It’s back-to-school time.
And it got me thinking. At the beginning of every school year, I would get a syllabus for the class. And it was all so clearly laid out. “Here’s what we expect of you this school year.”
If only expectations were so clearly laid out for a successful marketing career. Where is the syllabus that teaches us how to be a successful marketer?
Well in our latest article, we attempt to do just that for you – read on for insights from marketing and business leaders. Plus, free resources to help you improve each quality in your career.
UPDATED November 2, 2023
This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
We don’t usually produce wrap-up style articles. The internet is littered with them, and they tend to be low value. Which is why we usually bring you thoroughly researched and reported case studies with results, as well as in-depth conversations with marketing and business leaders on the How I Made It In Marketing podcast, that show you how to be a successful marketer.
But this topic feels a bit different. It’s the kind of topic where it helps to scan through many different perspectives. After all, these are just opinions – informed opinions based on these marketing leaders’ lived experiences – but opinions nonetheless.
So I included a bunch of them, allowing you to scan through, try some on (so to speak), and see which are the best fit for you and the unique marketing career you are shaping.
Many of these insights come from episodes of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast, and some come from sources we found specifically for this article.
My biggest takeaway – notice how rarely these qualities show up in job descriptions. We would love to hear your biggest takeaways as well. Feel free to share them on your favorite social media network.
With that said, let’s dive into these qualities (some quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity).…
“Take yourself out of your analyst or your brand manager persona. And to the extent that you can, try to understand what you're selling from the point of view of the customer. And that can be a tall order, of course, depending on what the product is…don't wait until the end [to] bring your customers into the process. I've written a lot about co-creation and the importance of collaborating with your customers because they often are your best salespeople, and they often are your best product designers.”
— Dr. Michael Solomon, Professor of Marketing, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph’s University, in The Psychology of Blue Jeans: What marketers can learn from 150 years of Levi Strauss customer letters (podcast episode #4)
“My personal situation is not the situation of my consumers. That’s #1 to me. Sometimes we personalize things and so we have to remember – I'm a focus group of one. You know, I say the way I live and the things that are important to me, but that's not the universe. That’s just Mary Rodgers’ perspective.”
— Mary Rodgers, Head of Marketing Communications, Cuisinart, in The Long-Term-Growth Product Launch: Cuisinart has been selling the same food processor since the ‘70s (podcast episode #13)
“Even though I have four children and I'm a mom, I know I'm not the core customer of Kiddie Academy. I think everyone needs to realize that even if you're in a marketing role, you're never the core customer because you know way too much to be dangerous.”
— Nicole Salla, Chief Marketing Officer, Kiddie Academy, in Franchising and Marketing: In a world of chicken dinners, be a lobster dinner (podcast episode #14)
“Daniel Pink said it best in his book ‘To Sell Is Human.’ We’ve gone from a world in which sellers had all the power and information to one where buyers have that power. The Internet revolutionized this because buyers can research reviews, ratings, expert analyses, prices, and more from the comfort of their homes. They’re often more informed than the seller at the point of sale.
This means that empathy is the most important skill that marketers need. Buyers have all the information, which means that what they need is a seller who understands their problem and can organize all that information into a product recommendation that fits the buyers’ needs. Marketers are no longer ‘selling’ products to customers, they’re selling solutions to problems. And in order to solve a problem, you need to understand it first, which is where empathy comes in.”
— Tim White, Founder, MilePro
“…actually also understand the commercial side of the business and relate the two. And that's not to say that you are to be the numbers person who can only talk, you know, lower-funnel metrics conversion rates and so on. But it’s to say that you understand the overall business and commercial strategy, and you can relate your marketing strategy directly to that, and you can speak the language that combines those two. You become that bridge between the creative part of marketing and then the business.”
— Maja Frølunde Sand-Grimnitz, Director of Global Marketing for Consumer Gaming, EPOS (formerly Sennheiser Communications), in The Heroes Are Coming: Treating hockey like a blockbuster movie sold 525,000 tickets (podcast episode #7)
“The most important quality of an effective marketer is the ability to understand the bird's eye view of a business, but also the microscopic details that drive results in certain efforts and initiatives.
This quality speaks to a marketer's ability to think across sales, engineering, product development, and obviously marketing. All of these functions of a business need to be understood to effectively create the stickiest, most impactful marketing campaigns for a variety of audiences.
Essentially the effective marketer needs to be able to zoom in on any one facet of the business, then immediately zoom out to understand how that facet impacts the overall brand and marketing efforts of the company.”
— David Gerhart, Strategy and Business Operations, ShareCare Smart Omix
The Marketer as Philosopher: 40 Brief Reflections on the Power of Your Value Proposition – book by Flint McGlaughlin, Founder, MECLABS Institute (parent organization of MarketingSherpa)
“You have to be open to the possibility that your experience and things that you did in the past are less important than the process of embracing what's new and being open to new people and new ideas.”
— Joe McCambley, Chief Marketing Officer, Saatva, in 99 Problem Ideas: “Harvey Gabor (art director on Coke’s iconic campaign) burned my ad concept with a lighter” (podcast episode #10)
“We live in the golden age of marketing, we have so many different ways we can engage with customers, reach customers, so many different formats in which you can inform, educate customers. For us to really create the best marketing experience and be best in class you got to constantly push the boundary, but then you've got to be willing to understand you'll be wrong and have the ability to accept that and kind of learn the lesson.”
