Digital Marketing Strategy Involves Knowing When to Seek an Outside Perspective

In deciding how to tackle a marketing problem, you should consider whether insider expertise, an outside perspective, or a combination of the two will lead to the best possible outcome.

Tackling digital marketing tasks — as with just about any other business task — can lead you to solutions under your own roof or to bringing in outside help.

Primary motivators in that decision-making process are likely to be cost, of course, or expertise. Do you have someone with the necessary skills and enough bandwidth to take on the project?

There should be another consideration, as well: would an outside perspective provide value that an in-house resource can’t?

The situations below provide some possible paths with which you might approach your own marketing conundrums, even if they aren’t an exact match for these examples.

Website Architecture and Navigation

For all but the most complex of websites, structure and navigation look deceptively simple. (Most sites with overly complex navigation could probably be better organized.)

And of course, most of us spend a fair amount of time on the web, so we feel we can tell a good experience from a bad one.

But just because your team members have their opinions doesn’t mean they can translate them into a useful set of recommendations that fit your website’s needs. That’s where applicable experience becomes valuable, though that experience doesn’t necessarily require an outside perspective.

The real value an outside perspective provides is an ability to more easily view your message and content in the same way your target audience will. An outside expert is not saddled with the deeply ingrained knowledge that any well-versed marketing employee will have.

An outside perspective here can mean the difference between a site that is set up to mimic your firm’s org chart or business units, and a site that is organized to appeal to each of your most important audience segments and gather the information they’re likely to be most interested in.

Content Strategy and Content Development

But an outside perspective doesn’t always win the day. For example, when it comes to content development, we encourage our clients to devote skills and resources needed to generate content themselves, in-house. Nobody will ever know your business as well as your own team does, though a long-term “permalancer” can come very close. In that case, though, they’re not really providing an outside perspective. Quite the opposite; they are outsiders who are essentially assimilating your culture.

There are exceptions, as with problem areas that seem like they should be producing a positive marketing ROI but are not. An outside perspective can be all that’s needed to make the adjustment that get the results rolling in.

Same Old Wine in a Brand New Jar

(Bonus points if you can name the song from which that line comes. Hint: It’s by The Who, but it’s not one of their big hits.)

Finally, there are instances where the combination of an outside perspective and inside knowledge are an unbeatable combination. We see this during the discovery process we run before website design or coding get underway.

As we seek out input from a wide range of stakeholders, we get an incredible range of perspectives, from the marketing team, as you’d expect, but also from top-level executives, as well as entry-level customer-facing employees.

An outside perspective alone wouldn’t provide any great value, but when combined with great insights from the inside team, the outcomes are incredibly powerful. The outside expert may not add any new thinking; they simply help the internal team view the insights they themselves have from another angle.

These three paths — inside knowledge only, outside perspective, and the two working together — should all be considered as you address your everyday marketing tasks, as well as the thorny issues we all face from time to time. Putting the right kind of team together is an important part of crafting the best solution.

Toasting 2018 Silver Apple Honorees: In Their Words

You might have heard of a big event that happened last week in the USA. No, not THAT one. I’m talking about but the presentation of the Direct Marketing Club of New York’s 2018 Silver Apples honors. Here’s more about the awards, from the Silver Apple honorees themselves.

Silver Apple Honorees ballroom
Photo Credit: Edison Ballroom via DMCNY, 2018

You might have heard of a big event that happened last week in the USA. No, not THAT one. I’m talking about but the presentation of the Direct Marketing Club of New York’s 2018 Silver Apples honors. Here’s more about the awards, from the Silver Apple honorees themselves.

The Silver Apples recognize leadership, stewardship and business success mid-career in the data, direct and digital marketing field. Each honoree has (more or less) 25 years of experience, with matching achievements to point to … and all have additional contributions to our industry, community, mentoring and giving back.

With the assistance of newly named The Drum U.S. Editor Ginger Conlon, I thought it worth amplifying a few key industry insights shared by this year’s individual honorees:

Anita Absey, Chief Revenue Officer, Voxy (New York):

Favorite Data Story: “Back in the very early days when I was at Infobase, we were doing data overlays on customer databases, which was novel at the time. While working with a large insurer, doing overlays of demographic and socioeconomic data on their database, the profile and segmentation scheme that emerged from that work actually defied some of the assumptions that they had about the characteristics for their customers’ profile. The insights we provided them helped them make subtle changes in their communications and targeting to customers, which improved the overall risk profile of their customer base. It was gratifying to see how data could affirm or deny assumptions and enable our client to make decisions that helped improve the risk profile of their business.”

Measurement: “Hope is not a strategy. Your actions have to be data-based, not hopeful. Similarly, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Unless you have data that points you to the actions and decisions that are best for the business, you’re running blind.”

Matt Blumberg, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Return Path, Inc. (New York):

On Choosing Marketing: “The thing that drew me to marketing was the Internet. I had been working as an investor at a venture capital firm that invested in software companies. Once Netscape went public and people started figuring out the short- and the long-term potential of the Internet, I got very excited about working in that field. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Internet is all about direct marketing. For the first several years of my career, I would never have described myself as a direct marketer; but in hindsight, obviously, I was.”

