Rebel, activist, human-centered marketing consultant: A Q&A with Liza Dube
Over the past 20 years, Liza Dube cultivated a unique, human-centered approach to marketing through her work with mission-driven organizations like Danone, Stonyfield, the United Way, and the Housing Partnership Network. But — as she will tell you — she wasn’t fulfilled by the grind of large marketing shops and felt that she could have a broader impact.
Now — after a very personally and professionally transformative 2020 — Liza has launched her own shop, Good Dube Consulting, where she’s able to bring her unique experience, no-BS methods, and focus on people to the consulting and coaching spaces of the marketing world.
Last month, Liza took some time to discuss her path to becoming an entrepreneur, her thoughts on what the marketing industry is missing, and why you should invest in people. Comments have been edited and condensed.
Let’s start at the beginning — what helped you the most as you were starting out?
I started out as an activist and then moved into electoral politics and lobbying, which was a great foundation for what transpired over the rest of my career. In an election, the money is tight and everyone is wearing more than one hat, so it’s important to be really nimble in how you’re communicating is part of the game.
What I took away from these experiences was the emphasis on direct contact with the audience — canvassing, phone-banking, events, and endless polling. Making decisions based on that constant connection with your stakeholders has really been a guiding principle throughout my career that I learned early on.
It sounds like the experiences of entrepreneurship and political campaigns aren’t too far off from each other.
It’s funny — I’ve given myself a few descriptors this year as I’m building my own business and even I’m surprised that ‘entrepreneurial’ is one of them. As a kid, I was constantly baby-sitting or cat-sitting and I got my first job as a camp counselor at 15. I’ve always been driven and self-motivated by the things that delight and inspire me.
Another word that I’m owning more now is ‘rebel’. It’s something I didn’t think about labeling because it was always there, but I was always an authority-challenger and a boundary-pusher, and in my corporate career, I was an active patriarchy-underminer. Based on that, where I am now makes a lot of sense — no one should be surprised.
Working for myself was a dream I built my career around for more than a decade. What might look like random jumping around from place to place was actually a concerted effort to collect as many experiences as possible, so I could go off and work as a generalist.
A couple of years ago I got divorced and became the sole caretaker and provider for my two little guys, and that really forced me to put that dream on the shelf because it didn’t feel very practical. But I was laid off in early 2020 and with that opportunity, I decided to take the leap. After everything shut down, I didn’t really have a choice anymore and I had to make the dream a reality — which was fine, I didn’t want to go back to the corporate world.
I spent the first year doing what most entrepreneurs do: a lot of research and development, trying things on, and figuring out what works and what doesn’t work. After about nine months of snatching opportunities out of the air, I started to gain my focus on who I wanted to work with, the type of work I wanted to do, and how I wanted it to feel. I’ve been working really intentionally to build a business that allows me to take care of my kids and is work that feels good to do.
As you’ve built your career across so many different industries and functions, what is something you’ve kept at the forefront of your work?
What’s inherently true of any organization is that there are people involved — people who are doing the work to try to get other people to do something. So, when you can focus on how you’re going to motivate people, the complexity fades away.
Organizations need to focus on self-awareness first — if you know who you are as an organization, then you can move the people external to your organization. Wherever I was, I was always involved in organizational development, staff training, and human resource policy, and the things that impact the people who are doing the work. If you can focus on your people and what is going to help them do their jobs really well and create amazing experiences for the audience you’re targeting, the audience is going to respond to that.
There’s a real lack of humanity in how we approach a lot of our systems. But, ironically, the beautiful evolution of automation and artificial intelligence within the marketing world is actually opening up the door to talk about people as humans who respond to things, in a way we’ve never really been able to do before. We can show the data of some of the seemingly irrational and unpredictable ways someone might be behaving that totally goes against our marketing instincts on how they should be responding — like, ‘nope, see humans are wild!.’ While we might feel like we’re moving farther away from humanity with these tools, they’re actually getting us closer.
But as soon as someone starts interpreting that data, their emotional and social intelligence is going to impact the reporting of that data. Everyone can access data that’s going to help inform your marketing and everyone has access to emotional intelligence — just using those two things as the foundation for your marketing is going to take you so much farther than any other fundamental approach.
What does this mean for marketers?
As a marketer, if you’re able to confidently use data and emotional intelligence together then your team is going to want to listen to what you’re proposing: you have something that feels real when you present the data, but you’re also showing your humanity that connects with other people’s humanity.
When I talk to really amazing marketers who aren’t getting as far in their career as they want to –
and feel the need to bail out and get an MBA — I always tell them that they need to understand and develop the human skills they’re bringing to the table. More than anything, I wish the industry started to value people’s experiences as humans so much more than the experiences on their resumes.
Preach. What’s your best non-career piece of advice for our MKTG WMN?
Trust yourself more than you trust anyone else.