It should be of no surprise that marketers don't always stick to one industry throughout their careers. In fact, the best are able to hop gracefully, more or less, from one sector to another, taking the lessons learned in one area and applying them to the next. Sure, there will be some adjustments, but the basic principles that guide smart marketing are indeed portable.
Take empathy, for example. Putting oneself in the customers' shoes is an oft-elusive goal, but it's one that will always serve a marketing department well. Perhaps no one knows this better than Alicia Jansen, recipient of an Officers Award at The CMO Awards, who found utility for her own personal experience with cancer in her role as Associate Vice President of Marketing at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Read on as Jansen discusses how today's marketing leaders can-and should-build a platform for customer empathy in his or her own role.
Before joining the MD Cancer Center, Alicia Jansen was the Director Marketing at Compaq, a computer manufacturer later acquired by HP. While the industries are certainly disparate, she says that in both roles, a high level of curiosity helped build a foundation for better understanding her audience. She advises other marketing leaders to dig deep and activate their own hunger for knowledge.
"You have to be able to raise your hand and say, let me learn as much as I possibly can about this business, because in order for me to be able to market it and tell other people about it, I need to know it," she says.
Tell the Story
According to Jansen, thoroughly understanding your business is only the beginning. To be effective, a marketing leader should also be able to tell the story of his or her company in a way with which the customers can connect, in other words, "translate that to something that they can understand," she says. The idea is to stir something within them that drives them to act, says Jansen, "whether it's to move them to buy something, move them to talk about it or move them to donate."
From B2B software to personal products to medical care, the type of brand matters less than the marketing department's ability to communicate something meaningful about it - something that sticks. "I think good marketers have the ability to tell a good story and to get others to tell the story as well," says Jansen, "and that applies to any industry."
Of course, this all circles back to empathy. In Jansen's case, her knowledge of MD Anderson's customer (or patient) experience began long before she joined the organization. In 2000, her mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment with the MD Anderson Cancer Center. As her mother-in-law's primary caregiver, Jansen witnessed firsthand the role that her future employer had in its patients' lives, as well as some areas where it could improve.
When she learned of an opening in the marketing department, she heard her calling. "That initial experience of being with my mother-in-law through her cancer journey taught me the lessons of why people go through this," says Jansen, "and what I can do to make the journey better, what I can say, what programs I can initiate, what are the things that I can help MD Anderson do better in order to make it easier on our patients and their families." Under Jansen's leadership, the organization has begun conducting market research and in-depth interviews with patients and their families to widen its knowledge of its own strengths and weaknesses, which Jansen says has been of great benefit to all involved.
While Alicia Jansen's level of empathy for her audience is obviously unique and not replicable for everyone in marketing, a deep understanding of your customer experience can indeed take you far. To sum it up in her own words: "Marketers today have to have knowledge, and this goes back to being curious, knowing the business and bringing information to the table that's going to help the business."
In partnership with The CMO Club, The CMO of the Week series profiles CMOs who are shaping, changing and challenging the world of modern marketing. These interviews are now the basis of Drew's upcoming book, "The CMO's Periodic Table: A Renegade's Guide to Marketing," now available for pre-order here. For his complete interview with CMO Award Winner Alicia Jansen, click here.