The Individual Contributor Marketing Director

Why hiring an Individual Contributor Marketing Director delivers growth & profit.

The Individual Contributor Marketing Director
Photo by Collab Media / Unsplash

Meta Platforms recently fired 20,000 employees and like all great capitalists founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared that the leftovers would pick up the slack. This includes mangers, who now actually have to do things.

Bloomberg summed it up nicely when they wrote, Meta Asks Many Managers to Get Back to Making Things or Leave. Ciao.

In the process Zuckerberg discovered individual contributors, coincidentally a role I've been doing on and off for the better part of two decades.

In a career touched by pure luck and good  fortune, I collaborated with truly amazing people at companies like Cisco and Microsoft, Universal Music and Warner/Chappell in the music business, and HarperCollins in publishing. Much of that time was spent as an "individual contributor." In other words, I did (and still do) almost all the things.

An Individual Contributor Marketing Director (ICMD) is a unique beast. No two of us are the same, yet we all share many characteristics. If you're a startup founder and can get your hands on one, do it and don't let go. They'll grow with you, grow you with them, and not rest until they've cracked the code to your company's growth.

So I asked ChatGPT to explain the role of an IMCD. Results were not good. So I spent 30-minutes training ChatGPT about the role. To paraphrase Kevin Spacey's character, Sam Rogers, in Margin Call,* "I put in a few things that ChatGPT seemed to be missing, and this is what came out."

* Underrated movie. Should have won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar (at least).


In a rapidly evolving business landscape, entrepreneurial startups face unique challenges in establishing themselves and growing in the market. A critical aspect of their success lies in effective marketing, which can be the driving force behind building brand awareness, customer acquisition, and retention. Among the key players in a startup's marketing strategy is the Individual Contributor Marketing Director (ICMD). This article explores the value of an ICMD in a startup, how they contribute to the overall business, and why acquiring and retaining such talent is essential for long-term success.

Marketing Week columnist, marketing professor, and creator of the Mini MBA in Marketing Mark Ritson was once asked why he liked marketing. He replied that it was a great way to make money (for companies). Like Mark, I believe marketing is the most efficient and cost effecitve way to grow businesses. It's just not the cheapest.

The Role of an Individual Contributor Marketing Director

In a startup environment, an ICMD is a versatile and multi-faceted professional who is responsible for executing a wide array of strategic and tactical marketing activities. According to marketing expert Professor Mark Ritson, a marketing function should encompass "market orientation, research, segmentation, targeting, positioning, setting marketing objectives, and the 4Ps of Product, Price, Promotion, and Place" (Ritson, 2018). As the driving force behind marketing strategy, an ICMD is expected to possess a comprehensive understanding of these principles, as well as the ability to manage third-party partnerships, devise budgets, and oversee media purchases across various platforms.

So far so good. I'm an alumni of Prof. Ritson's Mini MBA in Marketing and can confirm that the 10-point framework explained above is advocated by Ritston. The only issue I have with it is that startups tend to muddle their way through research during product development, and so the order of the stages isn't quite applicable. That said, all stages must be addresses as the enterprise matures.

Marketing Strategy and Corporate Strategy

In the words of renowned strategy expert Roger Martin, "corporate strategy and marketing are effectively the same discipline" (Martin, 2018). An ICMD must be adept at defining the marketing strategy based on the corporate strategy, ensuring that both aspects are aligned to drive the company's objectives.

I am a huge Roger Martin fan and believe the framework he shared in "Playing to Win" is a competitive advantage for startups that adopt it. A few lines in this post is completely inadequate. Read his work and change the trajectory of your marketing career (or startup).

Mental and Physical Availability

Understanding fundamental marketing principles like mental and physical availability is crucial for an ICMD. As described by Byron Sharp and Jenni Romaniuk in How Brands Grow, mental availability refers to the ease with which customers recall a brand, while physical availability relates to the accessibility of a brand's products or services (Sharp & Romaniuk, 2016). An ICMD is responsible for increasing both aspects to improve the chances of customers choosing their brand over competitors.

HBG is a seminal marketing work I don't know a competent marketer who has not read one or both of HBR 1 and 2. One of the tings I love about it is how it triggers marketing academics. As with my comment about Roger Martin, ChatGPT's summary is inadequate. Read HBR.

Long and Short of It: 60/40 Rule

Another important marketing principle for an ICMD to grasp is the "Long and the Short of It" 60/40 rule proposed by Les Binet and Peter Field. This rule suggests that marketing investments should be allocated with 60% going toward long-term brand building and 40% toward short-term sales activation (Binet & Field, 2013). By striking the right balance, an ICMD can ensure sustainable growth for the startup.

