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How to be the marketer your CEO always wanted

In a previous article I acknowledged that most marketers have at some point wanted to roundhouse a salesperson in the chops. And let’s be honest, we’ve all mentally done the same thing to the boss at some point too…for different reasons.

Marketers are often touted as demanding, argumentative and whingey. But in my view – we have good reasons, most of the time.  

We’re the ones constantly told to “do more with less”; whose budgets get cut for the new financial year…but somehow KPIs seem to increase? We’re responsible for leads, for lead quality, for anything publicly related to the brand and often, responsible for getting the company out of a revenue slump…

So there I go having a whinge – but the job’s not an easy one. And right now this multi-faceted profession is under the serious pump, whether you’re a marketing coordinator with a SME or a CMO in a large enterprise, the messages from above are similar. And that’s if you still have your job.

But this is a great profession. And marketers need to rise on up.

We need to become the best we can be, not just for ourselves but for the ‘ship’s captain’ – the CEO, and on a grander scale, for the economy as a whole.

Mark Ritson shared a sobering view recently that marketers lack respect and a voice at leadership level in NZ. And that this looks to be an increasing trend. A lack of formal qualifications and commercial astuteness, with the emergence of lots of ‘specialist’ roles, mean marketers get blinkered and fail to consider a wider view of the business in order to drive it forward.  

In my opinion, the ‘why’ behind this is a bit two-fold – historic stereotypes have come from somewhere after all… and marketing still struggles to get that critical seat at the big table in a pure-function capacity.

But this is not a whinge piece. So let’s take a look at it a different way.

This time, here, right now, is your BIG opportunity. It may end up being the toughest time in your marketing career and that’s why you need to step it up and be the marketer the CEO needs.

Act in a way that gains their respect. Use your voice. Now could be the time to claim your ‘seat’ at the big table – and put those brave pants on to help drive your business forward.

Firstly – find (or ‘train’) a leader who respects marketing.

The best Marketer / CEO relationships I’ve had, have been with CEOs who respect marketing. They don’t have to ‘get it’ completely or have the ideas (it’s better for you if they don’t!), but they have to believe in the power of marketing.

If you don’t have one of these leaders, don’t give up – they need you now believe me. But you’ll have to dig deep and throw 150% into the next few points to get their ear and their respect.

  1. Walk in their shoes.

CEOs more than ever before are ‘jugglers on steroids’. They’re managing a number of critical and often competing factors all at once and their bandwidth is stretched to breaking point. The buck stops with them – which means more pressure and stress.

So as a good marketer, you need to:

  • Present ideas that have practical applications, with numbers to back them up.
  • Talk to specific problems that your market has – because you’ve spoken to real customers or tapped into the sales team for insights.
  • Balance the instruction to “do more with less”, with pushing for a reasonable investment into well-researched channels.
  • Be assertive, succinct and passionate when you present your ideas and arguments.
  • Be commercial.

Good marketers have to be smart. Not necessarily book-smart but emotionally smart and commercially astute. If you don’t feel like you’re commercial enough, acid-test your ideas by answering these Q’s before you rock up to run them by the boss:

  • What’s the hard evidence that this is a good idea? (Is there data to support it? An industry report? Actual customer feedback?)
  • How have you considered the wider business in terms of delivering this activity? (resource, capacity, costs, technology) – think it through.
  • What predicted ROI are you calculating and how? (don’t forget about any associated costs – i.e. design time, copywriting, etc)
  • What happens if you don’t do this activity? (How could the business suffer? What opportunities could be missed?)
  • What ‘surprise’ info can you bring to the table? (What competitors are doing? A potential collaboration with another brand?)

Learn to be commercial – Get a mentor.

A mentor doesn’t necessarily have to be a marketer, but it has to be someone who can train you in the art of being commercial. I was lucky to have had a CMO as a mentor early in my career and she was rather terrifying. She challenged me like an ice-queen and I’ll never forget the learnings from that relationship.

Finding a mentor also means your boss doesn’t have your development resting fully on his or her shoulders. And they’ll respect your ability to get out there and help yourself.

  • Do the free stuff well.

Free is especially good right now. Your boss likes it A LOT. So take a look at the ‘organic’ activity you’re doing, or not yet doing, and work out ways to execute it even smarter – or start doing it.

Across your social channels, your content creation, your website and email marketing, storefront signage message I you have one, ask yourself:

  • Are your messages specific to a customer need?
    • Are they punchy and clear?
    • Why would someone (the right customer) stop to read it?
  • Get on with the other ‘kids’.

Great marketers find effective ways of getting on with other business teams. Marketers succeed largely based on their relationships. They need to extract information and communicate well across a range of business teams. Silos don’t work in marketing and respect from your peers breeds respect from above.

If you’ve culminated effective relationships with sales, finance, customer services and IT, AND they show up in terms of producing better, faster, more-informed marketing activities, you’re halfway there.

The ability to work autonomously, with maturity and concern for culture and people, puts you way up the ladder of ‘great employee’ and even-better marketer.

  • Produce ideas backed by evidence.

Graft, graft, graft for ideas…Always have an ear to the ground and an eye on what’s happening around you. Good ideas include those that cost and those that don’t – but each should be thoroughly relevant to your customers and prospects – how they feel and what they value.

Often the best ideas are simply extensions or adaptions of what you’re already doing.

  • In this environment, actual customer feedback and listening to stories is the holy-grail. Jump on the blower and talk to people.
  • Sense check how things have shifted for people and therefore how your marketing should shift.
  • Is there data available? Can you obtain it?

Remove assumptions as much as possible. Now is the time for marketing that works hard and resonates.

  • Take feedback but give it back too.

Everyone gets feedback in their career. I’ve had some brutal stuff – some I’ve rejected and some I’ve accepted – depending on how much I respect the source…

Resilience in marketing is a key part of your EQ toolkit and right now you may be experiencing the behaviours of a CEO under serious pressure. That’s why your ability to help them make decisions by bringing sound arguments to the table is part of stepping up.

But look after you too. Don’t be afraid to send feedback up the chain and get what you need to do your job well – that’s what they want at the end of the day.

Take charge, work out what you need (and whether it has to be them to provide that for you) and ask for it confidently.

The more honest and frank your relationship with your CEO, the more effective you’ll be at your job. Trusting each other and having an environment where you speak your mind shows up in a number of positive ways.  

  • Be excited. Be Passionate. Be the ‘lift’ the team needs.

Balance the commercial stuff and the ROI crunching with your optimism. You’re meant to be the ideas department. SO be it. Get all ‘blue sky’ from time to time – and encourage others to do the same. It’s infectious.

Lead the way in being creative AND results focussed. If you can develop this unorthodox, yet powerful combo of skills – the commercial and the creative – you will win.

  • Be your own ‘devil’s advocate’.

I’m not sure there is another profession that is challenged from all sides quite like marketing. That’s why there is an old adage that “everyone’s a marketer”. This means you’ll be used to relentless opinions on what you’re doing.

You need to consider the business’s feedback sure, but my advice is to front-foot the devil’s advocacy….i.e.:

  • How about YOU point out the risks in your marketing plan before they do?
  • YOU be the one to consider how an idea may be received and present the risks associated with the activity, the spend, PR risks, industry changes etc.  
  • Then, present your proposed mitigation strategies.

Boom. Hear that marketing voice roaring…

Gemma Ede is the managing director of Strut and Swagger marketing

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