Dealing with the marketing leadership ‘inflection point’

For any marketer wanting to develop their career over time, there are a myriad of moments and experiences that will help shape the way they think, act and perform as business leaders. However, there is one transition that stands out above all others as being particularly critical for anyone aiming to reach a senior position.

This inflection point for marketing leaders comes when they begin to represent the Marketing function cross-functionally on a business unit executive team or operating company board. Not only is this the stage at which they represent Marketing within a general management leadership team for the first time, but it also typically coincides with the moment there is a step change in the size of the team they are personally responsible for. As a result, they not only have to lift their commercial focus to a more strategic level, but they also have to think much harder, and probably quite differently, about the way they engage and motivate the people working around them.

Ellie Mickleburgh is a marketer with extensive experience working in the insurance sector with businesses such as Aviva and RSA. Most recently, she has taken on the role of Director of Marketing & Design at leading insurance company, the Jardine Lloyd Thompson Group (JLT). “The step I took from leading marketing in one of the divisions to handling a group leadership role brought with it a couple of notable challenges”, explains Ellie. “There is an important need to balance the usual focus on delivering operational excellence and short term business results with a greater emphasis on visionary strategic thinking. Secondly, I have felt a significant responsibility to ‘market’ marketing within the organisation. A CFO doesn’t have to stand up and justify the role of finance within the business, but as a marketer, in many of the companies I’ve worked in, I’m afraid this is still very much a fact of life.”

Part of the reason this second challenge is so central for marketers going through the leadership inflection point is that the role and remit of Marketing itself is also in transition.

The priority to drive profitable growth by creating better value for customers remains as important as ever.

But the way organisations now need to approach this has changed dramatically. Delivering integrated customer experiences across the multi-country, multi-channel world in which we now live requires functional boundaries to be redrawn and cross-functional ways of working to be reconfigured.

These changes have brought about fantastic opportunities for marketing leaders to increase their strategic influence within their organisations. The insight they can bring into the needs, wants and expectations of customers means they are uniquely placed to help set a growth-oriented agenda for their businesses.

Doing this in practice, however, is not easy.

The technological revolution has led to many new marketing challenges involved in generating customer insight, segmenting markets, developing propositions and building brand and customer relationships. There are also many leadership challenges associated with inspiring, influencing and enabling people throughout the organisation to deliver brilliant customer experiences in practice.

In Ellie Mickleburgh’s case, her efforts are beginning to bear fruit. “I was delighted to hear our CEO talk recently about the need for us as a business to become a more customer focused organisation with marketing leading the agenda. It’s when you hear the most senior leaders talking like this that you realise you’re making some progress in shifting the focus and culture of the organisation.”

It is for all these reasons that Brand Learning has partnered with The Marketing Society for over 14 years to help marketing leaders deal with this critical leadership inflection point. The International Marketing Leaders Programme is a leadership development course for high potential marketers that Ellie herself attended four years ago. Well established and renowned in Europe and entering its third year in Asia, we are now launching the first North American programme in New York this month.

One of the key characteristics of the programme’s design is that it provides an opportunity for up-and-coming leaders to learn from the experience of people who have been in senior leadership positions for a number of years. In the US, we are delighted to be welcoming as contributors Presidents, SVPs and CMOs from a wide range of businesses including Buzzfeed, Google, J&J, IBM, MetLife, PepsiCo, Samsung, Shell, Thomson Reuters and Unilever.

The exclusive, intimate nature of the discussions means that the delegates have an unrivalled opportunity to explore their own marketing leadership development in a very stimulating and reflective way.

As the North American programme unfolds in the coming weeks, we will be sharing some of the insights and lessons that emerge. Watch this space and join the conversation with us on Twitter – we have a fascinating journey ahead!

BRAND LEARNING: Inspiring people. Lifting capabilities. Growing organisations.