Why are some CMOs better than others at adapting to the digital era? Last week, I provided some answers when I unveiled the five habits of highly adaptive marketers at the Forrester Consumer Forum in Chicago.

After spending the past three months with more than 20 of the most successful marketing executives and thought leaders from around the world, here is what it boils down to. Marketing leaders who are successfully evolving into adaptive digital-era marketers are willing to part ways with outdated practices. That doesn’t mean they have abandoned the fundamentals of traditional marketing. Rather, they have retained its best parts, while shedding its five bad habits:

  • Complacency. Marketers who are complacent leave their brand exposed and vulnerable to the competition. Blockbuster ignored the road signs pointing to consumers’ desires to bypass the video store in favor of more convenient formats. Meanwhile, Netflix and Redbox seized the opportunity to create new channels of distribution.
  • Conformity. Marketers who play follow-the-leader lose their ability to differentiate themselves. While major airlines like Delta, United, and American have flirted with bankruptcy by providing the lowest common denominator of service, others like Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America are having success by straying from the norm and offering more leg room, checking luggage without charging extra fees, and providing in-flight Wi-Fi.
  • Analysis paralysis. Marketers who get overwhelmed trying to measure and validate every decision often end up missing opportunities. This is especially true when it comes to social media, where McDonald’s and Dunkin' Donuts hesitated before engaging in it. Meanwhile, their staunchest competitor, Starbucks, dove in head first and has grown its social media presence with every success and failure to become the only brand with more than 10 million Facebook fans and more than 1 million Twitter followers.
  • Hands-off management. Traditional practices of top-down management leave the brand detached and distanced from consumers. BP’s command-and-control approach to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill revealed how out of touch the company’s leadership was to local consumers. Meanwhile, Best Buy empowers more than 1,500 employees to be the voice and face of the brand by directly addressing customer issues through the Twelpforce.
  • Silos of knowledge. Marketers who are overly reliant on silos of product specialization usually stifle creativity and collaboration. This limits the company’s ability to innovate in new categories, much like Microsoft that struggles to expand its market-share leadership outside of its core business. In contrast, Google operates under a mandate of innovation across the entire company, enabling employees to spend 20% to 30% of their time on dreaming up new ideas.

How Do CMOs And Marketing Leaders Kick Their Bad Habits?

In the words of Jack Welch, “change before you have to.” CMOs and marketing leaders must replace these bad habits with new habits, which I outline in my upcoming report, “Adapt or Perish: The Five Habits Of Highly Adaptive Marketers.” Look for it to be published next week.

In the meantime, I'm curious to know . . . which of the bad habits is most responsible for holding back traditional marketers from evolving into adaptive digital-era marketers?