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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 Rachel Sterling.

Rachel Sterling

Rachel Sterling

Rachel Sterling serves as Chief Marketing Officer focusing on expanding impact to drive awareness and adoption of Identity Digital’s top-level domain portfolio. Before joining Identity Digital, Rachel held senior leadership positions at Instagram, Twitter, and Google, where she developed effective strategies around product, integrated content, and event marketing.

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?

My journey to becoming the CMO of Identity Digital has been quite an adventure! Before diving into the tech world, I spent the first part of my career in TV production and post-production. It was a blast working at companies like Milagro Post, Comedy Central, Bloomberg Television, and Grey Worldwide. Those experiences laid a strong creative foundation. But eventually, I decided to switch gears and make my mark in the tech industry. I was fortunate to begin work at Google in the early days when you could experiment with new products on growing teams. During my decade at Google, I had the honor of working on many products including, Google TV Ads, YouTube, Google Small Business Community, and Nest.

As a marketer, I realized the importance of mastering social media channels as a tool to evangelize your message and connect with your audience. There was no better place to learn about social media than the belly of the beast itself: Twitter. I joined Twitter as the Director of Global Business Product Marketing. There, I had the opportunity to establish lucrative sales narratives that drove substantial revenue growth. My role was then expanded to encompass product marketing for the Twitter platform, where I played a pivotal role in enhancing the user experience and fostering meaningful connections. Careers can take interesting turns, and the insights and experience I gleaned from Twitter led me to Instagram when I replicated my position as Head of Product Marketing.  

Advocacy is close to my heart, and I've been involved with Fund Her as an Advisory Board Member. Together, we supported progressive women campaigning for the California State Legislature and had the joy of seeing many incredible women elected. It was a truly impactful experience.

Now, as the CMO of Identity Digital, I'm thrilled to bring together my extensive experience, diverse skill set, and creative foundation. Throughout my journey, I've always been driven by growth, building meaningful connections, and harnessing the power of technology to drive positive change in the marketing world and beyond. I'm excited to leverage these experiences and passions to contribute to Identity Digital's mission and make a meaningful impact in the industry.

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

I actually have five! Let's explore them:

Strategic Thinking: Unless you work at a large corporation, a CMO is often resources strapped—either with not enough people or budget to tackle every idea. A good CMO will focus their team’s energy on the activities that have the best chance of driving significant impact for the organization. I employ a formula of Activity + Budget = Impact to assess all ideas for our operating plan.

Creativity and Innovation: Think of marketing as the intersection of art and science: We use data to determine messaging and targeting. The art side of the equation is what allows brands to forge an emotional connection with their customers. That emotion, sparked by creative and innovative storytelling, is the linchpin of every effective marketing strategy. At Identity Digital, we inspire others by sharing stories about how people use their domains. A focus on developing storytelling and brand messaging is crucial for any well-rounded CMO. 

Leadership: A CMO is both a tactical leader and a brand steward. As a tactical leader, it’s the CMOs responsibility to ensure the team remains on task and ensure we’re delivering initiatives that drive maximum impact for the organization. With Gen Z customers more discerning than ever, authenticity is crucial to building trust. As the brand steward, the CMO must ensure the organization’s brand is always leveraged authentically. 

Data-driven Decision-Making: It is crucial for a CMO to understand all the different channels at her disposal and how to measure success. Inbound data determines our understanding of the product market fit, audience, messaging, and positioning. Outbound data evaluate the efficacy of the marketing strategy and the impact on the organization. Getting the full picture, both inbound and outbound, is a major factor in running a successful campaign, improving the odds of succeeding as CMO. 

Communication: As the most senior marketer in the organization, a CMO often communicates with stakeholders from diverse backgrounds. To secure budget buy-in and stakeholder support, a CMO must be an excellent communicator. A CMO can also make a significant impact externally, like at events or in the press, where they can share and celebrate the organization’s growth in a clear and compelling way. 

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?

