Yan Martin’s 6 crucial insights on leadership and brand purpose

In this Q&A, Yan Martin reveals key pieces of wisdom for retailers focused on steering their marketing efforts in the right direction today, tomorrow, and well into the future.
By
Tess Boissonneault
July 21, 2020

Yan Martin knows a thing or two about marketing and leadership. A seasoned global executive, Yan spearheaded European marketing for the Reebok brand for a number of years, working on timeless campaigns such as Be More Human. Most recently, Yan pivoted his focus entirely to his consulting business, where he provides coaching services to fellow industry leaders. 

Here, Yan delivers expert advice for retailers redefining what success looks like in the post-pandemic world, offering up tips related to your brand purpose, leadership, and tactics for reaching customers. 

1.  Crisis can be overwhelming for any leader. In your latest LinkedIn Pulse article, you talked about the importance of focusing on the “task at hand.” How can leaders find more focus in an age of information overload with a bias for action? 


This can be distilled into three different pillars: clarity of objectives, clarity of priorities, and your environment. In order to achieve all three, you need discipline and consistent practice to stay the course. 

When it comes to clarity of objectives, think about where you’re going and why - and communicate that clearly to your team. Once you have that, you can prioritize correctly, and you can empower people on your team to do the same. Environment is self-explanatory: set up the place around you for success. Take away your phone and your iPad, and declutter. Keep only what you need around you so you are giving yourself a fighting chance to stay focused. 

There’s a single concept that undercuts all three of these: and that’s mindfulness. I started practicing mindfulness eight years ago and discovered the interdependencies of good leadership and wellbeing. You need to know how to lead yourself before you lead people. So, if you haven’t yet, start by knowing your personal objectives, priorities and what you need to create a successful environment -- and work on the rest from there.

2. In the past, you oversaw global marketing for the Reebok brand. With COVID-19, organizations need change agents more than ever. What would be your top 3 tips for retailers looking to pivot their business today?


1. Stay close to your consumers

It’s always important to listen to our consumers closely, but it’s especially crucial when habits and patterns are changing rapidly on a global scale. Know what’s changing, find the reasons why your consumers are thinking and feeling differently. 

2. Set yourself up for agility
Retailers who have agile processes built-in to their infrastructures have been able to pivot and adapt quickly. If you’re dealing with outdated, legacy frameworks, re-evaluate the way you’re structured. This might mean shifting your org chart or revamping internal processes so you can be more nimble. 

3. Reward creativity
Times of intense change require new ideas and new ways of thinking. Create forums in your organization where people are empowered to share knowledge and ideas openly. This is essential, and often overlooked, especially as you cultivate new ways of working. 

3. Throughout our webinar series - one of the most common themes we have uncovered is the acceleration of digital transformation. In your opinion, what do marketing leaders need to do to future-proof their business? 


First and foremost, you need to ask yourself: are we set up properly for the next major challenge? And then ask: how adaptable is our business model? Is it too rigid and stale? 


If you have all of your eggs in the same basket - for example, a brick-and-mortar business with little-to-no ecommerce fuel - your ability to shift and change is severely jeopardized. Look at other axes of your organization, see what options you have, and start to invest more thinking into how you can expand wisely, and subsequently de-risk. 

4. How can brands encourage healthier habits for customers, when being stuck at home and sedentary is the norm?


It’s important to remember that brands are like people. So, unless healthy habits and healthy living is part of your brand purpose beforehand, trying to force it into your branding isn’t a viable long-term strategy. 

In the past few months, I’ve seen brands deliver strong statements that are completely aligned with their purpose, while others have fallen flat because customers can always clearly see through a facade. 

Building a brand purpose that lays the foundation for a strong, lasting message is a process that requires companies to dig deep. If the global pandemic - or the parallel social justice movements - have made you realize that your brand’s purpose is shaky, start your overhaul from the inside with your own team and culture. In other words, practice the promises you want to live out with your customers within the walls of your own organization. 

True transformation happens at an individual level, and people want to work for companies with a deeper purpose. So make your work meaningful, and in turn, you’ll attract talent that wants to bring that unique meaning to the market with passion and authenticity. 

5. Lululemon just bought Mirror, an at-home fitness company, for a whopping $500 million. Do you expect more tech-driven M&A in the space, and how do you think this will transform fitness in the long haul?


We’ll see plenty of more acquisitions like this happen, simply because tech is becoming more embedded in our lives than ever. If a fitness brand can find a way to bridge connectivity between people, and if it fits the core of their purpose, bringing this new tool into the offering to enhance the customer experience just makes sense. 

When there’s a strong enough overlap between the two brands - like there is for Lululemon and Mirror - it will work. But it needs to feel seamless, authentic, and most importantly, natural to the end consumer and aligned with their brand purpose. 

6. The 2017 Be More Human campaign at Reebok conveys strength, toughness, and role modelling. In your view, what brands today embody these attributes? 


This campaign was to tell a story around our deeper belief that fitness can change people’s lives: if people move and get outside of their comfort zone, their life will get better. I was proud of this campaign because it was true to who we are. 

Today, the brands who are staying authentic -- and not trying to capitalize on struggling groups for commercial benefits -- are the ones I applaud.