Effective Marketing Leadership

Often in my career as a Marketer I have observed the struggle Marketing faces to legitimize its role and to communicate the value it creates for an organization. It is quite an irony that the team most responsible for communicating a company’s value to its markets struggles with developing a brand for itself!
Having been part of several startups and big companies I have seen this predicament play itself out where there’s constant labor for conveying self-value. Not suggesting that “every” company is equally oblivious to the true value to marketing but generally speaking companies view marketing teams as “cost centers” and comprising of folks that are good “talkers.” The challenge is compounded by the perception of the work itself being somewhat of a “subjective” nature. Product teams deign specs and user stories Engineers build products sales teams bring in revenue and Marketing they deal in color schemas logos and brochures!

Roles of an Engineer or a Product Manager are clearer to most as these are easily quantifiable. Yes Marketing is quantifiable – Customer Acquisition Cost Revenue Per visit Sales Pipeline MQLs etc. but the work that goes in isn’t quite measurable in quite the same way as the work of an Engineer or a Product Manager. Add to this that most technology companies are blurring the roles of Marketing and Product teams. So much so that a lot of marketers are now actively looking to become product managers. They see product as a path to maximize their career opportunities.

I believe that this perception is a likely outcome of the following factors:

Technical founders and the focus on product: Founders with technical backgrounds automatically gravitate toward technology and building solutions. They get excited about the product they are building and their passion for developing the best most perfect product drives them. It is actually quite energizing to see this level of passion firsthand. It’s okay they are doing what they are best at.

What gets lost though is sight of the “problem” being solved. When they believe the product is in good shape they hand it over to the Marketing people and expect them to create a market for it. They already built the perfect product right? Marketing is relegated to an after-thought in these situations as it has been left out from the conversation from the get-go. Several companies don’t get to maximize their potential when Marketing is relegated to the role of “promoting and selling” and not what it really is responsible for – customer understanding and identifying the emotive glue that attracts customers more efficiently.

Marketing ignorance: Let’s go viral! How often have marketers heard this from their leadership? Everyone would like for their product to sell itself. This is like believing in hope and luck not rooted in reality. As one of my former bosses told me “hope is not a strategy” going viral is not a marketing strategy. But how often does this become an expectation is mind boggling. Just do some social media and fun campaigns and you will go big! Not really.

Developing a robust strategy involves a keen understanding of customers their needs and behavioral patterns. The art of marketing is then to connect them emotionally with your product/solution so customers not only see it fulfilling their unmet need but also as unique and different from other available choices. Ignorance of what marketing really is afflicts a great many companies and it is the responsibility of those that play the marketing role to educate and guide their companies. No great brand was built without substance.

Marketing’s own fault: At some companies Marketing is viewed as a team that takes what is given as value (e.g. the product) and then “positions” it in order to attract customers. Often marketing teams are at fault for accepting this characterization of their role. This is not about gaining respect in the organization. Helping organizations understand the true value of marketing is a responsibility. It helps companies focus on customer listen to customers and ultimately develop great brands creating long-lasting businesses.

How do Marketers overcome this challenge? It took several years of struggling with this before I came to a 3-part approach Share-Empathize-Align (SEA) that I have been able to effectively apply to grapple with this challenge.

The first rule of Share-Empathize-Align system: As a marketer don’t wait to be included get involved!

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SHARE: You are the closest to the customer. You understand not just “who” the customer is “what” they need but also “why” they need what they need and “how” they feel. Share this knowledge widely across the entire company. Besides customer insight make it a point to understand the macro trends that impact your overall space and share them as well. When the marketing team makes it their responsibility to educate the entire company on the extrinsic factors affecting the business it leads to better strategy better solutions and better marketing.

When you share with the sole purpose of providing information to many you gain a seat at the table where product teams discuss the next version of the product sales includes you when thinking of new channels the strategy team invites you to formulate longer-term goals. You are not in the convincing business any longer you are a valuable member cross-functionally.

EMPATHIZE: Everyone believes they make valuable contributions. Everyone believes they are working hard. Everyone believes they face difficult challenges in their roles. Acknowledge this. As a marketer you emphasize with your customers. Go beyond and empathize with your sales product engineering procurement strategy finance and planning teams. Tell them you understand their daily struggles and thank them for the difficult jobs they handle. Don’t ask for help. Ask how you can help them. They will be there next time you need help.

ALIGN: You are responsible for the brand voice engagement and several other metrics. When you do your job well it helps grow revenue. Why not get measured on revenue? If not already insist that your performance be judged on company/division/product-line revenue. It does not matter whether you directly contribute toward revenue. What matters is that you take responsibility for the one metric that is important to everyone across the board. You still play the role you play however you are not a “soft” team focusing on “colors & language” (the common perception) you are a valuable member that focuses on helping everyone achieve revenue targets. You gain respect credibility and collaboration. 

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