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It should go without saying that effective marketing management can be make or break to a company's success. To understand the best ways to lead a successful Marketing Management team, we asked CMOs and other leaders in the marketing space to share tips, stories and insights from their experiences. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Chuang.

Michelle Chuang

Michelle Chuang is a seasoned professional with over 20 years of leadership experience in a diverse range of companies, spanning from small and medium-sized businesses to large Fortune 100 enterprises. Throughout her career, she has demonstrated a remarkable ability to drive growth and profitability through strategic decision-making and innovative solutions. Michelle’s expertise lies in effectively navigating complex business landscapes, leveraging her extensive knowledge to deliver impactful results and establish enduring partnerships.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! To begin, can you share a bit of your backstory and how you got started in your career? 

I am an experienced professional with a diverse background encompassing journalism, marketing, and psychology. Over the course of my 20-year career in marketing, I have cultivated a unique skill set that combines strategic thinking, effective communication, and a deep understanding of human behavior.

My journey in the world of journalism has played a pivotal role in shaping my exceptional storytelling abilities and fostering a genuine passion for purposeful messaging. I had the opportunity to refine my investigative skills while working as a research assistant and associate producer for a prominent news organization, covering an extensive range of topics and honing my eye for detail and accuracy.

Transitioning into marketing after journalism, I recognized the power of storytelling and leveraged it to create impactful campaigns that drive business growth. My broad marketing experience spans various industries, including technology, healthcare, and consumer goods. Through my strategic mindset and innovative approach, I have consistently delivered results, helping companies achieve their marketing objectives while fostering strong brand identities.

Motivated by an innate curiosity about human behavior and the underlying motivations that drive actions, I embarked on a learning journey into psychology to deepen my understanding. This multidisciplinary approach enables me to develop comprehensive marketing strategies that resonate with target audiences on both rational and emotional levels.

Throughout my career, I have excelled in crafting compelling narratives, conducting in-depth market research, and leveraging psychological insights to create persuasive messaging. My ability to empathize with diverse audiences and adapt my communication style accordingly has been instrumental in building meaningful connections and driving engagement.

In addition to my professional accomplishments, I am a staunch advocate for ethical journalism and responsible marketing practices. I firmly believe in the transformative power of storytelling to shape opinions, challenge norms, and inspire positive change.

With my unique blend of journalistic integrity, marketing expertise, and psychological insights, I continue to make a significant impact in the industry by helping businesses authentically connect with their audiences in meaningful ways.

What are three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves? 

Certainly! Reflecting on my journey, it is indeed the people around me that have helped me along the way. But suppose I have to look within and evaluate the factors that have contributed to my career success. In that case, I can identify three key strengths, skills, or characteristics that have played a significant role:

Curiosity: One of my key traits is my insatiable curiosity and eagerness to learn. This has propelled me to constantly seek new knowledge, stay updated with industry trends, and adapt to changing landscapes. Actively building this characteristic involves cultivating a growth mindset, embracing new challenges, and consistently seeking opportunities for learning and development. Engaging in workshops, attending conferences, reading relevant literature, and seeking mentorship can all contribute to fostering a continuous learning mindset.

Resilience: In the dynamic and ever-evolving world of marketing, adaptability and resilience are vital skills. Being able to navigate through uncertainties, setbacks, and changing circumstances with resilience has helped me overcome challenges and maintain forward momentum. To actively build these areas, it is important to embrace ambiguity and change, view setbacks as opportunities for growth, and develop a mindset of resilience. Seeking diverse experiences, embracing new perspectives, and regularly practicing self-reflection can help cultivate adaptability and resilience.

Empathy: Strong communication skills and the ability to empathize with diverse audiences have been crucial in establishing meaningful connections and driving engagement. Actively building these areas involves honing active listening skills, seeking to understand others' perspectives, and practicing clear and concise communication. Engaging in courses or workshops on effective communication, actively seeking feedback, and practicing empathy in personal and professional interactions can contribute to developing these important skills.

Ultimately, building these areas within oneself requires a combination of self-awareness, intentionality, and dedication. Embracing a growth mindset, seeking out learning opportunities, and consistently practicing and refining these skills will not only contribute to personal and professional growth but also open doors to new opportunities and success in one's career.

What are some strategies you use to identify and attract top talent to your marketing team, and how do you ensure they are a good fit for your organization?

