Looking Back on 22 Years in Marketing

Marketing continues to rapidly evolve. After offering consulting services and thought leadership in the field of marketing for more than two decades, what lessons have been learned? Here are three that will undoubtedly stand the test of time.

Twenty-two years ago in September of 2000, I formed MJ Lilly Associates to provide independent and highly objective strategic marketing and communications consulting to my clients, and to the clients of partners and friends, like my colleagues at Further Advisory. It’s by far the longest job I’ve ever had, with lots of ups and a good share of downs.

So, as I celebrate and reflect on my work anniversary, what have I learned? Here are three “lessons” for anyone leading a marketing charge or starting a business:

1. Marketing has evolved but the fundamentals remain in place. 

There is no doubt that marketing has rapidly evolved over the last two-plus decades.

Depending upon who you ask, marketing is still defined as branding, packaging and advertising to build awareness and create an experience. But increasingly, particularly in B2B circles, it’s immediately equated with digital programs that focus on data and engagement strategies for lead-generation purposes.

With the advent of new technologies, marketing has, and needed to, evolve. It now reflects the co-mingling of both art and science. 

It’s surprising, however, to see how often marketing efforts are developed without the most basic issues addressed. For example, I’ve seen digital lead-generation campaigns get underway without a clear articulation of the value proposition for the product and service offerings they’re to promote. I’ve seen webpages and landing pages developed without clearly identifying or understanding the target markets they’re to reach. What’s shocking is that these marketing mishaps occur at both small and large (more sophisticated) companies.

Regardless of marketing’s evolution, it still starts with the fundamentals.

From understanding your audience segments and developing resonant messaging to ensuring your database is rich and segmented (this is a common marketing black hole), it’s essential to focus on the basics. Otherwise, even the most creative and technologically amplified efforts are set up to fail.

2. Focus on developing loyal clients.

Recently, I was chatting with a sage wealth management advisor about the difference between satisfied and loyal clients. As he characterized it:

“A satisfied client is someone who is happy with the work you’ve done but a loyal client is someone who sees greater value and comes back for more.”

As I’ve reminisced about my business experiences, this conversation offered me a light bulb moment.

There is no doubt that providing good products and meaningful service are the building blocks for success with clients. That’s satisfaction.

But loyalty is assured from delivering value a notch above. It’s about integrity beyond just the task. It’s about the trust that comes from putting your client’s interests above your own. And it’s about good old-fashioned relationship building that includes taking an authentic interest in both the work and the people you’re working with.

This really is the key to meaningful, enduring client relationships.

3. No assignment is ever in vain.

Over the last 22 years, there were various times when I took on projects outside of my primary focus. This ranged from activities not in my functional comfort zone to working with clients in industries where I had less knowledge than is my preferred norm. Taking on these assignments was triggered by a variety of factors: I wanted to learn something new; I thought the client’s purpose or cause was important; I wanted to help a friend; or frankly, I needed the work.

Yet, from moment to moment, I’d question why I’d taken on some of these projects. Then, I’d remember that no work, no assignment is ever in vain. 

Early in my career I worked for a New York State Senator, and what I learned from those Albany legislative days was used to create a public affairs platform for a financial client years later. I worked with a non-profit on groundbreaking Alzheimer’s research and what I learned about FDA approvals turned out to be invaluable when working with a client looking to secure emergency authorization usage for COVID tests. In the early aughts, I helped a visionary crystalize a financial literacy effort only to recommend it for community banking programs post the 2008 financial crisis. Even helping a friend with a community-based Washington Heights business project translated into a NYC economic development opportunity.

The lesson: what we learn from even the most obscure situations can be used for other client opportunities down the road. We learn and we apply. It’s all good. 

Here’s to more years ahead and new clients and friends along the way. It will be interesting to see what marketing will look like another 10 years from now. Undoubtedly different, but I’m confident these lessons will stand the test of time.

Further Advisory helps marketing, product, and sales executives translate their business vision and goals into reality. We support customer segmentation, pricing analysis, personas development, customer/buyer journey mapping, and more, accompanied by pragmatic roadmaps that set plans into motion and drive real results.

About the author


  • Maria Lilly

    Maria has more than 25 years of experience in strategic marketing and communications with a focus on financial services.

From Strategy to Reality®

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