A closer look at the role marketing plays inside tech companies vs. other industries
Going to work for a tech company or startup has a lot of appeal for marketers – whether you are a recent MBA grad or someone who’s more established in your career. The opportunity to join a fast growing company, introduce new software, products or services to the world, while helping to shape the brand and product strategy. Sounds great, right?
Although all of these are real opportunities, the reality is the experience for marketers at a tech company can differ drastically from the experience you will find in other industries. As a follow up to my recent article, where we discussed the role of marketing in tech companies, I talked with GBH President Jeremy Korst to better understand what marketers should consider when deciding whether or not to pursue a career in tech.
As a former marketing executive with T-Mobile and Microsoft, Jeremy was a business sponsor for marketing professional development in addition to evolving the role of product marketing and product management played within the firms. This experience brings valuable perspective on what marketers should consider as they navigate a career in tech. Below is his insight.
Kimberly A. Whitler: In your experience, what type of role do marketers play in tech? I know it’s difficult to generalize, but are there any observations that would be helpful for marketers who may come from other industries, such as retail, financial services, healthcare, CPG, and so forth?
Jeremy Korst: While it depends on the firm, most tech startups and companies tend to have engineering-centric cultures that are hyper-focused on developing new products, features and technology to outperform the competition – with very little input from marketing or external insight on what target customers actually need.
As tech companies grow, the most successful firms are those that learn how to evolve and empower the marketing organization – and other customer-facing roles – to play a more strategic role in partnership with engineering, product development and sales. That said, it’s important to understand that this is often an uphill battle.
The vast majority of marketing roles within tech companies are focused on marketing communication and outbound, demand generating activities to support the next product launch. There is often minimal involvement by marketing in shaping future product strategy as compared to what you would find in a CPG or retail firm – where marketing plays a leadership role in shaping future innovation.
Whitler: If you are an MBA grad or marketer who’s interested in pursuing a career in tech, what factors should you consider when deciding which company is right for you?
Korst: I think the first question that MBA grads or marketers have to ask themselves is what are my career goals? And what type of marketer do I want to be?
Marketing roles at tech companies can be dynamic and interesting, but it’s important to understand that much of the day-to-day work in most tech companies is focused on more outbound activities with the primary focus on near-term business results. In many cases, the longer-term, more strategic side of the business is managed by leaders in other functions.
Whitler: What questions can marketers ask to determine whether marketing is viewed as a strategic function internally?
Korst: There are a number of questions you need to ask to understand whether marketing is viewed as a support function, or a strategic organization that’s truly empowered to shape strategy across all 4 Ps of marketing – including Product.
First and foremost, how is “brand” embraced across the organization? Is “brand” defined as “branding” and the company logo, or is brand a strategic part of the company’s culture that drives everything from product development to marketing to customer experience? Can the CEO passionately describe the company’s brand aspirations, or do they talk in product-centric language?
Other key questions to ask:
● What responsibilities does marketing have for key business metrics such as revenue generation?
● Where does marketing sit within the organization, and what are the integration points with other teams? Does the company have a CMO and do they report to the CEO?
● What role does marketing play in product strategy? Does marketing have a formal and ongoing role in product roadmap innovation processes?
● How are marketing budgets determined? How much investment or budget does the marketing organization have for forward looking investigatory research or testing?
● Does the company have a history of promoting marketers to lead other strategic functions or units within the company?
● Is the role a staff (i.e., supporting) role or a P&L (i.e., leading) role? Most marketing roles in tech end up being staff roles. The ones that best prepare you for bigger C-level roles are those that have P&L responsibility. While marketing jobs in CPG often come with P&L responsibility, it’s not a given that a marketing role in tech will. Make sure to find out.
Whitler: If a marketer’s goal is to become a CMO, president or CEO someday, what experience can they realistically get within tech companies, and what experience will they need to get elsewhere to be prepared to step up into C-suite roles?
Korst: If you’re someone who’s interested in building experience in more outbound marketing functions like digital marketing, marketing communications or the more promotional aspects of product marketing, then a role at a tech company may be ideal. Working in tech is challenging, fast-paced and provides the opportunity to work alongside many other smart people to build awareness for products and services in a dynamic and competitive environment.
If your goal is to someday become a general manager with P&L responsibility, president or CEO, then either you’re going to have to ensure you choose a technology company with a more strategic view of marketing, or build some of the pre-requisite experience outside of tech.
My advice to marketers interested in a broader, strategic leadership role is to create a career plan and roadmap for the experience they need to gain. Building expertise with shaping brand and product strategy or managing revenue are likely going to be easier skill sets to gain outside of a tech marketing role.
Join the Discussion: @KimWhitler