Marketers across every sector are rebranding their careers by transferring their rich knowledge and unique skills into new roles that often break the mould.
A great example is Sherine Yap, who describes herself as a new breed of marketer. Following a string of roles both on agency side and as a brand marketer, Yap was appointed global head of CRM at oil giant Shell in January 2015.
She explains how the organisation “took a chance” on her, asking her to bring the customer centricity and commerciality of her brand marketing roots into the world of data. It was Yap’s rich experience in other areas of marketing that made the career rebrand possible.
“What I bring into the role is commerciality. I understand the customer and I understand the commercial aspects, and my big tip if you want to get your messages up to the C-Suite is you need to speak the language of finance and business,” she explains.
Helen Tupper, a marketing director at Microsoft and co-founder of career development and training business Amazing If, recognises the choice being faced by marketers about whether to take a vertical or horizontal career path.
“You could progress your career vertically taking one discipline, like brand marketing and going for it. And you could be very good at that, but you’ll probably tap out in your organisation, because to keep learning you’re probably going to need to go elsewhere,” she says.
“Or you might want to be more of a horizontal marketer who has a few more strings to their bow.”
Always having customer and commercial at my heart has taught me to trust my instincts.
Lysa Hardy, Joules
Tupper’s own CV spans a diverse range of roles from innovation venture manager at energy company E.ON to global head of customer experience and thought leadership at BP, and head of insight at Virgin, leading a team of data analysts.
In October, Tupper traded in her role as head of marketing at loyalty app Virgin Red for evangelism marketing director in the developer experience (DX) division at Microsoft.
As her career has transitioned from innovation and customer experience to insight and tech, Tupper has come to believe that moving into data or sales makes you more valuable both as a marketer and a future leader.
“I think if you’re a horizontal marketer you can pick a few more disciplines within marketing and can be more valuable to your organisation, because you’ve got a better understanding of the end-to-end picture of marketing. You add more value to the business and you become more valuable yourself,” she explains.
Having confidence in the unique skills you bring to a role is crucial for a career rebrand to work, especially in a fast-paced industry where marketers can find themselves taking on roles that had previously not existed.
“This is something that’s happening more and more,” says Alessandra Di Lorenzo, chief commercial officer, media and partnerships at Lastminute.com Group.
“The skills people have coming into the industry means jobs are changing so quickly. You’ve got new roles like data analyst or audience specialist, so for hiring managers to find a like-for-like match is very difficult. It means there’s an opportunity to really shine [as a marketer] from an attitude perspective and your lateral skills come into play when you’re moving around.”
An understanding of the marketing ecosystem has helped make her a more well-rounded and strategic marketer, says Di Lorenzo, for whom commerciality is a common thread running throughout her diverse career.
Since being appointed business development manager at Yahoo Mobile in 2007, Di Lorenzo has served as head of strategic partnerships EMEA at Nokia, head of mobile marketing at Vodafone and commercial director at eBay Advertising.
Now as Lastminute.com Group commercial director Di Lorenzo manages 55 people across seven locations spanning the group’s travel websites Lastminute.com (in the UK and France), Volagratis (in Italy), Rumbo (Spain) and social travel network Wayn, as well as media business Travel People.
“My role is very much a crossover between marketing and commercial, that’s why I call it commercial marketing,” she explains.
“The fact I understand thoroughly the publishing side of marketing makes my knowledge of the buy side much stronger, so when I’m buying media I know what to look out for because I’m also selling media and I’ve done it in the past. Understanding the whole ecosystem actually makes me a more powerful marketer and it does add value.”
Joining the dots
Marketers embarking on a career rebrand often need to find ways to communicate why having skills that sit beyond the conventional skillset will help them unite teams and break down silos.
It is a marketer’s ability to “join the dots” that means they can make a difference argues Tupper, whose new role involves bridging the gap between early stage engagement and mass-market adoption of technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“I’ve never worked in technology before and I’m heading up this team, and I have to tell myself that I don’t need to be as technical as them, because that’s not why I’ve been brought in to do the job,” Tupper explains.
