A Guide for Marketing Directors and Leaders - Top Ten things you should know
Updated: Jun 11, 2021
You’ve landed your dream leadership role in marketing. Now what is the reality? You've worked your way up from Marketing Manager, so what actually is different as you progress? What should you be aware of? We've spoken to several Marketing Directors, CMOs and Heads of Marketing and asked them what were the top ten things they wished they'd known when they first took on the role. So here it is, our warts and all guide to surviving and succeeding as the marketing lead for your organisation.
A hugely underestimated factor in the success of a marketing team is culture. Workplace culture is the environment that you create for your employees. This will need to be in step with the organisation's leadership style and values, but a good Marketing Director places their own culture on their marketing team too. Your values, beliefs, and how you interact with your team and that of the rest of the leadership team can literally make or break the success of an organisation.
Often new Marketing Directors are brought in to make radical and unpopular changes to how things have been done previously. If you inherit a negative culture or a team adverse to the changes that you want to make, then you will need a strong positive minded MD or CEO to support you through the necessary transition. Move with empathy to understand the negativity you’re encountering. The rest of the leadership team must be on the same page and supportive of each other and spend time agreeing the culture they want for the organisation. They need to then manifest this culture in their everyday behaviours. So here make sure that the culture it is manifested in each of you, that you have the support of your CEO and that you communicate any changes clearly, positively and with respect to your teams, empowering them to also embody the behaviours associated with the culture.
Only by making sure all these things are in place will you be able to be an effective and respected Marketing Director.
2. Stakeholder management
The role of the Marketing lead is often contentious in any organisation. By being responsible for the brand, you control the heart and soul of the company and your role is hugely visible. It's inevitable that your own personality will be reflected in the brand and communication created by your team, and you will not therefore be able to please everyone. Every member of an organisation will have their own interpretation of the brand and how marketing should be done. Because we live in a world full of marketing campaigns and we spend our lives consuming hundreds of logos, straplines and messages every day, it's inevitable that the consumers of marketing i.e. your colleagues will have an opinion on your work. They will make what they perceive to be helpful suggestions, or in some cases outright criticism of your work. Every campaign, every typo on the web page, is there to hold you and your team to account. These colleagues with the “helpful” advice or criticism are what can be referred to as “armchair marketers'' and are the bane of the profession.
In few other disciplines do we see such scrutiny or lack of respect. There is often a complete ignorance of the years of experience, training and qualifications that have been acquired to equip someone for a role in marketing, never mind the softer attributes such as working to deadlines and communications skills.
You wouldn't dream of critiquing the finance manager’s excel skills so why is it acceptable to openly critique the work of the marketer? This is most likely due to the fact that we all consume so much marketing and yet it is still a rather new profession and so not given the same gravitas as legal, financial or other specialisms. The best thing to do here is grow thick skin and agree with your CEO as to who the stakeholders should be and who signs off on marketing collateral. Suggest to your CEO that you keep the stakeholders to a minimum. Politely thank your helpful colleagues for their input and go about the rest of your day. If you can't grow thick skin then retrain to another less high profile role and save yourself years of stress. If you can handle the limelight then do not let the scrutiny of the role scupper your creativity. Be bold in your marketing campaigns and tap into the creativity within your team giving them as much free rein as possible to generate exciting new ideas. Support your team emotionally and create clear sign off systems, as they will also receive unrequested feedback and unhelpful stakeholders. An unclear sign off process can derail the entire marketing process and sabotage weeks of good work.
A Marketing Director without a sufficient marketing budget is like a concert hall with no orchestra. It’s alarmingly common for CEOs to recruit a Marketing Director on a decent salary and then think this will tick the marketing box to sufficiently create all of the brand awareness and sales generation. If you’re attracted to apply for a new Marketing Director role and get called for an interview, always ask what the marketing budget is and think twice if they have no clue- or worst still- have no budget.
As great as you are, you are a generalist most likely meaning you are NOT and nor should you be a graphic designer, PR expert, social media guru, photographer, data analyst...you get the idea. What happens when you realise two months in that you need a brand new CRM system, or you’re asked to launch a new product or brand with no budget?
