Want to build an in-house marketing function?

Want to build an in-house marketing function? This is what the experts say…

With agency fees at a premium, many businesses – large and small – are exploring how to build an in-house marketing function that can pack a punch.

But for this to be successful, there are many things that must be considered – from what level talent you need to hire to how to structure teams, and how marketing ought to be interacting with the rest of the business.

Earlier this month, at an event held at London’s The Ivy and chaired by our CEO Alice Weightman, we brought together a trio of marketing experts: Sam Grant, Chief Marketing Officer at electronics giant Samsung; Natasha Lytton, Head of Brand at seed fund Seedcamp and Emma Mayer, Marketing Director at underwriting firm Cytora.  

They discussed what they had learned about creating an effective modern marketing function and what this means for businesses, whether start-ups or global blue chips. These were some of the insights they shared…

In hiring, attitude is often more important than experience

When it comes to building a marketing function, getting people in who can do the job is often more important than getting in people who may appear ‘perfect’ on paper. Emma explained that her firm’s approach was simple: “We bring in people who are smart, who are good at what they do and we give them tons of autonomy.”

Natasha agreed: “I explain to the businesses I work with that they don’t have the budget, or the time to be dancing around loads of different people – you need bodies quickly, you need people with the right attitude who really care.

“Really, it’s about getting people who want to take ownership. Not people who are all about the big shiny company logo, but people who really want to see the tangibles in what they’re doing day-to-day.”

And, actually, sometimes ‘big hires’ can prove an expensive mistake

Though the temptation may be there to hire a marketing silverback to head up a newly established marketing function, the team felt that often it is these senior hires who may be more prone to flounder if they move into unfamiliar territory. Emma explained: “It’s not uncommon to have a bad experience bringing in really senior people who actually don’t know how to execute anything without the support of a big team. It’s actually better to get advice from people like that, rather than hire them. When starting out, keep things lean while you find out what works.”

Making sure you’ve got the proposition right can help attract the brightest talent

In order to get the brightest talent on board, it’s crucial to identify just what you have to offer, said Emma. “You need to be able to provide evidence of a strong culture, a clear mission and good values.  It’s important to be able to give people an idea of the sort of impact that they can have in your company. In a start-up especially, the influence you can have in shaping the company and the product really is tremendous and I think that’s something really exciting. It can be a massive draw.”

It’s important to know exactly what it is you want marketing to achieve

The success of any marketing strategy lies in having very clear objectives from the start and much of the time, this is all down to ‘connections planning’, said Sam. He explained: “You have to know how you want people’s behaviour to change and then you need to work out where and when they are actually going to reconsider their beliefs – that’s very specific.  Then, you need to work out what the message is that will tip them over. If you get those three things right then you’ve got a comms plan that’s going to work whether you’ve got an email campaign or a digital execution.

And you need to know what you want each piece of content to achieve too

Every piece of content – be it a blog, newsletter or Instagram post – needs to pull its weight, agreed the panel. Emma explained: “We spend a lot of time trying to understand our customers, whether they’re internal or external. Our rule is that every piece of content we produce has to be interesting and useful; if it’s not, we don’t publish it.”

Natasha also felt that all content needs a clear strategy behind it and added: “I think the power of content is threefold. It can be about brand awareness (I want you to be aware), thought leadership (I want you to see us as experts) or commercial (I want you to complete this action). You always need to be mindful which one it is and what it is you are trying to achieve.”

Remember that the whole business needs to be marketing-focussed  

Successful businesses understand that marketing ought to permeate the whole business, Sam explained: “Any touch point that consumers have with you needs to be owned by marketing.  Negative word-of-mouth is far more powerful than any advert.”

And in order to exert the influence required across an organisation, in-house marketers will need to bring a whole host of skills to the table. “You need to be both a teacher ready to break up fights as you interface with the rest of the business and a champion of your own creativity. You always need to ensure you have everything covered; it’s more like being a politician than anything else.”

But becoming too enmeshed with the sales department is best avoided

Marketing and sales will always be closely linked, said Sam, but the relationship between the two needs to be very carefully managed. He explained: “Marketing and sales will always be joined at the hip, but also destined to go head-to-head, with sales wanting immediate results and marketing usually being more focussed on growth in the long term. It’s a good tension to have but ultimately you need marketing and sales departments operating as equals, and a CEO with an eye on the long term. And marketing reporting into sales is a terrible idea.”

And lastly, their verdict on the biggest challenges facing the sector in the next few years…

“AI and 5G are going to be unbelievable game-changers. People will worry about their jobs being taken over by robots, but humans will always be able to create and innovate.” – Sam

“I think that creating brands and narratives that are memorable will become increasingly challenging” – Emma

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