The Value of Context and Judgment for a Marketing Audit

Written on 30 May 2021

I joined ReferralCandy as a Senior Marketing Manager three weeks ago. My first project, given by the CEO, was to do a marketing audit and suggest changes to the team.

I like this as the first project. As a newcomer, I have the advantage of having a fresh perspective. I can also more easily question how things are done and not be bogged down by the past.

You should note that my situation is unique. ReferralCandy is a 50+ people startup with a four-person marketing team that did not have a marketing leader for about two years. The exact things I did might not apply to your situation. But the principles should.

First, understand how things are done

The last thing most people want from a newcomer is the newcomer telling them what to do without getting context first.

I have been on the receiving end, and it's frustrating. I was told to do the opposite of what has been working well for us and to do the exact thing that had failed. The annoying part is less about being told what to do because I am always open to trying ideas.

It is more about being told what to do by someone who has not tried to understand how things have been done. If the person had made the effort to understand the context, we could discuss either how to make things even better or how to adjust a project so that it will not fail like the last time.

After those experiences, I made sure I get as much context as possible before making suggestions.

(But even then, I slipped up a few times. Big thanks to my patient team!)

Then make my own judgment

Just because things have been done a certain way does not mean they have to stay the same. When my experiences tell me something could work, I try to understand why it has not been done or why it failed previously and, together with the team, figure out how to make it work.

For example, I believe it's important to have our own distribution assets but the team had not invested much. I discovered their previous goal-setting framework made them focus too much on immediate signups and they could not justify building an email list or social following. We are making some changes so that we invest in building our own distribution assets.

The key for me is to balance what I think will work with what they know did not work. Without changing how we think about goals, it would never make sense to work on our distribution assets, even if I think it's important.

(When I am making a judgment but feel like an imposter, I tell myself this: I'm hired because the company values my experiences and thinks I can help them get to the next stage. So don't discount my own experiences.)

4-step marketing audit

1. Talk to as many people as possible: I started with the people closest to our marketing, which is the marketing team. Then I spoke with the co-founders, who have been managing the marketing team, and the leads of other teams (i.e. design, engineering, and customer success). Finally, I chatted with designers, customer success managers, and engineers. It's like concentric circles with the marketing team in the middle and people we work with in the outer circles.

My questions were very specific at first: What have we tried and failed? What do you think we should try? What do you think the marketing strategy is (even if it isn't explicitly stated)? Then they became more generic: How do you think the marketing team can be better? How can we help your team?

2. Understand the strongest marketing channel and the supporting channels: Most companies have one key marketing channel. For ReferralCandy, it's content marketing. People told me about it during the chats, and it showed up in the data too. So that's the first area I dug into. I asked questions about our content system, looked at our analytics, and analyzed the performance of our recent blog posts.

I also learned from the team that we had not invested much in adjacent channels and we should. That is when I discovered we have a tiny email list and social following.

3. Write up my three suggestions: I had many suggestions and ideas. But I know sharing everything will not work. I needed to summarize them to three to five points and prioritize them.

When Bob Iger was campaigning to be Disney's CEO, he had many ideas for the company. A political consultant and brand manager advised him to keep it to just three. The three strategic priorities guided the company throughout his 15-year tenure.

Priorities are the few things that you're going to spend a lot of time and a lot of capital on. Not only do you undermine their significance by having too many, but nobody is going to remember them all.

4. Talk to the marketing team again: Finally, I had one-on-one conversations with each teammate in the marketing team. My suggestions will impact their roles and responsibilities, and I wanted to make sure we discuss all that. At this stage, I uncovered more context that I had not known. If I had simply gone ahead with my suggestions, it would not have felt great. Fortunately, we were able to discuss these in great detail and find a good way forward. (I'm grateful for their graciousness!)

My proposed marketing strategy

I was hesitant to share this but, oh well, here it is.

After auditing our marketing, I picked the following three strategic priorities:

  1. Double down on content
  2. Build up our distribution engine
  3. Start exploring product marketing
My proposed marketing strategy

I probably can't ask people to not copy it. But you should know that (1) this is my educated bet on what will work for us and (2) what works for us might not work for you and you might find even better ideas for your own company.

If you are interested in chatting strategies, shoot me an email. I'll be happy to discuss ideas. There's a lot for me to learn.