Top 8 Lessons from a Decade of Marketing

"If you don't know where you are going, any road can take you there.", Carroll, 1865

Entering post secondary, it seemed like everyone around me had their lifelong goals worked out, while I was decidedly undecided. Realistically I knew most people’s aspirations would shift with time, but I envied their ability to just get started. I, on the other hand, loved writing, design and connecting with others, and felt like I was giving up a huge piece of myself anytime I tried to narrow my focus to one. I cycled through ideas like flashcards: journalism, graphic designer, photographer, teacher, etc. Each one felt somehow lacking. In 2013, I decided I just needed to get started on something, so I moved to Calgary to take advantage of the booming job market. 

I landed a Sales role at a construction materials company, but before the first week was up I'd already brought my laptop in to improve their website and build brochures. By the time my 30-day review rolled around, I'd taken over the company's online presence and my manager informed me they'd be canceling some outsourced services and structuring a new role for me in marketing. I will forever be thankful for that sharp eye, openness and flexibility, as it was my entry-point to a career that pulled all my seemingly fragmented strengths together perfectly. 

Back then, digital analytics, e-commerce, UX and mobile web were just beginning to bloom. There were a million new things to learn and businesses were clambering to keep up, creating endless opportunities. I spent my evenings hungry for every mini project and reading I could find to grow my arsenal of experience and skills. Fast forward a decade, three employers and a ton of side hustles later and I'm filled with even more enthusiasm for what's ahead. 

My recent 10-year anniversary brought a moment of reflection on where I started and how much I’ve grown since. If you’re still with me after that little walk down memory lane, here’s a quick list of the areas my thinking has evolved the most. 🙂

On left: A fresh faced marketing coordinator selling tile by the palette in 2013. On right: Director of a global SAAS marketing team.

1- What do I do for work?

The Thinking:

  • Year 1: I’m a digital marketer– I run newsletters, social media campaigns and a blog series.
  • Year 10: I'm a marketer in a heavily digital world– I drive scalable growth opportunities through integrated marketing initiatives. 

The Lesson:

Marketing activities don’t occur in a vacuum, nor are digital projects completely independent from events, content, etc. Taking a systems approach to your projects and connecting their outcomes with company goals is critical. This will not only improve your work’s quality and impact, but help other departments understand the value your contributions bring and increase their openness to collaborate. 

2- What do I report on?

The Thinking:

  • Year 1: Every week I share detailed updates on new follower counts, website traffic, whitepaper downloads, and general engagement. 
  • Year 10: My reports vary based on the audience. Generally speaking, I focus on high-level metrics like our cost of acquisition, conversion rates and new opportunities, but also showcase any prominent trends (or sudden deviations!) that could influence our planning. 

The Lesson:

Every time you share something with others, question the “so what” of your metrics. The reality is, most leaders don't care how many followers your company’s Linkedin page has. They will care to hear which channels or strategies are bringing in opportunities. If you’re excited about that audience spike on Linkedin, tell them how that contributes to the team’s overarching objectives and what activities are attributing to the increase. 

Don’t be afraid to tailor your reports based on the recipient. Your manager will likely be more interested in the nitty gritty details, while executives may prefer the cliffnotes and other departments may only want to know details that influence their work. 

3- What’s my core design philosophy?

The Thinking:

  • Year 1:  “Content comes first”– DUH, everyone knows that!
  • Year 10:  An integrated “story-first” perspective that puts the problem at the core of all work.

The Lesson:

While the CCF methodology is still widely touted online as the trick to better design, its rhetoric is truly flawed. This rigid thinking serves to silo different aspects of a project when they should be working together. Instead, putting the problem at the center of any project and weaving a compelling story around it yields significantly improved outcomes. I feel so strongly about this point, I even developed a specific framework dedicated to it. Read about it here.

The Six "C" Framework for crafting effective, story-first experiences

4- What’s your content distribution strategy?

The Thinking:

  • Year 1: I write a weekly blog and then share it across social platforms at peak times with trending industry hashtags. 
  • Year 10: I prioritize drafting proprietary, flagship content pieces to publish across owned channels (even if less frequently) and redistribute across external channels on a regular basis. 

The Lesson:

A frequent trap I see way too many marketers falling into is dedicating too much time to content curation and too little (or none at all!) to its distribution. Peak times and popular hashtags do very little compared to creating staple pieces of content and ample opportunities for discovery.

Quality content takes time– That’s something a lot of companies don’t have much of. Dedicating that time to core evergreen pieces that maintain their relevance over time will keep traffic coming back to your website for weeks, months and years after you’ve hit publish. Good examples of this include deep research and educational how-to’s. 

