The three modalities of marketers (and a proposal on how they could improve hiring)

Culture Modality

What I’m calling the Culture Modality is most often associated with marketers working in brand. Marketers in this modality arrive at their audience understanding through a cultural lens. They know what’s trending in the industry and the wider news. They know what resonates or “lands”. They are incredibly good at getting attention.

  • Caryn Marooney led tech communications at Facebook and her First Round Review article on PR advice crafting stories that make success feel inevitable just rocked my world.
  • Amrita Gurney is a tough one because I’ve learned things from her across all of these modalities. But given that she just published a podcast on brand marketing in B2B, I’m going to put her here.
  • Kim Darling is the HubSpot leader who grew the INBOUND event into the experience that it is today. I can’t imagine a marketer in a different modality creating the kind of expansive cultural event that Kim built.

Customer Modality

What I’m calling the Market Research Modality is most often associated with product marketing. Marketers in this modality arrive at their audience understanding through research — customer research, competitive research, feedback from sales & customer success teams. They tend to lean toward qualitative research (not exclusively!), and the best are relentless about matching product capabilities & messaging to market needs & understanding.

  • April Dunford wrote one of the marketing must-reads, Obviously Awesome. She is one of the most pragmatic marketers out there, and I am a huge fan.
  • Dave Kellog is another must-read. I’ve spent days of my life reading through his blog archives and it is is just a wealth of good stuff on matching product messaging to market needs.
  • Bogomil Balkansky is ex-VMWare and a partner at Sequoia regularly referred to as “the greatest product marketer in Silicon Valley. He hasn’t published his PMM handbook publicly (yet that I know of), but someone should convince him to because it’s one of the best summaries of this modality that I’ve ever come across.

Data Modality

What I’m calling the Behavioral Data Modality is most often associated with demand-gen, growth, or marketing ops. Marketers in this modality arrive at their audience understanding by looking not at what people say, but what they do. They are highly quantitative and care about conversion rates, product usage, campaign performance. The best are relentless about measurement.

  • Gioncarlo Lionetti, aka GC spent time at Confluent, Atlasssian, and Dropbox. Google his name + podcast and you’ll find some of the most valuable listening out there.
  • Jamie Barnett is a must-follow on Medium. She’s another one who flexes easily across all of these modalities, but I’m putting her here because her writing on managing pipeline and demand-gen have been enormously valuable to me personally.
  • Kamil Rextin runs 42/ and an associated Substack. His thoughts are often expansive and don’t lend themselves to immediate implementation. Because of this, I find his thinking to be a a particularly useful balance to the incessant hype of marketing “thought leadership”.

Closing thoughts…

This framework has sparked some new thoughts for me, I hope it does for you as well. For example:

  • I bet it would be relatively easy to identify a few questions that help suss out the natural modality of early career marketers (something that I have found to be consistently challenging because without some years of experience, it’s hard to know our own preferred modality)
  • For a first marketing hire, I would bet harder on Customer Modality the higher your ACV is. The lower your ACV, the more you likely you’re pursuing a self-service motion and would benefit from a Data Modality. Then again, you could go the Superhuman track and raise a ton of money to buy yourself time, pursue premium positioning, and then you might want a Culture modality to make a big splash at launch.
  • My guess is that you’ll find fewer marketing leaders in the Culture modality in early stage B2B startups, but by the time a company is thinking about IPO, that modality starts to matter a whole lot more — at that stage, you’re speaking to a wider audience than customers alone.

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