Be humble. The most effective people are those that everyone can relate to and create a rapport with. However, I think that we all start our careers off trying to stand out amongst peers. All children are taught this at an early age as they try to get into colleges and universities. But in the real world, successful people are those that create effective harmony and try and bring out the best in others.
Asa part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with my fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Jay Lee.
Jay Lee oversees Avalara’s growth in business through marketing, product development, and business strategy. He brings more than 20 years of experience developing high-performing marketing teams that are empowered to increase customer engagement and drive financial results. Prior to Avalara, Jay served as the global head of marketing for PayPal’s Business Financing Solutions division, where he helped small businesses obtain financing to achieve their aspirational goals. He has previously held leadership positions at large companies like American Express and GE, as well as smaller entrepreneurial companies like Aimia and Swift Financial.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you first started and what lesson you learned from that?
I only have one funny marketing story and it relates to direct mail — a marketing channel near and dear to my heart. Early in my career, we had put out a significant amount of direct mail only to find that the toll-free number we had listed on the materials was wrong. It was the time where alternative “800” numbers where being introduced to keep up with demand. We quickly learned a hard lesson from this mistake as the incorrect number directed callers to an in-appropriate hotline! We tried our best to purchase the phone number from the other organization but were unsuccessful and had to deal with the fallout. Note to self — the editing process is key!
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Given my engineering and technical background, data has always been at the core of what I do. Because of this, I guess the “tipping point” in my marketing career happened when marketing started to become much more analytical and data-centric. The ability to track, measure, test, and learn in marketing was the big game-changer on the road to producing repeatable and ever-improving results. More recently, the ability to improve targeting, leverage models and prediction, customize customer experiences, and quickly test and learn is creating the next step up in marketing. The big difference now is leveraging technology to make your message have a greater impact on the right audience.
Obviously, this analytical shift in marketing really accelerated with the rapid evolution of digital marketing. In the early days, good marketing revolved around the lists that you could buy. Digital marketing started as a scale play but quickly evolved to relevance in the buyer journey. Now, marketing is all about leveraging the insights gained from as many data sources as possible to heighten that relevance. As I look back on my career, the shift to analytical and digital-based marketing solidified my career in marketing.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
- Make sure that you love what you do — You should have a passion for what you’re doing and ensure that you have a clear image of the impact you want to make.
- Enable your people and teams — My top priority as the CMO is to organize our team for maximum effectiveness. Like any great team, it works best when everyone gets to play to their strengths. Given the growth we think we can achieve, having the team operate in their power zones is job 1.
- In marketing, failure truly is learning — One of the best things about marketing is that you have the opportunity to test and learn. At the end of the day, there is no wrong answer in marketing. If your campaign flops, you can learn from it. Marketing is like a puzzle that you get to constantly keep solving don’t get discouraged if things don’t work.
- Surround yourself with the right people — Just as important as enabling your teams is making sure you have the right team. No one is an expert at everything, so having the right mix of super-powered team members is key to making it all fun.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are?
Everyone has the one person who was willing to take you under their wing and teach you the ropes — a teacher, a coach, maybe an older sibling. For me, it was a consultant to the company where I started my first job out of college and quite ironic. My leader did not have time for me, but someone who was not even an employee was willing to give of himself and ensure that I was always pointed in the right direction. It’s a special and generous character trait to want to impart knowledge and wisdom on others rather than just be self-centered. I think that everyone should think about what they are truly gifted at and try and teach that to as many people as possible.
Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?
Consumers increasingly know that we now live in an attention economy. Perhaps worse, it is possible to outright spread falsehoods and fake news with little to no repercussions. Luckily, consumers are getting wiser about how the attention economy has really driven news and content on the web and are now taking everything with a grain of salt.
The future of marketing really goes all the way back to the authenticity of the mission and visions of companies. No great marketing campaign is going to be able to fool people to inauthentic products or causes. Companies must have a genuine purpose and live by an authentic brand with aligned observable values. Consumers today are looking for more in the products and services they use and in a real way are more and more voting with their dollars. Great marketing begins with great products and services and done well, it really brings out that core message in a way that is authentic and resonates.
Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- The most effective people are those that everyone can relate to and create a rapport with. However, I think that we all start our careers off trying to stand out amongst peers. All children are taught this at an early age as they try to get into colleges and universities. But in the real world, successful people are those that create effective harmony and try and bring out the best in others.
- How many great ideas in marketing weren’t yours? In fact, there really are no good or bad ideas — there are ideas that work or don’t work in the market. My first lesson in this was this ugly direct mail package which came from this very reputable agency. I swore that I would not spend money mailing it. But I came around, and lo and behold, it blew the doors off our control.
Play to your strengths (and let others make up your weaknesses).
- So much of our upbringing is about trying to be great at everything. But, when we look at teams, it’s about having really talented people in the right positions. Make sure that you are better than everyone else at one thing and find the right role that lets you exploit it. Don’t waste time trying to fix your weak areas if you have not figured out what you are truly great at first.
Measure and track it.
- It’s the bane of every marketer’s existence — channel attribution. In today’s marketing, you must continuously improve your tracking and attribution model. It will never be perfect, so you need to know where you have inherent biases and take them into account to make the right decisions.
Speed, speed, speed.
- There is a great quote from Peter Senge that I heard early in my career but did not realize the importance until later. “The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.” Nowhere is marketing’s speed to insight more needed than in an industry with disruptive SaaS companies emerging. The faster you learn about your customers and testing into marketing strategies to find what works, the faster you separate yourselves from the competition.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
I don’t follow a lot of marketing blogs or have any specific books I would recommend; however, I really enjoy entrepreneurship books and I highly recommend Hidden Brain podcast hosted by Shankar Vedantam from NPR. It is a great podcast on human behavior and always gives incredible insights into how people think and make decisions.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If there were a way to end prejudices, that would be the movement I wish I could inspire. So much good would come if people could understand and truly relate to one another. I think that we would find that we are all not really that different.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!