Build your brand career around your core strength

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

Just like a brand, we each bring a core strength as a marketing leader. There are four general core strengths to build your brand career around; running the business, marketing execution, strategic thinking, or managing people. It would be best if you manage your marketing career around your core strength.

When you are finding yourself in a career transition, this can trigger new thinking. For many marketers, their immediate response is an urge to pick two or three core strengths, because we are trained to believe that being a generalist means you can do it all. Yes, you need to do all four, but you still have a natural core strength. 

Here is the game I have created to help you choose your core strength to build your brand career around

  • Using the diagram below, start with four chips. You must place one chip where you believe you have the highest competitive advantage to win. 
  • Then put two chips at the medium level that backs up and supports the core strength. 
  • Finally, the game forces one chip to be at the low end, which is almost a throwaway weakness that will not be part of your long term strategy. 

It is a great game to try, even ask for peer feedback to challenge your thinking. If you still say, “I’m pretty good at all 4”, then push yourself, because I might not believe you. No one is equally great at all four. You have to know your strength. As you make your next move, each choice may lead you to 4 different career choices.

1. Your strength is running the business

The natural business leader enjoys the thrill of hitting the numbers, both the financial and market share goals. It would be best if you were fundamentally sound in the core elements needed to run a business, including forecasting, sales, analytics, finance, and distribution. 

As a generalist, you can work with every functional area for the benefit of your business. You are equally strong negotiating with sales as you are working with R&D scientists. You know every number on your business and enjoy the details it takes to get through hours of forecasting meetings and can debate big picture strategy at the highest levels. 

With the Myers Briggs, many of the best brand leaders are ENTJ (extrovert, intuition, thinking, judgment) which is the “field general” that brings intuitive logic, quick judgment to make decisions that capitalize on a recognized business opportunity, and then you bring a taskmaster style who makes things happen.

As we look at the marketing skills, this business manager requires the broadest collection of marketing skills, using experience to fill in any gaps over the years. From what I have witnessed, they could still have skill gaps in either the creativity or people leadership areas. Using your experience, you can get more comfortable giving freedom to your agencies and allow your team to handle the creative execution.

In terms of your career, you should try to stay in product management as long as you can. The reality with many marketing roles is the age-factor. I faced it, and you will. I hate that it exists, but it is a systemic reality. When you find roadblocks in your current industry, consider new verticals before you venture into new career choices. The thrill in running a business might not feel the same in a specialty role or a people leadership role.

Going outside of traditional marketing, you can use your experience to explore working on behalf of private equity firms who look for turnaround managers, or you can venture into entrepreneurship, where you can leverage your core strength of running a business.

2. Your strength is marketing execution

You are the type of marketer who is highly creative and connects more to the creation of ideas and love to build consumer insights into your work, and less excited by the business results and data. You think fast with instinct rather than slow down with strategy. You are high on perception, comfortable with ambiguity, and push for different work. Moreover, you respect the creative process and work well with creative people. 

Depending on your level of experience, you might be strong in other areas of marketing, but your passion has a distinct focus marketing execution, whether that is the advertising, social media, product innovation, customer experience or customer marketing. 

As you hit the mid-level of your career, you might feel pressure to be more strategic or take on more substantial teams. It is natural to be tempted by power, and that temptation can lead us into an area beyond our passion. As I was moving up in my marketing career, my true love was for the marketing execution and managing the business. As I moved up, my team kept getting bigger, from one person up to five, then ten and then all of a sudden leading a group of 40, I was missing the marketing side of me. I was no longer creating the work, but instead leading those who were creating the work. Managing people has never been my strength or my passion, and I desperately missed marketing. 

As I was moving up, I remember our CEO telling me, “Graham, never go beyond VP Marketing. That was the last job I loved. Now, I never do any marketing. All I do is work with IT and unions.” His words stuck with me. With success at the VP level, I was offered general management roles beyond marketing, and I turned them down. I had already let go of some of my passion for marketing; I didn’t want to let go completely. This lesson is not for everyone, but if it fits you, then follow your passion, not the pressure from others. 

For those who love the marketing execution, at some point, you will have to choose to grow as a subject-matter-expert in advertising, media, innovation, or merchandising. Explore switching to an agency role or build your own business as a subject-matter expert.

3. Your strength is strategic planning

You enjoy strategic planning more than marketing execution. You are a deeper thinker, who is conceptual and logical, and you have possible gaps or a lack of passion to be the taskmaster that is needed to run the day-to-day project list of a business. Many strategic thinkers are more on the introvert spectrum as their energy comes from thinking, rather than socializing throughout the organization.

The one caveat is that a marketing role can never be 100% strategy. You have to execute, and with most upper management roles, you have to manage people. 

If you lack that make-it-happen gene needed to run a business, staying in a traditional marketing role might expose your gap. You can build a strong team of business leaders under you, whose strengths can deliver the marketing execution. You will eventually get frustrated by the grind and stress that comes with running the business.

A corporate strategy role will need socializing, as you gain alignment among various senior leaders who come with diverse opinions as they try to represent the needs of their function. A global marketing job will require tremendous socializing among various markets, with a lot of negotiations to gain alignment.

When you find yourself in a career transition, explore roles in consulting, academic, or professional development type roles. Start to build your thought leadership to carve out a specific perspective or reputation you can monetize in the longer term.

4. Your strength is leading people

You find a natural strength in leading others, and love to see one of your people reach their potential. You are strong at providing feedback, inspiring others, and career management of others. You are a natural extrovert with a high EQ. You can read others, which helps you with conflict resolution and negotiating skills across the organization. As you move up, you should surround yourself with people who counter your potential gaps, whether on strategic thinking or marketing execution.

Where does your energy come from; marketing or people? As I mentioned in the last chapter, consensus building was my most significant gap, and it shows up again here. I never liked being managed in the most junior roles and did not like directly managing others at the director level. 

You may be the opposite of me. I have worked with many who eventually thrived more with people than they did with marketing. These types of leaders get better as they moved up. 

If this is your strength, you should pursue a general management role as a leader of leaders. Look for a cross-functional shift in sales or operations to gain various perspectives of the business to enable you to take on a general management role in the future.

After you hit your peak within the corporate world, you can consider careers such as executive coaching where the focus and energy remain on guiding people.

If you have an obvious strength, you should build your brand career around it, instead of trying to be something you are not.

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