I interviewed Elisabeth Charles and was intrigued by her career. She has worked at Victoria’s Secret, Athleta, Petco, Old Navy, Rodan + Fields, and Taco Bell, among others. During the interview, it was interesting how she was able to weave a story that connected all of these experiences. Since I work with a number of marketers at every level of the organizational spectrum, I often get questions regarding the “right” next career move. People want to learn about different career paths and understand the “best” way. At the heart of a lot of the questioning is a desire to understand whether staying in a single industry is better than exploring different industries. I posed this question to Charles.
Kimberly A. Whitler: You’ve had a lot of terrific, blue chip company experiences. However, interestingly, they cut across a number of different industries. Did you find this beneficial as you progressed throughout your career?
Elisabeth Charles: I found that across my career, when you are a brand marketer, you are trying to create a vision for the brand and then determine your unique selling proposition. The skill of being able to develop a vision to create more value for more consumers (so that you grow your business) transcends all industries. The methodology, approach, thinking and skill is universally applicable. However, it needs to be adapted to the specific business context. One thing that you can see about my career is that all of the companies are B2C, in highly competitive, crowded marketplaces. Many are market leaders who are being attacked by big and small competitors. The job of figuring out how to win in this context is what is transferrable and universal. Many people think that you need to deeply know the industry, but what matters more than this is to have the skill to figure out how to generate growth—because you apply core principles.
Whitler: Is there any advice or learning you’d have about navigating such a career?
Charles: One important thing I’ve learned is to make sure that I have the right people and the right capabilities around me. In many cases, even with strong brands, they haven’t fully exploited what makes the brand special or strong. They tend to rely too much on their functional benefits and not enough tapping into their emotional benefits. Many big companies are still getting their toes wet in social or they haven’t exploited CRM.
So, when I land at a company, I assess the tools, methods, people, and look for opportunities to quickly have an impact by taking advantage of low-hanging fruit. By company, there is a vast difference in the tools and processes. I try to quickly find untapped value in the business and unlock it to help drive the business. I’ve seen a lot of growth come from the basics: 1) what strengths do we have? 2) what do we need, and 3) how can we drive growth. Even in what appear to be well run companies – you’d be surprised there is always more that you can do to up your game to accelerate the business. It’s about a quick assessment, get a lay of the land, and move quickly on the things that will make the biggest difference.
Whitler: I run into a number of young professionals who would love to work in beauty. Any advice?
Charles: It’s more about your passion to make a difference, to add value, to be a creative thinker. The beauty business is an emotional business. It is about storytelling and creating excitement and belief in your products. You can do that without having a beauty background. But you would have to take what you have done and connect it to the beauty space—explain how it relates. I worked in the pet space and the lingerie space, both of which are emotional, and so I can link those experiences with what is needed in beauty.
If you want a crazy idea, go work at a beauty counter for a summer. My daughter worked in retail and the next summer, she was able to convert that into a job at Sephora headquarters. They loved that she had retail—direct consumer experience and knew how to sell to consumers. There are other clever ways you can both show how you belong and how passionate you are. My son wants to be in sportscasting. He started a blog a few years ago and writes about sports every week … he is demonstrating his commitment, time, and passion. At some point, this will benefit him in the future.
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