How to build good marketing teams

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The right team dynamic can have a huge impact on productivity, business growth and employee retention. Marketers at Notonthehighstreet.com, Aldi, Boden and ClearScore share what it takes to create the perfect team.

Aldi, which sponsors Team GB, is constantly in search of “marginal gains” to help it improve momentum

There is no set model for building and nurturing an effective marketing team, as all teams and objectives are different. As marketing functions and communication channels become increasingly dispersed, however, businesses are changing how they structure and manage their teams. This is reflected in the emergence of new job titles such as chief digital officer or chief customer officer.

READ MORE: Ashley Friedlein – Chief digital officers are still hot property and marketers are ideal for the job

One of the best ways to understand effective team-building is to look at high-performing brands and the team dynamics that drive them.

Supermarket chain Aldi, for example, has enjoyed a long run of success in the UK thanks in large part to the strength and skill of its marketing team. At the Marketing Week Awards last month, Aldi came away with two of the top awards – Team of the Year and Brand of the Year – in recognition of its continuing business growth and recent executions, such as its partnership with the Great Britain Olympic team.

Aldi’s UK marketing director Adam Zavalis, who heads up a team of 19 at the retailer’s headquarters in Atherstone, Warwickshire, believes there are several core attributes needed to build a successful marketing team. “An effective team is made up of complementary skill sets, great people managers and personalities with the right mindset,” he says.

“[They should be] hungry to keep learning, not afraid to share their knowledge with others and [willing to] embrace change and be agile.”

Zavalis adds that his marketing team constantly searches for “marginal gains” that will help it  improve and maintain its momentum. “Effective teams need to understand the direction of travel that you as a brand and organisation are headed in,” he says (see Q&A, below).

“The individuals within the team need to understand their roles and responsibilities and collaborate across departments so they can make significant contributions towards achieving those goals and know how to take all stakeholders on the same journey.”

Clothing retailer Boden also places great importance on having a clear delineation of roles and duties in its marketing team. Responsibility for leading a team of 70 is split between global brand director Penny Herriman and commercial director Mark Binnington. Herriman explains that she is responsible for “the customer, the brand and communication”, while Binnington looks after performance marketing functions and sales.

“There’s an inherent tension that is a good thing to have in a business,” she says. “It’s the right brain and the left brain – the creative brain and the rational brain, the instinct and the data. Ultimately, as a senior marketer you have got to be able to wrap all those things up together.”

The Boden business has undergone considerable restructuring in recent years and in 2015 launched a new “more contemporary” brand positioning using the slogan ‘New British’. The change reflects the ongoing evolution of Boden as a digital company geared around ecommerce, having started life as a direct mail catalogue business in 1991.

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Notonthehighstreet.com ensures the marketing team has a shared vision and goals

“It starts with changes in customer behaviour and making sure that we change our business to reflect that,” says Herriman. “As always in business, there are people under 30 years old who understand this because they are the digital natives, but then you also have to skill up.

“We have had a big digital development programme for the people who need to learn that stuff. It’s also about bringing agility into the business – digital has enabled us to speed up, whereas a catalogue business is generally very fixed and slower.”

Accommodating different skill sets is also important to online retailer Notonthehighstreet.com. Earlier this month, the company hired customer director Hannah Webley-Smith from Benefit Cosmetics, where she was marketing director for UK and Ireland. Her appointment is the latest in a string of new hires for the retailer, which includes Sarah Atkins joining as head of brand marketing from John Lewis and Louise Winmill as head of corporate communications and CSR, from PR agency Freuds.

READ MORE: How Benefit Cosmetics made a big impression with a £3,000 video budget

The team comprises “a good mix” of people who have worked within the business from the early years and those who have recently been hired as specialists.

“I know that all of them are hungry to learn from one another. This means we can work together to ensure the mission and ethos of the business remains at the heart of all we do, while also bringing in fresh thinking and ideas across the functions,” says Webley-Smith.

She sees the injection of new talent as “a brilliant opportunity” to develop her team, which numbers around 40 people. She adds that her title of customer director is an important statement about the direction and focus of her marketing team. “It’s because my job is about every touchpoint with our customers,” she explains.