On Inspiration: “It’s several sentences out of a speech by Theodore Roosevelt called ‘The Man in the Arena.’
It’s incredible. It goes:

” ‘ … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’

“I take it as the entrepreneur’s motto. It’s a beautiful passage that I have taped up everywhere.”

Pam Haas, Account Director, Experian Marketing Services (Providence, RI):

Overhyped: “Display and programmatic technologies are overhyped. It’s like the early days of email marketing: People just started sending millions of emails, hoping some would stick. The same thing is happening in display and programmatic. That part of the industry still needs to mature.”

Best Metric: “Right now, it’s the ROAS: Return on Ads Spent. I love that. For every dollar that the client is spending, we know that we are driving X number of dollars in sales.”

Career Advice: “Diversify. In marketing, there are so many different angles and specialties that you can focus your career on. Throughout my career, I’ve [been] able to gain experience in multiple facets of marketing: direct response, email technology, and in databases and modeling. Digital is so sexy right now, but the fundamentals still apply; so it’s important not to pigeonhole yourself into one area.

“While in a mentor program at Equifax, my mentor was a woman and she told me, ‘You have to be your own PR person. You have to make your accomplishments known, because nobody else is going to do that for you.’”

Keira Krausz, EVP and CMO, Nutrisystem, Inc. (Fort Washington, Penn.):

On Her Current Assignment: “I’m proud of where we are at Nutrisystem and I’m particularly proud of what we’ve built as a team. Our job is wonderful, because we get to help people live healthier and happier lives. Since 2013, we’ve nearly doubled the business, which means we’ve helped a whole lot more people get healthier and happier. Along the way, we’ve revamped nearly every aspect of our business that you can think of, and we’re just getting started.”

On Mentoring: “In my first years in marketing, I was always being asked what my goals were and how I saw myself in years to come, and I always felt flummoxed, because I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t one of those young people who had their whole life planned out when I was 25, and I often felt insecure about that. But it turns out that was OK.

“So, one thing I did that I would advise is, from early on, try to work for someone you can learn from. Somebody who you admire, who has something unique, and who can teach you something that you think you’re missing. The rest will fall together.”

Tim Suther, SVP and General Manager, Data Solutions, Change Healthcare (Lombard, Ill.):

On Career Choice: “I’ve always been technology-oriented, from learning to code when I was 17 to graduating college with a finance degree. With that background, naturally, I was suspicious of marketing. A lot of marketing felt inauthentic and superficial to me. But I had this one moment where I actually saw a dynamic gains curve for the first time and I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen.’ It was the intersection of the art of marketing and the science of data that really drew me in; and boy, did I get lucky on that one, because that’s what it’s all about today.”

On Being Data-Driven: “This might surprise you a little bit, but it annoys me when marketers say that they’re data-driven, because that’s like saying, ‘OK, it’s time to turn off my brain and just let the data drive the story.’

“I think marketers are far better off when they are data-informed, where they’re combining what the data is telling them with their own business judgment to make the right decision. Human behavior is still too complicated to purely reduce to what an algorithm tells you to do; it has to be a combination of what the data is saying, creative savvy and business judgment.”

This year, DMCNY added two special awards not tied to mid-career, but recognizing two huge drivers in our business today: advocacy and disruption. The inaugural Apples of Excellence 2018 honorees include:


Stu Ingis, Chairman, Venable LLP (Washington, D.C.):

On Policy-Making: “The whole privacy concern is overhyped. What’s not getting its fair recognition, in the policy world, is all of the innovation that the marketing community brings to society. For instance, they’re bringing real-time targeted marketing to television and delivering marketing communications that consumers are interested in on a personalized basis.”

On Careers: “Take the long view. Work really hard; don’t worry about the compensation or the glory, and then persevere. Stay with it. Don’t switch jobs all the time thinking that something else is always better. If you develop your skills, the good work will come to you. You don’t have to go to it.

“I’d been representing the DMA for about two years, and I had an opportunity to leave the law firm and go out in the early Internet age at Yahoo!

“Yahoo! stock was going up. I would have made millions of dollars a day. I went to Ron Plesser and said, ‘I like working for you; I like the clients; I like the work I’m doing. But I could go get really rich working for this company.’ He said, ‘Why do you want to do that? It’ll ruin your life.’ For whatever reason, I actually believed him and agreed with him. And I stayed at my job. It was probably the best decision I ever made. I don’t regret it for a second.”

Disruptor Award, Presented by Alliant:

Bonin Bough, Founder and Chief Growth Officer, Bonin Ventures (New York):

About Bonin: “His unique approach of applying innovative technology to create breakthrough campaigns helped to reinvigorate traditional marketing brands, such as Gatorade, Honey Maid, Oreo and Pepsi.

“But his influence doesn’t stop there. Bonin believes in supporting young talent and savvy entrepreneurs. While at Mondelēz International, for example, he created internal programs to mentor young talent and launched a startup innovation program, Mobile Futures, to provide a platform for marketing-tech and agency start-ups to work with the CPG giant.