If you have an open minded CEO, the organisation is doing well financially, and you have good persuasion skills then you might retrospectively get the budget you need to do your job. If you don't, then you should consider leaving because you will not be able to do your job effectively and the company may even wonder why they hired a Marketing Director in the first place.
It's often the case that marketing professionals are creative beings. They visit art galleries, studied arts and humanities at school and love to create campaigns. If this description resonates with you then you probably hate processes. Here’s the truth however. Marketing is a busy job! It’s fiddly and time consuming. From scheduling on social media to signing off new graphic design- everything takes longer than you expect. And you have deadlines to meet and several players all creating separate things. Write down your marketing plans every time. Get your team to write theirs down. Agree the targets and objectives. Don't let your team go rogue. If you do then you will have ineffective ad hoc campaigns that don't resonate with your target audiences. Take time to understand and implement Trello, Content Cal or other project management tools.
5. Digital capability
This can be a sticky point for many Marketing Directors who may have started their careers in the nineties and remember when marketing was about creating beautiful brochures, direct mail, telemarketing etc. However if you’re reading this blog then you have made a decision to stay in the game and upskill yourself to all things digital. This can be intimidating. You recruit a University graduate and their native ability to use digital marketing for the benefit of your organisation astounds you.
First of all, deep breaths. Your years of experience and traditional qualifications not to mention wisdom are still hugely important. Successful Marketing Directors still need to be able to devise a strategy, manage a team, win over key stakeholders and apply the marketing theories to everything they do. A University graduate cannot replace you- but as long as you empower them they can ensure that your digital marketing strategies are up to date and relevant for your organisation and to your chosen audience.
What’s more, there is no one out there, gen Z or otherwise that can possibly know everything there is to know about digital marketing. Take email automation as an example. It takes experts to know which automation tools are correct for your organisation and then to make the most out of all the features. This person must also understand GDPR and data segmentation. The same marketer probably knows very little about how to get 2 million views on Tik Tok.
So whilst you should invest some time understanding the principles and using some of the technology, your time is much better spent being crystal clear about the digital capabilities you need to recruit internally or outsource to a digital marketing agency. To do this listen to podcasts, subscribe to email newsletters and speak to other Marketing Directors in your sector. Ask them to share their organisation charts and job descriptions. Recruit staff on terms that enable you to amend the job descriptions after a few months if you realise there is a digital skills gap that you need to fill.
As a Marketing Director you need to be up to date on the latest digital trends and skills, but you don't need to do the doing!
6. Identifying roadblocks early
A lot of these are covered in the earlier points as roadblocks take many shapes. They include a lack of budget, a lack of stakeholder buy-in around a direction you may want to take the marketing strategy or a lack of skills within your team. In most cases you can influence and ultimately overcome these roadblocks and lead your team to success. However there is one roadblock you are unlikely to overcome... and that is a substandard offer.
If product management, commercial, pricing or propositions development sit within a separate team to yours, meaning you literally just look after the marketing, communications and PR, then you’d better believe in the product your company is selling. There is nothing more disheartening for a marketing leader than to pour their heart and soul into a successful campaign launch only to later find out through customer feedback that the service is terrible, the product isn't flying off the shelves or that significant commercial opportunities are being missed.
If the organisation is not meeting its sales or revenue targets is this due to poor customer service, inexperienced sales teams or short sighted and non customer facing product development? Are these departments blaming the marketing campaigns as the reason for not hitting the KPIs? There are some things you can do here. Invest time or money into market research such as online surveys. Invest in social listening tools and provide the feedback to your product development team, MD or CEO. If they listen and amend the offer then great. If they don't and you enter a blame culture where your team are expected to be miracle workers literally flogging a dead horse then eventually you will have to move on, and support your marketing team who will undoubtedly feel as disheartened as you do.
