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Despite how some approach it, having influence is not about exerting power; it’s about impact. Influence is one of the most important leadership muscles marketers can build; however, leaders must build trust and credibility to get there. 

When it comes down to it, the ability to be influential is dependent on the relationships formed both in house and externally. But the sheer volume of stakeholders—and varying ways they work—make it challenging.

“It’s about trust over transaction at every single step. Trust is foundational.” 

Kjetil Njoten, Global Head of Creative, IMAX

This was a big topic amongst our Marketing Board groups this year, so, two groups, comprised of marketing leaders from brands like LEGO, Imax, Victoria’s Secret, Clorox, Bepensa Spirits, and Sephora, came together to share their challenges and perspectives on building influence for themselves and their teams. In this guide, you’ll find their actionable advice for leveraging influence in a way that doesn’t exert power or fear but leans on trust and credibility to fuel it. 

Here are the top insights and advice from 18+ marketing leaders:

Ways to Build Your Influence

Balance Curiosity with Decisiveness

  • Influence is not done through talking, it’s done through listening. Active listening is key while still remembering that you have an expertise and POV that is valuable. 
  • Have strong ideas, loosely held. You can share your POV without coming across like you have all the answers. Use direct questions to invite others to weigh in but do not let it get out of control. There’s a big difference between gathering input and swirling.

Heard on Visionaries Podcast: “As a leader, you want to take in everything and want everyone to feel empowered, but at the end of the day, you cannot confuse listening with consensus. You still have to call the ball and be comfortable making decisions based on your findings.”  

Julian Duncan, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, Houston Rockets

Invest in Growing Authentic Relationships

  • Initiate regular 1:1 conversations. Don’t underestimate the power of a regular 1:1 to connect and build rapport with counterparts and leaders outside of your day-to-day. This may be someone you’d never think would be crucial in your growth, and if you don’t invest in that connection, you may lose that point of influence. Remember, support can come from top, bottom, left and right.
  • Incorporate relationship-building efforts. Build opportunities to connect into your team’s quarterly/annual reviews to show how important it is to their growth and development.
  • Audit your existing team routines. See if you have at least one gathering or meeting per month solely focused on getting to know each other. If you don’t, build one in. Consider repurposing a standing meeting instead of “adding more” to the plate. 
  • Engage boots-on-the-ground. Influence isn’t solely built from the top down. It’s important to engage folks at your level and below in order to create a groundswell of support for your endeavors.

Advice from a Marketing Board Member: “Junior team members aren’t typically guided to hold 1:1 meetings with their counterparts, nor are they aware of the value of holding light-on-agenda and get-to-know-you conversations. Encouraging your team to have strong 1:1 partnerships at all levels over time pays dividends when projects hit rough spots.”

Parul Sharma, Associate Creative Director, Sephora

Exercise Your Personal Brand at Work  

  • Know yourself. Sometimes, we think we know who we are, our greatest values, what makes us smile, what drives us, etc., but most of the time, we don’t. Having a personal brand starts with deeply knowing who you are.
  • Change your lens. An easy way to express your personal brand at work is to view it through the lens of your principles, priorities, and values. It’s then a lot easier to demonstrate through your leadership style and relationships at work. 
  • Find others with similar interests. Reach beyond your immediate team to create deeper connections across functions with people who have similar values, principles, and priorities. By sharing more of who you are outside of your role, you can humanize yourself and foster genuine relationships that amplify your influence.

Heard on Visionaries Podcast: “The whole “code-switching” problem is real. If you scroll through my Instagram account, you can see the day I stopped code-switching. I wore wingtip Cole Haan shoes and khaki pants, and now it’s Jordans, jeans, T-shirts, and hoodies. When I started being my natural self, the best work in my career started to happen.” 

Walter T Geer III, Chief Experience Design Officer, VMLY&R

Embrace Failure and Your Blind Spots

  • Be in tune with your vulnerabilities. Having transparency in acknowledging your weaknesses, setbacks, and imperfect moments shows authenticity and ultimately builds credibility.
  • Communicate lessons learned. Highlight your commitment to growth, reinforcing your influence through your ability and openness to evolve. 
  • Set the tone for company culture. Modeling what it looks like to embrace failure, extract learnings, and have the courage to try again inspires the company to have the same mindset.

“Identify where you’re weak or lacking expertise and find folks in the organization who excel in that. Partnering and collaborating with them not only makes you stronger but helps build the relationship even more.”

Brad Hiranaga, Chief Brand Officer at Cotopaxi

Fix Process, Not Just Problems

  • Always be part of the solution. By uncovering and fixing the root of the problem vs. bailing out teams and putting out fires, you will build more trust in both your expertise and leadership.
  • Create clear frameworks. Leverage RACI and RAPID models whenever possible to ensure folks are heard while having clear roles for decision-making. 
  • Lean into challenges and feedback. Exercise honesty and receptiveness to challenges and feedback. By acknowledging and addressing these obstacles, you build trust within your team and create a culture of productive discourse.

Advice from a Marketing Board Member: “While it feels unnatural to ‘hope’ obstacles or curveballs will come your way, my advice is to expect they will happen, embrace the opportunity when they do, and lead teams through them with as much transparency and humility as possible. This builds their trust in you and might end up being the work you’re most proud of.”

Erin Albertson, Director, Brand, NerdWallet

Be Proactive

  • Advocate for yourself. Seek company support in your professional growth, requesting career and leadership coaching. This can open up opportunities for fellow leaders as well.
  • Don’t wait until you need something.  Make a habit of proactively reaching out to leaders, counterparts, and direct reports to connect instead of only when you need something from them.
  • Don’t underestimate the wealth of knowledge around you. You can learn a lot from internal resources and doing your research to learn more about counterparts, leaders, and other teams. Study organizational charts, strategic plans, and priorities to tailor your messaging effectively.

