Generally speaking, someone with a title like Chief Marketing Officer has a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in all aspects of marketing. Because of this, a CMO is the perfect person to know what is more and less likely to work. So what are the top 5 tried and true marketing strategies that executives recommend to other business leaders? As part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Brittany Nicols.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you tell us what brought you to this specific career path?
Market Research provides organizations with the understanding they need to make crucial business decisions. Data is important to all business leaders and can help save thousands of dollars and crucial time by truly understanding your customers' wants, needs, and desires.
For instance, if a snack company wants to add a new flavor, our organization can develop the survey, supply the sample (survey panelists), and report the findings to provide the snack company with what that best flavor option may be. I have a 17-year career in market research, and I ended up in marketing after serving in various leadership roles in the industry. I’ve served as Vice President of Sales Ops & Corporate Training consulting with and providing customer-centric experiences to internal and external clients, as well as an AVP of Global Bid Management & Supply, which furthered my passion for relationship building and my client-obsessed mindset.
I have always had an insatiable drive and hunger to learn. I wanted to know ways that I could better aid my counter parts, so I love to intertwine with departments to bolster that relationship. Knowing all aspects of the research business, (sampling, panel management, client success, sales operations, etc.) means I have extended experience in how to convey the value of our offerings to potential clients. I can say I truly understand what makes our clients tick and how to connect with them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?
Yes, it would be my colleague and friend, Lisa Wilding-Brown, the Chief Executive Officer of InnovateMR. She has over 20 years of experience in the insights industry and is a renowned speaker and mentor and has made immense strides as a female leader. Lisa has always been goal-driven and extremely inspirational in my journey to where I am today.
Specifically, Lisa’s people-first approach to leadership is what I am most grateful for. Lisa is the reason that I originally came to InnovateMR. I saw her passion and excitement not just for research, but also the team she surrounded herself with, and I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to have the same. Throughout every stage of my career, she has helped mold and shape me into the servant leader that I am today, with empathy as the driving force.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
InnovateMR is a people-first organization. We are truly obsessed with both our clients and the career progression of our team. It is the forefront of everything we do. We’ve taken quick turn inquiries and become feasible for the entire project (that otherwise would’ve required multiple research partners) saving our clients time and effort and we still manage to overdeliver! Client satisfaction is key and it’s why we’re top rated and award-winning in quality and customer service.
When I started at InnovateMR I was told that we were a “yes” company. We were the ones that would partner with our clients and help find creative ways to get to a yes. My first memory of this coming into play was when a client came to us, after being turned away by several other research agencies, and asked if we could get them respondents to take a survey in Malta. I’m going to be honest, the first thing I did was Google “Where is Malta”! After that, I found a company that did market research in Malta and in the middle of the night, my time, made a call to see if they could help me and our client.
Long story short, we were able to partner with them and fulfill our client’s needs. Being truly client-obsessed, along with that “ride-or-die", “let us get to a yes” mentality remains at the core of who we are at InnovateMR.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? Tell us about it!
One of our most exciting projects would be our thought leadership campaigns. We want to help our team build their personal brands within their respective departments (human resources, sales, supply, project management etc.). By displaying our overall talents and proficiencies as a team it ties into the expertise, insights and experience we have overall as a corporate brand.
In addition, our thought leadership campaigns empower our team to use their voice in the industry to make waves and initiate change. Our name isn’t Innovate for no reason. We try to stay on the cutting edge of research.
With so many different types of marketing available, has any one area had a bigger impact on business over the rest?
The honest answer is that it depends on the company. Each of those strategies can carry a different weight, depending on your budget and goals. A successful marketing strategy must adhere to the overall KPI’s of the company. As a marketer you need to know what those KPI’s are so that your marketing strategy will help drive those goals forward.
Maintaining a close relationship with your sales team, tracking MQL’s, will help you monitor your return on investment and ultimately what you are contributing to the overall revenue. Driving those MQLs into the top of the funnel has to be a multi-pronged approach that encompasses all different types of marketing strategies.
I have found that to be successful in our industry, you can’t have all your eggs in one basket. With that being said, content and thought leadership is a huge drive for our success. Helping the experts inside of our organization lend their sage advice to the industry and build reputation and their specific roles is, in my opinion, non-negotiable when it comes to putting together your strategy for success.
How often do you try a new marketing strategy, and which ‘boxes’ does it need to tick before you’re willing to implement it?
I would say to keep your mind open to new strategies. The frequency of it depends on your budget allocation. It needs to align with the company’s overall goals and objectives and there needs to be sound data that shows there will be a return on investment. This is the tricky part to Marketing. You don’t know until you try, but you also have to convince your fellow executives and investors to provide the budget and take a chance on your idea.
I have learned that it is best to start small, make sure you have solid attribution, track the data closely, and then dial it up if you are seeing solid returns or down if it isn’t panning out. CFO’s love variables in the budget, rather than a fixed expense that you spend in one transaction.
In your opinion, is it better to try out new marketing tactics or to stick with what you know works? How do you decide where to allocate your budget and resources?