“Stephanie Agresta, global director of enterprise growth at Qnary, describes him best in her recommendation on LinkedIn: ‘Bonin is a force of nature … A true rockstar from Cleveland to Cannes, Bonin has been [at] the forefront of the digital revolution from the beginning. Smart, successful, and connected, Bonin has the pulse on what’s next. Those that know Bonin well can also attest to his generosity, commitment to mentorship and a deep belief that anything is possible.’”

Since I had the privilege of interacting with Bonin at DMA &Then18 recently, I can attest the walls fall away when you converse with him. Disrupted, indeed.

All of these honorees as well as corporate recipient Winterberry Group have many things to teach us. That’s why it’s important we continue to recognize these business leaders, as marketing today, as Matt Blumberg says, is a 100 different things. It’s the business outcomes that matter.

3 Steps to Better Leadership in Today’s Clickthrough Society

Having a good leadership team means having one that is well rounded. It requires different types of people with different skills and personalities. Here are three steps that you can take to build better leaders on your team.

There is a conundrum in leadership in today’s clickthrough marketplace. Many are drawn to leadership to accomplish big things, which is great, but they often lack the patience to develop their leadership team slowly and carefully. Preferring to pick people they get along with best and are the easiest to work with, they tend to dismiss those who don’t have these two particular qualities because they require more work.

What’s wrong with that you say? Well, start with the fact that a well-rounded leadership team is just that. Well rounded. This requires many types of people with many different types of skills and personalities. Only choosing people that are the easiest to get along with is a terrible prescription to building a balanced leadership team.

Chief executives need to drive transformation differently today. Incremental changes do not lead to transformation. They need the full buy-in of their leadership team and they won’t get it if they are told what they are going to do. The leadership practice today is to let the team know what the desired result is and allow them to develop “How” they are going to achieve it. Since it is their planning that drives the desired result there will be far more buy-in and accountability to purpose.

This is often difficult for chief executives who prefer to micro-manage their teams. But anyone can change who wants to. One thing is for certain, micro-management leads to defection and high attrition and often stalls an organization dead in its tracks.

  • The two best things a chief executive can do:
    • Listening
    • Asking questions
  • The two worst things a chief executive can do:
    • Telling people what, why and how they are going to do everything
    • Intimidating people into doing what he or she wants

Here are three steps that you can take to build better leaders on your team:

  1. Stop being impatient. Don’t see yourself as the one who has to keep everything going and moving at the correct pace. See yourself as a coach, mentor and nurturer of people and their individual talent that you might miss if you don’t take the time to look. Providing confidence to your team members to continue to grow and develop their talent demands that you know what they are and how to develop them. Even with people who lack natural confidence, when a leader takes an interest to help them solve their challenges they can overcome them. This makes the team stronger.
  2. Listen, really listen. Stop what you’re thinking and listen carefully to what the team member is saying. Does this take longer? Yes. But this makes even the most nervous person more comfortable telling you what’s really going on, why it is and what can be done about it. Under pressure, this same person will not offer the solutions they see simply because they’re not being reassured by their leader.
  3. Stop being a producer, and start being a scout. If you see yourself as an impatient judge of talent, you will only be satisfied with the very best talent. But seeing yourself as a scout allows you the time to develop that talent into its full potential. Those you might overlook or those you prefer to have on your team should not necessarily boil down to who is farthest in their development. Why not take a chance or two on some less experienced, or even difficult people, and help them turn into the best they can be?

No chief executive has a 100% perfect success rate. So why not give the younger guys time to develop and lead? In the long run, this approach will allow you to do what you do best. Look ahead to what’s next and the best steps to get there.


Tom Wants To Hear From You!

Tom Marin is the Founder and President of MarketCues, a national consulting firm focused on planning and driving both strategy and strategic growth programs. The firm’s expertise, scope and knowledge help clients solve complex problems by creating simple powerful solutions that deliver results. Follow MarketCues on Twitter. Tom also welcomes emails, new LinkedIn connections, calls to 919.908.6145 or visit

Note: If you are a printing company or product/services company serving the print-media market, and would like to be considered for a feature in this blog, please contact Tom Marin for an interview.

Marketing Leadership: Where Women Lead, We May All Follow

As women assume expanded marketing leadership roles in our field, it’s well worth taking some notes. Recently, DMCNY held a Women in Leadership networking event, bringing women leaders and learners together to talk about their experiences, and provide a little coaching I believe we all might use.

As women assume more and expanded marketing leadership roles in our field and share their points of view for others to emulate it’s well worth taking some notes.

Recently, the Direct Marketing Club of New York held a Women in Leadership networking event, bringing women leaders and learners together to talk about their experiences, and provide a little coaching I believe we all might use.

marketing leadership
Photo: Stacey Hawes, president — data practice at Epsilon (standing); Dawn Zier, CEO of Nutrisystem; (seated left) and Adrea Rubin, president of Adrea Rubin Marketing Inc.(seated center) discuss “Women in Leadership” at recent Direct Marketing Club of New York gathering. Photo by Chet Dalzell. | Credit: Chet Dalzell

Be Your Own Brand

Brands require care, purpose and promises fulfilled. By taking yourself, and working and living toward the brand attributes you seek that define you, you fulfill that destiny. You are the best steward of you. “You are the CEO of your own career.”