  1. Targeted Recruitment: I believe in being proactive when it comes to talent acquisition. I leverage my extensive network and industry connections to identify promising candidates. I also collaborate with HR and utilize targeted recruitment channels, including online platforms and industry-specific job boards, to attract top marketing talent. By actively seeking out individuals with the right skill set and experience, we increase our chances of finding exceptional candidates.
  1. Comprehensive Evaluation Process: To ensure a good fit, we employ a thorough evaluation process beyond assessing skills and qualifications. This process includes a cross-functional hiring panel and clearly categorizing questions into different areas, such as role-related knowledge, leadership, and problem-solving. We encourage all interviewers to ask situational questions that tap into the candidate’s previous experience and case study questions that assess how they would handle the role’s challenges. 
  1. Values Assessment: At Identity Digital, we understand that interviews are a two-way street. Our candidates are also interviewing us! That’s why we share our company culture, values, and vision during the interview process. We’re looking for candidates with a growth mindset, a passion for innovation, and a collaborative spirit because those qualities tend to find a happy home at Identity Digital. We also value diversity and inclusivity, so we actively seek candidates from various backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences to build a well-rounded team.
  1. Continuous Learning and Development: Once we attract top talent, we prioritize their growth and development within the organization. We provide opportunities for training, mentorship, and skill enhancement to help them stay at the forefront of industry trends. By investing in their professional development, we strengthen our team and foster employee satisfaction and retention.
  1. Employee Referral Programs: We have implemented an employee referral program to leverage the networks of our current team members. Our employees are encouraged to refer candidates they believe would be a good fit for the organization. This program taps into the power of personal connections and helps foster a positive and engaged workplace culture.

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

  1. Leaders with Experience: We appreciate candidates who have excelled at leadership roles before. We want folks who have led teams, driven strategic initiatives, and delivered results. It's all about that proven track record of being a go-getter and knowing how to handle the responsibility that comes with management and senior positions.
  1. Strategic Thinkers and Problem Solvers: We need folks who can put on their thinking caps and solve problems like pros. Our dream candidates can analyze complex situations, spot opportunities, and develop killer strategies to achieve business goals. Making data-driven decisions and turning insights into action is the name of the game.
  1. Great Communicators and Influencers: Good communication skills are a must for management and senior positions. We want candidates who can get their ideas across clearly, collaborate like champs, and build strong relationships with stakeholders at all levels. Being able to motivate, negotiate, and influence others is a major plus.
  1. Adaptability and Change Management Whizzes: Our industry moves fast, so we need candidates who can roll with the punches. We're all about adaptability and managing change like pros. We value candidates who can handle transitions, drive organizational change, and manage growth.
  1. Continuous Learners and Growth Fanatics: We're big fans of people who love to learn and grow. Candidates who are always seeking new opportunities for personal and professional development, staying on top of industry trends, and showing a genuine passion for learning are up our alley.

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

We really prioritize clear communication using tools like Slack and Google Meet. These tools let us chat in real-time, share files, and access important information when needed. We set ground rules to ensure everyone knows how to use these channels effectively, keeping us all connected and working together smoothly.

Regular team meetings are our go-to to keep everyone in the loop. These meetings are our chance to discuss project updates, tackle challenges, and get everyone on the same page. We create an environment that encourages open dialogue, where team members can freely share their thoughts, ask questions, and keep everyone updated on their progress.

Documenting processes and workflows is another key aspect. It helps us run like a well-oiled machine. Having guidelines, templates, and documentation for different marketing activities keeps us consistent and avoids confusion. When clear processes are documented, team members can easily refer to them and ensure we're all aligned on our marketing strategy.

Dealing with different time zones can be tricky, but we find ways to make it work. We do our best to schedule meetings and activities that accommodate everyone's availability. We're mindful of the challenges posed by different time zones. And when real-time collaboration isn't possible, we rely on shared project documents and email updates to keep the entire team in the loop.

Finally, let’s remember that behind those little boxes on our screens, we are all human. We routinely make time to check in on non-work related items, recreating the sense of community an office environment offers. 

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

I’m a firm believer in continuous learning. I never stop exploring and seeking out the latest industry trends. There’s no shortage of free resources that allow everyone to stay in the know. This year, my favorite podcast is Hard Fork from the NY Times. Hosts Casey Newton and Kevin Roose keep me up to date on all the latest trends in tech. 

But it's not just about keeping up with the trends. We love embracing technology too! We're always looking for innovative tools and platforms to elevate our marketing efforts. From AI-powered analytics tools to marketing automation software, we're not afraid to experiment and leverage the latest tech to work smarter, not harder. This year, we’ve brought on new agencies and new tools to help improve performance and scale our abilities. 

