Marketers to Watch: Highlights and Key Themes from Our Interview Series

August 31, 2021

16 marketers to watch

Earlier this year, we compiled a list highlighting 16 brilliant minds for marketers to follow on LinkedIn. During this pivotal and unpredictable time in the business world, visionary and impactful thought leadership has never been more valuable. These folks bring it, and so we wanted to bring them to your attention.

It's an eclectic collection featuring a wide assortment of perspectives, backgrounds, and specializations. People on the list range from up-and-comers to veteran pros and executives. Some of the inclusions stretch the traditional definition of a "marketer." But all are creators who have built tremendous personal brands and achieved admirable success as professionals (albeit while following radically different paths).

Luckily for us, they're also generous in sharing their wisdom and insights, bringing value to the social media feeds they grace on a regular basis. Several were subsequently kind enough to participate in extended Q&A sessions with LinkedIn, allowing us to take our audience on a deeper journey into their views, thoughts, and experiences.

Below, you can find links to each of the 11 interviews we conducted over the course of the summer. Keep reading for some common threads and overarching themes that emerged during our conversations with these influential marketing minds.

Marketers to Watch: The Interviews

DE&I Doesn't Happen On Its Own

Diversity, equity and inclusion has emerged as a central focus for businesses far and wide. Many of the individuals on our list come from underrepresented minorities, and have encountered some of the barriers preventing a more inclusive norm. As such, their voices are especially crucial for leaders assessing or planning their own initiatives. In our conversations, one thing was repeatedly emphasized: DE&I doesn’t happen on its own. Lip service or a passive approach won’t move the needle. Companies must be intentional, genuine, and proactive in their efforts.

  • Zontee Hou: "I think that when people say, 'Oh, we're colorblind,’ or you know, ‘We're equal opportunity.’ That's not as proactive as saying that ‘We're color sensitive, and we're consistently looking to at least build relationships with people who are strong candidates from diverse backgrounds.’ If you're proactively looking for those things, then I think that you are going to find people like that." 
  • Naomi Assaraf: "I don’t think there are easy answers to these issues, but I think one small thing we can all do is to elevate and advocate for underrepresented groups whenever and however we can." 
  • Michael King: "It’s not just about hiring a Chief Diversity Officer to check the box. It’s about doing the real and uncomfortable work. It’s also about visibility ... The major key is that we all need to proactively make space for underrepresented groups especially when it’s not the easy thing to do."

Real Connection Is Quintessential

Another strong point of emphasis among these marketers was the importance of connecting with audiences and customers more deeply. This might mean prioritizing quality over quantity with your content and interaction. Making a real impact, striking a personal chord, or developing an emotional impact with just a few people can be far more valuable than blasting broad messages.

  • Shana Bull: "I think many social media marketers are realizing that creating daily content is exhausting, and that the true beauty in the social media space is the connections you make with your community." 
  • Sangram Vajre: "If you're a CMO, and you don't have the top 10 customers’ cell phone numbers, and consider them as friends, texting and emailing and following up on a regular basis, then you're not doing your job." 
  • Dennis Shiao: "We want to help clients retain the attention of their audience. That starts with compelling content that connects with the audience and makes them stay for a while." 

Overcoming Fear as a Barrier

Courage is crucial in modern marketing. You can never break new ground if you’re timid about broaching uncharted territory, or paralyzed by fear of failure. Bravely overcoming or even embracing fear was a recurrent theme in our interviews: 

  • A. Lee Judge: "The fact that media can be created faster and in real-time scares many companies with thoughts of losing control. That fear slows them down to a point where they can easily be silenced by the competition." 
  • Rakia Reynolds: "Leaders need to be vulnerable, be open to hearing what employees are experiencing, and make a true commitment to addressing these issues in the workplace. These same changemakers should move past their reluctance to take action, bypassing the fear of public reaction, stockholder inquiries, and being called out on social media."

