Achieving Success as a Marketing Leader

Prior to the internet becoming mainstream – along with its ability to help marketers draw a clear line connecting campaigns with sales – marketing leaders often struggled to demonstrate the power of brand and its impact on P&L. But as a marketing leader whose professional maturity occurred in the digital era, I’m a firm believer that strategic marketing can not only influence hearts and minds, but also serve on the front lines of driving business growth.

And while strategic thinking plays a central role in creating marketing impact, being a source of positive change for your team is mission critical. At Dotted Line, we talk at least on a weekly basis about marketing being a team sport – and I’d argue that this holds true not only in our agency setting, but also in the corporate world. Marketing leaders are responsible for working closely with team members from across the organization. We also work with peer business leaders to inform organizational strategy. And when the time comes for implementation, specialists from various marketing disciplines must collaborate with their peers from other disciplines to fully realize a holistic marketing program and, ultimately, the team’s greatest potential.

As one of our agency’s business development leaders, I come into contact with hundreds of marketing leaders who are new to their role. Combining insights from those interactions with my own experience, I wanted to share several important considerations for marketing leaders who are new to their organization, new to their role, or perhaps reimagining how they manage their team.

You’re a Change Agent

In my view, marketing at its core has always been about disruption (even before the term became overused). On a daily basis, we’re being asked to drive change: how a brand talks about itself, the tools an organization uses to communicate those messages, and the behaviors we’re looking to drive with our target audience.

And the same holds true as we think about our function within a business. Marketing leaders are often hired to drive change, whether it’s dramatic change at the business or brand level, or an organizational or executional transformation. It’s your responsibility to seek clarity on the magnitude and pace of change and how it will be supported internally. From here, it’s your team to build – and your obligation to find the right people, with the right skillsets and temperament to make your organization successful.

As you take on the marketing mantel, your first weeks in the role will establish your trajectory and hopefully accelerate success. To that end, sit down with your CEO or organizational leader to understand how best to focus your disruption, where the most immediate challenges lay, and the expectations related to the magnitude of change you’re being expected to drive. I’m a big fan of The CMO Manifesto, which provides some great insight and structure for those early days.

Remember, building relationships and trust early on with your executive peer set and their teams will make shifting from strategy to execution easier when it’s time for action.

Your Team Is Your Engine

Strong marketing teams are built on a sound process, collaboration, effective communication, and clear expectations. I start that list with “process” because it’s a foundational element here at Dotted Line and aids greatly in fulfilling the subsequent items. In my career, I have found that developing the process is the first step to creating focus for driving toward desired results, and when I look at the feedback we receive from our partners, our clear process often rises to the top as a valuable part of the Dotted Line experience. Knowing how you’re getting to your final destination – and recognizing the important milestones along the way – makes the process that much more enjoyable.

But the destination isn’t purely shaped by internal forces like process: There are certain expected outcomes that cost centers like marketing are held to. Your strategic imperatives, and the markers of their successful actualization, need to be a North Star for your team. That’s not to say that we should hold specific metrics over our team’s heads, reactively responding to any abnormalities. What I mean is that, as marketing leaders, it’s our job to ensure that our teams understand our goals and how their discipline fits into the equation. I often find myself feeling redundant, playing my role of Dotted Line brand advocate in our internal meetings by repeating our mission and guiding principles, but what feels repetitive to me, I’ve come to understand, is good reinforcement for the team.

When you look at our tax documents, our agency is actually listed as Dotted Line Collaborations. It was the moniker we first developed when we began the business and stands to demonstrate the importance of collaboration. Now, seven years later, as we weather a pandemic, often from remote locations, I’m reminded of the importance of collaboration – and the clear communication required to ignite that type of collective thinking.

The reality is that in a single moment, an individual has a limit to their knowledge base: We have the potential to learn more in the future, but, in this moment, we only know what we know. In order to go beyond what each of your team members knows individually, it’s imperative that your business creates a culture and a forum for collaboration. It takes great intentionality and creativity in these bizarre times, but the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.

Start with Strategy

If I could offer up one piece of advice – a pitfall to avoid in general, but especially in those early days – it would be to lean toward the strategic versus the tactical. Understand your organization’s primary goals and how they relate to the marketing function. Take the time to understand the voice of the customer and dig into market insights to guide future decision-making. Develop an approach that addresses core business needs and articulate tangible measures of success (even if it’s just one), internally with your team as well as externally with other facets of your business.

I often frame this by characterizing the type of change I’m leading and why the status quo is no longer right for the business. That type of clear communication will help you build relationships with executive peers and partners within your organization. It will also give you assurance in the event there’s an organizational shift in priorities since people will know what you’re doing and can help give you visibility when a pivot is required.

For those who know me well, you won’t be surprised at my ending this post with a few additional reads in case marketing leaders are looking for further guidance as they ease into their new role. Dotted Line came to existence after several informational interviews I conducted with fellow female business leaders who expressed a need for a more thoughtful, intentional marketing approach. If you’re looking for insight, reach out to marketing leaders in your network and ask them about their approach. I’ve found these types of meetings invaluable. Also, there are tons of great CMO podcasts out there, and I encourage you to take a listen. Here’s one of my favorites.

And, of course, I wouldn’t be an effective marketer if I didn’t share my own agency’s resources! Our team recently put together a reference guide for building strategic marketing programs. Once you’ve taken the preliminary steps outlined in this post, I encourage you to download it and read more about important considerations for turning your strategy into action.