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 Dina Wolfman Baker.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you tell us a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?
I knew starting in the 7th grade that I would major in English in college. I wanted to read and write about literature and express my thoughts and beliefs through essay writing. It excited me to analyze and synthesize ideas, strategically bringing them to targeted audiences in the language and tone that would best reach them.
After college, I took a job ghostwriting articles for safety engineers at a Fortune 50 insurance company while writing their catalog copy about safety products. And that unexpected, mundane side-task took me next to top marketing agencies and eventually into corporate and nonprofit marketing and communication teams. I intentionally jumped into every aspect I could to learn as much as possible about the field, always pulling on that analysis/synthesis process, drawn to strategic thinking, and rooted in the audience.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you’re grateful for?
In 1998, I helped to launch a new subsidiary of Cigna, serving as its marketing director. This brought me many new opportunities and challenges. It introduced me to extraordinary professionals across every function—all of us hand-picked for our roles, creating a new category in the industry.
Among them was Jackie Reinberg, one of the smartest experts there is in employee benefits. For some reason, Jackie decided to take me under her wing. She showed a personal interest in my success that has modeled how I have come to help others advance.
One day, Jackie told me that I was great at marketing the business, but I wasn’t marketing myself. She taught me that my excellent work alone was not enough. To advance, I had to actively bring my contributions to key leaders’ attention, assert myself for increases in title and compensation—and never forget that the men around me almost always did just that.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
It took me three years to decide to join Chief Outsiders. The first time I considered it—after reaching out to a former colleague who had leaped—I ended up walking away. I wasn’t quite ready to believe this well-orchestrated combination of autonomy and collaboration existed. But ultimately, I called her again, which seemed to have improved.
With growth, Chief Outsiders brought even more strength to the collaborative environment, and I knew I had to become a part of it. Most importantly, the collaboration benefits not just us—but also our clients. I’ve been speaking with a bank about helping to build the strategic thread across their marketing functions. When I told them I could build in a peer review of our work—gathering insights from 15 to 20 of my CMO colleagues—they were incredibly excited to have so many top marketing minds influencing the work. That’s the magic of Chief Outsiders.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? Tell us about it!
Right now, I’m helping a technology consulting firm to develop and then jump into executing its first marketing strategy. This came to me, most surprisingly, from someone I’d last worked with 22 years before (at that startup subsidiary of Cigna that I mentioned earlier). Since then, our relationship has been limited to following each other on social media, with a mutual interest in and support for career and personal developments.
Now a vice president at a large data and insights company, in late 2022, he told me that a friend had come to him about some marketing needs, and he’d said, “You don’t need my company; you need Dina Baker.” As a result, I’m now working with an extraordinary group that was formed for the express purpose of giving exceptional staff a great experience and compensation for doing their best work with the singular goal of providing top value to their clients. And I have the opportunity to help them grow that model. What could be better?
With so many different types of marketing out there, has any one area had a bigger impact on business over the rest?
I don’t think we can make a blanket statement that there's one aspect or area of marketing that has had the biggest impact. The import of any one, or combination, will vary by industry, sector, stage of business, customer profile, and so forth.
At the same time, we can’t deny the influence of digital. Back in 2005, at a global industrials company, I started introducing digital marketing strategies to the businesses I supported. I argued that search was a more effective way to spread the net than intended through conference exhibit booths. Moving the direct mail budget to digital campaigns provided more efficient targeting and greater agility. But what brought them around was the data I could show—the ability to understand the impact of their marketing spending better. And when I also developed a Six Sigma project to calculate the ROI of new product launch campaigns, which only added to the excitement.
Yet the fundamentals were and still are unchanged, and the Chief Outsiders' growth gears help ensure that we’re grounded in them. We must start as business people first—understanding the organization, how it makes money, what’s working, and its challenges. In addition to these internal insights, we need to gain customer and competitor insights. From there, we can develop a strategy that clarifies markets, offerings, and positioning. And then, we identify the tactics, resources, and metrics for execution.
How often do you try a new marketing strategy, and which ‘boxes’ does it need to tick before you’re willing to implement it?
We’re often brought in when the old strategies aren’t working anymore. While it may just require some minor adjustments, there’s a good likelihood that the company needs to consider some new directions. Everything starts with the business objectives, marketing objectives, and buyer personas.
The winning strategies, for me, are the ones that track back most directly to the objectives—and especially to multiple objectives—and match how the buyers consume information and make their buying decisions. It’s that simple.
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’m someone who loves change, so it’s in my nature to try out something new. But it’s got to be based on sound strategy, as I mentioned in answer to the last question. And I don’t want to reject something that’s been working simply.
When experimenting with a new approach, we need to look at what objectives it supports and how it connects with the buyer’s decision-making process. Then we can move some budget from strategies that are similarly aligned to ensure we are not short-changing those requirements. As results come in, we can make data-driven decisions about further balancing the old and new strategies and refine the mix accordingly.
Based on your experience, what are your top five most successful marketing strategies? What kind of results did you see?
1 . Primary-research-driven thought leadership. In one instance, I collaborated with our internal market research team and one of the top independent research firms to develop new insights into employee benefits needs and wants among consumers. This fed a thought leadership campaign to launch a new business. In less than one year—while still in product development—we booked $25 million in revenue. We gained a leadership position, with the industry using the company name as the generic term for the segment.
2 . Early adopter targeting. When introducing a disruptive offering, it’s important to identify and target the early adopters and showcase their success to the broader market. A national B2G professional services firm invested in the development of a big data product that was disruptive to a client base that was uncomfortable with change. We conducted market research to identify likely early adopters; and built a segmented, integrated event and digital marketing campaign focused on thought leadership and SEO, illustrating how the innovation could leverage funding to help public sector agencies further their baseline objectives. The campaign quickly attracted a $1M project with an identified early adopter. The product became the firm’s fastest-growing offering within one year, both as a standalone and an enhancement to traditional services.
