3 Powerful Marketing Leadership Strategies

Seasoned marketing executives’ advice to those seeking to advance their careers. 
September 15, 2020 10 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When I graduated from college, the best career advice I never followed was to build my professional network. As an introvert with a borderline avoidant-personality-disorder, I preferred the mellow illumination of my computer screen, and the sound of a keyboard clicking like rain on a tin roof, over actually meeting people. In retrospect, my understanding of business and sales was naïve.

Now I know that networking is the key to success. Fifteen years of working with other professionals taught me that. More recently, interviews with over a dozen marketing professionals in the health and wellness industry drove the point home.

Related: Build Your Brand Online with This Up-to-Date Marketing Course

As part of EMPATH’s giving-back efforts, we donate time to local non-profits, schools, and other community organizations that need support. We found a common thread during engagements at our local colleges: what should students expect when they enter the workforce? A straightforward enough question.

My team and I developed our own take on the matter – through our prism of experiences, biases and inexperiences. It got us thinking. We’re a boutique brand and marketing consultancy. Many of these students aspire to work in large agencies or with exemplar brands. In the spirit of our mission to develop a deep understanding of our clients’ customer’s wants and needs, we decided to apply our own methodology to discovering what eager students can expect and plan for in their new careers. After speaking with many leading marketing professionals, we found that the advice shared, while valuable for students, would also be valuable for those in leadership positions (or those aspiring to become leaders).

We invested hours in interviewing leading marketing professionals in our network, and even more time doing secondary source research (listening to speeches, following social media comments and posts, synthesizing other sources). We found three central themes: be a generalist, know your customers (really know them), and pursue lifelong learning.

Of course, speaking with over a dozen specialists with the highest pedigrees elicited more than three takeaways. The conversations were so rich, it was a challenge to winnow the ideas down to just three.

A hearty thanks to all those who donated their time to satiate our curiosity as to what it’s like on the other side of the screen. Now, back to our three themes.

“It’s not a bad thing to be a generalist.”

Jann Parish, named as Forbes CMO NEXT 2019, is an experienced CMO/executive level marketer with brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and L’Oreal. She described how being a generalist can make you a better leader. Early in her marketing career, she said she had an insatiable drive to learn as much as she could. That meant “never having the loudest voice,” but always developing the deepest level of understanding through asking thoughtful questions. “I didn’t want to be viewed as someone who would take over, but as someone who would contribute.” Especially when she was a young woman seated in a room full of men who had more experience and felt strongly that they knew best. She says that becoming a great leader is about developing a range of skills and being an active listener. But it’s also about “putting the ego aside and hiring the best talent.” When you’re a generalist, you’re good at a lot of things, but you rely on your team to be great in their own domains.

Related: Successfully Pivot Your Marketing Efforts Digitally With These 10 Master Courses

Erin Fitzgerald, CMO at Sermo, agrees. “It’s not a bad thing to be a generalist.” She explains how, for executive positions, “you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself into being an email marketing or social media guru.” A big challenge for all brands is understating the polar opposites of creative and technical marketing. From automation to the emotions that your marketing elicits, being a generalist gives you the ability to understand both extremes. She says that myopic views in marketing are dangerous: when you are too focused on technical and esoteric skills, you miss out on knowing why data is important, how to operationalize it, and how to figure out which KPIs matter.

Having spanned various roles at Carl Zeiss Vision over the last 16 years, Pamela Andrews corroborates this take on skillsets. She says that good project management skills are founded on having a broad range of professional experiences: they’re quintessential to overseeing the kinds of disparate projects a marketing professional has to juggle. “Literally, every day, I’m working on something different. One day might be a product launch that has many different elements that need to be pulled together, another day might be a promotion campaign.” The ability to manage all the different aspects of her role reinforces the value of a generalist point of view.