Another thing we do is build a strong network. We connect with industry experts and thought leaders, engaging in discussions and sharing insights. By surrounding ourselves with smart folks, we get exposed to different perspectives and can incorporate the best practices into our strategies. Collaboration is key!

And let's not forget about good old-fashioned experimentation. We believe in taking calculated risks and trying new things. Whether it's testing out emerging social media platforms, exploring fresh content formats, or running data-driven experiments, we love pushing the boundaries and learning from our experiences. It's all about finding what works best for our audience.

Rapid Fire Question Round

Rapid Fire Question Round

What’s your best quality as a leader? Empathy and the ability to inspire and motivate.

What bad management habit should cease to exist? Micromanaging.

What single piece of advice would you give to aspiring CMOs? Be adaptable, embrace change, and continuously learn to stay ahead in the dynamic marketing landscape.

What are you reading right now? Traffic by Ben Smith.

What product, tool, or service do you wish existed? A tool that integrates personal calendars with work calendars, so I don’t miss a meeting or a youth baseball game. 🙂

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?

While quantitative data provides valuable insights and helps us make informed decisions, I understand that it's not the only piece of the puzzle. I recognize the importance of incorporating qualitative insights and instincts into our strategies. It's about finding the sweet spot where data-driven analysis meets the human touch.

To achieve this balance, we start by diving deep into the quantitative data. We leverage analytics tools, track key metrics, and measure the performance of our campaigns. This data helps us identify patterns, trends, and opportunities to optimize our marketing efforts. We rely on data to make informed decisions and drive results.

But it doesn't end there. We also recognize the power of qualitative insights. We conduct customer interviews, gather feedback, and closely monitor social media conversations to understand our target audience’s emotions, motivations, and preferences. This qualitative information provides valuable context and helps us uncover hidden opportunities or challenges that data alone may not reveal.

We value our team members’ instincts and expertise. We encourage open discussions and brainstorming sessions where everyone can share their ideas, observations, and gut feelings. This collective intelligence allows us to tap into diverse perspectives and consider factors that data alone may not capture. When you work with smart and talented folks, you need to encourage them to trust their instincts!

Finding the right balance between quantitative and qualitative approaches requires constant iteration and refinement. We take an iterative approach, using data to inform our strategies and validating our assumptions with real-world feedback. We test, analyze, and adjust our tactics based on data-driven insights and qualitative observations to achieve the best outcomes.

Ultimately, it's about striking a harmonious blend of data-driven decision-making and human intuition. By leveraging quantitative data, qualitative insights, and the instincts of our team, we can craft effective marketing strategies that resonate with our audience and drive success in the ever-evolving industry.

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

First, it's important to set clear goals and expectations. I make sure that everyone on the team knows exactly what they're working towards and understands how their contributions fit into the bigger picture. Clear goals provide direction and purpose, giving everyone a sense of purpose and something to strive for.

Next, I believe in fostering a positive and supportive team culture. We celebrate wins, big or small, and acknowledge the hard work and effort put in by each team member. Recognizing their achievements and showing appreciation goes a long way in boosting morale and keeping motivation levels high.

To keep the fire burning, I encourage open communication and collaboration. I create an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns, and aspirations. By fostering a sense of ownership and involvement, I empower my team to contribute their best and bring their unique perspectives to the table. We brainstorm, problem-solve, and push each other to reach new heights.

I also believe in providing opportunities for growth and development. I support my team members in their professional development journey, whether it's through training programs, workshops, or mentorship opportunities. By investing in their growth, I show them I believe in their potential and want to see them thrive. It's a win-win situation where they gain new skills and knowledge, and our team benefits from their enhanced capabilities.

Finally, I like to keep things fun and engaging. We spice things up with team-building activities, challenges, and friendly competitions. Injecting a bit of fun into the work environment keeps spirits high and encourages teamwork and a healthy dose of friendly rivalry.

How do you handle underperforming team members?

It takes a hands-on and supportive approach when team members aren't performing up to par. First, I have an open and honest chat with the team member to understand what's happening. I want to get to the bottom of any challenges they might be facing and find out how I can help.

Next, I make sure everyone is on the same page about expectations. I want them to know exactly what needs improvement and what success looks like in their role.

