Getting different perspectives is what helps refine and shape brilliance and then incorporating different perspectives into our day-to-day.
As a 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 Julia Stead.
As CMO at Allocadia, Julia is focused on helping marketing leaders accelerate business growth by planning strategically, investing with purpose, and maximizing performance. Prior to Allocadia, Julia was VP Marketing at Invoca and Head of Sales & Marketing at IPfolio, and along the way she’s been named a DMNews Top 40 under 40, a Top 40 Demand Marketing Game Changer and ABM Superhero. She holds an MBA from the University of Montreal and a bachelor’s degree in English from McGill University.
Thank you for being here! Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?
I get asked this a lot, and none of them are funny! They all feel awkward. I guess you could say lessons learned the hard way. My best takeaway is that awkward mistakes happen to everyone along every step of their career — whether it’s people-related missteps, testing a campaign that totally flopped, etc. But own your mistakes, be upfront with others, make sure you can articulate what you’ve learned, and then move on and don’t worry about it.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
I feel like my success has come in fits and starts, with lulls and plateaus in between. There hasn’t been one major tipping point in my career; rather, it’s been a series. And they’ve all come when I’ve shifted my focus and attention away from myself and chasing that next title or raise and, instead, truly listened to the feedback I received, observed what the leaders around me were doing, and dug into where I could improve. While it’s very hard and humbling to get negative or ‘’constructive” performance feedback, that’s always been what’s driven me most to do better. One early example was when I was frankly just doing a bad job of managing people. I was quite inexperienced and had never really managed a big team before — one with varying experience levels, personalities, and needs. I tried to take an authoritarian approach which ultimately backfired (in hindsight for laughably obvious reasons) and got called out on this by my boss. I did what I could within the day-to-day to change, but that was also one of the reasons I decided to go get my MBA — to gain more formal managerial expertise.
I’m like a thirsty sponge for feedback, and the more I can get, the better I become. But I’m not always mindful about seeking it out.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Take stock of your role and make sure that at least 70–75% of it is focused on work that you truly love doing. Sure, there are aspects of the job that no one loves doing, but the majority of your work as a marketer should hopefully be aligned with what you’re good at and love doing. And if that’s the case, you should get intrinsic motivation and energy from doing it. If you’re not, consider pivoting to a different type of role, or a different company.
That’s the first part. It’s important to mention here that I realize that times are incredibly tough for marketers right now. So, some of you reading this will not even be in a position to take stock or pivot. If that’s the case and you are fortunate to still have a steady job, you might need to just accept the role you do have for the short-term. And that’s where focusing on my next point might help.
The second part is to make sure work isn’t your life. Take stock of what outside of work is most important to you, and prioritize that. For me, it’s spending time raising my kids with my husband. That comes ahead of work and I set clear boundaries with my boss, peers, and team that when I’m at work, I’m 100% on and will deliver everything that’s expected of me — if not more. But I need the flexibility to do that on my own terms, “turn off” work at the end of the day and on weekends, and prioritize my kids when unique circumstances come up.
This ties back a bit to the first point about picking a role that you mostly like. Also try to pick a company that aligns with and supports your choices in life — meaning your choices/priorities outside of work, too. There are a lot — increasingly even more — of good companies out there that will do this. IF you’ve been laid off, take the time to “take stock” of what you’re looking for in your next career move. Join amazing communities like WomenInRevenue (I’m a founding board member and Allocadia is a sponsor) to stay abreast of great job openings at companies with strong work/life balance, network, and continue your education.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Kyle Christensen, VP Marketing at Zuora and my former boss at Invoca for many years. He took the time to teach me a lot of marketing executive stuff along the way so I’d be better prepared to step into that role. From nitpicky feedback on crafting strong presentations and dashboards, to sharing how he would position or present information “up,” it was a matter of investing the time that wasn’t required. To this day, I refer back to many of the things I Iearned from him. He also helped model for me how you could be a successful business leader while still raising a young family. At the time he had two young girls while his wife also had a demanding career, and he never shied away from taking time to prioritize them, calling in sick when they were, bringing them into the office, etc. It was refreshing to see and modeled behavior that I questioned was possible.