Greg Barntsen, a former P&G Exec, sums it up nicely: “A brand manager is the hub of the wheel of the cross-functional team.” The hub is only as strong as its spokes. And in life, you can’t be both hub and spoke. If your aspirations are to become a manager, to lead others, become a generalist. Your team will love you for it.

“External resources are good fodder. But…”

One of our key questions was to ask what resources these executives use most often to learn, evolve, and improve their skills and knowledge. Perhaps one of the most challenging responses came from Kristin Harper, previous Global Vice President at Cardinal Health: “external resources are good fodder and good food for thought, but the most important thing is to know your customer intimately.” She went on to explain how she doesn’t invest a significant amount of time to reading books and blogs and listening to podcasts. Instead, she invests the majority of her time in deeply understanding her customers. While every other interviewee listed multiple resources, Kristin became an outlier by expressing the importance of focus groups, tradeshows, qualitative data, customized surveys, and secondary source customer research. This was music to our ears because we beat that drum all the time to our prospects, clients, and team. Kristin expressed her love of reading customer behavior reports, looking at sales data, and using her access to PEW and IRI (among others), to learn about her customers’ motivations, interests, and aspirations

A key takeaway from our interview with Kristin is that “salespeople are a good source for getting to know your customer.” She mentioned the need to work closely with salespeople, but cautioned against drawing conclusions on one-off conversations. Like the rivalry between circus clowns and party clowns, sales and marketing folks are often in strife overvalues and approaches. You need to break down that barrier. Our next interviewee explains how.

Sarah Mayer, having held senior marketing roles at fledgling brands and stalwarts alike, had this to say about getting to know people: “everyone is busy these days, full days, jobs, family, bills to pay. Take a step back. Rather than being purely transactional, be down to earth, personal, and call out the fact that you know they are busy. Ask them to coffee. Tell them it’s just a conversation.” She says having coffee with people has been a key factor in her success.

Related: What Vans Can Teach Us About Influencer Marketing

Matthew Polk has similar insights. Having been a Marketing Director & General Manager at Foster Farms, he said, “I’m likely not the market for what my company sells. Being over-educated, overpaid, and having lived in too many different areas, I’m not the target customer.” What he said next surprised me. “Understanding consumer insights is quintessential, but It’s not an advantage to be one of your own customers. It puts blinders on you.” For those of you who are worried you can’t relate to your market: don’t be. According to Matthew, it’s an advantage, if you leverage it properly. He says you should develop a “method of thinking about consumer insight, target market, and what the consumers’ attitudes are. How your brand or product fits into, or needs to evolve to fit into their lifestyles. What’s the benefit proposition, relevance, what are their beliefs?” As Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

If you haven’t learned this already, or are still fighting the urge to live behind a screen, take some advice from Bob Hurley, former Executive Advisor at eHealth. “Relationships are often—usually— the key to all success in life. Both your business and personal lives. The most successful business people are often excellent relationship people. The key to effective relationships in business is to create win-win partnerships that in the end serve all partners and constituents by adding value for everyone involved.”

“The journey is about learning.”

Beyond learning about your customers, Matthew Polk also advised to always be learning, period. Learn by getting involved, being curious and inquisitive. Each executive we interviewed either explicitly expressed their interest in learning or conveyed it by example. Like the way Haystack LLC Marketing Manager, Maria LaTour, started practicing meditation and yoga to inspire calmness. Or Jessica Yarmey, Chief Marketing Officer at Club Pilates, who says, “time in the seat is vital: you’ll make mistakes and learn from them.”

Erin Fasano, seasoned Marketing Director and Brand Manager, shared a resource that provides advanced brand strategy courses, Planning Dirty.

On the subject of strategy, Vice President of Integrated Marketing at Sambazon, Sebastien Marcq, explained how the Prof G podcast is continually improving his critical reasoning abilities.

The leading resources these marketing executives use to discover and distill insights was social media networks (no surprise). LinkedIn led the pack (biased because that’s how we sought out the interviews) with 80% acknowledging it. Instagram was second at 73%, with Twitter and Facebook tied at 26%. Podcasts were mentioned by 26% of the executives. Adweek and CMO Moves were cited by 20%, and Adage, Food Business News Daily, and HBR lagged behind at 13% each.

