Seven Essentials to being a Successful Marketing Director

Marketing myths

There are many myths about the role of marketing. Some perceive marketers as customer champions, growth drivers and highly creative. Yet others see them as ‘fluffy’ and lacking in 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. Thus it is no wonder there are differing and sometimes contradictory perceptions. All underlines that a successful marketing director requires a combination of skills and expertise.

Seven essentials to being a successful marketing director

So based on research and experience, there are seven essentials to being successful in the role (Figure 2.1).

The marketing director’s Superior Performance Model’

1. Explain, influence, manage and lead your colleagues

It never surprises how few really understand marketing. Thus to win trust and influence your colleagues, don’t underestimate the need to explain what marketing is. In particular, how it works, and adds value.

At the same time, steer your colleagues, and business, to a more successful place. Success will follow not just from what you do, but also how you do it. So set the tempo for the business. In particular, articulate a bright and motivating future and work collaboratively with your colleagues to win friends and influence. Also manage the day-to-day, get what needs to be done, while looking to the future.

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.”

Jack Welch

2. Be a disciple of customer understanding

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 are those that best understand their customers. As a result this is not something just to pay lip-service to.

You’ll also make better decisions based on facts – who customers are, their needs, attitudes and behaviour.  This is particularly true in our increasingly digital world. A world with more and more data, yet that is sadly lacking in insight.

Thus accurate and comprehensive understanding on customers and their needs is vital to optimise products or services, and communications. Specifically this means understanding the ‘why’s’ behind that ‘what’s’?

This also means investing in processes and people to do this. In addition, you should do this yourself, and encourage colleagues to do likewise.

3. Establish early warning systems

The nature of customers, markets, and technology, also means that 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 therefore needs to look outwards, and challenge and reinvent the ‘wheel’ before threats appear.

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, don’t do this on your own, nor view this as a power grab. Moreover, an exercise to sensitise and empower your organisation’s eyes and ears to feedback to the organisation’s brain.

By knowing most, and what’s going on first, gives a competitive advantage. Some also call this foresight.

4. Measure and manage the numbers

Attracting customers and making money are common business goals. This is where marketing makes its most important contribution. However, only marketing directly fuels growth. Other functions fuel efficiency. So combining both leads to more profit, and better stakeholder returns.

Effective management is only possible by measuring ‘key performance indicators (KPIs). So 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 and addressed.

In managing the numbers, also understand the relationship between customer and financial outcomes. Thus the ability to justify where to invest in, or fine-tune, your marketing activities.  

So get your CFO onside and to help. The more heads on the case, the better the ‘measurement’ solution.

A quick win is to work with your CFO to establish a marketing and financial dash-board. This will also boost your Boardroom credibility.

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 this challenge also starts by helping them understand. And in particular, 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. Second, to enhance value (brands command premiums) and shareholder value. Also, to align hearts and minds and deliver consistently over time.

While the management function to boost brand stand-out and appeal is marketing, you’ll also need help from other functions to deliver your brand.

In particular in service companies, where the good work of an advert in raising expectations is sometimes undermined by a surly customer service agent, or poor system. It therefore requires effective management of the customer touch-points or underlying processes to deliver a great brand experience.

Influencing brand delivery also requires you to influence in parts of the organisation beyond your responsibility. So work 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 also risk confusion or mistakes in product development or marketing communication. Sub-optimal products, positioning or communication also risk missing the ‘target’ or ‘need’. All risks wasted marketing investment.

The devil is therefore in the marketing implementation detail. Even a tiny improvement in response could add 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 then test and test again from low to high investment.

7. Use your creative skills to solve problems

Through your great advertising and promotion work thus far you’ll build a reputation for being creative. So use this strength to help colleagues and the business as a whole. Also think about it this way. 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 you.

So take the lead to solve problems that your business faces.  Even if the problem lies outside of your functional area, the health of the business remains your prime responsibility.

Also bring colleagues together to this end. 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 go for it! If needed, also bring in some external help. An even more objective approach could also help you unite and align your colleagues.

Marketing Inspiration

1. Whatever the job title, communicating AND also managing the effective delivery of the business plan and marketing strategy through the business is key to being a successful marketing director.

2. Success is also down to your own personal skills and relationships as well as technical excellence.

3. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes (and thus understand him or her) when making decisions.

4. If in doubt, sleep on it.

5. If still in doubt, then 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 also unique in covering both the marketing and also management aspects of the role. Written by Tim and Guy, it is a ‘must-read’ for all business owners, directors and a ‘must-keep by your side’ for all marketers. So start your journey to being an even more successful marketing director, read the FREE introductory chapter, reviews, and then order your copy.

It’s available at all good bookshops including Foyles, Waterstones, Blackwells, the Chartered Institute of Marketing bookshop, JS Group, university bookshops, Amazon, The Book Depository, and many more.

The Marketing Director’s Handbook

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