When it comes to identifying and attracting top talent for my marketing team, I employ several strategies that have proven effective in sourcing and selecting exceptional candidates who align with our organization's values and goals. Additionally, ensuring a good fit involves assessing their skills, culture fit, and long-term potential. Here are some strategies I utilize:

Clear & Targeted Job Description: Crafting compelling and detailed job descriptions is crucial to attracting the right candidates. It is not only important to outline the responsibilities, qualifications, and expectations but also to describe the culture of the company and the team. Targeted job postings on relevant platforms and industry-specific channels help us reach a pool of candidates with the desired expertise and experience.

Thorough Evaluation Processes: To ensure we find the right person, we employ thorough evaluation processes that go beyond resume screening and interviews. This typically involves multiple rounds, including behavioral-based interviews, skills assessments, and cultural fit assessments. These steps help us assess candidates' technical competencies, problem-solving abilities, teamwork skills, and alignment with our team’s values and culture.

Additionally, we involve key team members in the hiring process. This may include other team members, managers, or cross-functional stakeholders who can provide valuable insights and perspectives. Their involvement not only helps evaluate candidates from different angles but also fosters a sense of ownership and engagement that will also help with the onboarding process. 

Recruitment Marketing Strategy: In the digital world where competition is fierce, we adopt recruitment marketing as a core strategy to attract top talents for our clients. In addition to showcasing the organization’s benefit, culture and accolades, we highlight the distinct opportunities for growth and development. Demonstrating a genuine investment in their professional growth helps attract ambitious candidates seeking a supportive and growth-oriented work environment.

What specific backgrounds, qualities, or credentials do you look for when hiring for management and senior positions?

When hiring for management and senior positions, there are specific backgrounds, qualities, and credentials that I prioritize to ensure the selection of exceptional candidates who can thrive in these leadership roles that can sometimes be demanding on their emotions and schedules. Here are some key factors I consider:

Demonstrated Leadership Experience: For management and senior positions, first they have to have a proven track record of leadership experience. This includes roles where they have led teams directly or indirectly. I don’t focus on the size or capacity of the team, but I focus on the impact that they have created and the approach. I value candidates who can inspire and motivate others, foster a collaborative environment, and drive results through effective leadership.

Strong Strategic Thinking: In managerial and senior positions, the ability to think strategically and solve complex problems is crucial. I seek candidates who possess a strategic mindset, can quickly organize and analyze situations from multiple perspectives, and make informed decisions that align with the organization's goals. Experience in developing and executing strategic plans, as well as a track record of overcoming challenges and achieving objectives, is highly valued.

Continuous Learning and Adaptability: In dynamic and evolving business environments, the ability to adapt and passion for personal learning is crucial. I value candidates who demonstrate a growth mindset, a willingness to embrace change, and a commitment to personal and professional development. This includes seeking out new challenges, staying updated with industry trends, and actively seeking opportunities to expand their skills and knowledge.

When it comes to managing large teams, WFH, and different time zones, how do you prioritize communication and collaboration to ensure a cohesive marketing strategy?

With this, enforcing a culture of teaming becomes paramount. The key is to emphasize the notion of "we win together, and we lose together." Here are some strategies that can help prioritize communication and collaboration to foster a cohesive marketing strategy within such circumstances:

  1. Cultivate a shared vision: Clearly communicate the objectives to the entire team, emphasizing the link between members and the collective goals that everyone is working towards. Reinforce the idea that marketing is a function that requires significant integration to achieve positive sales impact. Each team member's contribution is critical to achieving desired outcomes.
  1. Promote inclusive communication and feedback culture: We take team member input and feedback seriously. Many initiatives start with an idea during a meeting and then get fully baked into a team effort. It is essential for associates to feel comfortable in sharing their opinion, but it is also important for them to know that accountability applies so they’re empowered to contribute well-thought-out ideas for efficiency.  
  1. Foster a sense of ownership: Instill the understanding that every team member is accountable for their individual tasks and the overall success of the marketing strategy. Emphasize that success is dependent on collective effort and that setbacks or failures are learning opportunities for the entire team. Encourage a mindset where team members take ownership of their responsibilities and proactively seek solutions to challenges.
  1. Flexibility is Key: There is a Chinese proverb, “Never doubt the person you hire because you should never hire someone you doubt.” Trust is the most important asset in any organization, and based on that, it is important to provide a flexible work environment, especially since circumstances have changed due to COVID. As leaders, we should empathize with working moms when they need to work from home or the dads when they cannot make the business trip due to their child’s recital. Flexibility doesn’t mean that there is no accountability. Instead, it is a way to view and live life as one.  

