Little Grey Cells meets Darain Faraz, international brand marketing director at LinkedIn, and learns how LinkedIn combines fabulous creative with local sensitivities when marketing the global platform and how his passion for excellence is flanked by his drive for diversity and inclusion.
What inspired you to pursue a career that embraces marketing?
Darain> I studied Media and Psychology at university, mainly because I didn't have the faintest idea what I wanted to do with my life at age 18 – so hedged my bets somewhat. During those heady uni days, I fell into some PR work when, with a friend, I set up a club night to support myself… turns out I was rather good at driving earned media coverage (not that I knew at the time that’s what I was doing). This inadvertently became my launchpad into the industry, from which I then bounced into a variety of agencies, and then senior communications roles (WWF, MySpace (remember them?!)) before arriving at LinkedIn in 2011. It was after five years looking after LinkedIn’s consumer communications that I was given a career-defining opportunity to broaden my remit to include our marketing efforts.
Pushing for greater diversity and inclusion is also a core focus and passion for me. Less than 11% of people in our marketing and media industry come from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background, and that’s why in tandem to my day job I set up not-for-profit ‘People Like Us
’ with my brother, Sheeraz Gulsher, to give diverse voices from across our industry the platform to shine.
It’s this ability and responsibility that we have as marketers to tell stories well, and to tell them from a wide cross section of society that really drives my passion for the industry.
What are the biggest challenges currently facing your marketing team?
Darain> The global economic downturn naturally presents a challenging time for all business functions – marketing included. We have to be mindful of people’s mindset, and the tangible role our platform and our community can play in their lives at this time.
And it’s not the same for all of our markets - India, for example, is experiencing the current volatility in a very different way to the way we are in Europe -- so we have to be conscious of local realities as we bring our global campaigns to our consumers.
For my counterparts on the B2B side – they’re working hard to support brands in how they can attract and retain the right sort of talent, and also how they can achieve marketing effectiveness to make the case for investment during these times.
Science vs Art: With scientific data-driven marketing at one end of the spectrum and genius creative ideas at the other - which side do you lean towards?
Darain> I don’t see this as a case of one or the other – marketing is a delicate dance between art and science. Data, insights, and research are foundational to building sound marketing strategies – they inform what audiences need our attention, and what message resonates with this audience.
However, at the heart of memorable and engaging marketing campaigns has to be a stonking piece of creative; our audiences are bombarded with messages all the time – we need to be respectful of their time and provide value as well as entertainment to earn their attention. This is just as true of B2B marketing as it is in B2C. Our recent survey of marketing leaders supports how pivotal creativity is to the future of B2B marketing, and is the number one skill that they believe marketers need in times of uncertainty.
The Metaverse: are you ‘in’, ‘out’ or ‘not sure’? And please tell us why.
Darain> Ha! Too early to say. But I’ve no doubt that we will start to see brands and marketers dabbling in the Metaverse – it has the potential to be a rich, exciting new playground for us all… But it’s all about striking a balance when it comes to new technology; staying focused on your long-term strategy whilst allowing your teams the space to experiment with new channels and tactics.
How do you adapt a business and marketing strategy to embrace the latest trends and keep ahead of the competition?
Darain> This is really a case of mindset. As marketers, we need to make sure we’re acting like sponges - soaking up information, inspiration and different perspectives. But it’s equally important to remember that we’re in the business of building brands and that doesn’t mean being distracted by the latest, ‘greatest’ short-term fad. It’s important to experiment, but, as I said above, new channels ought to be used as part of your existing strategies rather than something that usurps them.
What role does your company’s purpose and environmental strategy play within your marketing strategy?
Darain> Purpose really is foundational to what we do, with diversity and inclusion as something that the business takes incredibly seriously. If you haven’t seen the brilliant LinkedIn Changemakers campaign, I’d encourage you to check out this piece of content
from our UK iteration of the global programme. More recently we have championed for a fairer world of work for women, and this came to life through some really important initiatives that went live this year:
- A partnership with International Women’s Day to promote equity for women in the workplace with the launch of ‘#Flexiblels’, an integrated campaign that challenged biases around career flexibility
- A partnership with the UEFA Women’s Euros to highlight the importance of female role models
Not that it should ever be about the accolades, but we’ve been shortlisted in both The Marketing Week Awards
and The Marketing Society Awards
this year as Brand Of The Year – and both of them point to the work that we have done in this space as part of the reason for our inclusion, and that feels pretty good I must say.
How important is storytelling when maximising your customers’ engagement with a campaign?
Darain> Getting the art of storytelling right is key to getting people to buy into your vision or your brand, and without it your marketing output simply won’t be as effective, memorability will be lessened, and you’ll struggle to make an impact.
Creative agencies rail against the time and resource spent working on pitches to win accounts: is there a realistic, fair alternative to the pitch process?
Darain> I spent a big chunk of the early part of my career working agency-side, and it’s pretty demoralising working late nights and weekends to make sure you get that pitch, perfect – only to be told that you didn't make the cut.
We have to get better at streamlining processes, distilling pitch participants to a small number of agencies and keeping the ‘ask’ manageable. I don’t need a whistles and bells presentation, what I want to know is that our potential agency partners ‘get’ our brand and that they will be additive to our broader marketing function.
From a marketing perspective, what’s coming up for your brand or business in 2023?
Darain> We have a rich platform with an impressive community that connects professionals to jobs, skills, and content. And, quite frankly, there has never been a more important time for us to celebrate all of that. More to follow on all things 2023 in due course!
Darain Faraz was interviewed By Tim Healey (Little Grey Cells) on behalf of Worth Your While (wyw.agency).