20-Minute Leaders

“You want to fail, but you want to fail forward and not put all your eggs too much in that gut basket”

Tara Robertson joins Michael Matias for a discussion about all the ways marketing can be data-driven and human-focused.

CTech 14:4509.05.21
For Tara Robertson, CMO at Teamwork, marketing is very data driven, but it is also human focused. She says often people don’t spend enough time collecting qualitative data from customers and prospects. It is important to remember there is always a person buying, whether you are selling B2B or B2C. The psychology of why people buy has always been fascinating to Robertson and is one reason she was drawn to marketing after getting her undergrad degree in communications. She recalls that being helpful has been a lifelong passion, and helping companies grow with marketing has propelled her career. Robertson advises marketers to discuss expectations before taking a job and to spend a lot of time communicating the strategy afterward. Don’t go in to a company expecting to change everything, she warns. You need to connect with their ways and build from there to find success.



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Did you always know that your passion was marketing and growth?


No. For me, what was always a passion was being helpful, finding ways to work with people that can help them grow, finding ways to figure out what makes people want to buy. The first time I took a marketing class was when that light bulb went off. My undergrad degree was in communications, but I loved it so much that brought me to immediately going to get my master’s in integrative marketing communications. The passion for communications, for being helpful, for figuring out why people buy was something that was in my DNA.


Tell me about the mind-set of the marketer.


It’s really all about understanding who is the person buying. It’s about taking me out of the equation and thinking about who is on the other side. Marketing should be about creating value, not about creating demand. Yes, demand is important: if you don’t have demand, you’re not doing a good job. But if you’re not creating value first, then your demand isn’t going to be as successful. There’s a B2B and B2C world, but it’s really neither of those. It’s a human to human approach, and there’s always someone buying on the other end. It’s about understanding the pain they’re having and then building valuable solutions, content, or experiences for them.


 Tara Robertson, CMO at Teamwork. Photo: PR Tara Robertson, CMO at Teamwork. Photo: PR


How do you determine the priority? How do you determine the strategy this company needs to employ?


It starts with the data. The data should always align to what is quantitative and qualitative. You’ve got your quantitative insights into what are people doing and what are the things that are driving the most impact. Then there’s the qualitative, which is the part that often people will not spend enough time in: just talking to your customers and prospects and knowing the why. You’ve got your what, you also need to know your why, and then when those things are partnered together, you can actually start to draw patterns and draw conclusions. If you don’t have good insights, great data, and a great pattern for spending time with your customers or users, you probably aren’t going to be prioritizing the most important things.


Does it exist in the marketing flow where sometimes you’re sitting there like, “Wow, I’m not sure how to begin thinking about this persona or marketing this product”?


I would say that happens all the time. You have to take a step back and find whatever energy or space is the right space for you to just brainstorm and have that time where you think. You have to have a certain amount of time where you’re just sitting and honestly staring at a wall. When you’re early on in your career or an entrepreneur, for example, there are so many things you have to think through, and so when you get that time to think, you can start to map those things out and start to figure out how do you fill in the gaps because you don’t know what you don’t know.


I’m guessing part of the dissonance is that marketing sounds like something very creative. At the same time, you’re saying you’re also data driven. How does that work?


That is a hard thing to answer. Marketing can be very scientific, very data focused, and on the other end, it can be very creative. The marriage of the two together is not easy, and it is something that I don’t think anybody’s really truly mastered on their own. You can figure out teams and figure out balance and strengths and the way to make sure people are challenging each other where you can marry the creativity with the data and insights to get to that true beautiful, magical initiative that you want to run. The way I’ve always essentially executed against that is I will start on the data side, start in the area you know you’ve got the numbers you need to hit, and as you prove that out, that’s when you can start to get a little bigger with those gut intuitions. Because you want to fail, but you want to fail forward and not put all your eggs too much in that gut basket.


How does the relationship with the leadership work when they might not even understand marketing, but the marketing is sort of guiding where the company is headed?


You hear a lot of marketing leaders say if your founder or CEO doesn’t believe in marketing, it’s not worth it. To a degree, that could be right, but I think it’s also our job to make sure you bring people along for the journey and you properly communicate your plan. It is really dependent on the kind of founder that you're working with and the leadership team. Part of what is really important is from the beginning, you set those expectations on “this is what I plan to do; this is where I want to address this; is this the right fit for how we’ll work together?” The second part is just overcommunicate, especially in those early days, so that you have that opportunity to allow people to poke holes and to ask questions as they’re learning. If you’re joining any of these stages either as a marketer or looking for your first marketer, before they join the team, you have those conversations on: Can we work together? Is this something that we are investing in? Can we build the right trust? Everything starts with trust.


I assume the marketing that goes outside of the company reflects the culture internally. When you join somewhere new, how do you try to move the needle within an organization?


I think that really depends on the stage you’re entering into. I’ve been really lucky to work for some incredible brands and founders. But at the same time, within each one, there was a unique nuance. I think it’s really important that you enter into these experiences and businesses with your experience but also with an open mind-set that you have to understand the uniqueness of this business and brand. Your job is to elevate the brand, especially when you’re joining something that’s more growth stage. It’s not necessarily coming in and trying to change anything. It’s recognizing that you have a perception, but you also have to build off of their way of doing things and find that right connection.


I understand marketing has completely transformed from even 20 years ago. Do you expect marketing to continue changing at the same rate?


Absolutely. When I was getting my master’s degree in integrative marketing, there was no digital marketing or inbound marketing. That wasn't 20 years ago! It’s crazy even if you think about how much has changed this past year. Businesses are changing, and marketing absolutely needs to evolve, and that’s part of why I’ve always just been constantly reading, learning, networking, and challenging my teams to do the same because if you continue to just think, “This is the way of doing things,” then you're already behind. There are all these emerging channels and opportunities to connect and grab on to the digital ecosystem and landscape that it’s just critical as marketers specifically; we’re on the frontlines.


Your favorite subject in school, K-12.


I really loved art and science.


One of your role models.


My husband is my role model. He’s a stay at home dad for our kids, and honestly, no matter how hard I work and no matter what I’ve got on my plate, his job is just so much harder.


Three words you would choose to describe yourself.


Positive, lively, and helpful.


Michael Matias. Photo: Courtesy Michael Matias. Photo: Courtesy


Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, while working as a software engineer at Hippo Insurance and as a Senior Associate at J-Ventures. Matias previously served as an officer in the 8200 unit. 20MinuteLeaders is a tech entrepreneurship interview series featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.


Contributing editors: Michael Matias, Amanda Katz