A short lesson in long marketing experience


Recently I worked with two different national beverage brands. In one meeting, the brand management team was comprised of newly-minted MBA’s armed with spreadsheets and Nielsen data. The team from the other company was at least 15 years older and had been in their jobs for more than a decade.

The difference in “brand wisdom” and effectiveness was remarkable. The more experienced team had such deep, intimate knowledge of their customers — not just what was on the latest spreadsheets, but the history, the journey of the brand, and the changing tastes of their consumers. They didn’t need to interpret data. They KNEW their market and their customers.

This was a profound lesson for me in the value of keeping people in their jobs and rewarding them appropriately so they feel energized and motivated even after a long period of time with one product. The experienced team could easily navigate the changing product landscape because it was second-nature to them. The young team was trying to find wisdom in analyst reports … wisdom that probably never come to them through pie charts alone.

I am all for education (I have two graduate degrees and I’m an educator!) but there is no amount of classroom experience that could have competed with the deep and nuanced wisdom of the senior team. It would have been even more ideal to have blended teams, right?

In an era where the emphasis is on career and geographic mobility, how do you keep people in jobs long enough to capture this sort of competitive advantage? Is this even possible any more?

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC Michael Kreil

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  • Nice, thought provoking article Mark.

    I’ve been with my current company for 14 years now, I’ve moved between positions from support to account management/sales to online marketing and social media.
    I think I know our customers and our business very well and this (I believe) has provided me with the knowledge of not only what our clients want and are interested in, but the industry as a whole.

    I think that if a business truly values it’s employees and what they do to progress the brand then it should make the effort to ensure that those employees are happy and have the tools and recognition needed to retain them where possible.

    Do you think in general that the ‘knowledge’ is specific to the brand itself, or the industry?

  • Probably a little of both. In my old company, we had some sales people who had been in their jobs for 10 years or more. Those people could get anything done! They were also an incredible source of insight for a young marketer like me because they had seen it all and could anticipate a competitor or customer reaction. Nothing can replace that!

  • Mark,

    I think a piece of the answer is Intrapreneurialism. Employers leave and move (for money) but also for a new challenge, for personal growth, for the ability to impact an organization in a meaningful way.

    If you promote an organization of Intrapreneurialism and encourage your employees to constantly challenge the way you do business and feel like their recommendations have impact then you’ll be more likely to keep those employees over the long-haul.


  • This is a really good topic Ryan. Probably deserves a post. I’ve been through some experiences that lead me to believe there is rarely something called an intrapreneurial model that actually works.

    Here’s the bottom line … Let’s say you have an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur with the same idea. The entrepreneur has bet it all on this idea and HAS to make it work. She has a limited amount of cash and a limited amount of time and is working round the clock to make her dream come true.

    The intrapreneur works for a big company and has a regular paycheck, benefits and vacation time. She probably also gets pulled back into other company meetings and maybe even is still doing part of another job. Since she works for a big company, she has to follow all the rules and company procedures. If her idea fails, she’ll just get moved to the next project.

    Who will you put your money on?

    This is why many big companies have simply stopped innovating and have moved to a strategy of buying ideas and start-ups.

  • I worked for a large international credit card company (agency side) and it was so interesting for me to hear the CEO and the Creative Director discuss the brand. You could tell that they didn’t look at sheets, they knew the brand by working tirelessly on it for years.

    It goes to show that sticking to one market could give you a leg up, since this is vital in communicating and really understanding the need of the customers.

    Of course knowing data and trends is important and can keep some people more motivated or excited.

    I loved working on the large account where there was history, but I noticed that it was not that easy to shift communication-wise, the message had to be somewhat similar and not too out there.

  • Perhaps I am still too young to fully accept this, but the situation provided does seem a bit skewed. The post is attributing the success and failures of the two brands on experience (or not) but the provided examples were that one group knew their audience and the other misinterpreted data. These seem like things that can happen to anyone at any experience level.

    The reason I flag that is because while experience usually translates to knowledge, that isn’t guaranteed. You just as easily could have provided an example in which the graduates succeeded because they were more knowledgeable than the older, seemingly more experience folks.

    All that said, experience in general does make a difference. Just don’t let a bias towards more years in the field allow you to miss out on hiring (or promoting) talent that while younger, could be far me capable and knowledgeable.

  • @businessesgrow:disqus I definitely see your point and agree with you as you’ve laid out the terms in your example.

    However, I don’t think I’d call your example an Intrapreneur. The the true Intrapreneur is DRIVEN by the idea same as the Entrepreneur and the indescribable desire to make change happen is the same.

    I would say the Intrapreneur is less likely in a large corporation then a small or mid-size business… I guess I fight back because I would consider myself a Intrapreneur. I don’t own my business but I do things that have never been done before in the insurance industry every single day…

    It is a great topic.



  • Are you an intrapreneur creating new businesses within a business or an innovator spreading new ideas and practices?

  • Thanks for sharing your wisdom today Tiana!

  • Thanks for the dissenting comment Jason. I really don’t think we’re that far apart in our views, though. I didn’t associate any “success” with age. I was extolling the virtues of brand wisdom that only comes through long periods of immersion in your marketplace.

    Here’s another example. For awhile, I worked with Harley-Davidson. We presented a new kind of polished aluminum that resisted dirt and shined brilliantly. The marketing folks loved the idea. But when it got to the executive level it was rejected immediately. One of the family members explained that part of the brand culture was caring for the bike. They did not want to eliminate anything that would remove an interaction with the bike.