Seek Out Trusted Advisors

Mentors cannot be assigned; they happen through introduction, affinity and knowledge sharing. Which is one more reason why it’s important to have leaders in your organization who reflect all types of backgrounds and experiences.

Join an Industry Network

Meet a new person every week. Get involved with local marketing clubs, peer groups and ways to give back, for example, by developing the next generation of marketers. Marketing EDGE is a superb way to find and nurture industry talent, as well as participating in alumni groups and industry conferences. Try and meet one new person every week.

Be Aware of Your Wake

Self-awareness also means understanding the people you touch along the journey. While leadership styles may vary, all leaders motivate, impress and inspire. How you do so is up to you.

What Gets Measured Gets Done

The goal of parity between men and women comes down to defining objectives and measuring toward those objectives.

Hire for Emotional Intelligence

Hire individuals who enhance the culture of your company. Yes, skills and experience are vital and must be demonstrated but often, the choice between candidates comes down to how an individual contributes, not what he or she contributes.

When It Comes to Pay, Performance Is the Differentiator But Ask

Why are men paid more than woman, on average? It’s not because they perform on average better than women it’s likely that they just ask more often, and get it. Thus, being equal to the task doesn’t translate to parity in pay. So it’s best to speak up, because performance doesn’t always speak for itself.

Thank you to Stacey Hawes, president data practice at Epsilon; Dawn Zier, CEO of Nutrisystem; and Adrea Rubin, president of Adrea Rubin Marketing Inc. for sharing their respective “cultures of celebration” during the DMCNY event. Yes, it does benefit you to get out and network and to listen and learn.

Is College Outdated? Should It Teach Real-World Marketing Skills?

On one hand, many universities could be doing a better job giving students opportunities to practice real-world marketing skills. On the other, universities are not meant to be training departments for digital media agencies, and it’s unrealistic to expect faculty members who don’t work in the field to keep up with the rapidly changing dynamic of media planning and buying.

Shay Rowbottom of Margle Media posted a video rant on LinkedIn a few weeks ago about a recent college grad she interviewed who had no digital media buying experience. She blames colleges and universities for not keeping up with the times. Knowing that I do a lot of teaching at the college level, Paul Bobnak tagged me asking what I thought. I think it’s complicated.

On one hand, many universities could be doing a better job giving students opportunities to practice real-world marketing skills. On the other, universities are not meant to be training departments for digital media agencies, and it’s unrealistic to expect faculty members who don’t work in the field to keep up with the rapidly changing dynamic of media planning and buying.

Despite being an advertising and marketing major at a large university, the only media buying experience Shay’s job candidate had was in traditional media, specifically billboards and newspaper. She condemns higher education for not keeping pace with the current state of media buying (and shows her ageism fangs in the process):

“You know what, kid, if you land a job at an old company that’s ran (sic) by 60 year olds who still don’t want to transition any of their media dollars to social media then good, good, good. I’m glad you learned the billboards.”

Shay says that something is wrong if a newly hired college grad has to be trained by her agency’s digital media buyer, a college dropout who’s a highly skilled practitioner, self-taught on the Internet. To that I say, “Who better to learn from than someone who does it every day and is really good at it?”

Shay makes a valid point that too many institutions are behind the curve when it comes to integrating real-world skills into their curriculum. But her expectations are valid only if you believe that colleges and universities exist to provide job training. I’ve worked at Rowan, Rutgers and Temple universities. They each hire industry professionals for full- and part-time teaching positions in advertising and PR. But the full-time faculty members at these institutions don’t do media planning every day, so they can’t possibly keep up with the innovations in a rapidly changing field.

Learning the mechanics of media buying is a vocational skill. Universities are not designed to be vocational schools. The ones where I’ve taught deliver a solid grounding in the principles of marketing and advertising; that’s what they do best. They provide value, because most of the underlying principles of marketing and advertising remain stable — even as the dynamics of the media world shift. Media planning and placement are best taught by practitioners who stay current by doing it.

Fortunately, there are several programs where college students can gain real-world experience in a competitive environment; specifically the Collegiate ECHO Marketing Challenge run by Marketing EDGE, the National Student Advertising Competition from the American Advertising Federation and the Google Online Marketing Challenge. These competitions are underutilized by academic institutions and employers, alike. More colleges and universities should offer and support these programs, more students should participate and more employers should seek out graduates who have had these experiences.

8 Tips to Recruit the Right Talent for Your Marketing Team

Running a successful marketing team is all about getting the most out of your products, services and people. One of the best ways to ensure your business is functioning optimally is to recruit the right talent. It takes effort, but there are tips you can follow to ensure you have the best team in place.

Running a successful business (or marketing team) is all about getting the most out of your products, services and people. One of the best ways to ensure your business is functioning optimally is to recruit the right talent.

A reliable and strong workforce is key to the triumph of any business. Your business needs employees who are loyal and hardworking. However, it takes effort to recruit the right talent for your business.

Searching for the new team member that will be a spark plug for your business may seem as if you are searching for a needle in a haystack. However, there are ways to identify who will be the right fit for your team.