Technology Reshapes Experiences

Innovations in technology are driving the profession of marketing forward. As prominent thought leaders, the marketers we spoke with tend to keep a close eye on emerging martech trends. Most of their excitement seems to be centered on how new tools and tech can improve customer experiences in profound ways.

  • Michael King: "I think we’re going to get to a point where language models can generate perfectly optimized content and then it’s going to put the focus back on personalization and creativity. That’s pretty exciting to me because it perfectly speaks to how we approach things from a right- and left-brained perspective." 
  • Rakia Reynolds: “The tools [social media] platforms continue to offer users and the fact that so much content can be ‘user’ generated is always fascinating to watch and experience. Engaging conversations with calls to action have increased exponentially which, in turn, has sparked more creativity and sharing.”

Authenticity and Empathy Lead the Way

Since the start of 2020, our society has collectively navigated  tremendous challenges and turmoil. We asked how marketers and brands should be operating through these turbulent times. Empathy and authenticity were frequently cited as areas to focus.

  • Gail Moody-Byrd: "It’s been a crucial year to get communications right given the multiple crises of COVID-19, race relations and economic uncertainty. It’s been essential to strike the right balance between selling and empathy."
  • A. Lee Judge: "There is no excuse today for any company not to have content that speaks to the voice of the company’s personality. I don’t mean over-polished, over-scripted, commercials or HR reels either. I mean day-to-day examples of individuals (executive and front line) sharing their experience and expertise that gives prospects a feeling that they know the company.”
  • Juntae DeLane: "The bottom line is, your digital brand is more than that one platform where you have a strong presence. Or that one main value you tout about your organization. It’s the collection of touch points that represent your brand. All touch points must be consistent and authentic." 
  • Michael King: "Brands need to default to communicating with sincerity and humanity when they want messages to resonate. Brands need to take the position of active listening first and building an ongoing dialogue with people of color rather than treating us as a special interest." 

Advice for Upcoming Marketing Professionals

Be visible. Be vocal. Be yourself. Set goals and follow through. These are among the pieces of guidance that our mix of experienced marketers had to share with young professionals in the field who are looking to carve out a successful career.

  • Sangram Vajre: "You’ve got to be part of that community that is going to help surround you with that knowledge so you can learn and put yourself out there. Because if you're not visible, you're not going to get promoted. " 
  • Michael King: “They don’t have to build the next app or big media company, but I’d recommend that they start a blog or an e-commerce site. Set a goal related to SEO like sell X-amount of t-shirts or rank for a specific keyword and figure out what it takes to make it happen. You’ll learn far more that way and it will actually stick.”

How These Marketers Use LinkedIn

Naturally, all of these pros are fairly active on LinkedIn, which is why we recommend following them. But how are they using the platform specifically to advance their personal brands and careers? 

  • Zontee Hou: "Not only am I publishing content that I think would be valuable to my community, but I'm also looking to share resources that help develop students. I'm often sharing job listings, for instance, within the digital marketing space, because I think it's important for me to be providing those resources to other people who are up-and-coming."
  • Rakia Reynolds: "As a marketing professional, I utilize different platforms but LinkedIn is where I can readily communicate with my peers and clients, share content I think is useful to others, and be notified when someone in my network does something noteworthy. As a thought leader, my connections to others have grown considerably since LinkedIn offers a formal method for others to reach out to me." 
  • Dennis Shiao: "On my personal LinkedIn profile, I like to check the feed each day and engage with connections’ on their new jobs, promotions and related happenings. I also like to share content to my profile — usually events that are coming up or content that I find interesting." 
  • Luvvie Ajayi Jones: “On LinkedIn, people who log on are looking to find something that is useful to their professional lives. So my approach on LinkedIn is to show, in a professional context, how the work that I do is useful to somebody coming to this platform to learn.”

We greatly appreciate all of these remarkable marketing influencers taking the time to share thoughts with our audience, and hope you found their perspectives as valuable as we did. Follow them all on LinkedIn to stay plugged into their insights, and subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Blog to uncover more voices and viewpoints.