Commitments: The Pursuit of Clarity

The power of clear thoughts, words and writing.  As a marketer,  I have built my life’s work about making words (amongst other things) work to drive a purchase or a response.  That said, almost every day I feel as if I learn about how to make my words more effective.  Much of this learning comes through the pursuit of clarity.  In every facet of my life, clarity is critical and difficult to achieve.  As a constant learner, I feel like it is something at which the learning will never end.

In marketing:  Often times when we are working hard so create the most effective marketing, we miss the obvious.  You can get too close to the work, review the copy too many times, overthink the headline, or forget to look at the marketing exection with your customer in mind.  Just this week, I was looking at an email campaig where we were trying to be too cute with a headline, and it just wasn’t clear.  A lack of clarity is often driven by not stepping back and looking at your work with fresh eyes.

In leadership:  My most difficult work experiences have been times where I wasn’t being clear to my employees.  The worst of these has typically been whe an employee is underperforming, and I needed to let them go.  This is never a situation you want to find yourself in, as either a leader or employee, but it happens.  The first time I had to do this, I thought I had been explicitly clear with the employee both verbally and in writing of the gaps in their performance.  The day came that I was going to fire them.  They were shocked, angry and sad.  Angry and sad were to be expected, but SHOCKED?!?  We had been having conversations for going on six months about their lack of performace.  I was taken aback, and decided to just ask why they felt so surprised.  Verbatim…”You never told me that wasn’t doing what you wanted me to.  Isn’t that unfair?”  Ugh.  Despite my best attempts, and even a belief that been clear, I hadn’t.  A lack of clarity is often driven by not confirming that what you think you said was heard.

In being a mom:  The power of words.  In no place in my life is this more apparent than with my two year old Matthew (and prior to him, Katharine).  Matthew is learning words everyday, and it is so refreshing to be able to communicate with him.  Only a short 3 months ago, he was getting frustrated all the time because despite what he was thinking, he couldn’t form the words to tell us what he wanted.  Now, the smille on his face when he tells a little joke, or can tell us he loves us.  Priceless.  A lack of clarity is often driven by not understading each other.

In being a wife:  In my life, everything seems to be planned.  So, a moment without a plan typically means something is wrong (unfortunately!).  One morning as I was running out of the house to work, I yelled back to my husband, “You are picking up the kids from school, right?”  To which he responded with, “I can’t, I have an appointment.”  Unfortunately, I didn’t hear him.  I had asked a question without listening for the answer, and thus our kids were awaiting a pick up at daycare with no parent headed that direction.  After a few calls from the teacher, we got it figured out.  But, a lack of clarity is often driven by not listening.  Particularly detrimental if you were the one who asked the question to gain clarity (and when your kids end up stuck at daycare!).

So, the pursuit of clarity is my commitment for the week.  In the way that I communicate and in the way those around me commuicate with me.

Commitments: Staying Fresh

How do you stay fresh amongst an ever changing marketing landscape?  I was reading a number of things this week regarding programmatic buying.  I am amazed at the speed of change in marketing as well as the amount of content written about it (insert irony as I am writing about it!).  It made me think a lot about staying fresh.  It is so hard to do while trying to spend my day doing my day job – or at least what I perceive as my day job.  On a daily basis, I pride myself in linking what we do in marketing to sales results.  I often worry that by spending my time so focused on analyzing this linkage makes me and my team too focused in the past.  All the while the future is being scripted through change in the marketing landscape.  Welcome to my mental dilemma.

So, I am channeling my inner problem-solver, and here is what I am going to do…

Listen to my customer:  No matter the change in the marketing landscape, one thing never changes….what my customer needs, we should deliver.  Without listening, it is impossible for our marketing, and ultimately the products and services we sell to deliver.

Ask more questions that I ever have:  I love inquisitiveness.  That said, sometimes it is easy to get lazy versus to ask why.  With enough questions, I learn from every encounter and experience more than I ever could another way.

Read everything for real:  Sometimes in light of my busy life, and my short attention span, I skim.  The number of content outlets, particularly Twitter, just makes this worse.  There is so much to consume and not enough time to consume it.  So, instead of the skimming, I am committing to really reading again.  This almost makes me giggle just writing it.

