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Five secrets of marketing career success

A few days ago, The Marketing Society asked me to share insights from the largest ever study on marketer success with their senior marketers. Seats were arranged in a circle, so I could see everyone’s eyes as I walked onto the stage. The room was packed. Before we kicked off, I overheard conversations in which people were guessing what these success factors could be. Brand positioning skills? Perhaps. Digital marketing knowledge? Sure! Luck? Of course.

As always, I began the keynote with anecdotes of successful marketers. Then, I turned to the data. After analysing over 68,000 executive assessments, Patrick Barwise and I made a stunning discovery. Doing marketing isn’t the same as leading marketing. The most successful marketers in our global study did, as can be expected, a pretty good job at branding, pricing and digital marketing. But that wasn’t even half of it. The most successful leaders did a better job at mobilizing the people inside their organization. Or, in other words, success in marketing is all about having great ideas and then finding ways to make these ideas actually happen.

We’ve written up a comprehensive list of our tips for a stellar marketing career in The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader. Here are my top five:

1.    Tackle big issues. As a marketer, make sure the issues you’re tackling are big. This means that the things you work on should matter to both company leaders and customers. We call this zone of overlap The Value Creation Zone (or V-Zone for short). But be careful: the V-Zone is continually changing and growing, as it is a constant negotiation (more).

2.    Side with the revenue camp. Nobody (outside of marketing) cares about growth hacking, attribution, a programmatic approach—or whatever your favourite buzzword is. People at the top care about cost, revenue and perhaps organization and strategy. What if marketers and agency leaders aren’t revenue? Well, then they’re cost. And there goes the budget. Marketers must consider their numbers—ideally with their finance team (more).

3.    Walk the halls. Marketing is a job concerned with change: changes in customer behaviour, changes in what the company offers. And changing things is a contact sport. You can’t make change happen by email. Successful marketers leave their office, walk the halls and make change happen—one conversation at a time (more).

4.    Touch their head and their heart: Marketers can’t prove anything to colleagues if they aren’t listening. A good marketer tells a story. A story that captures people’s minds and gets under their skin. Napoleon believed that a leader is a dealer in hope. Great marketers have a story as to why their work can offer others hope (more).

5.    Show the fire in your eyes. Marketers have a job in which everyone can say no. Bosses, colleagues, team members and customers. Inspiration is a marketer’s biggest power. The trick? To inspire others, one must first be inspired themself. They must be inspired by an idea or by a belief. What’s your inspiration? Once you know, show this fire to those around you (more)!

Performing and leading marketing are two different jobs. Successful marketers do both. And, ultimately, have more fun!

P.S.: This fall, Kantar and I will publish brand new research on brave leadership exclusively for The Marketing Society. Brace yourself for even more leadership powers!


By Thomas Barta, Marketing Leadership Speaker, Author: The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, former McKinsey partner