I believe in providing the support and guidance they need to step up their game. Whether it's extra training, mentorship, or resources, I help them grow and succeed. If things aren't improving, we work together to create a performance improvement plan. It's a roadmap with specific actions and timelines to get them back on track. We'll have regular check-ins to see how they're doing and offer feedback along the way.

Of course, it’s about more than pointing out what's not working. I also recognize and celebrate any progress they make. Positive reinforcement goes a long way in boosting morale and motivation. And if it turns out their current role isn't the right fit, we'll explore alternative options within the organization. I want to find the best spot where their skills and interests can shine.

I believe in being hands-on, supportive, and open in dealing with underperforming team members. It's about helping them reach their full potential and finding the right path to success.

What is the most valuable marketing software in your tech stack?

HubSpot and Salesforce are the most valuable marketing software in our tech stack. They offer marketing automation, CRM capabilities, and facilitate effective team alignment. Tableau and ThoughtSpot provide additional value by helping us visualize product data and uncover marketable insights, although they are not strictly categorized as marketing technology.

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

  1. Clear Vision and Direction: As a marketing leader, it's crucial to provide your team with a clear vision and direction. Setting a compelling vision creates a sense of purpose and aligns everyone toward common goals. For example, when launching a new campaign, I ensured our team had a clear vision of the target audience, messaging, and desired outcomes. This clarity fueled their motivation and guided their efforts, resulting in a successful campaign that exceeded our targets.
  1. Effective Communication and Collaboration: Building strong communication channels and fostering collaboration are vital for a successful marketing team. By establishing open lines of communication, encouraging regular team meetings, and leveraging collaborative tools, I ensure that everyone is aligned, informed, and engaged. For instance, during a major rebranding initiative, we facilitated regular cross-functional meetings, encouraging team members from different departments to share ideas and contribute to the overall strategy. This collaborative approach fostered a sense of ownership and resulted in a seamless rebranding rollout.
  1. Empowerment and Autonomy: A successful marketing team thrives when team members feel empowered and have the autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their projects. I believe in empowering my team by providing them with the necessary resources, guidance, and trust to excel. For example, I had a team member who showed great potential in social media management. I empowered them by giving them the autonomy to develop and execute their own social media strategy. Their innovative approach led to increased engagement and brand visibility, showcasing the power of empowerment.
  1. Continuous Learning and Growth: A successful marketing management team embraces a culture of continuous learning and growth. By encouraging ongoing professional development, providing learning opportunities, and fostering a growth mindset, I ensure that my team stays ahead of industry trends and expands their skill sets. As an example, I organized regular lunch-and-learn sessions where team members shared their expertise and learned from one another. This knowledge-sharing environment fostered a culture of continuous learning and led to a more well-rounded and capable team.
  1. Recognition and Celebrating Success: Recognizing and celebrating the achievements of your team members is vital for maintaining high morale and motivation. By acknowledging their hard work, providing constructive feedback, and celebrating milestones, you create a positive and supportive work environment. For instance, after a challenging campaign that required late nights and extra effort, I organized a team celebration to recognize their dedication and success. This recognition boosted morale, reinforced a sense of accomplishment, and strengthened team cohesion.

Lastly, If you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?

If I could inspire a movement that would make a positive impact on a large scale, it would be all about empowering women. We need to break down barriers, promote gender equality, and give women the opportunities they deserve.

Imagine a world where women have equal access to education, where they're not held back by stereotypes or biases. It's about creating a level playing field in the workplace, closing the gender pay gap, and ensuring that women have a seat at the decision-making table.

This movement would involve supporting women in all aspects of life. We'd provide mentorship, resources, and platforms for them to succeed. It's about celebrating their achievements, amplifying their voices, and inspiring future generations.

We can't do it alone. It would take collaboration, awareness, and action from everyone. By standing together and promoting gender equality, we can create a society where every woman can thrive and make a difference.

So let's champion women, support their dreams, and create a world where they have the power and opportunities to lead and succeed. Together, we can empower women and change the world for the better.

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

I can be followed on the LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

Enjoyed this interview? Read more marketing management tips from our other seasoned executives. While you're here, get more of the latest tips, insights, tools, and expert advice by subscribing to The CMO newsletter.

Stephanie Hood
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.