Along with "How Brands Grow," Binet & Field's work is fundamental to explaining how marketing works. It's core to how I approach growing companies.

Any marketeer who hasn't read "The Long & the Short of It" should stop right now and set themself straight. I realize that sounds like a conceit, but if you don't understand this principle you'll never win.

Managing Tools and Platforms

An ICMD is expected to be proficient in managing various marketing tools and platforms, such as Google Analytics, marketing automation platforms like HubSpot or Marketo, and customer relationship management (CRM) tools like Salesforce. Proficiency in these tools is essential for monitoring the performance of marketing efforts, optimizing campaigns, and ensuring seamless customer interactions.

This is now more commonly known as RevOps. And yeah, your IMCD will have enough understanding of the sales/marketing process to understand how to design these systems. Ninja ..!

Creating Engaging Content

As part of their role, an ICMD must be skilled in creating both long-form content, such as blogs and whitepapers, and short-form content, like social media posts. These forms of content help in building brand authority, driving customer engagement, and increasing brand visibility.

ChatGPT has a way to go in explaining this. I'll write a piece about the intersection of media relations and content marketing in an integrated marketing communications strategy sometime soon.

Design Skills

In addition to content creation, an ICMD should be adept at using professional design tools like Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator. These skills are vital for creating visually appealing materials such as brochures, social media images, and other marketing collateral.

In a prior career I typeset books. Hundreds of pages, dealing with widows, orphans, and rivers. I'm rather good getting around InDesign. Not so much Photoshop or Illustrator, although I'll create your 20*10 expo booth backdrop in a heartbeat.

Event Management

An ICMD is responsible for selecting, managing, and executing both internal and external events, which includes handling logistics, promotion, and booth attendance. This aspect of their role is crucial for creating brand visibility, networking, and generating leads.

Like content marketing, I'll share my event marketing and logistics experience, and what it takes to execute a successful, lead generating event another time. A pro tip though: events are, dollar for dollar, an exceptional value market research activity.

Budgeting and Marketing Mix Modeling

Creating detailed yet effective marketing budgets is another critical responsibility of an ICMD. They must be well-versed in principles like Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM) and econometrics, which help in understanding the impact of marketing investments on sales and optimizing the allocation of resources across various channels (Kite, 2019). This allows an ICMD to make informed decisions on where to invest for maximum ROI.

Understanding Time Lag Effects

An ICMD should also understand and be able to explain the time lag effects of marketing investments by channel. As Grace Kite at Magic Numbers explains, "Marketing has a long-term effect, and investments made today can influence customer behavior in the future" (Kite, 2019). By considering these time lag effects, an ICMD can strategically allocate resources to channels that will yield the best results over time.

For more about MMM, following Mark Stouse on LinkedIn and Grace Kite at Magic Numbers.

Media Buying

An ICMD is responsible for media buying across all platforms, including indoor, outdoor, digital, print, television, and radio. This involves selecting the right channels, negotiating deals, and optimizing media spend to reach the target audience effectively.

I usually engage an agency. Also, any agency buying programmatic gets fired. Programmatic is a fraud. Agency folks reading this, you've been warned.

Acquiring and Retaining ICMD Talent

Given the numerous strategic and tactical marketing capabilities that an ICMD is expected to possess, acquiring and retaining such talent is crucial for a startup's success. Karen Nelson Field at Amplified Intelligence suggests, "To attract top marketing talent, startups should offer a challenging and rewarding work environment, opportunities for growth and development, and a strong company culture" (Field, 2021).

Tom Roach at Jellyfish Global highlights the importance of employee retention, stating, "Retaining exceptional ICMDs is not only about competitive compensation packages but also about fostering a culture that values their contributions, encourages innovation, and supports professional development" (Roach, 2021).

Okay, this one is a massive ChatGPT #fail.

The contributions to marketing by Karen Nelson Field and Tom Roach are rather more significant than, um, hiring.

Read Tom Roach's thoughts, ideas, and inspirations on Marketing Week.

Read KNF's game changing insights about attention on WARC. Her presentation with Peter Field and Orlando Wood at Cannes titled, "The Triple Jeopardy of Attention," reset my career. If you can't find the video, System1 did a re-run. Best 60-minutes of your marketing career.


In summary, the role of an Individual Contributor Marketing Director in a startup is multifaceted and indispensable. Their expertise in various marketing principles and tools, along with their ability to strategize, execute, and optimize marketing efforts, significantly contributes to the startup's growth and success.

Acquiring and retaining top talent in this position is vital for long-term success, as they are the driving force behind building brand awareness, customer acquisition, and retention. By recognizing the value of an ICMD and investing in their growth, startups can ensure that their marketing efforts yield the desired results and help propel the business forward.

As I noted before: if you get your hands on one, don't let go.