I was recently in a business development meeting with two of my colleagues. Across from us sat the CEO, CFO and Head of Recruiting for an omni-channel e-commerce company. The reason for our visit was to discuss partnering on a chief revenue officer search — essentially identifying the person responsible for all revenue-generating functions.
In meetings like this we’re armed with a list of about ten executive profiles to discuss. During this profile review, we gain an initial understanding of what characteristics and past experiences matter most to the client when they hire a marketer. In this instance, since our prospective client does the majority of their business online, we targeted candidates that are P&L leaders for multi-channel businesses who had perhaps gotten their start in a digitally oriented position.
From a group of ten profiles, we anticipate our clients will be interested in about four. Having too many interesting profiles means that we either don’t have enough variation or the client is not yet clear on what they want from the role. On the flip side, having too few interesting profiles can mean we missed the mark entirely. In this instance, our prospective client remarked, “I looked through these profiles and frankly most, if not all, are out – they’re pretty much all marketers.” 0/10. It wasn’t looking great, but fortunately for us, marketers today don’t belong in a single category. In fact, there are two types of marketers: classically brand-trained marketers and performance marketers. The distinction matters as they each bring a vastly different set of expertise to the table.
To understand the origins of these two marketers, let’s travel back in time a few decades. Set your time machine for 1995.
Where it all began
It’s 1995. Will Smith is the fresh prince of Bel Air; a small online book business called Amazon is not yet a year old; and the World Wide Web is in its infancy. The idea of an online sale is considered quite radical, but it’s gaining some traction. During this time, retail execs tasked their young marketers with determining whether this online “fad” was worth paying attention to. At a rudimentary level, this is how marketing and e-commerce first became interconnected; the Internet was initially seen as a marketing tool, hence marketers were involved.
So who were the marketers of the 1990s? It might surprise you to learn that many of the world’s most powerful executives today were pre e-commerce marketers, which we often call “classically brand-trained marketers.” They often started their careers as brand managers at large CPG companies (think P&G, Unilever, PepsiCo, Clorox). From day one, they were trained to build a brand. Until somewhat recently, almost every chief marketing officer in the Fortune 500 division had a background similar to this. They started in a brand management function and rose through the ranks, taking on a broader and broader mandate, until they ran an entire marketing organization.
I’m almost ready to jump back to present day and the CEO sitting across from me, but while we’re in the mid-90s, let’s drop in on Kevin O’Connor and Dwight Merriman…
The path less traveled
While classically brand-trained marketers were trying to develop websites that would drive consumers to stores to make purchases, Kevin and Dwight had a different, yet parallel idea. They were (and are today) software engineers who recognized the power of the banner ad. They founded a company called DoubleClick, an ad delivery system that’s capable of capturing and processing massive amounts of data to provide targeted online advertising.
For years, companies had been trying to track how consumers interact with their brands, but Kevin and Dwight were part of a new breed that figured it out – what we call a “performance marketer.” Kevin and Dwight were pioneers in predicting behavior based on the volume of Internet traffic to a statistically significant level, which allowed them to market more efficiently to their target. They were the first of what we call today “digitally native marketers,” and they were far from the last…
E-commerce 2005: Who cares?
By the mid-2000s, these numbers-oriented performance marketers were finding themselves in roles with sloppy titles that were developed by those who didn’t fully understand how the Internet was moving. “Internet marketing” and “e-marketing” titles were popular around this time. These hires were often either fresh college graduates with an economics, business or mathematics degree, or a database marketer who had been sending direct mail and doing rudimentary data analysis for years. Because most companies still had small, slow and inefficient e-commerce businesses, many of these unseasoned teams of young marketers were told in meetings by their senior leaders that internet retail would never truly compete with brick and mortar but that they should take a crack at trying to figure it out.
Meetings like these are responsible for some of the greatest general managers and CEOs in the world. In countless companies around the country, early-career marketers who thought exclusively about business decisions from an analytical, numbers-oriented perspective took hold of the reins. They leveraged the same practices they had successfully used in online marketing (making every decision based on provable ROI) and applied it to every e-commerce decision they made, ranging from what products to place on a landing page to what states to set up distribution centers in. Where their predecessors would have gone off gut or focus-groups, these marketers were going off data.
It’s now time to get back in our time machine and return to our BD meeting in 2019…
Our BD meeting – recontextualized
There isn’t a great way to describe the feeling of looking a potential client in the eye during a meeting in which you’re trying to demonstrate both your market and candidate knowledge, and having them tell you that you have fundamentally missed the mark on what they’re looking for. Fortunately, I still had a critical question to ask…
“Which TYPE of marketer do you think is wrong for this role?”
The CEO answered thoughtfully and taught us some very important things about their business: Their customers are more focused on the product’s specs than the branding done around it. Their company’s culture is one that makes decisions based on real actionable data instead of unsubstantiated sentiment. With that said, the role required a numbers-oriented marketer, someone who would take the operational, as opposed to creative, approach.
If we didn’t ask this question, the meeting would have been over, and in the client’s eyes, we would not have understood what they’re looking for. But we did ask, and it led to a conversation about identifying the right type of marketer. Since many of the profiles we initially presented came from a digital marketing background, at second glance, they were in fact far more interesting. Our prospective client started looking contextually at the type of marketer, and importantly the type of decision maker, the candidates were before they shifted into pure general management roles. What began as a 0/10 nightmare became a 4/10 — the perfect jumping off point.
This question saved our meeting, and we scheduled a follow-up before we returned to our office.
Two key takeaways
- There will always be executives who are incredible at what they do even though it doesn’t appear that way on paper. Our job as recruiters is to do the work for our clients and uncover candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. The day we exclusively pursue candidates that look perfect on paper is the day our industry ceases to exist.
- There are two poles to the marketing spectrum: performance and brand. Every marketer will fall somewhere on that continuum, so before you begin to pursue a marketing hire, make sure you’ve answered the question: “Which type of marketer do we need to hire?”
If you’re curious about building out your Marketing or Digital organizations, or just to learn more about SPMB and our Consumer practice, please contact us at spmb.com or contact the author, Scott Kennedy, directly.