The 7 Types of Marketing Leaders
I had a conversation with a former colleague the other day and I remarked how I wouldn’t want to go into some marketing leadership roles. First and most importantly, because I’m currently busy co-running our agency, Marketing Nice Guys. But if I were looking, there are certainly some roles I would hesitate to take on. Some might wonder, with 30+ years of business experience in a lot of different areas of marketing, shouldn’t I be able to adjust to just about any role? The answer, as much as I’d love to tell myself that I could, is pretty clearly no.
We often say here at Marketing Nice Guys, that every organization is different. It has different marketing needs, and each requires its own unique skill set for that particular circumstance and that industry. A great marketing leader for a small organization might fail spectacularly at a larger organization, while the reverse is also true: A great CMO at a Fortune 500 company might not be able to impact a smaller one at all (as much as his or her ego might think at least). That’s clearly what makes marketing one of the most challenging jobs and one reason why Chief Marketing Officers, on average, have the shortest tenure among all c-suite executives. Throw in the wildcards such as dealing with opinionated or sometimes ignorant CEOs and executive leadership, wild variations in your marketing technology stack (and technical capabilities of staff), completely different marketing budgets, and you probably have no consistent way to predict if new leader will have an impact.
The Marketing Leaders We’ve Met – 7 Types
For that reason, we’ve created our fun, little guide below to the 7 types of marketing leaders we know we’ve run into over the years. (Note: We didn’t include super-negative types such as the “Know Nothing,” “The Pretenders,” or the “Credit Stealers” as, while those certainly exist in droves, but there’s not much value in discussing individuals who will only do harm to what you have in place. We’re really talking here about those that can have a potentially large positive impact in various workplaces, assuming circumstances are right.) With that, here’s our 7. Enjoy!
These marketing leaders can be game-changers in the right circumstances. They see opportunities where others don’t and often can be considered brilliant in the way they come up with new strategies and even tactics, often that don’t just affect marketing, but technology, product, and sales and even areas such as HR.
- What They Need Most to Thrive: Budget and resources, and a CEO who goes along. We might laugh a little knowingly, but often such “vision” involves some sort of investment and will typically cross over into product development and other areas. He or she can be great if you’re a company that has money and budget to spend and is willing to play around a bit to test what could be cool. Along those lines, the CEO has to be willing to take some risk, otherwise, all those great ideas will go for naught.
- What Environments Will Kill Them: Small to midsize businesses that have to be efficient in their spend and/or might be “in a good place right now.” Visionaries are somewhat rare here at such companies, not because there aren’t people who can’t be creative at these companies. There certainly are those. But they don’t do it on the scale that the typical visionaries think at. We’ve seen “visionary” marketers often fail at these institutions because their ideas aren’t seen as a “vision” but more radical, and often unnecessary. And if you have a CEO who has less of an appetite for risk, that doesn’t help either. Also, many Visionaries are often forced to get more in the weeds at companies like this to be successful, something they often can’t do – much to their peril.
Opposite of the Visionaries are perhaps the “Incrementalists” – the marketing leaders who get heavily into the weeds of almost everything. (They know how to actually use the email marketing automation platform!) They don’t do it to replace those who do the actual work. They do it because they want to know how things work and love the ins and outs of marketing operations and data. That helps them steadily move the needle.
- What They Need Most to Thrive: A CEO who loves data and analytics, and a company whose brand is both established and not currently in need of radical change. CEOs who are similarly into operations often love the Incrementalist marketing leaders. That’s because they are steady in their approach: Charts and data showing the efficiency of operations, as well as discussions of ongoing optimizations of operations, are right in the wheelhouse of these individuals. In that same vein, as long as they can keep things humming and don’t have to come up with something radically new, everything is cool.
- What Environments Will Kill Them: Companies that are beginning a decline and/or need radically different approaches. Vision and risk are two areas not generally associated with Incrementalists. That’s because they need a generally steady environment to survive. Companies that swing wildly or have business units that need radical transformation don’t really suit Incrementalists. That’s not because they don’t have ideas for change. They do. But their ideas are often smaller in scope and not the type of needle-moving efforts that such companies need.
The ‘ToFu’ Set
These are, simply put, the brand-building marketers. They are all about the top of the funnel (ToFu) and getting more customers aware of the company brand. Good or bad, they’ve bought the gospel over the years that says the more people who know you, the more people buy from you. They are all about advertising and spending for reach and awareness. They buy billboards on I-95 for fun after spending millions on latest television, Connected TV devices, and doing YouTube takeovers.
- What They Need Most to Thrive: $$$. Period. End of story. We’re not talking a few thousand dollars here or there to run a brand campaign. We’re talking millions because those are the only companies who really can afford to do a lot of what they propose. Like the Visionaries, they can dream up really creative ways to spend your millions and have great facility in working with high-level marketing agencies that will get you the reach you need at that level.
- What Environments Will Kill Them: Have a marketing budget of less than $500,000 in annual ad spend? Don’t hire a ToFu leader. You’re likely going to be still focused on getting immediate-term revenue in the door, in which case you need other skill sets such as those of the “Pipe Dreamers” (see below). And while such leaders can help you drive awareness today, tomorrow can be a long way off if your time horizon isn’t long. Need to optimize your e-commerce flow or get into the weeds of an email journey? These individuals probably aren’t the best. Some of their tactics can work in the right situation – for example, if the product is an impulse-type purchase, where you could get a return immediately with your top-of-the funnel focused leader. But that would be an exception not a general rule.