    In hindsight, they were absolutely right even though according to data alone it didn’t make sense. The correct decision was not made with data. It was made with brand wisdom. If your company has a revolving door of marketing people, can you ever achieve that? That was the point I was trying to make.

    I also agree with you that somebody in a job for too long can be a detriment. Absolutely.

    Many thanks for the great comment!

  • Touche…

  • My husband worked for a large corporation for 33 years. A colleague said he was an entrepreneur within the corp. I think what made/makes him so unique is that he never stops thinking and figuring. And he doesn’t let “this is how it’s done” stop him. If he thinks something can be done, he’d find a way to make it happen.

    Too many people run into “can’t” and accept that. Or they don’t have the patience to fall back, study the problem some more, and then try again – in or out of the big corp. You have to be able to go out on a limb and even have it fall with you. He’s passionate but not arrogant. And he makes friends, not enemies.

    He even convinced me to spend a week in a pop up camper and I’m still not sure how that happened. LOL Our kids call setbacks an adventure.

    If you start with walls in your mind, with limits on what you think you can do, then that’s your reality.

  • As a marketing professional with decades of experience I appreciate the recognition you give to the older group for their advantaged perspective. I believe you would have noticed if the more experienced group had lost their since of curiousity or was simply coasting on comfortable and safe opinions.

    I’ve spent my career working outside of a corporate structure while working with some of the largest companies on the planet. So it’s easier for me to say everyone should take risks, be willing to fail and behave more entrepreneurially because I have had that freedom for so long. In truth, I probably wouldn’t make it for very long in a big corporation because I’m a bit of a misfit.

    To me, the biggest weakness of either young or old marketing professionals is a lack of curiousity and laziness about learning. I’ve seen this in all ages among those on the client side and within my own agency.

    However challenging it may be, this is the most exciting time ever to be in marketing and it’s no time to rest on the safety of advanced degrees, spreadsheets or career experience. Never quit learning!

  • Chuck Kent

    As a veteran, and self-exile from, the land of big brand ad agencies – who has worked in the cola wars in the distant past – I almost had to laugh at your last question “how do you keep people in jobs long enough to capture this sort of competitive advantage? ” Agencies and marketers are as likely to denigrate, and toss out, experienced people as they are to cultivate their contributions long-term. As the people who invented the myth of the youth culture, we (in advertising, at least) are prone to having it come back around an kill us off just about the time we know what we’re doing. Account management may enjoy a longer life span than creative types, but not by much… I recently heard of a CMO who, just barely past 40, bemoaned openly in a meeting that he was “just too old to know whats cool.” So I think the real question is, “How do you instill the corporate will to invest in wisdom?”

  • A rare win for the home team. Noted on my calendar : )

  • Well said Pauline. Thanks!

  • This is a good post on its own Billy! Thanks!

  • I experienced this first-hand at my former company Alcoa. A new CEO came in and cleaned house. He didn’t think anybody with years of experience in the metals business could adopt his vision. At one point, there was just one person on his executive leadership team that had ever grew up in a manufacturing, sales, or finance position within the company. When he came in, the stock price was about $40. Today, the stock price is at $8. Case closed.

  • RandyBowden

    I have an associate that is in his late 20’s that since graduating has been on the ladder of success. He started as an marketing account executive, quickly moved to a manager of marketing at large brand, 3 years later left for a director of marketing at another large brand, one year later left that job for another director of marketing at another large brand and recently after 8 months left that position for VP of marketing at another. Naturally he has received relocation packages that have taken him from the east coast to the mid-west, back to the east coast and now to the south. Very happy for him and his obviously desired talent that he possesses but I have to wonder how he could have such a multiple “band wisdom” at such a young age…(true story)
    But I am an old schooler who went into an organization and gave my loyalty to them. I acquired “brand wisdom” from a company that invested in educating me, testing me, giving me the tools on the job to polish my skill set…my how times have changed…

  • 🙂 Thanks!

  • So true! I so appreciate Mark’s post and your comments. With a marketing degree and background, I have started a SMM consulting business in my fifties. Here’s to life long learning and wisdom!

  • Rodger

    Your post reminds me of the reading I have been doing on community. For communities to be deep and rich in culture and connectedness there has to be settlement of people, families, businesses and other institutions we create, like churches, civic organizations, and little league. For businesses, I think to thrive, for its people to thrive, however, we don’t see them as communities. And our relation to work has changed. We no longer see it as a vocation, or creative endeavors that enrich us, our families and friends. I would submit the older guys you worked with have a different relationship to work because there’s no way a team can have the intimate wisdom of a market unless they are settled, connected, and live in that market. We young people tend to embrace mobility and that is contrary to settlement.

  • Hard to say. I have had the pleasure to work with some true super stars and they very much have a transferable talent. Interesting challenges!

  • This is one of my favorite comments ever I think Rodger. Very deep and insightful commentary with a lot of different implications. Thanks for teaching us today!

  • useradvocate

    I’m enjoying reading this post and the many insightful comments. The topic is important to me as a seasoned professional who enjoys the the ongoing process of learning.

    I recently gave a keynote presentation (‘Building a Meaningful Web’) that is resonant with this subject. I opened it by talking about the value of emptiness for the creative process – that is ridding one’s mind of preconceived ideas (including meaningless statistics).

    But how does that allow for the wisdom of experience? The metaphor I used is that of an empty bowl. The emptiness of the bowl is where the new creative ideas can be formed. The shape of the bowl is the wisdom of experience that enables these ideas to be grasped. Of course bowls come in various shapes and sizes. Metaphorically, that allows for differences in age and life experience.

  • Good stuff, Rodger, The notion of “settled” really resonates with me.

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