Here are some key ways to enhance how one filters, finds and recruits the right talent to an organization:

1. Clearly Define Your Company’s Vision, Mission and Values

Establishing a succinct company mission, vision and core values are key in creating a culture unique to your business. When it comes to selecting new team members, your company’s culture should triumph everything else. Culture and core values are key to survival in any business environment, especially those where employees are expected to wear many hats.

A potential talented employee possesses all the experience on paper, but if they do not fit your company’s culture and key values, then they’re not an ideal addition. Be true to yourself and listen to your instincts.

Take time to communicate all the “whys” behind your company and the values your business endorses to filter out the off-beam applicants. Understand that not everyone is a good fit for every business culture, and that is okay

2. Recruit the Right Talent with an Impeccable Job Post

Communication is vital to recruit the right talent. It is your responsibility to communicate a clear message regarding the type of individual you are looking to recruit. If you are too vague in your job posting, you will have applicants coming from every single direction.

Describe the open position as sharply and accurately as possible. Falsifying the description of a job so that it sounds more striking than it is will backfire. Highlighting the positives is key, but do not lose your grip on the reality of what the position entails. In general, your job post should narrate to a potential employee what they ought to expect from the job, both in long-term and short-term. Enlighten applicants on what they’ll accomplish, what skills they’ll need and what skills they’ll develop.

Use keywords that recruit the right talent in your search. Companies like Acumax Index assist you in developing a position profile to ensure you are interviewing the right type of candidate.

3. Use the Interview to Preview a Potential Employee

A job interview helps you learn a lot, but not all, about your potential employee. Use the potential employee’s interview on top of an resume to find out more regarding the candidate’s objectives and aspirations.

When examining past occupations, search for applicants without a history of jumping jobs. Ask them to explain to you where they see themselves in the next 5 to 10 years. Both help you determine whether this applicant is expected to stick with your company or just use the position as a placeholder.

During the interview, ask open-ended questions that can get the potential employee showcase their character. Find out the things that motivate them to help them set goals and challenge themselves.

Acumax Index will also provide you with interview questions based on the position profile you created. This helps you keep an eye out for answers and keywords indicating they will be a great fit or a poor one.

4. Keep Close Tabs on Your Competition

Recruiting the right talent for your  business is just half the battle. Making sure they stay is the other. Implement these tips and tricks to ensure longevity in the investment in your people.

In today’s competitive climate, it is important to familiarize yourself with jobs currently on market and what your competitors are offering. Ask yourself honest questions about your company. What differentiates you from your competitors?  Why should someone want to work for you? The benefits of your organization do not always need to be monetary. Offer your potential hires training and learning development programs alongside opportunities to grow within the business.

5. Choose the Best Recruitment Agency for Your Business Model

Some employers are put off by utilizing recruitment agencies, but this is a great way to find proficient applicants. The key when soliciting a recruiter is to make sure they understand your needs and the culture of your company before they opt to advertise your vacancies via their networks.

It is the recruitment agency’s job to explore the marketplace for the best-qualified applicants. Some recruiters will even go a step further and headhunt individuals from other different businesses. When utilizing recruitment agencies, it is essential that you find one that specializes in your field. To make sure you only recruit the best talent, you need an agency with an “inside out” understanding of your industry.

6. Desperation Does Not Recruit the Right Talent

Desperation only makes you compromise your desires and leads you to employ the wrong talents. Do not fool yourself into thinking that any warm body is better compared to no body. This concept could end up being your most expensive mistake. Be patient and wait until the ideal talent is available to take up the task. An interview can only take you so far, and sometimes the wrong talent will make it into your company. If this is the case, don’t hold on to employees that don’t match your company culture.

7. Above All, Trust Your Instincts

As an entrepreneur, you must go along with what feels right to you. Intuition is a powerful tool, and your gut feelings rarely steer you wrong. The ideal individual will feel right to you, marking all the boxes for skills, personality, qualifications and experience. If you have doubts about a candidate’s ability to fill a desired role, do not employ them.

Once you’ve recruited the right talent, piece the hires together to create a working, functioning team. This will be what drives your company forward.

8. Only Retain Star Talent

Once your team is in place, be certain to make sure each employee is a top performer. Often, companies spend too much time getting lost in performance improvement plans. Trust management to lead their teams and evaluate their employees. Management should set clear goals of where they see their team six months in the future. They should then look at their team and question who will help carry them there and who will lag. If a person does not fit, it is important to decide whether this person is an asset or a liability.



How to Become a Marketing Unicorn

What does it take to succeed in marketing today? I recently had a chat with TD Bank CMO Patrick McLean about marketing’s changing roles, responsibilities and leadership. And he joked that at his bank, they’re looking for nothing less than “Marketing Unicorns.” Here’s what that means, and his advice on how to become a unicorn in your own career.

Patrick McLean Executive Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer, TD Bank – America's Most Convenient Bank
Patrick McLean
Executive Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer, TD Bank – America’s Most Convenient Bank

What does it take to succeed in marketing today? I recently had a chat with TD Bank CMO Patrick McLean about marketing’s changing roles, responsibilities and leadership. And he joked that at his bank, they’re looking for nothing less than “Marketing Unicorns.” Here’s what that means, and his advice on how to become a unicorn in your own career.

