they can improve people’s lives or how they can improve products or quite simply how can they improve product margins. So that made quite a big impact on me. So, what about you Sam, what about from your lens, is it that curiosity is a culture?


Stick it to the Man!


Yeah I think for me you definitely have to have the culture that cultivates curiosity, and there is a checklist that you can fight for to drive a team culture on curiosity but here’s my biggest observation- that it only works if the leadership are on board and they are out there role modelling. So it’s not enough to talk about it- they have to be about it. And this is an environment where leaders accept all view points- including dissenting ones. Now I’m not saying they have to agree but they’re ready to listen and to hear dissenting viewpoints. Could you ask questions or offer a counter view point on what the most senior person in the room is saying? Can you email the CEO and get a response? Those are just little signals, and you can ask them in an interview, and you can tell from that, if they’re confused by that question or they kind of say no then you’re probably not in the right culture for curiosity to thrive. 

The other one is leaders need to be open to hearing and sharing bad news; why is bad news buried and never talked about? I have an example from when we were working on a project and it got cancelled, and I wanted to do a post-mortem on the project and why it failed, I wanted to build on why it didn’t work out and I was furious and everyone kind of just went like: no, we can’t do that. I just thought, what are you talking about? I wasn’t just furious I wrote the postmortem and I published it, and guess what? No harm was done. I survived to live another day, and it was about if someone says no you can’t do something, well guess what  - you can do it, you can be it and really signal and reinforce that culture.

Another one that’s huge for marketers at the moment is the courage to move in different directions from the competition. Why do we spend all our time tracking and mimicking our key competitors- that doesn’t make any sense to me. Yes, be aware of them -but not following and copying them. My greatest initiative in my career was copying an idea from a power tool brand, but guess what - spoiler alert I was in the food category!  So I saw something that made sense to customers with the power tool and just brought it to food. 

So yeah, you can copy other people but from somewhere else in a different category and it worked really well, it transformed how people saw and perceived the category and communicated in a really simple way and consumers got it.  Steal from other categories and copy others just don’t stay focused on just the competition and your immediate competition. And the fourth one, which I would say is the most provocative one, is: do leaders prefer new and unfamiliar ideas? Not do leaders hear and listen and ask! Do they prefer, not tolerate or entertain but actually reward with resources, with attention, with challenges, with follow up, the new and unfamiliar ideas. Those are the situations where they’re putting their money where their mouth is. They’ve put money on the table, so how do they respond to these ideas, are they rejected or are they celebrated and are they rewarded? Those for me are key drivers for the culture that makes this happen but then again I’ve been on my soap box there Chris, so give me your thoughts on this, what are your thoughts? 


Well I mean I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said but I can imagine there’s hundreds, or let’s hope thousands of people out there thinking well that’s all well Sam but let’s not be idealistic -my organisation doesn’t have that culture and we have to be reality driven here, and it can be really hard, and that’s where reliance comes back into it.  No one said our role was going to be easy, but it’s our role to bring that curiosity in and I think even if you focus purely on the consumer or customer journey, finding out what their pain points are, making it a bit better, removing that friction, trying to improve it a bit more and then a bit more. I think we need to think within our opportunity areas we’re striving to deliver on that before we try to think about our transformation goals. I think that for me the most important thing out of that curious spirit that we have or should have or grow, is we need to make sure it's applicable to all that we do. 


Yes I agree with that completely and it reminds me of some of the work I did in my B2B days at Grainger which is a company in the maintenance repairs operations industry. They’re the place you go to instead of your traditional DIY store to get your lightbulbs and your carpet or your fixtures and fittings and that sort of stuff like equipment or gear.  What I see is really inspired by curiosity, it’s a programme called KeepStock which essentially took over as inventory management for their clients. What I loved about that programme is there wasn’t just one solution, there was ten or so others, and different levels: from being onsite to maybe to vending machines or technology as solutions. But ultimately it was about finding the ideas and the solutions for  the pain point that you talked about.  The friction for the customer was the inventory and being able to make the thing that they wanted to do or build the thing, or make sure production lines were up and running. You know ultimately what they needed was the inventory to put that all together, and our role was to take the burden off the customer but not only that - getting to know them so well and so intimately that our organisation could create a solution for them better than they did. 

That is having an insight, having the knowledge so deep of your customer that you can solve a problem that they can’t see but also being caring and curious to resolving it. So curiosity is not just about the inquisitiveness it’s the ability to take action and create and solve the problem better than currently exists. So that time was fascinating to me not only that you can have so many different solutions but also caring and being curious about what the customer problem is rather than trying to drive another sale or trying to sell something so that for me is an example.


Yeah and you can process this stuff I think that’s the important point here to your point where it can be a skill that you can develop over time and sometimes people work better when it’s a bit structured. I’ve been working with an international scientific organisation at the moment and the whole point has been bout trying the transition in 25 different countries to focus on giving the discovery phase an important part on the overall project plan, for the new product development. So at least fifty percent of the time is focused on that discovery, focused on that enquiry, focused on that curiosity and analysis.  If there’s one thing that comes out of that programme it’s to focus on that really which I think is an important point, you can force it but you can structure it.  It doesn’t have to be a straight jacket process it can be a framework to help things live and breathe. But anyway, we are running out of time again, although we could carry on for ages and I definitely want to find out how you managed to get a power tool into the food category but that’s a topic for another time. 


Three Key Takeouts and Reflections



  1. Resilience and as you said it’s not going to be easy, so being resilient and having the fortitude to fight the fight is critical

  2. Get uncomfortable, I mentioned a few ways to do that to put yourself in the environment, variety and how you can be open to new ideas, so getting uncomfortable is key,

  3. Curiosity is a skill, don’t let anyone tell you it’s a talent, yes some people may be predisposed to it, but it’s definitely a skill you can practice and pity into action. 

So, resilience, getting uncomfortable and that curiosity is a skill are the three things you can put into practice after listening to this show. 

So, Chris, what’s coming up on the next episode? 



So, next show we’re going to be talking about the power of being brave. We're going to explore why creative bravery is not just about coming up with a next Superbowl advert or challenger brand, but about the full products and services.  That being brave is important to recognise, but it also means the right mindset and the power of saying yes and then figuring out the answer afterwards. So that is it for today, thank you very much for listening, we appreciate it as always, could carry on for another twenty minutes but time to go. So, see you next week Sam.


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