Look for inspiration in the unlikely:  An Executive Creative Director I know preaches to look for creativity in the ordinary.  My version of this is looking for great marketing in the unlikely.  This evening while watching a movie with my kids (from Disney’s Fairy series), the power of marketing was crazy.  Matthew (my two year old) told me in his toddler-speak, “Mommy, me go to magic kingdom.”  Say what?!?!  How does he know this already?

Discuss:  Per a previous post of mine, often time the best ideas come through discussion.  I am surrounded by smart people every day, and to talking about marketing with them and what is or isn’t changing can help sharpen my point of view.

I am committing this evening to staying fresh and making this a part of my day job.

Commitments: Creativity Through Discussion

Today I was able to attend a meeting with my creative team brainstorming ideas to make one of our conventions impactful for the physicians who will be attending, while helping to grow our business.  I loved the vibe…we were all standing amongst an open, collaboration space; bringing ideas to the table; laughing and being serious all at the same time.  I was reminded of the good that can come when you allow boundaries to drop, don’t bring a perceived right answer to the table, and allow for freedom of thought and discussion.  It reminded me of a quote from a great book I read earlier this year and am thinking that I need to go back to study again:  Creativity, Inc.:  Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.

“Frank talk, spirited debate, laughter, and love. If I could distill a Braintrust meeting down to its most essential ingredients, those four things would surely be among them.” – Ed Catmull

Catmull uses this book to share the lessons he learned as the co-founder of Pixar as they grew from an idea to a widely successful movie studio.  He is passing on great advice to those of us who want to bring creativity into business every day.  These Braintrust meetings were a gathering of most talented minds at Pixar that reviewed projects and ideas to help make them successful.  What I love about this quote, and what I felt today in my meeting was the collective group of brains that were coming together to make something better.  What made this stand out is that so often I feel like within my marketing team individuals feel like their idea is the best idea.  They have a lack of willingness to share their idea for fear of it being taken, critiqued, or worst-case shelved.  Todays meeting, and the fundamental premise of the Braintrust concept, is that ideas flourish with discussion, debate and commitment from individuals to deliver excellent work.  So, a commitment for the week.  Build a culture on my team that encourages creativity through discussion.  Help people learn to realize the strength in sharing their ideas so that the ideas become better.

Commitments: Connect Marketing to Sales Growth

One of the things that has been bothering me a lot lately is the perception that our job as a marketer is to “make things look good” or to “come up with a name for catchy name or slogan for something.”  Not to say that we don’t and can’t do that, but I hate the fact that often times this is the perception people have of what we do.  Counter to this, my view of marketing is as simple as the definition:

mar·ket·ing
  1. the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.

Our job at its core is to sell things.  It has a lot more to do with making money through driving profitable revenue than it does with making things look pretty (unless of course making it pretty is what makes it sell).  To be good at what we do, you have to think and research what makes people buy something – considering the process, or decision journey, that our consumers use when considering our goods or services within the industry in which we operate.  From here, a marketer works hard to come up with marketing tactics to help get our brands, products or services at the top of the consideration set for the buyer and ultimately get them to buy. 

So why does the perception exist that we make things look pretty?  Why isn’t it common understanding that our goal is to drive sales?   We do it to ourselves.  I believe that most times this perception exists because we don’t do a good job articulating the goals of our work and being accountable link the ideas we execute to revenue (or admit that they didn’t work if the link doesn’t exist).   We as marketers get caught up in the craft, the pure idea, the way it looks, without staying focused on the business impact of these ideas we execute.   

Don’t hear me say that the idea and the craft isn’t important.  It is the most important thing that we do – produce ideas that drive sales.  The best marketing I have seen has been built from a great idea.  It has been executed in a way that is compelling visually and in words.  It has been executed in a way that drives action from the consumer in a way that drives revenue for the business both in the short-term and the long-term.  This intersection of the idea and the result is the craft.   

