There are many myths and misconceptions about marketing and it’s role in business. Some perceive marketers as highly creative and others as ‘fluffy’. Others see marketers as champions of customers, yet expect them to make decisions based on judgement alone. And others perceive marketers as growth drivers and some as lacking commercial nous. A glance at the back pages of many newspapers or online marketing posts also reveals a variety of different titles for the job of marketing director. Including customer, experience, digital, direct, brand, communications, commercial and so on. So no wonder there are differing and sometimes contradictory perceptions. All underlines that a successful marketing director requires a combination of skills and expertise.
So based on research and experience writing The Marketing Director’s Handbook, we contend there are seven essentials to being a successful marketing director (Figure 2.1).
First though, if you’ve read this far, it suggests a desire to learn. This is a good foundation for being a successful marketing director.
1. Explain, influence, manage and lead your colleagues
It never seems to surprise how few really understand marketing. Thus to win trust and influence your colleagues, you should not underestimate the need to explain what marketing is. Also how it works, and how it adds value.
Beyond this you’ll also need to manage the day-to-day, and look to the future, at the same time. To get done what needs to be done, and steer your colleagues, and business, to a more successful place.
Success will also follow not just from what you do, but how you do it. By setting the tempo for the business, and articulating a bright and motivating future. Also by engaging and collaborating with your colleagues, you’ll more likely win friends, and influence.
As Jack Welch once wrote in a letter to shareholders: “In the old culture, managers got their power from secret knowledge: profit margins, market share, and all that… In the new culture, the role of the leader is to express a vision, get buy-in, and implement it. That calls for open, caring relations with every employee, and face-to-face communication. People who can’t convincingly articulate a vision won’t be successful. But those who can will become even more open – because success breeds self-confidence.”
2. Be a disciple of customer understanding
Again no matter how sophisticated organisations might seem on the outside, it’s amazing how many hire and expect marketers to make decisions based on their own ‘gut-feel’. However, history suggests that the most successful organisations are those that best understand their customers. This is therefore not something just to pay lip-service to but to do. Especially in a world with more and more data, yet that is sadly lacking in insight (i.e. true customer understanding).
You’ll make better decisions by obtaining facts on who customers are, their needs, attitudes and behaviour.
Accurate and comprehensive customer understanding and on customer needs is vital to optimise products or service. As is also accurate and comprehensive understanding on customer attitudes and perceptions to devise effective communications. Specifically this means understanding the why’s behind that what’s?
This also means investing in processes and people to do this. You should also get out and do this yourself, and encourage colleagues to do likewise.
3. Establish early warning systems
The nature of customers, markets, and technology, means new opportunities and threats are emerging all of the time. Yet history is littered with organisations that failed to adapt or change to new threats. Thus they died an untimely death.
It is also easy to become ‘blinkered’ by corporate cultures, and trapped by a ‘flimsy’ job specification. Someone in the organisation needs to look outwards, and challenge and reinvent the ‘wheel’ when threats rear their ugly heads.
Marketers can and should play a key role in being the eyes, ears and ‘early warning radar’ of the organisation. This fits perfectly with helping the organisation understand and focus on customers. However, you don’t have to do this on your own, nor should it be thought of as a power grab. Moreover an exercise to sensitise and empower the organisations’ eyes and ears to provide continuous feedback to the organisation’s brain.
Competitive advantage can be gained by those who know most, and also know what’s going on first. Some call it foresight.
4. Measure and manage the numbers
Attracting customers and making money is usually a key business goal. This is where marketing makes its most important contribution. However, only marketing directly fuels growth. Other board functions fuel efficiency so combining both leads to more profit, and hopefully better stakeholder returns.
Only through measuring numbers is management possible. As you have growth objectives, and responsibility for marketing initiatives, it is natural that you measure and manage the numbers. Simply so that any deviation can be understood or addressed.
In managing numbers, also understand the relationship between customer and financial outcomes. This provides high-ground justification to invest in, or fine-tune, your marketing activities.
Investing in marketing should not be random chance, but borne of comprehensive understanding. So get the CFO on your side, and to help in this respect. The more heads on the case, the better the measurement solution. Ultimately, this will also benefit your Boardroom credibility.
A quick win is to work with your CFO to establish a marketing and financial dash-board of metrics (some call them KPIs, key performance indicators).
5. Develop and deliver your brand or brands
If your colleagues do not understand marketing, you can be sure they do not understand brands. So your challenge starts by helping them understand, and also to establish ‘why bother with your brand?‘
There are lots of reasons to bother with brands
First, to simplify and drive customer choice and purchase. Secondly, to enhance value (brands command premiums) and shareholder value. Thirdly, and especially in service organisations, to align hearts and minds and deliver consistently over time.
The management function to optimise brand stand-out and appeal is marketing, but you’ll need help from other functions to deliver your brand.
For example, especially in service companies, the good work of an advert in raising expectations is sometimes undermined by a surly customer service representative, or poor system. It therefore requires effective management of the customer touch-points or underlying processes to deliver a great brand experience.
Influencing delivery via touch-points usually requires you to influence many parts of the organisation beyond your responsibility. So work collaboratively with your colleagues to identify issues, and deliver a more distinctive and appealing offer to your customers.
6. Deliver marketing technical excellence
In highly competitive markets, both strategy and execution make a big difference to the results. Misplaced or poorly articulated words in a strategy can cause confusion or lead to mistakes in product development or marketing communication. From the customer stand-point, sub-optimal products, positioning or communication also risks missing the ‘target’ or ‘need’. And result in wasted marketing investment.
The devil is in the marketing implementation detail. Even a tiny improvement in response could deliver millions to revenue or your bottom line.
So set up processes, tools and techniques to make sure that both strategic and executional decisions are of the highest order. And test and test again from low to higher investment.
7. Use your creative skills to solve problems
Through your great advertising and promotion work thus far you’ll have built a reputation for being creative. As a result, this is a great strength to use to benefit colleagues and the businesses as a whole. Futher, if the CEO’s role is to manage the big picture and the financial director’s is to manage the numbers, then the task of creating ideas lies with the marketing director.
So take the lead in engaging your colleagues to solve the problems that your business faces. Even if the problem lies outside of your functional area, the health of the business remains your primary responsibility.
To do this, bring colleagues together in problem solving workshops. With the right skills, resources and creative tools no problem is unsurmountable. And if bravery does not come naturally, remember that it is a just state of mind. So be confident and go for it! If needed, also bring in some external help. An even more objective approach will depoliticise issues and add value more quickly.
1. Whatever the job title, communicating AND also managing the effective delivery of the commercial strategy through the business is key to being a successful marketing director.
2. Delivering successful marketing is as much about your own personal skills and relationships as technical excellence.
3. Understand and put yourself in the customer’s shoes when making decisions.
4. If in doubt, sleep on it.
5. If still in doubt, ask round and about.
6. While it is more lonely at the top, remember you are not alone. You also don’t have to do everything yourself. Call for help.
About The Marketing Director’s Handbook
The Marketing Director’s Handbook is the definitive guide to being a successful marketing director. It is unique in covering the marketing and management aspects of the role. Written by our team, it is also a ‘must-read’ book for all directors and a ‘must-keep by your side’ for all marketers. Read the FREE introductory chapter and reviews, and then order your copy on this website to get a FREE and up-to-date copy of Chapter 31 – Managing Digital Marketing.
Also available at Amazon, Foyles, The Book Depository and other good bookshops.