“I joke that we’re looking for unicorns in these roles,” said McLean. “We’re asking them to do a lot. We’re asking them to think strategically. We’re asking them to be sound fundamentally from an analytics perspective. We want them to be creative leaders.”

Change Starts at the Top

That expansion of expectations doesn’t just go for the marketers who work for Patrick. It’s true of his role as CMO as well, and for the leaders working for him. We were discussing the recent research on marketing strategy and leadership, which shows that marketers are being asked to do more in 11 different areas than they were just 5 years ago, and he saw exactly what our survey respondents did, especially when it comes to taking responsibility for technology and data. Here’s a piece of what he had to say about that:

Technology and data are things he feels leaders need to understand first-hand, not just have somebody else take care of. “The landscape changes so quickly that not only do you need some people on your team that are immersed in it and get it and are continuing to challenge the status quo. … But you yourself have to immerse yourself as a leader so that, first of all, you don’t personally get left behind, but also so you can understand what that technology can do.”

But even beyond MarTech and data, which are responsibilities I think everyone expects to have expanded, McLean sees other new and important facets to the role of marketing leader:

“The role of the chief marketing officer is so complex now, and there’s so many different dimensions to it,” said McLean. It “has evolved significantly in terms of the role they play across the business. And I think being a good relationship person, and being collaborative, and influencing across the organization is a really important role that the marketer plays.”

A Full ‘Stack’ Development

That applies all the way down the marketing personnel “stack” (to borrow the tech term we all use and respect so much).

When I was a young marketer growing up in the early part of my career, there were the functional disciplines of marketing, and you wanted to make sure you were learning all the aspects,” said McLean. “Fast forward to today … and in a lot of ways the role that analytics plays now, in particular, and the changing dynamics of customer behavior now, and they just demand that you have a really good sense of everything from analytics to strategy to creative.

The marketer used to be the person coming up with the advertising and maybe executing tactically on a few acquisition tactics. But in a  lot of ways, the marketer now is the driver of growth, the voice of the customer, the analytics leader, in a lot of ways, across the business to understand what’s going on in the market place. And I just think that responsibility to be all those things has never been more complex or more important.

How to Become a Marketing Unicorn

So that’s the view from the top of what marketers need to be able to do today. But managing your own career, how can you build those hard and soft skills to become a rare and in-demand Marketing Unicorn? Here was some of McLean’s advice for that:

“We’re looking for unicorns these days,” he said. So, “think about what it would take to turn yourself into a unicorn, at least directionally.”

Patrick went on to describe how he developed his own unicorn skills (Should we call it his “horn”? Maybe not.) and the techniques he used are more like what you see tech workers doing than what you’d traditionally do in marketing. He went out of his way to work in companies and on projects that would give him the skills he needed to develop:

What I did early in my career is I got into an e-commerce role. I took on roles that challenged me from a technology perspective … And having done that, first of all, I had a passion for it. And second of all, I gained an appreciation early for the value of it. I would encourage anybody to do a tour of duty in one of those jobs, whether it’s completely in your wheelhouse or not. Whether you work for your digital team, or get into a product development kind of job where you’re forced to get into technology and forced to understand it.

Patrick also advised ambitious marketers to develop their understanding of business strategy.

“While I’ve always been relatively confident and engaged in marketing strategy,” he said “I think what’s changed for me [as a CMO] has been elevating my game to the point where I’m connecting marketing strategy and business strategy, and therefore influencing business strategy. And that’s been an eye-opener for me.”

That was a challenge at first, and something he had to work on. He closed that gap by spending more and more time with business leaders across the bank.

“Again, it’s this idea of getting out of your functional positions and becoming more a part of the broader business leadership team that’s driving the business forward. And when you move into a chief marketing officer type seat, that becomes the expectation. So the more you can think that way earlier in your career, the better equipped you’re going to be when you get there; and I would say the more likely that you’re going to wind up in one of those seats.”

While some of that may sound daunting, it opens up a lot of opportunities for marketers to move up and into more rewarding positions in the company.

“It makes it that much more fun, too, honestly,” he said. “You’re not just playing your position, but I think we all should be aspiring to move the business forward and lean into it.”

If you to hear more of Patrick McLean’s advice on building your career and becoming a marketing leader, you can click here to see the compete interview on demand over at AADM.

How are you working to develop your own career? What advice would you give to more junior marketers coming up themselves? Let me know in the comments.

10 Tips for Your Career in Marketing

Having been happily self-employed for half my marketing career, I hesitate to give career advice. But when asked, I have plenty of opinions to share on how to grow and thrive as a marketing professional. Here are 10 tips for your career in marketing that I wish someone had shared with me years ago.

Having been happily self-employed for half my marketing career, I hesitate to give career advice. But when asked, I have plenty of opinions to share on how to grow and thrive as a marketing professional. These are tips for your career in marketing that I wish someone had shared with me years ago. This subject came up for me as I was interviewed by Jim Obermayer of the Sales Lead Management Association recently on “Five Lessons in Business and Life.” In conversation with Jim, I enjoyed looking back on my professional life and drawing some conclusions. Delighted to share herewith.

