Michael Norris

CMO of Youtech

As the Chief Marketing Officer, Michael Norris leads the marketing team at Youtech, an Inc. 5000 recognized full-service marketing agency. Michael works to help clients (including Chick-fil-A and MillerCoors) reshape the way they market and connect with their audiences year-round. 

Michael also co-hosts a podcast, Youtalk, with the company’s CEO and Forbes’ 30 Under 30 winner, Wilbur You, to share marketing tips, best practices, and their personal business stories with others. With an audience consisting of Youtech clients, marketing & sales pros, and personal networks, the show aims to offer a real look inside the minds of industry professionals while stressing the importance of original research in marketing.

CMO COUNCIL: Tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are now.

NORRIS: The more I describe my path, the more I find it unique. Growing up, my mom and stepdad owned a marketing agency. Dinnertime conversations often covered client relationships, managing employees, selling, victories, and — maybe most importantly — failures. As much as it put me to sleep at the time, this laid a solid foundation that I would eventually fall back on. 

Fast forward about a decade, I graduated college and began working at my parents’ agency for a year. They took me under their wing and showed me the ropes (far beyond what a typical employee would be trained on). The wealth of knowledge and experience was great, but something was still missing. I didn’t want to live in their shadow my entire life. I wanted to build something of my own. That’s when I found Youtech.

I started at Youtech as the 10th employee. My original role was once again unique, as my CEO trusted me to run almost everything for one of our largest clients. I wrote content, performed SEO, posted and engaged on social media, ran Google and social advertisements, and performed all email marketing. In short, I was the engine that made it all go. But to be honest, I kind of sucked at it. It was the first time I truly dived deep into a lot of these channels, but the experience (without any channel experts to rely on) was huge for my personal development. If I was unsure, it was up to me to figure it out or it wouldn’t get done - putting the client at risk of leaving and potentially losing my job. I could either fail or succeed based on my own merit.

Thankfully, that client is still with Youtech today, 7 years later. The experience in managing the day-to-day of all these services catapulted me to a director-level position at Youtech. From there, I immersed myself in even more until eventually hitting VP and ultimately, CMO.

CMO COUNCIL: If you could describe your day-to-day at work in 3 words, what would they be?

NORRIS: Don’t bottleneck others.

CMO COUNCIL: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given? Or what career advice would you give to developing marketing leaders?

NORRIS: There are two types of employees. Some come in and expect to be told what to do, how to do it, when to do it, etc. They do as they’re told, and they don’t reach beyond this. They don’t go the extra mile. They count down the minutes on the clock until the end of the day and then they leave.

Other employees are different. They do everything they’re told to do but aren’t satisfied with just following instructions. They see opportunities and pounce on them. They see that there is a gray area nobody wants to take responsibility for and make it their own. They see that there’s a better way to do a particular task, so they draw it up and show their boss. They show passion, drive, and the will to always do better.

I think it’s easy to figure out which group will excel in the long-term.

CMO COUNCIL: What are some of the secrets to better collaboration with peers in the C-suite and lines of business?

NORRIS: When you’re speaking to people in positions of power, it’s important to remember that they are intelligent and proud of their ideas, staff, and responsibilities. When you approach them, remember that you’re all on the same team. While they may have their own set of goals, both of you ultimately share a larger responsibility to do right for everyone at your company. All employees want the business to grow. They want to do well. They want raises and job security. They want better for themselves - and they should! So, it’s up to the two of you to see this and set aside your own agenda to better things for everyone to the best of your ability.

CMO COUNCIL: How do you describe your leadership style?

NORRIS: I have my own vision for how everything should proceed but I manage a team for a reason. I believe we are only as strong as the sum of our parts. If I’m the only one with a vision, we’re not going to succeed. I encourage others to share their own visions and ideas. I’m a firm believer that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes, and I’ll never get down on someone for a failure.

CMO COUNCIL: What is your personal philosophy on marketing?

NORRIS: Just because you can’t measure it, doesn’t mean it isn’t working. Many people don’t understand the entire marketing funnel. They want conversions and conversions only. If it doesn’t show up on the dashboard, it doesn’t exist.

I get it. We all want sales and purchases as they lead directly to revenue, so of course they’re important. For small businesses with limited budgets, I especially understand this stance.

That said, if a marketing strategy could be built solely on conversion-focused lower-funnel tactics, then everyone would do it. Look at every big brand that has ever existed and tell me one who focused only on conversions and not on building their overall brand. These companies don’t exist. Eventually, the low-hanging fruit dries up and you can’t scale conversion-focused campaigns any further without incorporating more awareness or consideration tactics into your approach, and that’s okay.

CMO COUNCIL: What is a quote or saying you live by?

NORRIS: “The wisest man knows he knows nothing.” – Socrates

Before getting into it, I cheated a bit on this quote. Socrates is never quoted as saying exactly this, although a similar saying is attributed to him by Plato. It just doesn’t sound as good.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned in life is that it’s better to assume you don’t know the answer before prescribing a solution. I see executives make assumptions all too often, some of which are potentially leading to their company’s downfall. We don’t have the time to sift through every single little thing, but a lot of marketing is based on assumptions. For example, “Our customers like feature X the best, that’s why they choose to go with us.” That’s awesome if it’s true, but how do you know that for sure? Did someone else tell you that? When was the last time you asked customers why they chose you?

The less assumptions you make, the more rooted in logic your decisions become, and that’s a borderline superpower.

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