Key takeaways

If you want to be successful in marketing, it’s essential to acquire a deep understanding of your customers. Beyond personas and reviews. Meet them where they’re at: at work, in their homes, or in the field as they use your products.

If you want to become a successful executive, strive for four things. Be a generalist. Develop a focus on relationships. And become an amazing listener, because it’s never about who shouts the loudest, but who listens the longest. And always keep learning.

How to Become a Leadership Influencer

Executive brands are evolving through the power of expertise, authority and trust.
November 29, 2019 4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You’re probably sick of hearing about influencers these days and how all it takes to become one is amassing a relevant social following, whether that’s at a micro-level of a few thousand social followers or fans in the millions. However, marketing yourself to simply gather a large number of followers actually isn’t (or, at least, doesn’t have to be) the misguided quest for superficial Internet stardom it may seem like. Frankly, it’s those questionable connotations that make business executives and leaders more attracted to another, seemingly more professional status; rather than “social influencers,” executives now strive to be “thought leaders.”

On the one hand, there can be a massive chasm between the two. The agenda for most “influencers” might just be to tempt you into shopping at a particular boutique, for which they’ll receive compensation or free products themselves (#ad). The job of a “thought leader,” meanwhile, is to create a paradigm shift that earns them respect and positive reputation. But viewed another way, the line is becoming increasingly blurred. Influencers are more educated and skilled than ever before, while thought leaders have become, in some cases, blatant promoters of their own companies and brands.

Somewhere in between, we’re witnessing the evolution of a new leadership breed and its ability to drive meaningful dialogue at a macro level. Enter the leadership influencer.

Related: Are Influencers Worth Our Money?

What Is a Leadership Influencer?

A leadership influencer is an executive who has, through a proven track record, triumphed in business and now motivates and inspires others to create similar success through the sharing of knowledge, attitude, philosophy and strategy. The leadership influencer uses channels such as news or topical publications and social media strategies to accomplish this. While nearly anyone can purchase Instagram followers or pose as an industry thought leader, being a true leadership influencer requires a special skill that isn’t easy to come by. Namely….

The Power and Commitment to Inspire

Even if you consider yourself a passionate communicator and are confident in your writing and speaking capabilities, you likely face the obstacles of time constraints; unfamiliarity with platforms (e.g. you might publish inspiring material on your blog or LinkedIn profile, but do you know how to get your thoughts in front of a national publication’s audience?); impatience (leadership influence takes more effort than a stab in the dark; uncertainty about what to say (you know your thoughts, but how do you explain them efficiently?); or lack of confidence.

Here’s the truth that everyone needs to hear: We all have something to say and share. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting out as an intern or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Your experiences define you and the perspective you gain from it is perspective that you, and only you, have the ability to share. These narratives are not only powerful, but begin to authentically position you as a leader who can motivate and inspire.

A Critical First Step

If you don’t yet publish anywhere, pick a platform today (LinkedIn or Medium is a great place to start) and just start writing about something. Stuck? Try one of these three topics:

  • What’s your favorite quote and why?
  • What has been one of the biggest challenges of your career, and how did you overcome it?
  • Who has been your favorite client to work with and why?

If that first question resonated, you might devise an angle like: “Why This [Insert Author’s] Quote Has Helped Me [Insert Lessons or Takeaways].” So, if you picked Abraham Lincoln, it could read: “My Favorite Abraham Lincoln Quote Is a Daily Reminder About Integrity.” Or: “This Abraham Lincoln Quote Has Reminded Me About the Importance of Honesty for 19 Years.”

Related: Here’s How You Can Do Influence Marketing

To Influence, or Not to Influence

Ultimately, you’ll be able to streamline this process of fleshing out ideas and then start using the same approach with your niche and industry expertise. As a leadership influencer, you’re the expert and the authority. All the knowledge is already there, but it requires you to completely eviscerate your comfort zone. After all, do you want to leave a content footprint, or do you want to leave a legacy? You decide.