Content distribution is not a once-and-done process. Posting once to social media or sharing only in your latest newsletter does all that hard work a disservice. What if your interested audience just isn’t online at the right time to scroll past your post? A good blog can easily fuel dozens of social media posts and be re-featured within later newsletters expanding your reach easily. Take even a fraction of the time you would have originally spent on writing unnecessary weekly blogs and reallocate it to a consistent content schedule that connects existing quality pieces to trending news. This streamlines your efforts while continuously throwing older pieces back into circulation.

A quality, evergreen piece can be reused and re-shared, expanding its value over time

A word of caution: As time goes on, evergreen pieces can be easy to forget about, especially when faced with employee churn. An organized CMS with descriptive titles (not abbreviations with endless version codes) can make the job above MUCH easier. 

5- What’s my priority when publishing new materials?

The Thinking:

  • Year 1: You need an email campaign? Let’s catch their eye! We’ll make it POP with a fresh, dark theme design, background visuals, animated gifs, a unique layout…
  • Year 10: You need an email campaign? Who's the audience– Oh, mostly Outlook users? Businesses with lots of spam filters? Let’s do plain text. 

The Lesson:

Usability comes first. A beautiful email is no good if it doesn’t reach its destination. The best campaign is one that is reliably delivered and gets the message to the right person. Everything else is a cherry on top. This applies equally to any channel and asset. A gorgeous website serves no purpose if it doesn’t load. Know your audience, discover how to reach them and design for that. 

As you reach the end of any design project, don’t forget to cross your Ts: All your images should have alt text, asset resolutions should be channel appropriate and pages should have complete metadata. These seemingly small activities are wonderful curb cutters. Not only do they support enhanced usability, but improve your brand’s visibility with improved search engine performance and social media rendering.

6- What is a company’s brand?

The Thinking:

  • Year 1: The visual elements that make your company recognizable: The logo, signature colors, typography, image style... Our brand guide is LAW and I am its enforcer! 😜
  • Year 10: The experience customers expect to have while interacting with you and the feeling they’re left with when they walk away. Good brands need to evolve over time so don’t be too rigid with the guidelines. 

The Lesson:

This one really speaks for itself. Branding is so much more than what your company looks like and it needs to be monitored to ensure it’s evolving positively. A few good ways to track your brand’s health include your Net Promoter Score, public reviews, domain authority, conversion rates, social engagement and earned media opportunities. After establishing a baseline for each, a decline in any could mean it's time to revisit your strategy.

7- Who is responsible for the brand?

The Thinking:

  • Year 1: Marketing, obviously. I put on my corporate voice when I draft content and post everything from corporate social pages. I'm up-to-date on all the trendy faceless no-reply inbox names like hello@ and use them for each campaign.
  • Year 10: Literally all employees. People want to connect with other people, not with corporations. Make sharing important messages as easy as possible with guidelines, key messaging, graphic resources and more. 

The Lesson:

Decentralize your brand. Unless you are Apple, Pepsi or any other major, pop-culture consumer brand, very few people are looking to follow you as a company– even your paying customers. 

Marketing’s job is not to be the voice of the company, but to empower employees to speak confidently and positively.  If you are launching a major product update, showcase the strategists, designers and developers who made it happen in your blog. Their unique take on the market needs and the challenges they overcame building the product will be a far more interesting read. Help customer-facing teams speak out on how excited they are for the new solutions– they’ll be far more in-tune with their specific, niche of contacts and each's unique pain points. 

Decentralizing content is an effective strategy across all channels, but really shines with social media. For the most part, posts made by actual people rank significantly better organically within feeds compared to company profiles. This means improvements to both your approachability and reach.

8- What does it mean to be a leader?

The Thinking:

  • Year 1: I have to be the best– that means putting on my work face when I walk through the office door and personally completing as many quality projects as I can!
  • Year 10: I help those around me do their best. That means being me, connecting with colleagues in meaningful ways, being flexible with my thinking and collaborating to achieve the best results. 

The Lesson:

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still figuring this one out, but it’s become clear that leadership has a lot less to do with me than what I empower those around me to accomplish.

I spent a long time believing there was a singular “way” one needed to act if they wanted to be a leader, but no matter how much I tried to cram myself into that box, it never quite fit right… the bubbly, but sensitive personality and art hobbies always felt somehow less professional alongside the stoic, sports-oriented bosses I’d always worked for and respected.

A recent leadership course first opened my eyes to the many different, but all completely viable leadership styles that existed and the importance of being authentic. While I can’t say the moment it started, but pulling off the professional mask I used to wear at work has let me connect more deeply with my team and enabled me to better support them.

So that’s a wrap...

I’m now over a decade into my marketing career and eager to see what lessons the next one brings.

What are your top lessons? Drop me a note- I'd love to hear them!