Marketing Mistakes & Lessons from the Experts
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” - Eleanor Roosevelt.
One of the biggest responsibilities - and indeed privileges - of being a senior expert in any field, is sharing your knowledge with others on their way up. When marketers share the lessons they’ve learned from failure, it means we can collectively elevate the craft of marketing.
Here, leading marketers from the ADMA Advisory Committee offer a rare glimpse into some of the mistakes they’ve made along the way, and the valuable lessons that were found. And as usual, there were some common themes that emerged…
Don’t let things fester
According to Stuart Tucker, Chief Customer Officer at hipages Group, seizing the moment and dealing with issues immediately is key to being both a successful employee and leader. He says, “Like many Australian males, I can often avoid conflict. There are some regrets in my career where I could have acted sooner to close issues or address poor performance. Now I realise that it's better to act in the moment where possible and not let things linger.”
Trisca Scott-Branagan, Chief Marketing Officer at Australian Business Growth Fund, backs this sentiment with her own steep learning curve around conflict resolution. “There was a time earlier in my career when I had a terrible boss who was a real bully. I chose to stick in the role longer than I really needed to, which meant that my emotional recovery from that experience took longer than it should have. There was also a time much later in my career when I had a really tough relationship with a peer where we didn't see eye-to-eye on a critical project we were both accountable for. I took too long to address our differences head-on. But once I did, we were able to resolve our views and working styles very quickly. Both lessons have taught me not to avoid uncomfortable confrontations, as resolution is much better than conflict!”.
Be proactive, show initiative and always keep learning
Tucker recalls a time early in his career which taught him to really go after opportunities - because no one else will do it for you. “In my mid 20's a CMO said in a performance review that I was going well, but had to 'knock down doors' to make things happen. He didn't mean to be aggressive or confrontational, but to be proactive, take opportunities and make things happen. That was 30 years ago and I remember it clearly.”
He adds that marketers should remember one word, “Curiosity. Ask questions. What is the customer thinking? What data point do I need? Is there a better way? Is this idea big enough?”
Paul McCrory, Group Industry Director at Facebook, says his biggest lesson was about learning to be part of something bigger - to stop “Focusing on me versus we”. He also contends that, “Imperfect is the new perfect”.
But perhaps the most timely advice comes from Tourism Australia CMO Susan Coghill, who has experienced, alongside her team, a period of significant change thanks to COVID-19 and related travel restrictions both internationally and domestically. She says of this time, “It’s been an incredibly tumultuous 18 months for my team and the tourism industry”. But Tourism Australia have used the time to proactively invest in their people and future-proof their team.
“With borders closed we’ve had to be incredibly proactive and shift focus from the international markets to the domestic, while still keeping the dream of that Australian holiday alive around the world. At the same time I’ve been keeping my team motivated and sharpening their skills as well. We’ve invested a lot in training courses and bringing our team along in their development, including a number of courses offered through ADMA such as the Ritson mini MBA, behavioural economics, CX design and design thinking. I wanted to make sure that as we were working hard to support the tourism industry, we also created opportunities for the team to keep learning and set us up for what’s next.”
Don’t go too narrow too soon
Tucker recommends that marketers, particularly early in their careers, “Take every opportunity for breadth of experience,” because becoming too specialised too soon can limit career opportunities later on. He advises, “If you're a specialist, then you're unlikely to be a CMO… focus less on technical marketing skills and more on things like strategic problem solving, story-telling and creating insights.”
Scott-Branagan warns - from personal experience - that there will be many forks in the road along the way, and that these offer great opportunities to expand expertise. “I had spent the first years of my career in business development. I found I was actually very good at selling to consumers and then to enterprises. But I found it was inefficient - I could only sell as much as I could connect with people. My success was heavily dependent on my time. That's when I discovered marketing. Marketing meant I could expand my ability to sell from 1:1 to 1:many. That's what I was most passionate about in the early days. Ironically, now I'm constantly challenging myself on how I can market 1:1 instead of 1:many!”.
“It’s not enough to be good in digital - you also need to strategise a lot more and be clear on what makes you distinct in the market. The online world has been lazy sometimes in harvesting purchase intent so easily through cookies, and haven’t done enough work on the strategic side. For us, the skill set that has become more relevant in the last 12 months has been around strategy, really good go to market planning and project management.”.
"The key differentiator in the future cannot be the ability to 'out-target’ anymore, you need to look at the completeness of how you approach marketing." The takeout? Don’t forget the basics and keep your traditional marketing tools sharp - strategy, planning, customer experience and brand building are powerful for a reason.
Lessons in leadership
According to Tucker it’s not always the mistakes you make yourself, but those made by the people around you that have the biggest impact. “I think you learn more from poor leaders than good leaders. I've 'banked' all the bad experiences and tried not to repeat them.”
On the flip side, Scott-Branagan learned much from the great leaders she has worked with and alongside. “I have worked for a couple of incredible leaders during my time in professional services. They both had strong strategy backgrounds to carve out a clear plan for the future, balanced with a strong desire to engage with people and take them on that journey. They were able to seamlessly engage with stakeholders and staff across multiple countries, cultures and languages with incredible insight and empathy. While they were terrible at giving feedback during review times, my learnings came through the osmosis of watching and learning.”
McCrory offers yet another unique take on leadership, by defining the role of a leader versus a manager. He says, “A manager focuses on the tasks required to get a team from point A to point B. A leader serves the team and sets a vision that others believe in and follow.”
Finally, remember what’s important to you
For McCrory, this was about remembering his own professional learning as being key to both his own success and that of the business: “I realised that investing in myself and believing in myself was the most important first step to leading a business forward”.
Scott-Branagan says she began her professional career thinking that she needed to establish her career before having a family. “Now, I strongly encourage people to have their family early and not wait until their career is established. Why? When I started my career, it was expected that everyone worked full time and in the office. There was no flexibility. There was no paternal leave. There was very little financial support during maternity leave. You had to have a strong financial foundation in order to be able to make personal choices so that you could invest in your family. Today, those barriers are either completely removed or are so much lower… When I moved to New York in my early 30s…I met these incredibly successful business women who had a career and a family. I realised I could have both too…It's because of this that I had the confidence to start a family as opposed to waiting until many years later to do so.”
One final word from Trisca is that there is power in the words you choose when reflecting on lessons. She says, “I've made decisions that have led to really tough consequences that have chiseled my learnings. But there are no mistakes - there's only decisions and their related consequences that create experiences and learnings.”
If you want to learn some career lessons from industry experts - without the mistakes - find an ADMA IQ course today.