“We have to deliver consistently, whether that be online, through an app, or the various offline channels and partnerships. [Our] recent ‘Open Door’ [pop-up shop] experience showed how important the physical experience is for any business, including those that are online, and I am excited to have joined a business that is so inventive in that way.”

Productive meetings

Day-to-day interactions within a marketing team are just as important as its overall structure. According to new research by Wisembly, a collaborative working platform, marketing departments have the longest meetings of any other business department – an average 1 hour 42 minutes – and an average of seven meetings per week.

The survey of UK employees also finds that 37% of marketers feel their meetings could be more productive, while 22% believe they do not get the opportunity to voice their opinion in meetings – more than in any other department. Meanwhile, 100% of the marketers surveyed admit to multi-tasking on non-related tasks such as checking emails during meetings.

“Too many meetings can begin without a clear objective for the outcome,” says Webley-Smith. “Every participant should be clear as to why they are there and what they should be gaining from that meeting.”

However, that is not to say that all meetings should be about receiving direct action for your particular marketing or creative function, she adds. “It could be about gaining wider exposure to core business challenges that leads to a flash of inspiration that you didn’t expect.”

Anna Kilmurray, head of marketing at online credit check business ClearScore, says working in smaller groups and using collaborative tools have helped her to oversee more productive meetings. ClearScore features in Marketing Week’s list of 100 Disruptive Brands, published last month, and has grown from eight to 36 employees over the past year.

The company is seeking to maintain the fast pace of its early growth by fostering a competitive spirit, she says. This includes organising projects into three-month long ‘races’, which are each divided further into ‘sprints’. “We even do our own mini awards to recognise those who have contributed over and above expectations,” she explains.

“We are not afraid to tear up the playbook and try different ways of working – we’re about to break the company into multi-disciplined factions to empower teams to deliver projects more autonomously.”

Q&A: Adam Zavalis, UK marketing director, Aldi

What is special or unique about the way the Aldi team works that makes it so effective?

At Aldi, we never rest on our laurels or take anything for granted. If we are fortunate enough to gain a degree of success, we may pause for a short while and celebrate but most importantly we learn from what went well and also what didn’t quite work [so we can] build on it.

Like the great Team GB athletes, we are supporting on the road to Rio, we keep searching for the marginal gains that will keep the momentum going and keep us moving forwards. It never stops and we know we’re simply the current custodians of this great brand with a duty to keep driving us towards greater growth.

Are there any areas for improvement that you are looking to address in terms of the way your team works?

We are always looking for improvements: new ideas, better ways of collaborating, greater efficiency so we can achieve more, and more killer consumer insights that keep the progression and growth moving. There are no secrets, it’s about constant progression.

More than a third of marketers feel their meetings could be more productive. What can marketing leaders do to improve the quality of their meetings?

Every meeting, marketing or otherwise, should have a purpose, a goal and everyone should go  into the meeting knowing what they expect to get out of it, what is expected of them and what they need to do as a result of the meeting.

However, as marketers we sometimes need [longer] meetings for ideas to flow and that can take time. Sometimes that [can make people] feel uncomfortable when they are under pressure and have a thousand other things to get done but if it’s managed within a framework, then it’s those moments that can lead you to something unique, compelling and sometimes something very special.

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To build an effective team from the start you need to set out your vision for the culture, creativity and working environment you wish to create.

At its heart, the vision needs to reflect the importance of building connections between the multiple marketing functions. For a customer base to understand the brand, all channels and functions need to be aligned and conveying the same message. As the leader of that team, it is essential that this is a focus from the start.

Another key element is ensuring that all functions have built and bought into the plan – ensuring they are working towards a shared vision and goals. Building a culture that is both supportive and invests in team members is essential in gaining a team’s trust and bringing them with you in the direction required for the business.

Ensuring that every team member understands their part in the bigger picture, and can see progression and development for themselves that is intrinsically linked to the development of the business, is also important in building loyalty to the department and the brand.

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