Updated: Jun 19, 2019
Not all jobs in marketing are the same. Industries tend to treat marketing roles quite differently. For example, it’s well known that in CPG, the CEOs largely come from the marketing function (often called brand management). And so marketers are trained to be general managers who view marketing as a way to engineer profitable growth.
They have enterprise leadership roles and learn how to create, build, and drive a business (and the consequences that come from having P&L ownership). However, in tech, the CEOs largely come from the engineering or product side of the house, and so marketing has historically played a more support-oriented, less central role (see here).
As examples, Google CEO Sundar Pichai got his undergrad degree in matallurgical engineering and at one point worked in engineering at Applied Materials before joining Google. Facebook's Zuckerberg began developing software in middle school and was known as a programming prodigy. And Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has degrees in electrical engineering and an M.S. in computer science.
The variance in the role (i.e., what marketers do and how important that work is to the firm) occurs across all industries (e.g., telecom, financial services, hospitality, retail, industrial, etc.) with some treating marketing as a central, strategic function and others treating marketing as a staff, supporting function. The consequence is significant. What marketers learn, what roles they are prepared to take later in life, and ultimately, the type of impact they can make (e.g., lead innovation decisions or sell innovation somebody else has created) is largely determined by the type of marketing that they learn. And this is impacted by firm and industry choice.
While firms vary (some tech / CPG companies consider marketing more / less important than other firms), taking a marketing position in tech generally prepares you for a different career path.
This difference is something that marketers rarely understand. For example, I talked with a gentleman who worked in brand management and then jumped to tech. He was quite surprised by three differences: 1) his job in tech was much narrower (focused on selling / commercialization without as much engagement with other functions), 2) in tech, marketing was no longer the "leading" function as they were a support function to the product engineers, and 3) in tech, he felt that the function wasn't as respected. He elaborated on this last element at length. He indicated that it is hard to fully appreciate the distinction between working for the leading/driving function in a firm and not. This difference clearly impacted his satisfaction in the tech role. When I asked him if, knowing what he now knew, he'd have jumped to tech when he did, he said "no".
Today, more and more marketers are interested in tech and so I turned to Fjuri CEO Thom Gruhler, former CMO of Microsoft Windows, for insight. Specifically, I wanted to better understand the companies in tech that do a better job of preparing marketers to become CEOs, and the questions that marketers can ask to identify if the opportunity will be a good fit. Below is his insight.
Kimberly Whitler: How would you describe the difference in marketing roles within tech?
Thom Gruhler: Most tech companies in the world today are engineering-driven. However, some, like Oracle, are sales-driven and others are marketing-driven. If you work for an engineering-driven company, too often what you’ll find is that marketing and sales aren’t tightly integrated, or they get involved long after the product or service has been designed.
Marketers can be successful in all three types of cultures (engineering-led, sales-led or marketing-led), but it’s important to understand how the center of gravity at a tech company may impact your role or future roles as you work to build your career.
For example, there are some CEOs who don’t want marketing to do anything other than to drive leads or to deliver marketing communications. If your goal is to become a GM or a broad-based (i.e., enterprise-wide) marketer, then this type of a role may feel frustrating. So it’s important that you look for roles and projects over time that build your experience.
Another key for marketers who aspire to lead or become CEO is to carve out time to contribute to broader strategy. If you want to be able to influence pricing, work with engineering on the next set of products, or impact the future direction the business should take, then you have to find a way to build the expertise and relationships across organization to get into those conversations.
If marketing isn’t viewed as a critical strategic function at your company, when you go to pitch ideas, leadership may ignore you. What’s worse, they may come back and blame you for not driving growth. So it’s critical to understand whether marketing really matters at a company before you take the job. Within tech, there are a lot of firms where it doesn’t matter.
Whitler: In your experience, what tech companies do a better job with developing general management marketers versus those who don’t, and why?
Gruhler: The best tech companies today bring marketing and engineering together, making sure there is a substantial amount of coordination between how software, products or services are created, marketed and sold. Microsoft is an example of a company that does this well, and puts a lot of belief and confidence in their marketing department.
With Google, that’s absolutely not the case – all of the power and importance lies with the engineering team. Marketing is only there to provide sales support and outbound marketing. At Apple, marketing is primarily a creative/communications role, while the product design work is in the hands of the engineering team.
The industry is changing and evolving, but for marketers interested in learning how to be strategic leaders, many companies in tech aren’t great options. You will be a better prepared marketer going to CPG, and then going into tech. By the way, you will also have credibility and experience that the born-and-bred tech marketers don’t have. Marketers who come into tech from CPG tend to be more respected.
Whitler: What questions should individuals ask to determine whether marketing will be a P&L, enterprise-critical function or not?
Gruhler: There are a number of questions marketing professionals and students need to consider:
1. Where does product marketing sit inside the company and what role does the function play relative to product management? Do key parts of product marketing function report up through R&D organization?
2. Ideally you want to have product management sitting inside marketing - to help drive strategy and marketing for the full portfolio of products, future roadmap, customer segmentation and-value prop.
3. Where does business planning and strategy sit (if separate from product management)? Does it sit in the finance organization or in the marketing organization?
4. What does the day to day job look like? What type of experience will you build in the role and what are the pros / cons of that role versus another path you could take?
5. What role does marketing at the company play in impacting the customer experience?
While Gruhler's perspective may be disheartening to some interested in tech, it has been consistent with a number of interviews and off-the-record conversations I've had (see below for more insight). I would also add that there is variance within industries. While CPG has historically had a reputation for developing enterprise-wide P&L leaders, there are some firms that are more respected than others and so you are more heavily recruited when you come from the blue chips within each industry. The respect is associated with the perceived quality of the training and coaching that different firms provide, with some viewed as having better (worse) training.