Interestingly, they all are from my childhood and all involve music. The Gap had a couple of great, catchy ad campaigns in the 90s that featured iconic songs (“Mellow Yellow” is one that comes to mind), a simple concept (people in similar-styled clothes dancing) and sensory delight. Some of my other favorites are for cereal (I can recite the Frosted Flakes theme song on demand and, in fact, did so last week to my marketing team), and cat food (I just taught my 3-year-old the “Meow Mix” song this summer to his delight).
So, this means I’m either stuck in a pandemic-induced wave of nostalgia, or the power of repetitive music is a winner. In modern scenarios I think the combination of simple, striking imagery, a simple, direct narrative, and easily recognizable music is pretty killer.
Now why aren’t we doing this in SaaS marketing, hmmm.
Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?
I see it becoming even more focused on buyer needs and value. About putting our sales needs last, and instead choosing to put the customers’ interests and needs first. A lot of marketers talk about doing this today, but they really don’t. They’re attempting to, but only as a means to deliver their sales message in a more palatable manner. Marketing is moving to a world of always starting with the question “What does the customer want?” or “What do they need?” If they read this email/see this ad/answer this call, will they really care? What’s in it for them? This is hard because ultimately it goes back to the product/service you sell, and ensuring those are delivering the real value and aligning with the buyers’ needs.
Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? I’m sure other marketers can potentially learn a lot from this.
- Stay humble. You’ll mess up along the way and that’s OK. In the world of SaaS marketing, people hop around from job to job pretty fast, and job titles are often inflated or doled out without any kind of consistency. So it’s easy to get wrapped up in the mentality that you’ve got to be perceived as the best, as the most senior, as moving away quickly, chasing that next bigger job title. But there’s a lot of b.s. in all of that. Stay humble, focus on learning and providing value to your company and teammates, and be OK with failure along the way.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks, but also don’t feel like you’ve always got to take risks. There are times in your life where it may be right to take that next big step and really stretch yourself. And there are times when it’s OK to have mastered something and just keep humming along at an easy pace doing that thing well. For me, having kids made me think through these scenarios and decide “Hey, life’s complicated, so I can be OK where I’m at for a while” or “Hey, things have settled down personally, I’m good to take that next big leap.”
- Get opinions outside of your marketing team. After a while, even the most creative marketing teams can develop groupthink or fall into the rut of always doing the same things. The more feedback you can get by asking peers (outside of your company!), asking customers, asking friends — the better off you’ll be.
- You don’t need to be good at everything. Most marketers start off as more generalist-types, then hone in on one area of deep expertise, like product marketing, demand gen, etc. As you become more senior, rather than feel like you need to be an “expert” in all areas, recognize your strengths and then surround yourself with experts in areas where you’re weak. For example, I never really went deep into product marketing, so it’s always been a priority for me to have very senior product marketing leaders on my team. This way they help round out my expertise, and ultimately I end up learning from them along the way to become a stronger marketing “generalist” leader.
- Invest early on in a strong foundation of marketing operations. Hardworking people can only get you so far — in today’s marketing world, having clean data, a highly connected tech stack and efficient, automated ways of gaining insights are critical pieces to marketing success. It’s always better late than never, but if you ignore this part of marketing for too long, you’re really putting yourself at a disadvantage that will be increasingly harder to dig yourself out of.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
To sharpen my marketing skills I get my head “out” of marketing. I listen to business, culture, and news podcasts to help get a bigger perspective on consumer sentiment and industry trends, which helps me then bring back a fresh take on who we’re targeting, what we’re messaging, and how we can be more innovative. I also love paying attention to the different ad formats across the websites and podcasts that I listen to, to spark new ideas. I listen to a lot of NPR podcasts. I do read a lot of AdAge, AdWeek, and Forbes to stay on top of general marketing/business news and trends.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
People being more open, vulnerable, and honest, and less defensive. I think in our world of business we’ve developed too much of a defensive mindset of having to present the “right” answers vs. presenting ideas, seeking feedback, and refining. Getting different perspectives is what helps refine and shape brilliance. And then incorporating different perspectives into our day-to-day. Reading news sources that don’t fit your own personal narrative. Chatting with people who don’t share your beliefs. Spending more time asking questions and truly, actively listening, instead of being focused on telling your own narrative. Being inquisitive, not defensive. So that society feels less about “us vs them” and more of a collective group of diverse thought.
Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!