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3 actionable insights with... Waze CMO Erin Clift

Waze’s chief marketing officer Erin Cliff

The Drum’s 3 Actionable Insights series asks industry leaders to share their thoughts about the actions our readers should take immediately. As people are now gleefully on the move, both in their personal and professional lives, Waze chief marketer Erin Clift offers some key directions for how marketers can reach their desired destinations.

1. Create career filters

From a career perspective, everyone’s thinking about things a little bit differently today. For me it’s always been about creating filters, not planning for a career. I’ve never had a plan, it’s not like, ‘gosh, I hope in 10 years I’m going to get here.’ But I create filters of what’s important – what do I want to build upon that matters to me, or what type of company do I want to work for?

Think about the filters that matter to you. The filters might be that I need to work at a company that is grounded in a real purpose. I need to work in a company where I’m surrounded by people who inspire me to be better, or who make me laugh, or who can be a part of my social assistance. Those filters allow you to unlock new opportunities, and shift your focus from ‘When do I get the next promotion?’, ‘What’s my next role?’ and ‘What’s my next job?’ to ‘What is my constant way to learn and grow?’

People in a lot of places feel confined by their role, their function or their team. I always encourage people to think about their filters and then think about the other functions or departments within your organization. You could volunteer 10% of your time to learn something new and try something out where you work on a presentation or apply your insights to a product strategy in a different area.

Once you have those filters, it becomes easier for you to boldly reach out to people, whether it’s within your organization or outside of your organization, to say, ‘I’m really interested in learning this.’ Or, ‘I really love companies like yours because they’re really baked in purpose. I would love to have an informal conversation about your career and what you did to get there.’ It can also be, ‘I’d love to get your feedback on things that I’m doing.’ I say all the time that if you ask for something clear and specific, even if you’re blindly reaching out to someone, you’re likely to get a yes. Even if you get 10 noes, it’s that one yes that really matters.

Having those filters makes those outreaches much more focused. As someone who responds to a lot of these, I do so when there’s clarity in how I can help someone.

2. Build for and with the community that loves your brand and products

Waze is built on a community of more than 140 million monthly users – hundreds of thousands of map editors, beta testers and people who help localize our product, our partner ecosystem, cities and advertisers. We are trying to stay hyper-focused on the communities and cities that we aim to service. We think about that a lot. Everything that we do, we first tap into the community to get their reactions, to solicit their ideas, to listen to their feedback and listen to their frustrations. We listen to them. We use their feedback to influence decisions. When we think of problems we’re trying to solve, oftentimes we turn to the community because they can help solve them better than we can alone. That relationship is really important.

In terms of building with the community, we had a really unique opportunity over the past year. As a brand and a marketer during Covid, it was helping people get to different places. We were able to tap into that community in a very fast way. We knew what people needed right now was to know where to get tested. There’s so much food insecurity, they needed to find food banks. Then there’s all the restrictions, and they needed to figure out where they can actually do drive-thrus or pick up things. And because we build with our community as a regular part of our business, in the moment they came together so quickly, and we were really able to help in meaningful, relevant way during a really tough moment.

3. Practice empathy every day

It’s about listening to and learning about what motivates the people around me and really trying to understand the team’s strengths, areas of development and ambitions. I’m listening to their stories, learning about their lives at work, and what they’re willing to share outside of work, and understanding where they’re coming from. The more opportunity for employees to feel supported, the more runway they’ll have to tackle challenges.

Practicing empathy as an employee also takes on a different context when you think about working cross functionally as the rule, not the exception. Marketing, in a lot of organizations, still tends to function in a silo. You have really have to try and embrace the opportunity to listen and learn and understand the critical functions of where you work.

So whether that’s product or engineering or business development or sales or whatever part of your organization – work to understand those roles. Are there challenges? What are the things that lead to misaligned goals or miscommunication, especially when you’re geographically dispersed? When you invest the time to really build those relationships and that knowledge base, the role of marketing and our deep understanding of consumers, customers and market insights can really be more valuable in the organization, which is what we all really want.

As a marketer, we talk a lot about putting ourselves in the shoes of our consumers or partners and sharing their experiences that they’re having and asking for feedback. We always ground our brand, our marketing and our values in the motivations and behaviors of our users – not in our business outcomes. You need to create the right foundation so that you can continue to collect those feedback loops. This year, obviously, has offered a ton of valuable lessons in needing to practice empathy. It’s a soft skill that people need to practice and practice often.

You can check out more of our 3 Actionable Insights series here, and don’t forget to sign up for The Drum’s daily US email here.

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