Marketing Teams at E-commerce Brands

A strong marketing team is built to rotate the flywheel of growth. A few common themes of great marketing teams:

  1. They have 3 core focuses: demand generation, acquisition, retention.
  2. They avoid “Head of” titles.
  3. They outsource certain components and maintain control of core competencies. 

For early stage companies, this flywheel starts with hiring a VP of Marketing. This hire is typically made when you enter stage 3 of growth.

A great VP of Marketing is responsible for P&L to drive top line revenue. They help set the direction and vision for the brand with founders. They ensure the framework for scale is in-place; inclusive of measurement, creative, acquisition strategy, CRO, etc. 

This person is senior enough to drive company-wide strategy, build and own department level OKRs yet entrepreneurial enough to roll up their sleeves to manage agencies and even advise on campaigns if needed. Over time, they hire key players on the team as the company graduates into further stages of growth. 

Great brands also avoid “head of” titles. These titles are vague and do not scale as the organization grows. Brands often give away this title to compensate for salary delta during early stages and up-level otherwise middle managers. When you need a more senior VP, this person will be confused and will likely leave. 

Marketing at DTC and e-commerce brands is as dynamic as it gets. It requires a senior leader to drive strategy – someone who’s been there, done that. And a key attribute is their ability to be nimble and agile… while remaining calm under pressure. 

A great leader should be able to strategize at 30,000 feet in the air with C-suite and board members while executing on ground zero. 

At venture backed companies, most founders prefer to save the CMO title. A terrific VP of Marketing can take a company from $0-50M in revenue without requesting a title change. Investors and board members may even request the CEO to save the title until the business graduates to a more mature stage. This is less common at bootstrapped businesses.

VP of Marketing is the modern day CMO at a venture-backed company.

As brands grow beyond $20M+ in revenue, VP of Marketing will start to build their team out across creative, analytics, retention and more. Some individual contributors will be hired at earlier part of stage 3 and some later.

For context, here’s how a high stage 4 growth org can look like.

Everyone on their team will have clear KPIs that are measured every 7-30-90 days. Everyone in the company should have a number that they own. They work together to rotate the flywheel. 

Agencies play a central role at e-commerce companies. Great brands are often built by agency support. Having domain experts with a reputable portfolio can provide an edge. Brands often outsource acquisition and creative efforts. They lock-arms and work with agency partners on acquisition strategy. Retention is typically an in-house capability. 

Cautionary tale: too often startups expect VP of Marketing to be strategic, creative, analytical, understand offline and online marketing nuances, manage e-commerce tech stack, and more. The work sometimes follows without the hiring support. Don’t put too much on their plate. A good marketing leader is highly capable, but will struggle to outperform if brands do this. 

Great brands are omnichannel from the start; they often activate with DTC and later have offline components across retail and wholesale. The marketing team you assemble should be able to tackle traditional channels and other non-digital activations.

The notes about marketing leadership captured here are generally applicable to most consumer brands, but not all. There are certain exceptions.

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Faheem, you should write a book! I have grappled with this info for several years and this is the most clear and to the point details I’ve read. Thank you for the value.

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