An Interview with D’Lea Martens

D’Lea Martens is Principal and Founding Partner at Tango Strategy, which she started in 2006 to help clients solve tough branding challenges and take advantage of emerging brand/marketing opportunities. She also co-leads a Business Vocation Group through Denver Institute for Faith & Work. Recently, DIFW intern Alex Siemers sat down with D’Lea to talk about her experience in marketing and how she views her job in light of her Christian faith.

Why marketing and management consulting? What led you to this field?

It kind of found me. I have an undergraduate degree in geology, and I got to Denver in the 80’s to be a petroleum geologist. Then the price of oil fell, and I started to wonder what I was going to do next. I ended up at UCLA in business school and I took a lot of classes in entrepreneurship. All of my peers were interviewing for Proctor & Gamble or Kraft Foods, and I thought that the last thing I wanted to do was sell toothpaste. It sounded boring to me, and so I didn’t invest much time in the job hunt that was supported by UCLA. Instead, I came back to Denver because I had friends here and I started looking for a job. This took about six months, and I ended up working at a small start-up… selling toothpaste.

And actually, I found that marketing is similar to geology in that you look at the scientific data and then you draw conclusions, but there’s an element that is just pure instinct. Marketing and consulting are very much the same way—there’s a lot of data analysis, but when it comes down to the final decision, it can be very much a gut instinct.

What is the biggest challenge in what you do?

There are big ups and downs in consulting, because if you can’t sell anything then you’re not working—the consistency of a salary isn’t present. But this is exactly where God needs me to be, because in these last ten years, I’m learning trust. When there’s a trough, I can get really anxious, and I have to constantly remember that I’m not in charge. I’m where God wants me to be, doing what he wants me to do, and it’s going to be ok. In retrospect, I can look back and see that it was good for me to be free of work, to take care of ailing parents or to help my children transition into college. But in the midst of a difficult time, it’s a constant, daily surrender. I have to trust God.

What does it mean to be distinctively Christian in the field of marketing? What are one or two key differences?

That’s a hard question for me. First, collaboration is really important to me, both as an individual and as a Christian. At different times in my career, I didn’t make individual goals because the project or team became more important to me. I truly care about the products we sell—and I’ve worked on everything from Hot Pockets to organic milk. You begin to see the need for something in a consumer’s life and to empathize with them. I desire to put people first. For me, the number one job of marketing is to bring the voice of the consumer forward and to understand what their needs are. If there are unmet needs, then we ask how to fill those. These ought to be true unmet needs, not just shareholder needs to sell more. So I think that’s a big component, putting people first and showing integrity.

You mentioned a little bit earlier the tension between individual goals and team success. How do you define success in your business? How do you define success personally?

Success in the business is if they hire you again, they call you again for advice, or they speak highly of you and would recommend you. One of my partners, Priscilla, has a quote from Maya Angelou that she keeps on her computer that says, “They’ll never remember what you said to them, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.” My partners and I don’t mentor each other because we’re all at the same level, so the teaching and mentoring goes to the clients who are a decade or two younger than we are. Success to me too is when they get promoted or they move on to the next job.

Success for me personally is that I have fun. Don’t get me wrong, there are hard days, but for the most part, I’ve been very blessed because I love what I do. I love learning about a new industry and a new sort of organization: what is this organization’s system, how does this client make decisions, and where are the roadblocks and what is going to solve their problem. I love that. That’s success.

It seems like you really feel called to what you do. I can hear the passion in your voice, and obviously you’re very effective at what you do.

You know, I’ve been involved with DIFW for about a year, and one of the first things I learned is that calling is broader than an overseas mission field. I had been wrestling for years with asking God what I was supposed to do, whether that was to go to Africa or anything else. But the light bulb came on for me—I’m exactly where God has wanted me to be. The fact that I’m excited and that I do have passion for my work is because God put me where my gifts and my talents serve other people really well. And that recognition has been amazing and life-giving.

After the Amy Sherman event, I started going to business vocation group and realized that my business is a gift from God. Like I mentioned earlier about the ups and downs, I recognized that God is calling me to rest and that I need to trust him. I couldn’t have said that to you nine years ago, because it’s taken a long time of learning the same lesson over and over and over again. I’m sure that I’ll learn it again, but I do feel like some growth has occurred. I’m learning to have peace in the ups and downs.

If you were to counsel a young businessperson, what advice would you give them?

First, I would say that you have to give everything over to Jesus. You have to pray about everything, absolutely everything. The job that you take, the work that you do every day, the meeting you’re about to walk into—all of those things require prayer. It truly is praying without ceasing.

Second, if you’re going into business, figure out what lights you on fire. I know accountants and CFOs that love what they do, but that type of work isn’t exciting to me. But what’s exciting to you—is it the task, the industry, or something else? Business is very broad, so figure out what is it within business that you can get energized about. It could be anything.

Third, if something feels wrong in your gut, get out of the situation. You can try so long to change a situation, to make things more ethical or collaborative. But if you’re going home frustrated and disappointed day in and day out, change the situation. I had someone tell me that if you can’t change the people that you’re with, then change the people you’re with. Too many people hold onto a bad situation for too long, when maybe God is trying to tell you that you’re needed somewhere else.