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Marketing Exec Susan Avarde On Brands, Business And Professional Success

Marketing Exec Susan Avarde On Brands, Business And Professional Success

Senior marketing executive Susan Avarde builds brands by creating “Future Fit” ideas. As the Head of Global Brand at Citigroup, she was the driving force behind the iconic Citi brand, now a beacon in over 100 countries. 

Susan's campaigns have won over 200 awards in major markets worldwide. She has been invited to the White House twice and is a TED, Forbes Women and Fortune Most Powerful Women participant. Fast Company and The Women’s Venture Fund have recognized her work. She was recently honored as one of "Gotham’s Visionary Leaders" by the Women's City Club of New York.

In her recent Twitter chat with Ellevate members, Susan talked about what makes a great leader, the importance of storytelling in business and what you should focus on if you're mid-career at a large company.

How did you define your professional mission?

By understanding the positive impact I can have based on expertise & values. My mission is “Growth through creativity”

What has been your biggest career challenge to date?

Moving from the sales focus of an entrepreneur to embodying the inspiring “we” of corporate leadership.

What do you think is the most important trait in being a leader?

Courage. Lead boldly.

What is the most important strengths that women bring to business?

Effectiveness, time management, budget utilization, decision-making and then action.

Who has been the biggest influence in your career to date?

The British creative genius Michael Wolff. He showed me how to demand the best without becoming a bully.

What are your thoughts on mentorship and reverse mentorship?

Mentors are great sounding boards. Becoming a mentor leverages your experience. But better still - be a sponsor.

How did mentorship affect your career?

Mentors helped me stay on the right path. But I learned the most by becoming a sponsor.

What should mid-career professionals in a big corporation focus on?

Get a senior sponsor and lead a big project with visible positive impact.

Do you think women have an advantage over men in Marketing?

Not necessarily. Depends on talent and product. If we are the primary consumer probably, yes.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

Don’t be too patient.

How important is storytelling to building a brand?

An authentic story connects us to a brand. It is the secret sauce.

How important is brainstorming with your team in the creative process?

The best ideas come from anywhere, brainstorm with your team, consultants, agencies and customers.

What is compelling about a career in marketing?

It is very rewarding to improve lives (and the topline) through the power of great marketing.

Do you have a role model?

No not really, I admire many leaders. Of course, the challenge is to be an original. You have to lead yourself.

What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

I’d say focus on outcome, not input. Outcome is the part that makes the difference.

What would you say was the biggest “learning moment” in your life?

I learned that if you fight for something, a great idea or a principle, it inspires others.

How do you turn your passion into a business?

The sheer force of positive energy will pay off eventually, in some form or other. The law of attraction works every time.

What advice do you have about creating a personal brand?

Stand for something that sets you apart. But give yourself time (years) to evolve. Be authentic. No rush.

Who inspires you?

Writers like Richard Bach. He wrote about the traits of leadership in his book Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

How do you stay resilient when things get tough?

Keep showing up with solutions. As Billie Jean King said, “Pressure is a privilege and champions adjust.”

What is the future of marketing or role of branding in businesses?

More CMOs will become CEOs. Great marketers have vision and you can’t lead change from the sidelines.

What’s holding some businesses back?

Some get stuck measuring out-of-date concepts. This leads to data serving as a rear view mirror.

What is the most important thing about building a good team?

Get each individual involved in choosing new team members. We all need skin in the game to bond and work together.

What is your favorite thing about being a business leader?

Innovating and shaping growth with others.

What motivates you daily?

Sentiments such as, “What can I make happen today?”

What has your work experience taught you about life?

Lots. Things like there are no bad people, just unfortunate circumstances.

What is the most important thing to remember when building a marketing strategy?

Utilize Big Data. Know where the trends are taking the market. Then plan how to make your product/service uniquely stand out.

What lessons can you give to entrepreneurs in their brand building and marketing strategy?

Start with a memorable name (which is also an idea), then connect everything to that core philosophy as you grow.

Would you recommend moving out of the country for work? What are the upsides/downsides of moving?

Moving countries speeds your career growth, but can slow down your personal life! Nonetheless I recommend it. It is fun.

Does advertising work?

Depends on product. But generally yes, especially for luxury brands who advocate beliefs (more specific than values.)

What do you think are the best ad campaigns?

GoldieBlox “Princess Machine,” Benetton’s “United Colors,” and Got Milk- all broke through.

In fashion retailing, does marketing make a difference?

Yes. Marketing and IT have driven new business models. Tailoring the purchase experience has come of age.

Do employees have a role in brand building?

Yes, especially via social media their voices are acting as a multiple, building stronger internal business cultures.

Can countries reposition their brand?

Yes. It's a subtle, multi-century long process! New Zealand may adopt new symbols. They are indicators of change, like the Google update. 


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