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Taking the helm of a brand-new department, an interview with ICEYE CMO Marita Markkula

Taking the helm of a brand-new department, an interview with ICEYE CMO Marita Markkula

Joining a newly created role in a senior team is often most daunting in startups facing scale. It’s a recognition that the company has grown up, that its previous efforts are no longer befitting of the business as it is now, or is about to be. Your challenge is then how to take your new team to the next level and how to succeed, particularly if you’re moving to a new industry and have a bag of tricks to learn.

Having joined ICEYE, a technology firm that provides access to timely and reliable satellite imagery and solutions, back in March of this year, we sat down with Marita Markkula to share her ideas and advice on this subject.

You’re not going to know everything – and that’s ok

ICEYE CMO Marita Markkula

With ICEYE, the Earth observation industry was all new to me, as was the case in all the previous companies I've joined. I've always enjoyed scaling commercially new technologies and that means you’re not necessarily going to be the expert in the thing everyone else knows lots about. It can be quite daunting, but the important thing to remember is that you don’t need to be the know-it-all. I might not be the Earth observation expert but 99.9% of people in ICEYE are the world's best at that. I bring other skills to the table.

You’re being hired as a subject matter expert, in my case, on how to scale commercial functions and escalate the roles that corporate branding, marketing, and communication play in achieving that. So firstly, just trust that while you don’t hold expertise in this particular industry, you will learn it when you listen to it. When you listen to learn, you naturally lean in and start to build bridges.

Build a strong network across the business

Throughout my career, success has always boiled down to the people. As, it should be said, so do all the failures, as well as the ups and the downs. It’s people who create the product, it's people who sell and market that product, it's also people who actually buy my product.

First and foremost, build a strong collaborative relationship with the business owners. Start establishing allies within the company, and look outside your remit for cross-functional rapport and joint objectives. In marketing, I’ve always worked closely with sales. Not just for the actual sale, but with marketing positioned as a strategic function close to sales, as an equal business partner, from which you can build a joint commercial strategy.

Similarly, I always try to build a strong alignment with the product team. I want to be aware and learn as much as I can about those amazing technologies and capabilities the company has, and more so, how can we use them as proof points in our narrative and build a distinctive and impactful storyline.

You also need to be absolutely obsessed with understanding the customer. The primary function of marketing is to ensure that the customers’ voice is heard and addressed in everything we do.

Build a truly diverse team

We should never trivialise the need for hardcore competencies on substance and experience, but I'm also a believer in building teams that are truly diverse. And when I say diverse, I mean the entirety of what that term represents. It’s about having different skills, backgrounds, and a balanced mix of seniority levels. For example, somebody who may be fresh out of university could bring in new ways of interacting in digital and social media. Conversely, you also need the more senior members who understand how to build a digital funnel, an end-to-end customer experience, and the strategy behind it. Building diverse teams, and then also really nailing that ‘how’ part, is something that I cannot emphasise enough, is crucial in any growth company.

Measure your success

Recap: listen first and trust your own experience. Build a network, work side-by-side with them, and use them as a sounding board to build objectives for what you owe to, and expect from each other. From here, it's about building a plan: what are we doing, to whom, how are we doing it, and what type of talent or skills do we need in order to make that plan come to life.

The other piece of advice I’d give anyone starting out in any newly created role is to measure your success from day one. Of course, trust your gut as well, but verify it with data and make a conscious effort to build analytical, data-driven competencies across the team. For marketing, this becomes especially valuable, as it can no longer be seen as an area of subjective opinions and old-fashioned ‘big ideas’.

Bring it all together

Last but certainly not least, don't be afraid to utilise the full potential of the joint brainpower around you. At ICEYE we organised a marketing hackathon – we called it Macathon, in which we brought in the product managers, solutions, analytics, and software teams to work with us side-by-side in developing new digital concepts. It was magical; every single participant added incredible value, resulting in the creation of something truly novel for the benefit of the whole business.

To me, our Macathon represents what the best marketing and the best teams in general already know: nobody works in an isolated bubble. By leveraging the whole team's unique competencies, the previously unthought-of has the potential to become the action plan of tomorrow.

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