  1. Start your career in a small company, where you can make small mistakes, and get broad exposure to a variety of sales and marketing functions.
  2. Fail fast. The Silicon Valley folks are right about that. If you find yourself in a dead-end job, or in a culture where you don’t fit, don’t wait around hoping it will get better. Be proactive and make a change.
  3. Make friends in business. Your business connections will serve you well over time, not only for career purposes, but also for your emotional and social life. Invest in building and sustaining friendships.
  4. Don’t make enemies. Life is too short. And the world is getting smaller every day. You don’t need the aggravation. Reach out and repair broken bridges, no matter how old they may be.
  5. Embrace data. Learn the new technologies. This is an area you can’t dismiss.
  6. Make testing a regular part of your marketing practice. It’s so easy these days, there’s no excuse. You can test subject lines and from lines in email, and offers and headlines in landing pages. The payoff is worth the effort.
  7. Connect with people you admire. I am not saying “get a mentor.” That’s too formal. But select someone who’s career or thinking impresses you. Send an admiring email. At the very least, it’s a generous gesture.
  8. Join professional associations, and become active on committees and advisory groups. My colleague Mary Teahan tells me that the opportunity to judge the Echo Awards every year keeps her up to date on marketing thinking, and provides her with a trove of useful case studies.
  9. Try moving into B2B. OK, I am biased. But B2B is simply more fun than consumer marketing. It’s bigger, more complex, more challenging, and just as engaging. In fact, B2B marketers are united by some kind of tribal mentally that makes it a particularly nice community.
  10. Think like an investor. Marketing can no longer live on brand awareness. It’s all about tangible, revenue-related results. So, you need to focus on marketing efforts designed to deliver a demonstrable ROI.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

The 5 Best HR Tips for Increasing Employee Engagement

Effective employee engagement improves sales figures, decreases workforce turnovers and improves client satisfaction. The companies with the healthiest company culture are those with management who actively engage with employees. Follow these five best HR practices for the most effective employee engagement.

Effective employee engagement improves sales figures, decreases workforce turnovers and improves client satisfaction. The companies with the healthiest company culture are those with management who actively engage with employees. Engagement within an organization is the most effective tool companies can use to track and encourage employee successes. 

Below are the five best HR practices for increasing employee engagement:

1. Employee Engagement Begins With Training

Employee training is key for ensuring new employees have a smooth transition into an organizations culture. An informative and instructive on boarding process is the foundation upon which  employee engagement begins with an organization’s goals. By communicating clear and defined expectations management can pave the path for reaching the desired results.

Unfortunately a lot of management teams fail to incorporate employee engagement into the company’s organizational structure. In fact, 55% of new hires are not provided a sufficient induction or training plan.

Every company has different organizational structures. For that reason, it is imperative that management outlines the key expectations of the role. Outlining job responsibilities is the framework for which employees can reach goals and is essential for success.

2. Communicate Role Expectations

Setting up initial goals and objectives within your organization is a great way to ensure that your staff is on the right track. Individual roles should have their own set of responsibilities. Be sure to make time every few months for communication between management and staff members. This fosters the opportunity to evaluate role satisfaction and develop a plan for employee progression and career development. This will not only increase autonomy and integrity in the work place, but also allows management to understand the respective areas of interest for future positions and hiring.

This will also bolster engagements and motivate your new employees to strive for excellence in all areas. A successful CEO will make sure that new hires have a sound understanding of the firm’s values, mission, and goals.

3. Active Engagement and Role Maintenance

Once management is confident that the new hires have fully settled in to their designated role, it is important to keep levels of employee engagement as high as possible.

Commitment and gratitude toward employees goes a long way. Model behavior for employees starts at the top. So, it is likely that a company’s staff will mirror that same level of commitment and gratitude in their work performance.

Regular “one-on-ones”, acknowledgments and objective setting will motivate employees to reach goals and improve their skillsets. Don’t be afraid to challenge your people and engage in healthy competition.

4. Promote From Within

There are many tools available for managers to utilize to acknowledge the accomplishments of their team. One of the most traditional and effective means of rewarding hardworking employees, is granting them a raise or promotion; or both if you can.  If available, promotion from within is key for morale and a great way reward your staff members for their hard work.

Promotion from within provides an extremely strong index of the firm’s core culture. Managers should recognize that the individual  rewards send a message to the entire organization. Be certain that the behaviors which are being endorsed by the promotion are in line with the firm’s culture and values. Again, being a model of positive behavior will ensure the remainder of the staff will look to emulate those behaviors you want to see reinforced.

Encouraging employee engagement through vertical communication is also great way to express mutual respect and show appreciation amongst one another.

5. Hire Multi-talented Employees

To maintain an edge in this increasingly competitive economy, companies need to ensure that they employ individuals referred to as “Unicorns” by HR managers. A Unicorn refers to a multi-skilled employee who is able to multitask and wear more than one hat.  .

Unicorns are normally talented in numerous areas and can execute them all beyond a superficial level. Finding these employees starts before the interview process. A persons references and past work experience provides a window to the type of benefits they can provide your company.

