When she became chief marketing officer of Ford in 2020, Suzy Deering had no idea how much her experience as chief marketing officer of eBay or as executive director of media, engagements, brand and Verizon integrations would help it market automobiles.
As she recently explained on my Electric Ladies podcast, “What I didn’t realize was that my experience at Verizon, the parallels to my coming into the wireless industry, which was in its infancy. early stages (with ) what I’m seeing right now with electrification is amazing the parallels are amazing.… So when I look back I think (it was) the biggest thing that prepared me without I realize that.” She pointed out that the parallels with “eBay… (are also) fascinating, because “when Covid hit, the whole industry went into e-commerce.”
Especially with the launch of Ford’s groundbreaking, all-electric F-150 Lightning truck, she said her previous work had, quite unexpectedly, totally prepared her to be Ford’s CMO today. “Now we’re looking at the real technology-like adoption curves, because you’re looking at this first round (of Lightning customers), who are early adopters, they’re traditional early adopters… They have higher income… We get a base broader in terms of diversity and ethnicity, and they are younger…. So when you look at it through this early adoption model, it changes everything.
Here are seven nuggets of career advice from my conversation with Deering:
1. Be ready to “start from scratch” in a completely new industry: As Deering’s experience shows, this does not mean starting at the bottom, but rather applying your current experience to a new industry. “Go learn something from scratch and get really, really dirty. Like, step in there and understand from a rambling point of view. When you do, she said to prepare yourself for the normal pitfalls of trying new things: “You’re going to fail and you’re going to learn things and then some things will work, some things won’t.” ”
2. Listen differently: What often accompanies applying your skills in a new industry is humility because you know you have a lot to learn. This humility can serve you well, Deering said, because it can make you listen more carefully, listen differently, and listen to different people and perspectives.
3. Call a “modernization” meeting: One of the things Deering did when she started at Ford was call a weekly meeting to solicit new ideas and challenge assumptions. “I started this meeting every Friday that was called marketing modernization, but, in reality, it was almost like an open-mic type meeting, because I had teams coming in and they could pick the topics. (we would talk about.) I would say, ‘What do you think we’re not doing that we should be doing? Or what’s stopping you from making some of the changes that we need to make? This is my favorite meeting of the week… It’s not just my team, it’s several different people across the organization.
4. Be uncomfortable: Deering acknowledged that it can be uncomfortable to walk away from an industry where you have deep knowledge, but she said that’s where the growth is. “If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re not growing. And if you don’t grow, you don’t learn. If you don’t learn, you don’t progress. She also acknowledged that “you’re going to have to be a little vulnerable.”
5. Throw away the playbook: When launching a new product, don’t just use the existing playbook. New start. “With the F-150, we threw everything away. We threw out the whole playbook, and you can imagine the whole F-150 playbook is amazing, because it’s the number one truck in America, right? So it’s a pretty bold statement to say, we’re going to throw this away and we’re going to start over and we’re going to look at these different audiences and we’re going to try different things than what we once had. And it worked. In fact, 76% of F-150 Lightning customers are different from traditional F-150 buyers, Deering said.
Linda Zhang, Ford’s F-150 Lightning chief engineer, recalled how different Lightning buyers are, and how unexpected, when I interviewed her during the 2022 conference keynote. MOVE – Mobility Re-Imagined last week.
6. “Don’t Chase the Title”: As career advice, Deering insisted, “Don’t chase the title. I think part of the challenge is that very often we think the title is what we’re supposed to be looking for. And the reality is, that has to be the job you want to do.
seven. Identify the real leaders (who probably don’t have the titles): She added that we can learn from all kinds of people at all levels of the organization. “Learn from the leaders around you, and leaders aren’t necessarily people with titles…they are leaders at all levels.”
As we finished our conversation, she added a pearl: “What really are our secret powers as women that have been deleted many times are empathy, vulnerability, sharing, all those things that you might have thought like “you can’t do that”.
Instead, she says, embracing who you authentically are will take you “further, because you’re going to be hungry.” You’re not going to let someone steal your mindset… (and) you’re going to seek out all those cues that encourage and fuel you.