Principle-first vs process-driven marketing

A new way to understand the type of marketer you're about to hire, and how you can predict their performance in advance.

Principle-first vs process-driven marketing

Think about all the marketers you've worked with over the past few years. They fall in to two broad categories. Categories I'm going to create for you now. Principle-first marketers, and process-driven marketers.

Principle-first (P1) marketers want to understand the first principles of the business they work in. They're interested in the company's mission, the CEO's vision for the business, and most importantly the business' reality. They need to understand why the business does what it does, and they need to know before they get to work. They typically excel in brand marketing.

Process-driven (P2) marketers want to know how to execute a marketing tactic. They're interested in the mechanics of the marketing function, things like the velocity of a lead through the sales/marketing funnel. They are performance marketers.

Both marketing types are necessary, and having both on your team is essential to a well-balanced marketing function. The relative dominance of their role in the marketing organization matters even more. Just don't get it wrong.

The Why, How and What of marketing

P1 marketers are storytellers. They're interested in the narrative we share with humanity. They understand that, you know, marketers communicate with humans. They're interested in the why because this is what fundamentally influences people's actions.

P2 marketers look for efficiencies, repeatable processes that enable the scaling of the marketing function. They're interested in the how.

Both types of marketers should at least understand your company's "what". You're likely familiar with Simon Sinek's TEDx talk about how great leaders inspire action. If not, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes out of your day: it might change your perspective on how to lead your company, manage your teams, or deliver your marketing.

The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.
— Simon Sinek

The type of marketer you need

The type of marketer you are and where you excel, and if you're an executive the type of marketer you should hire, matters a lot on your circumstance and present business context.

Being storytellers, P1 marketers need narrative. If the CEO is unable to provide a clear vision for why the business does what it does a principle-first marketer will struggle. In this environment a process-driven marketer will deliver more optimal results (especially in under-resourced marketing teams). They're less interested in why things need to be done than simply getting them done.

I do believe this is problematic in 2020. Much of what makes a business successful today requires a careful balance between brand marketing and performance marketing. Silicon Valley companies are unhealthily skewed toward the latter, and it shows.

On the other had, if the CEO can paint a clear picture of the why, a principle-first marketer will build a narrative after which she can determine how to do what needs to be done to achieve the company's goals. Process (how) without purpose (why) doesn't make sense to these people.

So where's the risk in the wrong hire?

A good P1 marketing leader will have an understanding of the what, how and why of their work. An experienced one will be able to do "all the things" and will understand the brand/performance mix. These people—and I haven't met a lot of them in Silicon Valley—are your ideal marketing lead. Their first hires will be P2 types, guaranteed.

In my experience, P2 types in leadership roles present a challenge. They're more interested in metrics than people. They're more concerned about hitting performance targets (e.g. MQLs or funnel velocity), than the fact that behind the UUID they're looking at is actually a human. And in marketing that's a significant long-term risk. It's also why we see a lot of insipid, uninspiring marketing in Silicon Valley. Performance over brand.

Because P2 marketers tend to deal with absolutes rather than principles, there seems to be a tendency for them to want (or need) to be right. Things seem to be very binary. Principles-first marketers seem to be more interested in the best idea winning. This is perhaps more a reflection of how I operate, than anything else:

The Best Idea Wins!

Which type of marketer are you? Understanding this will certainly make your work day a lot more enjoyable. It's also likely you see a little of each, because this like most other things isn't binary. There's a spectrum, but in my experience marketers tend to lean one way or the other.

If you're a process-driven executive, understand that you do need to hire a principle-first marketing lead. Understand that she will think very differently to you. She'll approach problems from a completely different perspective. It's your responsibility as a leader to understand her (not the other way around). Together you'll inevitably build something great. To do this you must give her the resources she needs to build a well-balanced team. Process with principles.

This is an evolving idea. If you'd like to explore this more, send me a note on Twitter or LinkedIn.