Six Traits of Successful Strategic Restaurant Marketing Leaders

by Linda Duke, chief executive officer, Duke Marketing, LLC.

Strategic leaders — the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment – do six things well:

1.      Anticipate 

Most of the focus at most companies is on what’s directly ahead. The leaders lack “peripheral vision.” This can leave your company vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals. To anticipate well, you must:

  • Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry
  • Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
  • Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better

2.      Think Critically

“Conventional wisdom” opens you to fewer raised eyebrows and second guessing. But if you swallow every management fad, herd like belief, and safe opinion at face value, your company loses all competitive advantage. Critical thinkers question everything. To master this skill you must force yourself to:

  • Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things, in terms of root causes
  • Challenge current beliefs and mindsets, including your own
  • Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions

3.      Interpret

Ambiguity is unsettling. Faced with it, the temptation is to reach for a fast (and potentially wrongheaded) solution.  A good strategic leader holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint. To get good at this, you have to:

  • Seek patterns in multiple sources of data
  • Encourage others to do the same
  • Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously

4.      Decide

Many leaders fall prey to “analysis paralysis.” You have to develop processes and enforce them, so that you arrive at a “good enough” position. To do that well, you have to:

  • Carefully frame the decision to get to the crux of the matter
  • Balance speed, rigor, quality and agility. Leave perfection to higher powers
  • Take a stand even with incomplete information and amid diverse views

5.      Align

Six Traits of Successful Strategic Restaurant Marketing LeadersTotal consensus is rare. A strategic leader must foster open dialogue, build trust and engage key stakeholders, especially when views diverge.  To pull that off, you need to:

  • Understand what drives other people’s agendas, including what remains hidden
  • Bring tough issues to the surface, even when it’s uncomfortable
  • Assess risk tolerance and follow through to build the necessary support

6.      Learn

As your company grows, honest feedback is harder and harder to come by.  You have to do what you can to keep it coming. This is crucial because success and failure–especially failure–are valuable sources of organizational learning.  Here’s what you need to do:

  • Encourage and exemplify honest, rigorous debriefs to extract lessons
  • Shift course quickly if you realize you’re off track
  • Celebrate both success and (well-intentioned) failures that provide insight

Do you have what it takes?

Obviously, this is a daunting list of tasks, and frankly, no one is born a black belt in all these different skills. But they can be taught and whatever gaps exist in your skill set can be filled in.

About the Author:

Ms. Duke is CEO of Duke Marketing, LLC, a California-based full service marketing firm providing strategic communications and creative brand building expertise for multi-location and franchise organizations. Over the past 20+ years Ms. Duke has consulted with top restaurant and hospitality brands in the United States and abroad, and is a nationally recognized franchise and multi-location expert, speaker, educator and published author, She speaks frequently at restaurant industry and franchisee conferences motivating and inspiring restaurant operators across the country. Ms. Duke is one of the founding members of the National Restaurant Association’s Fast Casual Industry Council (FCIC) and is a member of the board of directors of the California Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation (CRAEF). Ms. Duke is a sought after marketing and public relations resource and contributing writer for restaurant, hospitality and franchise industry trade and business publications, and publishes a quarterly industry resource, Restaurant Marketing Magazine. In August 2011, she launched an educational training program, LSM-U, Local Store Marketing University, to educate the next generation of hospitality marketers.  She holds bachelor degrees in both advertising and marketing and an executive MBA from Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill. More information can be viewed at