— Dhiraj Kumar, Chief Marketing Officer, Dashlane. in SaaS Marketing: Serendipity’s role in Facebook Ads surprising pivot, focusing (and failing) at PayPal, selling like an engineer, & more (podcast episode #23)
“If you don't have the passion to grow your knowledge, to talk about your craft, to get better at your craft, then I think you can fall behind really quickly. Social media isn't anything like it was. I mean, I had a MySpace account and that's completely useless right now, right? If you aren’t somebody who's curious about getting on Tik-Tok and figuring out what that is, then you're probably in the wrong career, even if your company is not using TikTok yet.
The fact is you need to be passionate and curious and kind of constantly keeping your own skills up to date.”
— Tiffany Grinstead, Vice President of Personal Lines Marketing, Nationwide, in Marketing Strategy: Data tells stories at Nationwide, fast mistakes, and the triage method (podcast episode #25)
Well, this is the reason MarketingSherpa exists. You can sign up to our email newsletter to get the latest case studies and in-depth conversations with marketing leaders.
And MarketingSherpa’s parent research organization – MECLABS Institute – has a free digital marketing course entitled Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages
“I love creativity, so I like marketers who like to think and come up with ideas and be idea builders.
One of the things I like to do is ask people, if you're killing an idea, ‘well, what kind of feedback did you give? Did you kill it completely, or did you give constructive feedback in a manner where the idea is not dead?’
It can be resurrected if it's going to take a different approach, because I believe the idea graveyards should be almost empty because there’s typically a good, really good nugget somewhere in there, and it can be part of a new idea or an idea on its own.”
— Aron North, Chief Marketing Officer and Commercial Owner, Mint Mobile, in Not Enough Lobster In The Ocean: Trusting their gut leads to 90,000% revenue growth at Mint Mobile (podcast episode #11)
“Many people think they can do digital marketing in an afternoon. They will just make some quick social media posts and buy some ads on Facebook. However, they don’t understand the meaning of consistency, quality content, credibility behind a business, reputation, online legacy, public relations, and the value of likes on LinkedIn, not just on Facebook or Instagram…
…It is impossible to be an effective marketer if you do not know your target audience, your top five competitors, the media consumption of your target market and have some idea [about] channels – whether it is digital ads, partnerships, events, YouTube, emails, newsletters, landing pages, automated email campaigns, word-of-mouth, you-name-it. You will need the research to tell you what your next steps are, what your strategy will be and how much it will all cost.”
— Dawn Willson, Director of Marketing & Communications, PIO, Coastline College
Again, this is MarketingSherpa’s entire reason for existence, so it’s hard to point you to a few specific resources. But you can search through 8,817 case studies, charts, how-to articles, and video podcast interviews in the MarketingSherpa Library.
“Every marketer needs to know how to write. Writing – and good, quality writing – is a core capability for every marketer.”
— Tracey Gould, Marketing & Communications Director, IASA (Insurance Accounting & Systems Association)
“From proper email correspondence to breaking down marketing jargon for small business owners, solid communication builds trust and is the foundation for growth.”
— Kristin Chambers-Bigalke, Founder/CEO, Meerkat Media Group
“I guarantee you that your head of HR never gets anybody ever saying anything nice about them. I remember our new people ops guy was not feeling well for a couple of days back in February. And I use this tool called THNKS.com. It's a fantastic tool to send coffee and that sort of thing. And I sent him a $24 GrubHub meal thing so he didn't have to cook. He was in tears because nobody had ever recognized him.
Recognize other people and realize that we're all part of a team, whether it's a team in your company. It's a team in your community. It's a team in the world. We're all part of a team.”
— Jeanne Hopkins, Chief Revenue Officer, OneScreen.ai, in Team Building: Loyalty, relationships, pre-selling, and other keys to marketing management success (podcast episode #16)
“I read this great book called ‘The Second Mountain’ by David Brooks. And in that book, they talk about, you know, personal career growth on this first mountain is all about you in these temporal moments of success that give you bits of personal achievement and happiness.
But then you realize that the second mountains are all about living for others. And I think that's a really important bit…look at your life as an opportunity to be for others…the joy, really as David Brooks articulates, it's different from happiness. And the way that he made it different was joy is this enduring positive feeling that you get from helping others. And I think that's what true leadership is.”
— Paul Krasinski, CEO and Co-Founder, Epicenter Experience, in Spontaneous Combustible Collaboration: Most important things in any company are people, people, people, market, and product (Podcast Episode #9)
“Through my journey, attending countless offline events and genuinely helping fellow marketers, I've built a close-knit circle of 10+ marketers. We exchange everything—from innovative uses of the GPT-3.5-Turbo API to trusted link-building freelancers. This allowed me to grow Freetour.com to 200,000 monthly organic visitors.”
— Alexandra Dubakova, Head of Marketing, Freetour.com
“It's the ‘art’ side of the equation that requires a bit of intuition and good old-fashioned chutzpah. Put another way, there is no one right way to market something, so a successful marketer needs to both know what rules to follow and have the confidence to not do the exact same thing as everyone else.”
— Amy Zwagerman, Founder and CMO, The Launch Box
“Learn to recognize great writing when you see it. In our new ChatGPT age, people are quickly forgetting what quality looks like—they assume that because an AI made it, the text must be at least good enough. In reality, great copy can make the difference between record-breaking sales and pure consumer apathy.
Being able to look at content—whether it's from an AI, a freelancer, or a member of your own team—and decide whether it's worthy or not is so critical. Marketing is, at its core, about your message to customers. If you want to be a success, you need to have that deep and granular understanding of what you're literally saying.”
— Michael Power, CMO, DTF Transfers
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