Marketer: Be a Strategic Partner

October 4, 2016

Strategy or tactics? Investment or expense?

I was among those fortunate to speak at the recent Insurance Marketing & Communications Association Conference in Baltimore. Another speaker, Starr Companies CMO Leilani Brown (Twitter handle: @leilanimarkets) really nailed it as she spoke on marketing as a strategic partner to grow a business.

She recalled a colleague telling her the first day at a job: “We don’t need marketing. This is a relationship business.”

In fact, Lani said, “All businesses are a relationship business, but brand has its place.”

Here were some of her other comments to the marketing professionals:

1. Get a seat at the grown-up table.

“How are you introduced into the organization — informally or formally — and is it with enthusiasm and with endorsement? Or without? As a strategic partner, or as the person who is good at arts and crafts?” Lani said.

“And who wants you there? The CEO is not enough — where are you with the CMO and the CIO? Are you copied on the right things?

“Are you in the right meetings? Are you observant and fully engaged? Once you’re there, don’t be a shrinking violet — you have to speak up. Ask for feedback, and run toward the problem.

“It’s very important to learn the language of the business. Ask: What is the business need and the marketing solution? It’s not your solution to the marketing need — it’s the business need.”

2. Deliver value.

Lani added: “Understand what keeps the CEO up at night. Lead with the most important things in the business. You can’t get to everything, so focus on what’s most important. It’s OK to have some early smaller wins, but you have to take a step back and look at the strategy.

“Develop and communicate meaningful metrics for the business. ‘I know it when I see it’ is not enough.”

Leilani Brown: Marketing as strategic partner to grow business

Leilani Brown

3. Educate your colleagues.

The biggest obstacle, Lani said, is a misunderstanding of what marketing is. “We have to work harder and harder to educate. Marketing is about insight and analysis, and leveraging that to be strategic. We don’t just make things look pretty; this is not the arts and crafts department. Every choice we make — every word, every color — is strategic.

“Promote the discipline of marketing to everyone. Collaborate with other departments — even those that are non-P&L related.

“When you are the brand police, you have to tell them why you are enforcing something. Strike a balance — get them on your side. Occasionally say yes. Or say, ‘That’s a great idea. We don’t have the resources right now.’”

I’ve heard this all, too, and I couldn’t agree more with Lani on how to respond.

Now think about your situation. Does your boss (or your boss’s boss) stubbornly think of brand strategy or branding as an expense or an arts-and-crafts project — rather than an investment in a long-term strategy? Is it time to hunt for a different organization — one where your outstanding ideas are welcomed?

Good luck!

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