How do you stay on top of the latest trends, tech, and AI to ensure your team is implementing the most effective strategies?

I utilize various approaches. First, I lean into industry conferences, webinars, and workshops to gain insights into emerging trends and advancements. 

Second, I actively engage in online communities, forums, and social media platforms dedicated to marketing and AI to stay updated on discussions and shared knowledge. 

Additionally, I subscribe to industry emails and publications, and I’d browse blogs and research papers to stay informed about the latest developments. Furthermore, I encourage continuous learning within my team and share resources and training opportunities to enhance their knowledge and skills. By adopting these practices, I ensure that my team remains up-to-date and can effectively implement cutting-edge marketing strategies.

In an industry that is often focused on data and metrics, how do you balance the importance of quantitative data with the qualitative insights and instincts needed for success?

Balancing quantitative data with qualitative insights and instincts is crucial in data-driven industries, but it is essential to keep the customer experience in mind. I am a big believer in using technology to make human lives better, and while quantitative data provides insights into behaviors and operations, qualitative insights allow us to understand the deeper motivations and emotions that drive customer satisfaction.

By optimizing the customers’ experience, we can leverage quantitative data to measure the impact of qualitative improvements, ensuring that decisions are informed, and outcomes are continually refined. This harmonious integration of data and insights fosters a customer-centric approach, leading to long-term success in a competitive landscape.

What tips do you have to motivate and inspire your team to consistently meet and exceed their goals? 

This requires a combination of effective leadership and a supportive work infrastructure. Here are some tips to achieve this:

  1. Communicate an engaging vision: Paint a vivid picture of the team's collective purpose and long-term vision. Inspire them by explaining how their individual contributions align with the overall organizational goals.
  2. Set clear and challenging goals: Clearly define the goals and objectives, ensuring they are challenging yet attainable. The more capable the member, the more they’re invigorated by challenges. Encourage your team to aim high and empower them to take ownership of their targets.
  3. Provide regular feedback and recognition: Offer constructive feedback in a timely manner to enhance the work process. Recognize and celebrate their achievements, both big and small, to boost morale and reinforce a culture of excellence. Create a psychologically safe space where team members feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their best.
  4. Lead by example: Show curiosity, enthusiasm, dedication, and a strong work ethic. Be a role model for your team, demonstrating the behaviors and qualities you expect from them.
  5. Promote autonomy and trust: Give your team the freedom to make decisions and take ownership of their work. Trust their abilities and delegate responsibilities accordingly, allowing them to demonstrate their skills and grow professionally.
  6. Foster a positive work-life balance: Recognize the importance of work-life balance and support your team in maintaining it. Encourage breaks, vacations, and time for self-care to prevent burnout and maintain overall well-being.

How do you handle underperforming team members?

When faced with underperforming team members, it's important to address the issue promptly and constructively. The approach typically involves the following steps:

  1. Identify the root causes: Start by understanding the reasons behind their underperformance. Is it due to a lack of skills, unclear expectations, lack of motivation, personal challenges, or other factors? This assessment helps tailor the approach accordingly.
  2. Provide feedback and support: Engage in an open and honest conversation with the underperforming team member. Seek to understand and learn the root cause. At Chevron, they taught us to ask the 5 why’s to achieve an understanding of the root cause of an issue. With thorough understanding will allow us to communicate expectations and areas for improvement clearly. Offer guidance, resources, and training to support their development and help them overcome performance challenges.
  3. Agree on an improvement plan: Collaboratively create an action plan outlining specific goals, targets, and timelines. Set clear expectations and mutually agree on the steps needed to address the underperformance.
  4. Regularly monitor progress: Keep a close eye on the team member's progress, providing ongoing feedback and support. Regular check-ins help track their development, address any concerns, and make adjustments to the improvement plan if necessary.
  5. Address consequences if necessary: In cases where the underperformance continues despite efforts to support and improve, it may be necessary to address the consequences, such as performance reviews, reassignment of responsibilities, or, as a last resort, formal disciplinary measures.

It's important to approach underperforming team members with empathy, fairness, and a focus on their development. Everyone has gone through or is going through something in life. By providing guidance, support, and opportunities for improvement, you can strive to help them reach their full potential and contribute positively to the team's overall success.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five things you need to lead a successful marketing management team?

