By Megan Pruce
Vice President, Strategic Marketing
Vanderbilt Health


It’s the constant battle marketers face: we can contribute much more to our organizations than the typical “make it pretty” ask of our talents, yet we often find ourselves brought in so late that the window where our skills can have the most impact is already closed. This is particularly prevalent in established businesses, where siloes resemble skyscrapers and internal politics make maintaining the status quo more appealing than pursuing the kind of cross-functional collaboration that results in innovation and insights.

As any strong marketer can attest, leaving a marketer’s perspective out until things are “fully baked” often requires unwinding work that has already taken a large investment of resources to put together, only to then put in more time and effort to rebuild it for a chance at market success. With innovation and competitive forces heating up in nearly every industry, this kind of “stop and start” approach – which often results in wasted resources and lost time –  is no longer acceptable to growth-minded businesses.

In order to maintain their margin and market position, established companies are now embracing and prioritizing rapid-fire development, intense competitive intelligence, multi-pronged growth plans, and cross-industry alliances in hopes of future innovation and sales. Market forces now require that businesses that want to be relevant far into the future reinvent themselves and channel start-up energy to succeed.

Looking at the business climate around us, it’s no wonder we’re in the midst of a transformational time for marketers and communicators. When an organization realizes that repositioning their products and services is a strategic imperative, it is the ideal climate for repositioning how marketing can contribute to the current needs and future-state of the business.

Here are some ways marketing leaders can put their sail up into these winds of change, and help their executives realize the total value of their marketing investment:

Invest your time upfront

If there was ever a time to remove yourself from your day-to-day “to do” list, it is now. Give yourself protected time to work on the business, not just in the business. Spend time reflecting on the areas of highest need that your team can deliver on, regardless of whether you’ve been involved in these initiatives previously. Articulate a clear vision and some aspirational brand attributes for your team, and start a library of key terms and definitions so you and your team can all talk the same talk.

Take your goal setting process a step further than just stating how your team will support the business’ needs. Set change-related goals for your team that reflect the changes you’re trying to affect in your organization. For example, one goal my team and I have this year is to cultivate better partners for our marketing efforts in key parts of the organization.

Ready your resources

One of my mentors always says, “I can do anything, but I can’t do everything.” This is an important point to remember when you are working on a brand reset for your team inside your company. Organizing a purposeful, proactive movement like this requires thinking several steps ahead, a focus on removing barriers, a fine-tuned sense for unseen/unrealized connections, and an understanding of the key relationships to build and foster.

This type of work is not easily outsourced, so identify the right partners who can help with much of the bread-and-butter marketing work your team is occupied with. If adding to your team is an option, consider adding communications talent. Folks who are PR minded are very valuable in helping design internal PR campaigns to influence audiences.

Build your business case

No executive wants to hear that one of their teams is being underutilized and their investment isn’t being fully realized because of internal barriers. Be sure leaders know what they are leaving on the table by marginalizing marketing, or only seeing them as the “make it pretty” team. Paint a picture of the leading indicators that your team could contribute to Finance and other teams. Demonstrate that you’re not afraid to get operational, and show the value of including marketing at key points all along the way for success. There is no need for executives to wait until something is “fully baked” to bring in the marketing team. When it is transitioning from a liquid to a gelatin-like state, that is the best time to get marketing involved, if they haven’t been already.

Know your value proposition and sell it

Channel your agency days or approaches you have seen from your trusted agency partners, and market your team’s marketing capabilities. You can use many of the concepts and strategies you would normally use in market-facing work, like targeted content and influencer strategies, and apply them to this change management initiative inside your organization.

Be careful not to look like you are selling, because it is still true that people don’t like to feel sold to. Empower your team to identify ways to deliver more value both for customers as well as the business itself. Through this, you will reposition your department from the folks who are called in to “make it pretty” to strategic advisors who can be counted on to “make it memorable, make it measurable, and make it more likely to succeed.” Marketers are natural leaders and/or contributors to your company’s voice-of-the-customer program and customer experience efforts, to name a few.

Lead by example

The most important thing to remember during a time of change is the bigger spotlight that is placed on you as a leader. If you want your team to be elevated and seen as strategic advisors and business consultants first and foremost, then conduct yourself in that spirit with the executives you work with. Spend time with your team to not only answer their questions but also allow them to see the brand attributes you’re striving for in action. Inspire them to leverage their talents, skills and experience for their best and highest use. Those who are not capable or willing to contribute at this higher level will hear your message much clearer when they see you as their leader doing the same as what was asked of them, just in different circles. It is your job to paint a clear picture for them of the expectations of their work and remove barriers that are making this challenging work even harder.

You must also be the cheerleader for this change, celebrating momentum and progress along the way. For large scale change, the full effects will take some time to see, so be sure to recognize wins and victories over inertia. Demonstrate the power of resilience for your team by staying positive.

Finally, as you head into planning mode, remember the opportunities that transformational times can bring. Embrace it as a time to build new relationships, develop or showcase your team’s skills and champion a new use for marketing in the organization. This will help ensure the Marketing team’s voice and fingerprint are part of the long-term decisions being made for the next phase of your organization.

Megan Pruce leads a start-up team in the Strategic Marketing Department that provides strategy and support for Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s new models of care and new revenue sources. She and her team are strategic partners to Vanderbilt and its B2B entities, including the Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network, providing market insights, integrated marketing and communications counsel, and strategic planning for the lifecycle of their businesses.

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