7. A mixed skillset
The wonderful and surprising joy that many senior marketing managers discover in leading a marketing team is the diversity of the work. One minute you’re analysing data with Google Analytics and the next you’re choosing colour palettes for the new set of brand guidelines sat on bean bags at some swanky branding agency. The mind bending pivot to digital that the industry had seen in the last ten years means recruiting for a much more diverse team.
Creative graphic designers and wordsmiths are still required but so too are analytical and technical experts in SEO, PPC, data analysis and email automation. This actually leans to a much more effective and well balanced team in terms of personality types. Be sure to be mindful of the differing needs of your team. Some may be introverted and prefer lone working, others will thrive in the brainstorming sessions and creative sharing in an office environment. Post Covid a hybrid approach may be the best option giving the team the focused analytical and thinking time at home alongside the creative brainstorming that can only be achieved face to face. It's also important to aim for a diverse team in terms of age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and background as nothing stifles creativity quicker than “groupthink”.
8. Data data data
It was so much easier twenty years ago when you were first starting out! You could buy any list you wanted and spam anyone you wanted to! You measured how many sales you received from telemarketing versus direct mail versus face to face events. Now it's about impressions, click through rates, page visits, bounce rates etc etc. If you’re resisting using data to propel your marketing then you probably shouldn't be a senior marketer. Use it to find out which campaigns are working and which aren't. Use it to influence what your marketing team does next. Use it to justify your marketing spend to the leadership team. You will live and die by your data. Use it. Respect it and learn to love it.
9. Lifelong learning and investing in training
As already outlined, the marketing profession has changed beyond recognition in just a handful of years, and currently a digital skills gap plagues the profession, both at senior levels, but also when trying to recruit further down. It’s true that some educational institutions and courses have also struggled to keep up with digital capability requirements, and so there isn't one clear path for marketers to keep on top of their digital marketing skills.
The workstack of marketing teams and budgets equally are over stretched, and so a huge number of marketing teams are running on empty and not investing in the continuous upskilling that is required. In addition to the skills gap, CEOs and MDs will often look to the Marketing Director to be at the forefront of the latest digital trend, and whilst this is certainly the role of the marketing lead, no one professional can keep on top of everything as the pace of change is too fast currently.
If you’re short on training budget for yourself and your team then thankfully there are some fantastic free resources out there provided by the likes of Google, Moz and Hubspot academy as well as useful podcasts such as Social Minds. Make sure you are providing time in the working week for your team and yourself to keep on top of these things. One afternoon each week would be helpful and ask team members to feed back on their learning in team meetings. Invite guest speakers from other marketing teams in other industries to attend your team meetings and also take time out to do free online personality tests so everyone gets a better understanding of how each team member learns differently.
10. Work life balance and wellbeing
Twenty years ago there was some talk of work life balance and stress management but little around mental health and wellbeing. Working long hours and being stressed out were almost seen as honourable badges. Mothers especially would not feel comfortable asking for reduced or flexible working hours, an employee would think twice about mentioning their mental health issues and there was no mention of the menopause. Thankfully things have moved on in this regard and for your own wellbeing and that of your teams there is an expectation not just to give lip service to work life balance and wellbeing but to have tangible workable structures in place. As a leader within the organisation you can help shape the HR practices and as the leader of the marketing team you can make sure you are organised so that your team are not working late responding to last minute requests and have plenty of time to achieve their deadlines. This will mean your role is often to say no to unreasonable requests to protect them. This will not be easy, but is just as important as other measures such as allowing your team to work from home, offering mindfulness sessions and organising away days.
It's a huge privilege to lead a marketing team and now is an exciting time to be doing this. By leading a team right now you will guide your staff through the revolutionary change curve in how we do marketing. Be sure to celebrate all your successes and to pace yourself through these changing times. Don't be afraid to look for support from marketing agencies that can provide a cost effective way to share the workload, and be kind to yourself as you lead the way!
Join the Dots Agency is led by marketing experts who have spent years as Marketing Managers and Directors, so they have walked in your shoes. If you're ready to share the burden, fill your digital skills gap and work with a team of fellow marketers then book in for a free consultation or email firstname.lastname@example.org.