3 Tips to Become a Marketing Leader from Starbucks’ Nancy Poznoff

Hal Conick
AMA Annual
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Key Takeaways

​What? Nancy Poznoff has had bombastic success at Starbucks, but it hasn't come by accident.

So what? Poznoff says leaders should have a growth mindset, always be willing to take on a challenge or learn from failures, and always be open to speaking with employees.

Now what? Successful leaders alos allow their teams to be successful. Empower your marketing team and make yourself an available, compassionate leader to retain top talent.

​Sept. 13, 2017

Nancy Poznoff says great marketing leaders must be more than bosses; they must be servant leaders

Soon after Nancy Poznoff, vice president of marketing at Starbucks Coffee Company, started her current stint at the coffee giant, she hit “a little bit of a kerfuffle.” Poznoff and her team had just launched the Starbucks red cup campaign and the response was frenzied.

“Our customers were happy,” Poznoff told the audience at the AMA 2017 Annual Conference, but there were some people​ who accused Starbucks of “killing Christmas.” Then-presidential candidate and now President Donald Trump said at a rally that “maybe we should boycott Starbucks.”

While the vitriolic response to the red cup campaign was one of Poznoff's most humbling experiences in her career, she says the way customers rallied around the Starbucks brand was a “breakthrough.” The company received 8 billion media impressions from the campaign, and it was one of the company's most successful holiday campaigns because of this response.

How can marketing leaders push through tough times like this? Poznoff says she has spent a lot of time building her leadership philosophy and has focused on three things to be a better leader.

1. Become Curious

“Curiosity is critical in marketing,” Poznoff says, noting that she follows ideas at strategy sessions with simple questions like “Why?”, “How?” and “What if ...?”

“Another important questions is “How could we ...?,” Poznoff says. While “ 'Could we ...?' leads to many yes or no answers, 'How could we ...?' gets teams to think more creatively."

One example of this was Starbucks' pop-up “cheer parties,” events where the company gave away holiday drinks to customers across the U.S. The campaign started after Starbucks' marketing team asked what Americans were feeling at the time. It was a tough time for retail, and many customers weren’t feeling optimistic. The solution was to incentivize them to come to Starbucks for free coffee.

“It turned out to be a phenomenon,” Poznoff says, adding that there were lines out the door across the country. “That was a big win for us.”

2. Have a Growth Mindset

Poznoff pointed to Dr. Carol Dweck's book Mindset as a big inspiration of hers. The book taught Poznoff to have a mindset of learning more, challenging herself and growing, versus having a fixed mindset of hating challenge and quickly giving up after failure.

“Perfect is the enemy of innovation,” Poznoff says. “If you're not willing to take risks. think differently and make people uncomfortable, you'll do the same thing you've always done, and you'll get the same results.”

3. Practice Servant Leadership

Poznoff asked the crowd to raise their hands if they've ever quit because of their boss; a sea of hands shot into the air. This is no surprise, Poznoff says, as a Gallup poll showed that 75% of people who quit their jobs do so because of their boss. “People leave bosses, not jobs,” Poznoff says.

To become a servant leader, Poznoff says managers should be compassionate to employees and themselves, available to talk, vulnerable with employees, accepting of all different kinds of people, present in the moment and useful instead of a micromanaging.

6 Tips to Build a Stronger Team

Poznoff ended her presentation with six tips for companies to build better marketing teams:

  1. Create a shared vision.

  2. Establish ways of working and expectations for the team.

  3. Set clear deliverable and goals.

  4. Hold people accountable.

  5. Keep each other current by sending around pertinent news stories or marketing campaigns.

  6. Support and coach each other.

Poznoff quoted Steve Jobs, saying that if companies hire smart people, they should allow them to be smart employees. Good leaders adapt their leadership to good employees, not the other way around.


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Author Bio:

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Hal Conick
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at hconick@ama.org or on Twitter at @HalConick.
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