Five Steps to Building Trust With Thought Leadership

A thought-leadership program drives value and builds trust. But many marketers struggle to identify their unique industry perspective, and then to integrate it into their messaging, positioning, and content. These five steps will help you kick off (or elevate) your thought-leadership program. Read the full article at MarketingProfs

About 50% of B2B marketers believe thought leadership builds trust in their organization. However, among actual buyers, that number is much higher—around 83%.

That disconnect is preventing B2B marketers from using thought-leadership content in their quest to become a trusted resource for their customers.

More marketers need to understand that establishing a thought-leadership program drives value and builds trust, whereas not doing so risks falling behind or damaging their brand’s credibility in the industry. However, many marketers struggle to identify their unique industry perspective, and then to integrate that perspective into their messaging, positioning, and content.

Are you in the same boat? Here are five easy-to-follow steps for kicking off (or elevating) your brand’s thought-leadership program.

1. Analyze and assess your brand’s credibility

Your brand’s visibility and credibility go beyond SEO. Consider paying attention to your online presence as a whole:

  • Is the content on your social channels aligned?
  • Do you have someone monitoring your earned coverage to ensure consistency across channels?
  • How does your share of voice compare with your competitors’?
  • What overall message are you sending to your customers through your paid, earned, shared, and owned channels?

Establishing a consistent tone and flare that speak to your target buyer personas is the first step toward boosting credibility. If your content also doesn’t speak to your customers’ needs and preferences, then you probably lack authority and credibility in their minds.

Consider a visibility assessment or lean on an agency that has the tools to conduct a full assessment of your online presence.

2. Solidify your brand’s messaging and positioning

This step goes hand in hand with a visibility assessment. As you’re evaluating your brand’s footprint, are you finding that your messaging and positioning are consistent?

Start off by developing foundational brand language that details your unique selling proposition and elevator pitch.

It’s important to remember during this step that you have various audiences to account for, and so you should deliver messaging that is clear to all concerned—your customers, analysts, influencers, or the media. Your messaging and positioning should be clear and concise, leaving nothing for interpretation.

If you’re unsure where to start, check out this checklist:

  • Determine your brand’s differentiator against its competitors.
  • Define and develop foundational brand language.
  • Test and assess your positioning and messaging with your audiences and channels.
  • Personalize and segment your thought-leadership efforts to align with your buyer personas.
  • Train your executive thought-leadership team for success across earned, owned, and shared media initiatives.
  • Treat your thought-leadership program as a vehicle for successful recruitment and higher retention rates.

3. Build your thought leadership program

A common misconception among marketers is that thought leadership has to come from the C-suite, but that’s not the case. Thought leadership is any content that presents knowledge, experience, or a unique point of view. It could be in the form of an article, speaking engagement, or social post; the format can vary.

Thought leadership can be broken down into four categories:

  1. Subject-matter experts (SMEs): Choose an expert who is passionate and authentic, who consistently voices the impact your brand is having on the industry, and who has followers to hear it.
  2. Employee advocacy: Develop a dedicated employee-advocacy plan. In some situations, employees need to be motivated by incentives, and that’s OK. Just remember that employees may feel comfortable advocating for your brand in different ways, which is a win for you in that it increases awareness across channels.
  3. Voice of the customer (VoC): We like to call this your marketing secret weapon. By building a VoC program and cultivating a group of customers who actively help you drive business growth, you authentically build credibility for your brand. B2B customer advocacy programs have grown, so something must be working.
  4. Influencer marketing: Here’s where you look to experts outside of your organization to validate your product or service. Influencers can move ideas seamlessly into their everyday engagements, and that includes inserting your brand into those important conversations.

Combining those four areas of thought leadership and implementing a plan that brings content into the mix will help take your brand to the next level.