We must commit as marketers to get better at linking what we do to driving sales for our companies.  We must talk the language of business growth and link our decisions as much as possible to driving that growth.  We must be transparent when things aren’t measurable – and there are many that aren’t.  And where they are measurable, we must connect the dots for the teams around us.  If we do this well, we will enable creativity within our marketing teams and allow ourselves the time, money and thinking space to come up with the next idea that will build our businesses.  And, we will have a lot of fun doing so. 

 

Commitments: Reach for It

 

Yesterday, after a long day at work, as I was playing with my kids at the park, this quotation that I found a few months ago came to mind.  I found it on a particularly rough day….one where I had been dealing with crazy political issues at work which caused me to stay late and miss most of the evening with my kids.  It seemed like I was realizing in real-time that I just couldn’t do it all.  That night, I felt ready to fold, ready to give in.  I got them to bed and spent a bit of time reading and trying to get my head around what to do next to stop feeling this way.  And, I happened upon this quote.  One of my personal principles had always been to “reach for the stars”.  I have always believed that in doing so, I stretch myself to make the best things happen no matter what hand of cards I have been dealt. 

Reading this quote, this was the first time that I had thought about the impact my “reach for the stars” philosophy had on my kids.  It helped me to realize that the act of me stretching myself was helping them learn that they could too.  Often with our kids Jon and I use the saying “never give up, never give up” to cheer them on when they think that they can’t accomplish something.  It is a line straight from “Dora the Explorer”, the most quality television programming we seem to watch these days.  Ironic that we say this to our kids, but sometimes feel like we can’t live it ourselves. 

This quotation was helpful to remind me during the dark night that I found it, and again yesterday, to keep trying, to keep reaching – to prove to myself and my kids that it is possible to be a good mom, a good leader, a good marketer and a good wife.  It doesn’t mean that I am always perfect at any of them, but I promise to always keep “reaching.” 

Becoming a Marketer

In way of professional introduction, I am the head of marketing and corporate sales for a Healthcare Staffing company specializing in helping physicians and other healthcare professionals find jobs.  My company, CHG Healthcare, is the leading physician staffing company in the country, and one of Fortune magazine’s top places to work in the United States (3 years running in the top 20 in the country).  I feel luck to work there, and be a part of an organization that helps make a difference in healthcare while also building a great organization for our people.  I am hopeful to retire at CHG, whenever and whatever that looks like…..too far away to think about.  I am sure you will hear a lot more about this on here later.

The path to here took many turns, many of which I will talk about at a later time here, but one of the more interesting turns is my move into marketing.  I went to school originally thinking I was going to be a chemical engineer.  My aunt, and role-model, was a chemical engineer by training and went to work at Procter & Gamble where she ended up as a General Manager leading a division.  As a young-person, I looked up to her so much.  So, I started school with that career path in mind.  As I started school,  I realized that I actual loved where she landed and not necessarily her journey and that there were many ways to get to that landing.  Pretty quickly, I switched to a business major in Finance and Accounting.  My logic was exactly that of an 18 year old.  I liked math, and finance was the closest thing to engineering in the business school. 

One of my first classes in undergraduate business school was a marketing class, and ironically I hated it.  I found the professor, an adjunct who was up teaching at Miami of Ohio on a sabbatical from Procter & Gamble, pretty worthless.  It seemed like it was her way or the highway, and I didn’t agree with much of what she said.  As students asked her questions, it appeared like she was always making things up on the fly (at the time I was convinced this is what all marketers did) versus grounding her teaching based on facts and experiences.  She had no credibility to me.

As I reflect on that now, 19 years later, it was a pivotal moment for me.  First, I decided that there was no way I would ever be in marketing (ha ha!).  Second, I decided that I always wanted to work hard to be humble versus trying to be right or authoritative.  Finally, I decided that my business existence would always be grounded in facts and hard work and not smoke in mirrors.

Quite ironic that this rough introduction to marketing became one of the moments I believe helped me find my way professionally.  It has helped me to establish my philosophy as a marketer.  It helped to create in me an underdog mentality; always out to prove that marketing isn’t smoke in mirrors and that creativity and logic can come together into a set of ideas that when implemented with excellence can help to grow a business.