“I’ve been brought in because I’m strategic, creative and visionary, and I’ve got to harness their strengths and not try to have the same strengths. You’re adding something broader and breaking down silos. You’re the one who can join the dots. That’s your value, not being the best data person.”
This opinion is shared by Shell’s Sherine Yap, who believes the very fact she does not have data “coursing through her veins” was the reason Shell wanted her to run the global CRM function.
She recalls the “massive culture shock” of joining the data team and how it encouraged her to adopt a pragmatic approach, which pushed the teams to generate timely and actionable insights with the ability to inspire real change.
To avoid the perception of being some kind of marketing job-hopper who doesn’t quite know what discipline they want to do, you have to be really clear about what your strengths and values are.
Helen Tupper, Microsoft
Based on her own diverse experience, Lastminute.com Group’s Alessandra Di Lorenzo prioritises people who can confidently demonstrate different skills and a broad knowledge of the marketing mix when hiring new talent.
“I’m looking for well rounded people, or for more junior roles, people who have the right attitude because in the world we live in we need marketers who can connect the dots, who can connect the creative marketing person with the data person, and understand how they can work together. So definitely the connected mindset is very important,” she adds.
Getting buy in
Sometimes getting other people in the company to believe in your career move can require persistence and the ability to make a compelling business case, showing why you will be an asset to the new team.
“You might get some resistance,” Tupper acknowledges. “You might say ‘I think I’d be great in CRM’, but the organisation might say ‘you don’t have a data background’. In that case you need to help them see where the value is if you’re passionate about it for your own career.”
She advises marketers to find a leader who buys into them or discuss with HR how they could be a good model for this type of move. Tupper also believes it is important to have a “red thread” throughout your career which connects your various roles.
“The personal thing I say is I help organisations lead through the new. That’s generally why I end up in innovation departments. If businesses get what I’m about it makes sense,” Tupper explains.
“So to avoid the perception of being some kind of marketing job-hopper who doesn’t quite know what discipline they want to do, you have to be really clear about what your strengths and values are. If you’ve got a red thread that makes sense.”
The ‘red thread’ for Lysa Hardy, chief customer officer at clothing brand Joules, is her fundamental belief that marketing is about creating demand and delivering sales. This is the reason she has sought a strong commercial element to all the roles throughout her career.
After starting out as head of leisure marketing at US travel tech company Sabre, Hardy took on roles as head of prepay marketing at Orange and T-Mobile, before being appointed vice-president of mobile internet at T-Mobile.
Positions followed as head of brand and communications at T-Mobile and interim sales and marketing director at the RAC, before she was appointed as chief commercial officer at health and wellbeing business Holland & Barrett in 2012. There Hardy integrated elements from all her previous roles to drive the business forward, for example introducing a category management approach which focused on having the right product set and trading it strongly.
However, Hardy believes her whole career has led perfectly to her current role as Joules’ chief customer officer, a position which enables her to combine test and learn commerciality with a strong belief in customer centrality.
“I’ve moved into a number of different roles where initially I haven’t always been the expert in a specific field, but always having customer and commercial at my heart has taught me to trust my instincts,” she advises.
“Whether I’m in a role that I feel very comfortable in because I’ve got lots of experience or I’m at the beginning of a role where perhaps it’s a bit new to me, I still take the same approach of constantly testing, looking at what the data is telling me, learning from that and moving on.”
Hardy acknowledges that you often need confidence to convince people you are right for the move, especially when people do not necessarily understand the evolving nature of marketing.
“I mentor quite a few people and the thing I always say to them as a marketer is that you are undoubtedly the person with the best understanding of the customer and use that to give you confidence, an angle and an edge as to what you could bring to another role,” she adds.
If people want to stay in marketing for the rest of their career, Hardy argues it is important to explore a variety of areas as they could lead into different parts of the business where a marketing background will help to make someone “outstanding”.