Julia Fitzgerald is a CMO and senior executive with over 20 years of leadership experience, specializing in CPG, retail, franchising, non-profit, B2B business models, and bringing pragmatic digital plans to midsize organizations. She is the author of Midsize, the newly released book that shares success strategies for marketing in midsize firms. Fitzgerald earned her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, and she serves as a CMO at the American Lung Association, director on the Kellogg Alumni Board, marketing and leadership speaker, and mentor to young marketing professionals.
How has your career been with more than 20 years of leadership experience, expertise in a number of fields, delivering practical digital plans to midsize firms, and writing?
I feel very lucky to work with interesting companies in a mield that combines creativity, ideas, and people with analytics and problem solving. In my early career, I started with midsize organizations and had the opportunity to see how product, marketing and sales worked hand in glove. Within the course of my career, media delivery has changed dramatically from TV, print, OOH and PR to the highly targeted digital options we have today. The dynamic way consumers and businesses consume information forces marketers to stay on our toes and always be learning how to use new channels, devices, approaches and analytics. However, some things don’t change, especially the importance of team work. The benefit of working in multiple businesses is that I get to observe the teamwork and the dynamics that help a group be successful. I learn from bosses, peers, agencies, and my teams, and I try to recreate the best practices as I go. After leading marketing teams for years, the logical next step for me was to write about it. In Midsize, I share what marketing strategies are key for success in midsize organizations to pass my experiences and knowledge on.
How to create your own distinctive marketing plan and why marketing is essential for businesses of all sizes.
Marketing is the game plan to tell your company’s story to the target customer to get the result you want. With a marketing plan, you commit to the most important activations for success, and how much revenue they should produce. It is part art and part science, but with a plan, you can build in flexibility to pivot budgets and efforts with the market results. Marketers often want to jump to digital advertising tactics of a marketing plan. But its important to build on a strategic foundation of your company’s value proposition, branding approach, and customer centricity. The next building block in a marketing plan is the content development – what is the message that will connect with the customer? And then the media or channels to connect with the customer.
What do you think are the most efficient methods for establishing specific, quantifiable marketing goals or objectives? Why should they be regarded as the first step in marketing?
Candid conversations with leadership is the best place to start. What does the company need to do to be successful in the next year, 3 years, 5 years? What element of that will marketing drive? Retail sales, e-commerce, new software customers, business leads, donations? Define the KPIs that will drive the organization’s success objectives. Then agree on the marketing KPIs that will enable success. For example, at the Lung Association we have a fundraising goal that will enable us to fund a higher level of research. In order to hit that number, one of marketing’s KPIs is to grow the donor database and the other is to increase donations from online marketing campaigns. While the team may be monitoring scores of KPIs (impressions, engagement, SOV, etc) those are not the numbers that should get pushed up to leadership. Agreeing on the most important metrics is very helpful in a midsize organization to help maintain focus.
What should be taken into consideration before creating a team, and which employees are most essential to a marketing department?
This answer will vary with different business models. Broadly, I would say its important to have a key person on the brand / content side of the work, and one on the digital side. Roughly, this becomes the storytellers, and the message deliverers. As you build out the brand side, you would want to start specializing – Branding, PR or comms, content creation, video producer (once a luxury, but quickly becoming an necessity). With the digital sides, specialization is usually around key people for the website/digital eco system, email or automated marketing, digital advertising, and organic social media. The interesting questions in a midsize is “where does analytics live?”. Ive seen successful models where the digital analyst is in marketing, the data team (IT) and in finance. The other important call is when to use an agency for support, and when do you commit to hiring a full time person for in-house capabilities. I write about a couple of rules of thumb on this topic in Midsize.
What are the most important strategic lessons you learned from your marketing career in retail, non-profit, business-to-business, and consumer goods?
In all of these business models the need for customer focus is consistent. Investing time to know the customer and how you can serve them, solve a problem for them, be valuable to them is key. Good data about customer behavior and preferences (especialy concrete data analytics) can help truncate speculation and subjective conversations. I’m delighted to see when I have been quickly proven wrong on optimal digital ads by Meta’s dynamic ads. There are more and more tools to get the pulse of customers in any business model.
One of the other strategic lessons I learned is that the CMO and the CTO should be besties. To have a successful marketing campaigns, digital execution is a must. And that takes collaboration to connect the front end messaging to the back end data flows that drive the analytics.
The other strategic learning is to invest time in getting the branding right and then the central digital eco system (usually the website) right before spending money to drive traffic. Get your brand story straight, be prepared to convert (what ever that means to your business) and then spend money to drive traffic. Any other order results in wasted media dollars.
What, in your opinion, are the most useful suggestions for creating a budget and sticking to it, considering that it is crucial for every business?
Most organizatons have an annual budget planning process that accompanies the strategic planning. A suggestion I have found useful is – start early. What would you like to see happen next year that would build the business? Then work backwards and put the budget and tie it to the revenue or the cost savings that it would generate. Sticking with the budget is a matter of organizational discipline and monthly reviews with leadership. The interesting question is how does the company rally for an unplanned investment opportunity out of planning cycle? With more media moving to digital channels, it has become easier to see what produces a positive ROI. I try to have a reserve so when a campaign is delivering a 3.0 ROI we can continue investing even when it was not in the original budget. It is still benefitting those big goals we discussed earlier.