3 . Fostering employee brand advocates. As I note in my recent eBook, research suggests that leveraging employees as effective brand messengers can increase audiences more than five times. Fostering employees as brand advocates is essential. This can be done by developing a brand messaging architecture that flexes to individuals’ styles, tones, and situations—and then providing workshops to educate employees on its use. I received a call from someone a week after she’d participated in one of my workshops for a large regional nonprofit. She’d just left a meeting with the head of a foundation who was questioning the alignment with giving priorities. She told me that she leveraged the brand message/advocacy training to help connect the funder to the brand—and the foundation’s support came through as a result.
4 . Getting out of your lane. One of the big mistakes people make is looking only to their sector or industry for marketing models. It’s hard to stand out in the competitive arena when you’re never venturing out of it. I have found this to be particularly problematic in B2B and B2G marketing, where we think that (1) the emotions and personalities that influence people in their personal lives to get left at the real or virtual door when they log in at work; and (2) it’s impossible to think like a blue widget buyer when you’re a red thingamajig buyer.
Always explore practices from elsewhere, based on the motivations of your ideal customer profile, to apply to your marketing mix. A consulting firm for the government sector wanted to build a brand extension around its focus on equity outcomes in its work. Working with them, we built this brand identity in several ways—one of which was launching a grant program for nonprofits (not the target audience) to apply for in-kind data and consulting services to impact their equity goals. This was far from the marketing norm in the industry and sector. It allowed the firm to stand out very quickly from competitors that were “talking equity” while this firm was truly taking action and exhibiting it as a core belief—something dear to the motivations of the target buyers, who were government agency leaders with a mission to serve the public.
5 . Be an integrator. Many organizations take a scattershot or reactive approach to their marketing efforts (what many of us at Chief Outsiders call “random acts of marketing”), and they likely have never been achieving a sufficient return on their investment of time, money, and creativity. The key to building an effective strategy is integration. A good idea that fails to integrate with the rest of your campaign, message, mission, and any other organizational or marketing goals will not yield sufficient return. When everything is integrated, each element helps the others perform better. This is one reason I shy away from questions like “what marketing element is most important in the mix”—it’s the wrong question. The question is how the mix works as an organism, not as a loose collection of parts. When I led a large public health nonprofit to develop its first truly integrated strategic marketing campaign, it increased the average number of monthly media stories by more than 45% and quadrupled web traffic. This is the kind of difference that strategic integration makes.
Can you share a time when a strategy didn’t deliver the results you expected and what you learned from the experience?
I’ve found that if we’re attending to the marketing fundamentals—gathering and analyzing the insights, developing a solid strategy, and mapping out an execution plan—two things might keep it from working. The first is not holding the organization’s feet to the fire. I’ve seen companies unable to grapple with keeping the execution engine running, and then they blame the strategy for a lack of infrastructure or leadership around carrying it out. The other culprit is a lack of communication and engagement along the way. I’ve worked with organizations that left key people out of the conversation during the insights and strategy phases, and then they became obstacles in execution.
On the other hand, I’ve also seen the early and persistent engagement of the perceived “trouble” players become a game-changer not only in the marketing strategy but in how those people or groups contribute to the firm overall. For example, a large industrial firm had struggled with integrating what they had experienced as uncooperative acquired companies that wanted to resist thinking and acting outside their legacy, independent processes, and brand definitions. I actively engaged the leadership of all of the entities in a comprehensive brand, messaging, and marketing strategy—and this catapulted them to embrace a redefinition and reorganization under their combined brand promise.
What expert tips can you share with those who are just starting to build out their marketing strategy?
Don’t do it by yourself. I know that sounds self-serving, but it’s not intended that way. It’s truly almost impossible to get past your past tactics or to look outside your own experience, without external objectivity, broad perspective, and deep expertise at the table. It will get you where you need to go more effectively and quickly. Hence, it’s an investment that almost invariably saves money down the line—and potentially even saves your brand from the erosion of poorly executed strategy or none.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
The movement for which I advocate—if you can call it a movement—is for every person to be intentional about identifying a way to give of themselves that speaks to them and then to commit themselves to follow through. The best I can do is offer examples of what it looks like.
At the local level, I’m the president of my synagogue. I have served in leadership and volunteer support roles there for a long time, both to serve the congregation and the many ways in which it partners with and invests in other local groups—with a particular interest in its social justice work. I believe that community is a critical foundation, and this is one way that I help to strengthen it where I live. Imagine what it would be like if we all helped to shore up that foundation.
At the other end of the spectrum from thinking local—looking to the other side of the world, in fact—I’m on the board of Sambhali U.S., which supports the courageous women and girls of Rajasthan, India—one of the most dangerous places to be born female—as they seek to determine their destinies, raise their voices with dignity, and build a road to economic independence. Addressing inequities is fundamental to improving life for everyone. Throughout my career, I have experienced overt and subtle sexism and sexual harassment, so it’s not surprising that I’ve chosen to tackle equity issues from the perspective of women’s empowerment. And if we can support women who are overcoming this where it’s most difficult to do so, just imagine what can emanate from that.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can keep up with my marketing contributions, including publications, through my profile on the Chief Outsiders website: Dina Baker | Professional Services Marketing Consultant (chiefoutsiders.com)
For more personal writings, you can see my occasional publications—mostly about social justice issues—at my blog: Baker's Dozen (bakersdozenpress.blogspot.com)
Also in the personal realm, I’ve published a couple of books that you can learn about at Baker’s Dozen Press: Home (bakersdozenpress.com)
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