Here are five key elements for leading a successful marketing management team, along with accompanying stories:

Clear Vision and Strategy: As a leader, it's crucial to establish a clear vision and strategy for your marketing team. For instance, I once led a team tasked with launching a new product. By clearly articulating the purpose of the company, along with the functional benefits of its product line, our strategic plan became a roadmap that is supported by our marketing rally cry. Most importantly, our project team aligned, and we worked collaboratively towards the common goal. This provided the team with a sense of direction and purpose, leading to a successful product launch.

Effective Communication: Strong communication and interpersonal skills are essential for leaders. I recall a situation where a major campaign was not performing as expected. By fostering open communication channels, I led a project evaluation session where I actively listened to stakeholders’ feedback. While some of the comments felt like a dagger to my heart, the honest discussions we were able to have helped us identify the issues, make necessary adjustments, and turn the campaign around, achieving significant success in the end.

Team Empowerment: Encouraging collaboration and empowering team members are vital for success. In a previous role, I implemented a cross-functional team approach, bringing together individuals from various disciplines, including Finance, Product, Sales, Legal, and Operations. This collaborative environment not only gave us strategic insights but also promoted knowledge sharing, innovation, and a shared sense of ownership, leading to breakthrough marketing campaigns and exceeding targets.

Continuous Learning and Development: A successful marketing management team must live a culture of continuous learning. For example, I once initiated a program where team members attended industry conferences, participated in webinars, and shared their learnings internally. This investment in professional development enhanced our team's expertise, fostered creativity, and kept us at the forefront of industry trends.

Passionately disciplined: Being passionately disciplined in achieving excellence is key to leading a high-performing team. Adopting a results-oriented and data-driven approach helps to enforce that discipline. In a recent campaign, we leveraged analytics and metrics to measure the effectiveness of our marketing initiatives. By analyzing the data, we gained valuable insights and identified areas for improvement, which required us to go back to the drawing table to refine the campaign strategy and develop creative assets again and again. Although the entire process felt exhausting at the time, the data-backed refinements significantly improved campaign performance, leading to higher conversion rates and sustained ROI.

On a more personal note, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a lot of good to many people, what would that be?

If I had the opportunity to inspire a movement that could bring about significant positive change for the greatest number of people, it would be centered around reducing prejudice and bias. 

Prejudice and bias create divisions, perpetuate stereotypes, and hinder progress toward a more inclusive and equitable society. By fostering a movement that addresses these issues, we can strive toward a world where individuals are judged based on their character, abilities, and contributions rather than preconceived notions.

This movement would seek to promote empathy, understanding, and acceptance across different social, cultural, and ethnic groups. It would encourage individuals to challenge their own biases, engage in meaningful conversations, and actively seek out diverse perspectives. Education and awareness would be key pillars of the movement, with initiatives focused on teaching tolerance, cultural appreciation, and the detrimental effects of prejudice.

To truly make a difference, the movement would aim to engage people from all walks of life, including individuals, communities, K-12 educational institutions, businesses, and governments. Collaboration with organizations working towards social justice, diversity, and inclusion would be vital. By leveraging collective efforts, the movement could have a far-reaching impact, leading to positive changes in policies, social norms, and individual behaviors.

The ultimate goal of this movement would be to create a world where everyone feels valued, respected, and included, irrespective of their background or identity. It would inspire individuals to celebrate diversity and recognize the inherent worth and potential in every person. By addressing prejudice and bias, we can foster greater understanding, harmony, and equality, ultimately creating a brighter and more compassionate future for all.

Lastly, what would you say is the most valuable marketing software in your tech stack?

From a marketing software perspective, I still think a good customer relationship management (CRM) software is most valuable in a marketer’s treasure chest. A CRM system allows us to effectively manage and analyze customer interactions, track leads, and streamline marketing automation. It helps us learn more about our customers, nurture relationships, personalize marketing efforts, and make data-driven decisions to optimize our marketing strategies.

How can our readers best continue to follow your work online?

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By Stephanie Hood

Stephanie Hood is an experienced marketing professional and Editor of The CMO. With nearly a decade spent as Marketing Manager at Discover Holidays and Executive Editor at VIVA Lifestyle & Travel, she built her career leading editorial and marketing teams and strategies that turn six-figure budgets into seven-figure profits. She now enjoys connecting with the world's top executives to learn their secrets to business success, and shares those insights right here with her community of like-minded professionals. Curious what she’s uncovered? Be sure to sign up for The CMO newsletter.