4. Increase awareness by partnering with your brand advocates

At this point, you’ve solidified the foundation of your thought leadership program by assessing your digital footprint, fine-tuning your messaging, and positioning and establishing various types of brand advocates. Now it’s time to engage those advocates.

Considering that 50% of B2B companies increased their budgets for influencer marketing in 2018, it’s apparent that this marketing strategy is resonating. Find ways on social to organically engage with influencers by liking posts, starting conversations, and sharing content. Find the combination of listening, monitoring, and engaging that is right for your brand.

From there, look to level-up your engagements by fostering awareness through guest blogs, content promotion, or other techniques that spotlight your brand on other channels.

And, finally, find ways to use case studies, podcasts, video content, and Q&As that highlight your customer advocates. Your brand’s credibility is only as good as the customers you have bolstering it.

5. Measure the results of your thought leadership success

Now it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty. Skip the vanity metrics and find the program results that will showcase ROI the fastest:

  • Google Analytics: Tap for insights such a which content is driving the most traffic, areas you should improve SEO, and time on site.
  • TrendKite: Monitor your share of voice and earned media mentions in real-time.
  • Audiense: Track your influencer engagements across social media. What is your top engaged account? Who recently shared specific content?

Some 41% of marketers have reported that they are challenged with proving the value of their efforts and are struggling to use data and analytics to become more predictive. Update your martech stack or enlist an integrated agency to help so that you don’t become one of those marketers.

So, are you ready to launch your thought leadership program?

You’re now armed with five steps for building or elevating your thought leadership program, but there is more to thought leadership than meets the eye.

Make sure you prepare the right resources—staff, budget, KPIs—and work with the right partners to get your program off the ground.

What B2B Firms Get Wrong About Thought-Leadership Content

B2B vendors that create thought-leadership content tend to underestimate the impact of these pieces and overestimate their quality, according to recent research from Edelman and LinkedIn. Read the full article at MarketingProfs

B2B vendors that create thought-leadership content tend to underestimate the impact of these pieces and overestimate their quality, according to recent research from Edelman and LinkedIn.

The report was based on data from a survey of 1,201 businesspeople in the United States who work for firms in a wide rage of industries.

Some 89% of buyers (respondents who are responsible for purchase decisions) say thought-leadership content increases their awareness of sellers, 45% say it has led them to invite an organization to bid on a project when not previously considering that vendor, 58% say it has led them to award business to an organization, 58% say it has enabled an organization to command a premium price, and 59% say it has led to the purchase of additional products or services.

On the other hand, 59% of sellers say thought-leadership content increases awareness, 17% say it increases consideration, 26% say it drives purchases, 14% say it enables premium pricing, and 29% say it makes cross-selling easier.

Why the C-suite loves loyalty

Contributor Evan Magliocca discusses the benefits of loyalty and why increasingly leadership is pointing to it as a means to know customer health, show stability and keep investors happy.

Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.

Increasingly, retail executives are talking about customer files, customer insights, customer experiences, engagement and loyalty in their earnings calls. While this used to be unheard of, it’s now commonplace, and it shows a shift in how the C-suite views loyalty — rightfully so, as loyalty is a shareholder’s dream program, and CEOs are taking note.

Here are a few examples from recent earnings calls:

Fran Horowitz, CEO, Abercrombie & Fitch:

Our focus on closeness to our customers enables us to adapt and execute better and faster, ensuring more consistent delivery of the right product at the right time, with the right brand voice, and through the right brand experience … our rapidly growing loyalty programs, means we are better equipped to anticipate our customers’ needs whenever, wherever and however they choose to engage with our brands.

Mary Dillon, CEO, Ulta Beauty:

Our loyalty program continues to represent one of our most valuable assets, as of the end of July, Ultamate Rewards grew to 25.4 million active members, which represents an impressive 23 percent year-over-year rise, driven by merchandising and marketing efforts and excellent in-store conversion. With 1.4 million new members added in the quarter and nearly 5 million new active members acquired over the past year, our share of the beauty enthusiast market has increased to 27 percent with plenty of opportunity remaining to attract more members.