I think that it is important to try new things and set aside “fun money”, as I like to call it, in your budget. It is a great trait to be able to pivot, accept and adapt to change. There is always more to learn and new tactics to try. Good marketers must be on top of trends, but it is important to try and fail fast, that way you can implement your lessons learned on the next go round.
When it comes to budget allocation, it is key to be intentional and data driven in all decisions. That way you can prove if new methods and tactics are a good investment, or if they should be passed on for another opportunity.
Based on your experience and success, what are your top five most successful marketing strategies?
1 . Putting together a well-rounded marketing budget –InnovateMR was a startup company with a marketing arm that essentially started from scratch. We needed an aggressive yet conservative budget so that we could make a splash. We didn’t have a CFO at the time, so we worked with the co-founders in the initial phases. We had to provide research and thorough competitive analysis from other companies based on our revenue targets at the time to convince them of what our budget should be. We experienced a lot of trial and error and that was the starting point of our marketing team and strategy and what got us to where we are today, 4 years later.
2 . Tracing attribution to each marketing spend category and channel – In the beginning, we had no connection or attribution associated with marketing efforts. We had to learn to navigate our CRM (customer relationship management) software to figure out how to connect those areas in order to show the results from our CTAs (call to action) on blogs, emails and form submissions. We had to build a team to monitor that and present the data to show that we were bringing in revenue and leads from our marketing efforts.
3 . Tying marketing to revenue through MQLs – We had to get into our CRM to diversify our MQLs (marketing qualified leads) from our SQLs (sales qualified leads). Once we got attribution down, we put forth a workflow that would identify leads as either an MQL or an SQL. Then, I presented a business plan to start an inside sales function at InnovateMR. The MQLs would just sit there, but with the inside sales function the team could then convert the MQLs to opportunities and revenue generating clients.
4 . Go to market strategy in launching a new product – We had a new SAAS (software as a service) offering to the MR (market research) space. It was a DIY (do-it-yourself) platform where our clients could go in and get quick-pulse insights on the questions they wanted to answer, without utilizing our full project management department. We had to research, run competitive analysis, determine our customer base and build our client personas. Then assemble a fully encompassed marketing strategy with paid ads, website banners, content, SEO (search engine optimization), social media etc. After that, then we launched the product in the marketplace and had to report back on our efforts and what they were bringing in and whether we were truly going after the right audience. Communication is key with every GTM strategy so it was important that we stayed in close contact with both our sales and product teams.
5 . Scaling a marketing team towards a 100-million-dollar revenue company – We are currently in the midst of doing this, but it all comes down to the core of what your overall marketing goals are, the customer base you are trying to drive towards the business, and the resources needed to pull it off. One of the pillars of this is RESEARCH! Knowing your budget, knowing your revenue goals, how many people you can hire, and the capacity for each person in the department. Put it all on paper so that you don’t get too far ahead of yourself and over hire too quickly. Have your data and report it up to the executive side to ensure that they are on the same page as you. You must think of what you can work with within the revenue goals for the year. Ask yourself, “Who do I want to hire to fit in to these roles?” Going from a startup model—where everyone wears multiple hats—to a scale up model—where there are specific roles for each person—requires setting forth KPIs (key performance indicators), and working within budget to get to that well-oiled machine!
Can you share a time when a strategy didn’t deliver the results you expected and what you learned from the experience?
Yes, the time I can think of included B2B digital and paid ads through Google. We were trying to define which keywords will get us to our customer base and not respondents looking to take the surveys. We launched a campaign with a substantial budget, per month, for Google Ads with what we thought at the time were the right keyword searches and it only resulted in one qualified lead!
A sound strategy in this instance would’ve been to dip our toe in and do thorough competitive analysis, solid attribution, and data collection to see what was working, versus throwing everything out there and hoping something comes from it. A lesson learned and something we have since revamped and have seen success with.
What expert tips can you share with those who just starting to build out their marketing strategy?
- Know your budget! You must work within the constraints of the budget that you are given, and you must know your limitations.
- Research! Have the data to back up your ideas. For actionable items that are the foundation of your strategy, have the data to back it up and the possible ROI on the communication, sponsorships, events, etc. This will lay out the map for the overall strategy.
- Report up! Make sure everyone at the executive level knows what your plans are and the results you are looking to achieve. Providing them with a proof of concept will ensure that they continue to provide budget and support your strategy. Communication is everything.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would it be?
I serve on the board of the Market Research Education Foundation and serve as a mentor for Women in Research, so I am passionate about pouring into our youth and young professionals. They are our future, so any change that we want to see starts with them. It’s important for everyone that has been in business and leadership to distill their experiences and knowledge down to the next generations.
I think servant leadership, empathy, people-first, female-empowerment, diversity, equity, and equality are some of the key things that help make businesses successful. Mentoring these young leaders to follow in that path is going to make the biggest and best change across all industries and the corporate world as we know it. A single spark can start a prairie fire!
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