The “Pipe Dreamers”
Oh, they love sales. (They might be the only ones … Just kidding, we love sales!) For the Pipe Dreamers, their entire existence is to increase size of the pipeline for the sales team and get new potential customers in the door. So, they know every lead generation trick in the book. Account-based marketing? Check. Google Ads? Check. Webinars and downloads? Check. Salesforce integration? Check! E-mail marketing automation drip campaigns? Check! Check! Check!
- What They Need Most to Thrive: Good product and a half-way decent sales team. Obviously, we’re primarily talking about B2B here though, there are certainly B2C pipeline specialists, particularly for fundraising, causes, and other outreach efforts that aren’t a traditional business selling to another business. A great product, as the saying goes sells itself, but it can certainly use the help of the Pipe Dreamer, who can do everything in the playbook to get in front of potential buyers at companies. That high-end direct mail where you actually get something cool delivered? That’s the Pipe Dreamer doing his or her best to pull you in.
- What Environments Will Kill Them: Rarely do you see a B2B Pipe Dreamer cross over into marketing for B2C, as it’s a completely different game. Instagram marketing? What is that? OTT/Programmatic? Don’t use it. The other Kryptonite the Pipe Dreamer? A lackluster sales team that characterizes everything as a MQL (marketing qualified lead), as opposed to an actual SQL (sales qualified lead), mostly because they don’t follow up, but then claim it wasn’t a good lead to start with. (OK, we know that sounds bitter. But it happens, trust us.)
Maybe this marketing leader started as a content specialist or a social media guru. Maybe they were the email manager at one time, or a marketing ad operations director. Since then, they’ve moved up and now run the entire organization. They certainly rely on others’ expertise in the parts of marketing they haven’t been well versed in, but they also know what it takes to do their particular specialty well.
- What They Need Most to Thrive: A company whose marketing focus is particularly skewed toward what they do well. These individuals are great at elevating their particular specialty as a marketing focus for their organizations if it isn’t one already. (I mean, c’mon, have you ever met a former email manager who didn’t want to do expand the email program as the CMO?) They’re good at it so why not? And especially if their particular skill lends itself well to the company’s current marketing. They also need very good people around them on their team in other areas that aren’t their particular specialty, but that’s also true of any marketing leader.
- What Environments Will Kill Them: Marketing needs that are new or completely unfamiliar to them or their skill set. One of the issues with Specialists is that they have often, by necessity, have a focus only on that particular specialty. So, if they learned content really well, they can often oversee that well. But email marketing? Paid media? Brand advertising? It’s not that they can’t learn it, it’s that it becomes too steep of a learning curve too fast unless they have a really super, self-directed team.
The C-Suite Utility Infielder
You’ve seen these executives before. They run operations, marketing, sometimes even technology, particularly at companies that don’t elevate marketing to a role worthy of sitting at the executive table. Typically, an MBA, the last time they dealt with marketing was in business school and they found the subject rather easy and forgettable, something that any monkey could do. Now that they have the reigns in the field, they realize that it might be a lot more difficult.
- What They Need to Thrive: Suffice to say, a C-Suite Utility Infielder can often be rather hands-off when it comes to marketing. They know enough to be dangerous and to look the part, but the good ones absolutely realize that they need expertise at the director level, and a really sharp team working under them. They do better in environments with larger budgets, particularly those run by a ToFu-in-waiting type, or if it’s a B2B business, a Pipe Dreamer-in-waiting.
- What Environments Will Kill Them: Just about any role that requires an actual working knowledge of how marketing operations works. And that’s not a knock on them as they are really “filling in” for what should be a CMO role. The C-Suite Utility Infielder will often struggle more when it comes to midsize businesses without the luxury of a budget as innovation in those companies requires a more detailed playbook for how to run marketing operations, which they simply don’t have.
The Emeritus Professor
Every word out of the mouths of these marketing leaders seems to be some sort of life lesson for employees, and often even for the CEO and other executives. They been there, done that, and are generally comfortable with themselves. And with good reason: Over the years, they’ve been able to repeat their successes in marketing at multiple places, typically because their focus is on lifelong learning and marketing wisdom.
- What They Need to Thrive: Secure CEOs and employees willing to listen to them. The Emeritus Professors know what they’re talking about. Their experience and general instincts about the marketplace, customers, and marketing strategies tend to be right on. So, CEOs and other employees that go along for the ride can enjoy a long run-up before needing any big changes to the program they outline.
- What Environments Will Kill Them: Insecure CEOs (more common than anyone would like) and feedback-resistant employees. When you’re right often enough, the wrong people can often get jealous and resist, simply because they CAN’T STAND the Emeritus Professor. The pontifications about this and that get old after a while. And pretty soon, even if the “professor” is good, a lot of people might want him or her out of the picture.
We hope you found this somewhat close to what you know to be reality. Obviously, there are lots of types out there, and many are mix of several of these. Who knows, maybe your marketing rock star has a bit of all of them! Do you know any other marketing leader types? Let us know below! We’d love to hear other personas you have run across as well.
P.S. Our ideal marketing leader, regardless of the type we’ve listed above, will always be one that continues to learn – or knows enough to help their employees learn more. As a marketing consulting and training company, we believe in the power of education and we hope, if you’re reading this, you do too. Let us know if you need help in any areas where you find yourself not being so strong or if you need ongoing marketing support or consultation. We also provide corporate marketing training in 12 marketing topics to help you and your team get up to speed quickly.