The #1 Skill All Brand Marketers Need to Get to the Next Level of Their Careers

The incomparable Frances Frei, one of my favorite professors at Harvard Business School, taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned about developing people. And that’s not even what she was there to teach. It was actually a class in Analytics, a two-week program HBS requires for non-business undergrads that’s sort of a business boot camp before school starts.

We were thrown into the deep end of the case method HBS is so famous for, trying to figure out for ourselves how we would handle complex business situations we had never seen. Someone asked why HBS teaches things like accounting and finance through the case method and not a more traditional model, to which Frances replied, “Because the case method roughs up students to make them sticky for the learning.” Sticky for the learning… at that time I didn’t know what that meant, but it ended up becoming the foundation for how I’ve developed people for the last 20 years.

HBS Classroom during the Marketing Innovation Conference

What does it mean to be sticky for the learning?

Being sticky for the learning means that your brain has been sufficiently primed prior to the learning so that you can take in, absorb and understand the lesson when it is being taught. When sitting in a lecture and hearing something for the first time, it’s easy for something to go in one ear and out the other. However, when you’ve had a chance to think about a situation and consider how you would handle it on your own, regardless of whether you are right or wrong, you will be ready to learn when you get to class. Discussing your ideas with others — your study group, your class — deepens the learning even further.

If you’re a junior or mid-career brand marketer…

I believe being sticky for the learning is the #1 skill junior and mid-career brand marketers need to get to the next level of their careers. Speaking from experience as a former CMO, I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to have someone who reports to me come into my office and dump a problem in my lap without any thoughts on how to fix it. Yes, I could most liekly figure out the best approach myself, however that’s not going to help you get to the next level. While my role is to grow the business, I’m also here to develop you.

To get to the next level, you need to act like you are already there and that includes solving problems that come your way. NEVER go to your boss with a problem without also having a plan. Think through the problem and develop your recommendation on what you think we should do about it. I don’t care if it’s the right recommendation. I don’t care if I agree with the recommendation. I don’t even care if it’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard. What I care about is that you’ve taken the time to think through the problem and attempt to create a solution. We’ll work together to make sure it’s the right one. Only now you’ll be sticky for the learning and you will gain experience you will never forget.

It is said that in the corporate world 70% of learning is through on the job experience and another 20% is through interactions with coworkers. By being sticky for the learning, you will get so much more out of that combined 90% of your time than if you just had your boss tell you what to do.

If you’re a senior-level brand marketer….

As a manager, it’s on you to give your team the chance to think things through on their own before giving them the answer. Give them a chance to absorb everything you have to teach them, which will help them reach their full potential. If anyone on your team comes to you with a problem, resist the urge to tell them how to solve it and instead say, “What do YOU think we should do?”

But maybe people development isn’t your thing, and that’s ok! At Bamboo Branding, we believe brand development and people development go hand in hand. By popular demand, we’ve started personalized professional development programs for mid-career brand marketers (typically Brand Managers, Sr. Brand Managers, and Brand Directors). This is the perfect way for your team to learn many essential skills like leading through influence & managing without a title and how to collaborate with cross functional partners to advance ideas. You’ll unlock the potential of your top talent while also freeing up your time to focus on growing the business.

Frances has had thousands of students over the course of her illustrious career (incidentally, she also recently published an amazing book called Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You. Definitely worth checking out.) and likely doesn’t even remember sharing her insight on people development with us that day. But I owe a thank you to her. As a brand marketer, I may have forgotten the finer details of some accounting principles, but I got a career’s worth of value from her lesson on how to learn and how to teach.

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Jeni Golomb

Founder & Managing Director

www.bamboo-branding.com

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Jeni Golomb

Former CMO on a mission to help businesses realize “bamboo fast” growth by creating strong brands and developing talent. Founder Bamboo Branding. Harvard MBA.