Advice from a Marketing Board Member: “Influence with authenticity and purpose drives the real essence of who you are. And being true to yourself is the most loving, admiring thing you can do for you.”

María José Vargas Coello, Head of Innovation at Bepensa Spirits

Seek Senior Mentorship and Sponsorship

  • Choose your mentor carefully. Find someone who adds value to you vs. does something for you. Be specific by identifying their superpowers and what you can learn from them, be accountable for feedback, and close the loop by sharing their impact. 
  • Find your champions. Seek senior or executive sponsorship and identify key partners who can champion your initiatives. Expertise breeds confidence – speak authoritatively about your rationale and decisions.
  • Be a Reverse Mentor. See what value you can add to your mentor/sponsor. This can help you gain confidence by influencing them in an area where you have expertise. Be explicit about this being a two-way street.

Ways to Build Your Team’s Influence

Build Empathy, Understanding, and Respect

  • Create a buddy system. Try pairing newer team members with more experienced ones to build empathy for other team members and cross-functions.
  • Mitigate tension between teams. Address distrust between teams by fostering understanding. Encourage teams to learn about each other’s goals and methods, creating a foundation for healthier conversations. Aim for alignment, understanding that compromise can often lead to achieving 80% of both teams’ goals within the confines of their respective objectives.
  • Build honest relationships. Cultivate honest and open relationships by prioritizing trust-building opportunities. Proactively seek to understand the goals of other teams, demonstrating respect for their objectives. 

Collaborate and Co-create 

  • As the “Responsible” (RACI) leader, create the sandbox. Offer up a framework or guided questions to get a diverse array of perspectives, fostering buy-in and collaboration.
  • Engage cross-functional teams in the concept stage. Early involvement is pivotal. It creates visibility into the creative process, gets different creative territories out on the table sooner to discuss and debate, builds engagement in shaping ideas together, and ultimately advocates bringing ideas to market across channels with more strength and conviction.
  • Give credit. Show direct connections between what input was taken and woven into the final solution when you present or credit the work.
  • Embrace different paths to the same end. Bring others in and be open-minded about a path that may be different than what you’re envisioning. You can help guide the path, but ultimately, being open to different means to an end will create less friction and build a more collaborative relationship in the long run.

Advice from a Marketing Board Member: “More often than not, you’ll find that you’re going after the same objectives as your counterparts. You just may have different ways of articulating it or getting there. Opening up the lines of communication helps build understanding and find common ground.”

Jennifer Berger, VP, Creative & Media, Zillow

Build Marketing’s Credibility

  • Advocate for your team’s work. In order to change marketing’s perception as merely a service to a strategic asset, do great work, socialize, and market about marketing internally. People will start to pay attention.
  • Remove the subjectivity. Lean into your role as ‘the voice of the consumer’ to bridge the gap between your audience and your partners, ensuring ideas are heard directly from the source, rather than solely from marketing. And when navigating feedback, back it up with consumer data and insights to inform the work. Ask the question, “Are we talking to ourselves here?”
  • Leverage outside-in perspectives. Go to conferences and leverage media sources (like MTM Forums and Insights), to build credibility to your team’s work and/or perspectives. 
  • Speak in terms of value to the business. The ability to translate your team’s work and effort into business drivers and outcomes is an invaluable skill. 

Heard on the Visionaries Podcast: “The key for me was figuring out how to package and vocalize what I see in culture from an economic standpoint. Once I packaged it in terms of value to the business, and top and bottom-line growth, the CMOs and CFOs started to perk up.”

Daniel Cherry III, SVP & GM at adidas

Get Alignment at the Leadership Level

  • Get clear about priorities. With many unique agendas, we need leadership alignment to rally around shared objectives vs. individual agendas. Before the brief level – seasonal or annual – what are the 1-2 things that cross-functionally are priorities? Use this as a criterion to prioritize the day-to-day. 
  • Determine what best in class looks like. Do an exercise with leadership to gain alignment on guiding principles and beliefs for the work your team is doing. Ask yourselves: “What does great creative look like? How does that look for our brand?”
  • Be intentional. Get to know your leadership by understanding what they care about, what drives them, what moves them, and what their goals are in their company and career.

Thank you to the following MTM Marketing Board participants who contributed to this guide on Investing in Talent: 

  • Annie Nguyen, Director, Loyalty Promotions, Sephora
  • Ashlinn Marron, Director, Marketing and Creative Operations, Instacart
  • Beth Hagey, AVP, Marketing & Brand, Victoria’s Secret
  • Dory Schrader, Director, Campaign Strategy and Operations, Autodesk
  • Erin Albertson, Director, Brand, NerdWallet
  • James Gregson, Creative Director, Brand and Product Marketing, the LEGO Group
  • Jennifer Berger, VP, Creative & Media, Zillow
  • Kelsey Speal, former Associate Director, Regional Marketing, First Republic Bank
  • Kjetil Njoten, Global Head of Creative, IMAX
  • Maria Alvarado, International Marketing and Communications Manager, Lutron Electronics
  • María José Vargas Coello, Head of Marketing Innovation, Bepensa Spirits 
  • Matt Stein, Head of Brand and Creative, Philo
  • Natalie Miles, Head of Marketing Technology and Personalization, Chime
  • Parul Sharma, Associate Creative Director, Sephora

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