Here are some of the key advantages of hiring Multi-talented employees:

  • Multi-talented employees can save you a significant amount of money.
  • Employees with a wide range skill sets improve productivity and business efficiency. You won’t need to worry about the level of work quality since they’ll perform remarkably in all business tasks and projects handed over to them.
  • Having multi-talented employees allows for other team members to take sick and vacation days due to their ability to step into various roles. He or she can easily fill in and execute many jobs impeccably.
  • Improves staff retention and motivation.


How Top CMOs Leverage MBOs to Drive Accountability and Performance

Management By Objective (MBO) is intended to be measurable and directly tied to the organization’s goals. But in many cases today, and especially in marketing, managers default to defining MBOs for their team members that are not connected to the organizational goals and objectives.

Management by objectives (MBO) is a management theory introduced by Peter Drucker in his 1954 book, “The Practice of Management.” MBOs improve organizational performance by defining objectives agreed to by both management and employees. According to its time tested principles, having a say in goal setting and action plans encourages participation and commitment among employees, and aligns objectives across the organization.

Do the quarterly MBOs given to individuals on your marketing team look like this?

  • Creative designer: Get certified in a new application, design and publish 20 new assets
  • Event planner: Successfully execute two named events
  • Campaign manager: Launch two new programs with greater than 10% open rates

These MBOs are NOT connected to the marketing objectives, and that is root cause for many accountability issues in marketing. Management By Objective (MBO) as a process for defining objectives at both the organizational and the employee level was popularized by Peter Drucker in his book “The Practice of Management.” The objectives at all levels of the organization are intended to be measurable and directly tied to the organization’s goals. But in many cases today, and especially in marketing, managers default to defining MBOs for their team members that are not connected to the organizational goals and objectives. The breakdown tends to happen at the department goal level. If we are to hold ourselves and our teams accountable for marketing outcomes, then the MBOs for every individual have to make sense in the context of the organizational goals.

For example, if your quarterly marketing goals include something like this:

  • Grow revenue from current customers by 10%
  • Source 500 new customer accounts
  • Expand sales into two new geographies and exceed sales goals there
  • Create a marketing sourced pipeline of $50m

What should the department goals look like?

Choice A:

  1. Creative group: Design and publish 20 new assets, make the website more mobile friendly, drive for 10,000+ downloads this quarter
  2. Demand generation group: Drive 1,000 new SQLs, acquire 500 new leads.
  3. Marketing Ops: Clean up the database, increase technology adoption by 10%
  4. Event planning: Get 10,000+ leads from events

Choice B:

  1. Creative group: Increase engagement with our content quarter over quarter by 10%, grow customer revenues by 10%, increase new traffic to website by 10%, drive 500 new leads from website, increase traffic from two new geographies by 25%
  2. Demand generation group: Source and engage with leads from 1,000 new accounts, of which 33% are in two new geographical regions. Drive content engagement from our installed base up by 25%, create a $10m pipeline from current customers, create 1,000 new SQLs with $10M in opportunity value attached
  3. Marketing Ops: expand databases to include 100K records for two new geographies (geos), achieve installed based revenue growth of 10%+ and new account acquisition of 150%
  4. Event planning: Get 10,000+ new leads from events, 50% of this from two new geos, engage with 10% of our current customers at events

Choice A is more about tasks and less about outcomes. Choice B is more tightly aligned to the marketing organization goals. With department level goals written like Choice B, we can now write individual team member MBOs like this:

  • Creative designer: Increase buyer engagement with our content by 10% over last quarter and grow existing customer revenues by 10% as a result, create 20 pieces of new content to support expansion into two new geos.
  • Event planner: Drive 250 new SQLs from events, resulting in $20m in pipeline, half of which is in two new geos
  • Campaign manager: Acquire and develop leads in 25 new accounts, generate 15 SQLs, and create $5m in pipeline

As CMOs if we ensure that the departments in marketing have goals and objectives tightly tied to the top line marketing objectives, it becomes much easier for the department heads to divide up those numbers for the individuals on their team. If the department goals are nebulous or activity related, instead of outcomes, all bets are off.

The result is that we assign out the big marketing goals, in slices, in exactly the same way the VP of Sales divides up his revenue target to each rep. So if marketing has a goal of 1,000 SQLs, and $50m in pipeline created, then perhaps 10 individuals each get 100 SQLs and $5m of pipeline.

An obvious objection might be that one cannot assign a goal to an individual that requires many team members to contribute to be successful. How can we give a goal of 100 SQLs from the website to the Search Engine Marketing (SEM) person when they don’t own the content used for attracting and capturing new leads?

The answer is that the marketing goals and the associated numbers have to be driven down to each individual, otherwise nobody owns them. Giving a net new lead goal to the SEM person will force them to make demands on the creative group and on marketing operations to get this job done. Giving the interactive designer a goal for pipeline in new geographies will force them to serve the sales and marketing teams developing content that makes this happen.

Peter Drucker imagined the MBO as a way to get every individual aligned with the goals of the entire function. Don’t fall into the trap of giving people tasks or developmental goals for MBOs. Don’t think it has to be constrained to what the individual can do individually. Simply make him/her an owner of part of a number related to the marketing number and watch your team’s performance accelerate.