Do you really need deep industry experience for marketing roles?
Do your customers really think in verticals or is that your own bias?
I’ve always wondered why some companies demand same-industry experience for marketing positions they are trying to fill. Sadly, it appears that there’s a long-held assumption that deep industry expertise = marketing success.
Before starting I must admit that I do have some depth in the financial services industry. However, I believe the breadth of my experience across different industries (such as telecommunications, healthcare, advertising, energy, and even not-for-profits) is much more valuable to financial services than my actual experience in it.
Why? Because truly great marketers should be able to apply their skills across any industry or target customer.
Particularly in this rapidly changing world, the best marketers should always be conducting due diligence and staying on top of shifting customer needs and behaviors - even if they have been in the industry for 20 years.
In summary...they should be customer-first, not industry-first.
So, do you really need to have deep industry expertise to be a successful marketer?
Let’s talk about some of the more noteworthy CMO’s / Heads of Marketing that are currently out there…
Fernando Machado @ Burger King: currently Burger King CMO. A polarizing figure at times, love him or loathe him Machado has overseen some compelling campaigns in the last few years. His background before Burger King? Unilever selling body wash.
Dara Treseder (Peloton CMO): Currently head of Peloton marketing, Dara’s experience is incredibly varied. Before joining arguably, the world’s leading fitness movement Treseder held marketing leadership roles @ Carbon (3D printing & manufacturing), General Electric (conglomerate), Apple (tech), and Goldman Sachs (financial services)!
Musa Tariq (GoFundMe CMO): Tariq, who has held roles at Airbnb, Apple, Nike, Burberry and Ford believes in getting out of your bubble. When recently asked what has had the most impact on his perspective as a marketer, he answered with this: “Anyone I know or speak to that does not work in our industry.”
Joy Howard @ Dashlane: Lyft, Johnson & Johnson, Coca Cola, Nike, Patagonia, and Sonos. Talk about breadth! Is there anything Joy Howard can’t market? The most important trait Howard looks for in new hires: “fire in the belly.”
Keith Weed (Unilever) + Marc Pritchard (P&G): I couldn't mention Unilever above and not mention it here. Both Unilever and P&G could argue they market to more people in the world than any other company. Each of these global giants have an unfathomable # of brands under their remit and both claim to service between 2 billion to 5 billion consumers every day. There's a reason Machado could make the jump from selling body wash to selling burgers. Analysis. Flexibility. Customer first.
Remember, I’m not arguing that you can’t be successful in a marketing role when you have same-industry experience. Rather, I am wondering whether it is absolutely necessary and if it helps or hinders the eventual employer?
The case for depth over breadth:
Depth over breadth likely provides a short-term boost (<6 months):
There’s an argument that those with deep industry expertise are going to get up to speed faster in new roles and may therefore provide quicker results. The learning curve is shorter.
There could be an argument here that at a glance you know the competitive landscape much better and therefore know how to position your company for success in the short-term. The risk here is that you are assuming the competition is standing still - ongoing due diligence is critical.
Product and service knowledge: some industries are incredibly complicated and knowledge of the product and / or service may help you better distill its benefits than those without that knowledge. However, you still need to translate that complexity into simplicity for your customers.
The case for breadth over depth:
I’d argue breadth over depth is better in the mid to long-term (>6 months)
Success across multiple verticals and industries likely showcases a pre-disposition towards a customer-first approach. We used to have an old saying at GE: if you focus on the customer, success will follow.
Diversity of thinking: exposure to different customer needs, regulatory concerns, cultural shifts and business models requires deep flexibility and a necessity to innovate around new challenges. This outside-in perspective provides an opportunity for true industry disruption.
You have to learn to be successful. There’s less chance of introducing bias from what you already assume to know.
Want one more added bonus? Over-time the industry experience will take care of itself.
So, do you need deep industry expertise for some roles? Absolutely. Do you need it for marketing roles? Not at all.