How to lead a marketing team to the highest performance

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I’ve seen so many marketing leaders over my twenty years in CPG, whether it was my days as a junior marketer observing those I was under or observing my own issues as I was finally taking the reigns of a marketing team. The biggest problem I still see and hear about is the lack of consistency in leaders. I believe consistency is one of the essential attributes for a good leader of a marketing team. 

People always use the word “Leadership,” which sometimes implies that the leader should be “leading” the team. But, it would help if you were encouraging those under you to be the ones leading the way. Stop leading, so you can let your people lead you. 

Whether you are at the director or VP level, and whether your team is 3 or 30 or even more, here are some thought starters to help you better manage your marketing team. 

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People leadership

Be a consistent leader with people

My #1 rule as the leader is to show up consistently. Yet, it is the easiest to fail on. 

People have to know how to act around you. You have to make it comfortable enough for people to approach you and be able to communicate the good and bad. A scary leader discourages people from sharing the bad results, which ends up leaving you in the dark.

Encouraging an open dialogue helps you know what’s going on, so you can run the business. Let them challenge you and push forward new thinking into the system. Your open door helps your brands to stay modern, advance new ideas, and connect with consumers. 

When you have multiple brands under you, it is easy to forget what you said five days ago on one of the brands. I learned quickly to ask the straightforward question: “what did I say last time?” While it might sound weak, it’s a much stronger position for you than when your brand manager says, “yeah, but last time you said….”  

We believe that marketers learn best when they see our marketing concepts applied to brands that look like their own. We have come up with specific examples – consumer, B2B and healthcare – to showcase our marketing tools. Click on the icon below to choose your interest area.

Marketing execution

Be consistent with the work

Be consistent in how you think, how you act in meetings, and how you approve. Inconsistent behavior by a leader does not “keep them on their toes,” which some hope for. Nor does it create an atmosphere of “creativity.” Inconsistent leadership inhibits creativity, with tension that adds no value to the brands. 

A good atmosphere on the team will make people want to go the extra mile for you. Be a good listener, and you’ll be surprised by what people tell you—how honest they’ll be, how much they’ll let you know. Knowledge starts with listening. 

Be consistent

You also want to hold your marketing team to a consistently high standard of work. Rather than being the leader by example, you should establish a standard and hold everyone and yourself to that standard. For a new director, this is one of the harder areas–balancing the freedom you give with the standard you demand. The key is to shift your focus to more process orientation. 

Organize the team and build in processes in a way that produces consistent output, making sure your team hits all deadlines, stays focused, and keeps things moving. The standard should also show up in the quality of brand plans, the execution, and the interactions with everyone, specifically sales or your agencies. Be the control point of the marketing team, and not let slips, errors, or delays show beyond the team. Delegate to motivate your stars, but never abdicate ownership that allows your weaker players to slow you down. 

Decision-maker

Be a leader who makes decisions

When someone your marketing team comes to see you, they expect your challenges and they should be ready for them. But they want your approval. 

There’s nothing worse than the constant deflector. The leader who challenges and sends you back to the drawing board, not because the Brand Manager hasn’t thought of everything but because the leader can’t make a decision. Find your way, whether it is through sorting through a decision tree with criteria, give yourself a certain amount of time or ask for advice from those you trust. But you have to make a decision eventually. 

Those leaders who let research make the decision are just as weak. I’ve always believed that market research is only to get you to the point of “so what do you think?” but it should never decide for you. Otherwise, if research decides, then why do we need you?  

Early in my career, I once worked under a VP Marketing who said in every speech, “what you can expect from me is….,” and we never saw it. We kept waiting. And we started to parrot the phrase “what you can expect from me…” in a joking way. 

Let your people run the brands while you run the process of the marketing team

While your people on your marketing team run the brands and the execution, you should run the P&L and essentially run all the marketing processes. I have worked as a Brand Manager in a marketing team without any process, and it was complete chaos, not fun at all.

You should run the process—brand planning, advertising, creative briefs—in a way that’s not restrictive but instead provides the right freedom to your people. Allow your people to drive all their creative energy into great work that gets in the marketplace, not trying to figure out what slide looks cool in the brand plan presentation. 

As the leader of the marketing team, it is time for you to step back and let them do amazing work. It has to be about them, not you. You will get the best performance of your people when they feel you care about them more than you care about their output.

Keep evolving

As the brand leader evolves, they naturally will take on more and more people at each level, and they will face a choice of whether they prefer the creation of great work, or the creation of people who make great work. If you are overly involved in the creation, you likely will stunt the growth of your people. Moreover, you run the risk of losing your best people who thrive on having independence, and you could end up with average people who execute on your behalf.

I used to walk into every meeting, reminding myself that I knew less about the issue on the table than anyone in the room, including those who worked for me. As the leader, that’s a great position to be in, because it forces you to ask and listen. 

Look for ways to support and encourage great thinking, while challenging them to reach for even better. Try to balance giving them enough freedom to do great stuff and yet knowing when to step in and make a decision.

You should be the one to make the investment choices with an ROI and ROE (Return on investment and effort) mindset to those decisions. 

Marketing skills

It’s about the people, stupid

As the leader of the marketing team, when you focus on your people, the results will come. The formula is simple: the smarter your people, the better the work and the stronger the results you will see. 

You should have regular talent review with your directors. Whenever you can clear out the under-performing team members, you create room for your best to move up. 

Create systemic way to get feedback to everyone on the team every quarter. Waiting for the annual review is way too late and almost negligent as a leader. Your people have the potential to grow with feedback. But without feedback, they’ll be confused and even frustrated. 

Make your people better

Marketing Training is not just on the job, but also in the classroom in a way that challenges their thinking. You need to focus on the skills to be better in their careers. The marketing fundamentals matter, whether it is strategic thinking, writing a brand plan, writing a creative brief, or judging marketing communication. 

People are NOT getting the same training and development they did in prior generations. Invest in training to motivate your people on the marketing team to get better. It drives retention and commitment to producing great work and driving results.

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Invest in your future. If you are an ambitious marketer, looking to solidify your marketing skills, our Brand Management Mini MBA will teach you about strategic thinking, brand positioning, brand plans, advertising decisions, and marketing analytics. 

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You get 36 training videos and our Brand Toolkit ($200 value) that has over 120 PowerPoint slides you can use for presentations on brand plans, brand positioning, and business reviews. We provide key chapters from our Beloved Brands Playbook, and a Brand Management Workbook with exercises to try in real-time. Earn a certificate you can use on your resume or LinkedIn profile. 

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