Art Peck, CEO, GAP:

We’re using our product capabilities to lead in loyalty driving categories to drive our business; we have a very robust, very profitable online and mobile business that meet our customers exactly where they are; and we have scale, and we’re using that scale to drive advantage growth and profitability.

See the pattern? It’s not surprising, though. Loyalty really is the ideal program for executives based on what it can provide: growth, stability, great buzzwords (I’ll explain more on that later) and breathing room to take risks.

Stability at scale

Retail is in perhaps its most volatile market since Macy’s had to suffer through the Great Depression. Investors are afraid of retail, even at the value those stocks provide. So how can CEOs assuage those fears? They need to show stability at a large scale, and that’s a difficult challenge.

Stability is exactly what loyalty offers.

Each quarter, leadership can bank on loyalty driving a forecast percent of business and increasing customer spend and frequency by a specified amount. While email, stores, e-commerce and other channels can forecast predictions, those predictions are nowhere near as accurate as loyalty — they simply don’t have the data points to extrapolate that well.

Loyalty does have those data points, and leadership can know exactly what their customer health looks like going into each quarter. Loyalty is security from the unknown and a view into the future of customer potential.

Loyalty is measurable

Marketing is only as great as what it can prove. If you can’t prove it or measure it, what’s the point? You won’t know its impact, positive or negative, so you’re going on intuition, which should only be reserved for creatives. Marketers don’t use intuition; we use facts.

Facts are what show results. Results are all investors care about. Therefore, facts are all leadership is focused on.

Loyalty is the perfect medium. You’ve got all the data in the world at your fingertips. You can prove every program. I can’t stress enough the value of this at a time when digital advertising is increasingly opaque, e-commerce is a maze of attribution issues and email is surface-level.

The best buzzwords

Loyalty has the best buzzwords. I know this sounds dumb, but it’s actually important. Words matter. And when it comes time for leadership to stand at a podium and expose every aspect of the company to investors, buzzwords help keep things moving in the right direction — they allow leadership to control some of the uncontrollable.

Earnings growth, cash flow, debt — those are all factors that live outside the company’s control. But file growth, member growth, year-over-year program growth in revenue, membership, purchase frequency, engagement and a host of other metrics are all areas in which leadership can show positive results and encourage investors that the brand is stable and profitable.

So yes, buzzwords are important. Next time you’re talking to leadership, make sure to drop a couple and watch for how quickly they integrate them into their conversations and presentations.

A breath of fresh air

Perhaps the most important aspect of loyalty for leadership is that it gives them just the slightest amount of room to breathe, think and take risks. When programs are positive, there’s more room to operate, and loyalty is rarely a net negative.

More importantly, since loyalty impacts every marketing channel, it also boosts metrics for everyone else. Email numbers are going to go up; overall e-commerce conversions will be higher; and store numbers should see an uptick as well.

Loyalty gives management proof that customers are happy, engaged and profitable, and that gives them room to maneuver in other areas.

Leadership loves loyalty

Retail markets are going crazy. Nobody knows what the future holds or where it’s going. If anyone says they do, they’re lying. We can all guess, but it’s just that… a guess.

Loyalty is a lifeline. CEOs don’t have the luxury of saying, “I don’t know” or simply shrugging their shoulders. Loyalty keeps a pulse on customer health, and it provides the ammunition leadership needs to keep investors happy and show stability. So, go spout some buzzwords and watch leadership eyes sparkle with the possibilities.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Evan Magliocca leads Baesman’s brand direction, content strategy, communications and product partnerships. Previously, Evan served as a digital strategist for Abercrombie & Fitch Co., where he managed site marketing, seasonal planning and digital initiatives for the A&F brands. Evan graduated from Ohio University with a B.S. in Journalism and a specialization in public relations.