Skilling up for the future of marketing
It takes a brave person to be a marketing professional in 2022. Macro-economic concerns, including fears of a possible global recession, are squeezing budgets and team sizes. The marketing landscape is also becoming more complex, putting pressure on teams to do more with less.
On the upside, they have more data at their fingertips to help them meet these challenges, and more technology to make sense of it. Using these resources and adapting to changing conditions calls for new skills. Marketers of all experience levels must put a new focus on self-development.
Tomorrow's marketing team is context-aware
As data and technology tools proliferate, the pressure is on for marketing professionals to produce more tailored outcomes. David Steuer, a managing director at Accenture, cites a growing demand for more personalized customer experiences, which calls for a better understanding of the customer’s context. This spans big, longer-term global events, such as the impact of the pandemic and inflation on customers, but also more fleeting, localized occurrences.
To illustrate the point, Steuer describes watching the first episode of the new season of “Stranger Things” and hearing a song by Kate Bush. He hadn’t heard the song, "Running Up That Hill", in years. He used Shazam (the music identification system that Apple acquired in 2018), to save it to his library.
“That’s a great example of how you can have a desire for something, and not even know you have that desire, but act on it very quickly,” Steuer explains. “That’s what I mean by context; understanding context is critical, but it can change very swiftly.”
Steuer wasn’t the only person to rediscover the song. When released in 1985, it only made number 30 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. Almost 40 years later, “Stranger Things” helped drive it to number one on Shazam’s global list.
Mastering omni-channel and multichannel
Another significant shift has been the move towards omni-channel marketing. Omni-channel calls for the integration of digital channels such as messaging systems, mobile apps, and websites, along with offline venues such as retail stores. It uses real-time context from all these sources to modify customer experiences on the fly.
A robust omni-channel strategy links online data, like customers’ click histories, with offline data from interactions with stores and call centers. Only the most advanced companies have mastered these techniques to date.
Marketers must also tackle the complexities of multichannel attribution. The focus here is on assessing the value of individual channels. “How do I measure and assign attribution to lines of business and channels when a customer [researched an item online] but bought it three days later in a store?” asks Steuer.
New working practices call for new skills
Answering such questions requires a significant shift in organizations’ operating models. These include new technologies and more collaborative, cross-functional ways of working. Marketing professionals must prepare themselves with the skills to support those new working tools and techniques, points out Piyush Vakil, a consulting director at Accenture.
“Marketing professionals need to know technology. They need to know analytics and data,” he said. “But more importantly, they also need to know how to collaborate across the organization, including technology services, lines of business, and channels [when working on projects].”
For example, you might want to create a new, personalized offer in your mobile app and track its uptake. That would probably call for support from app, marketing, and data teams. “There’s probably also a separate technology team that’s building out cloud capabilities, and there may even be a customer experience team, all of which will have to come together,” says Steuer.
Marketing leaders are in a good position to plan, coordinate, monitor, and control organizational initiatives like these, says Vakil. They can fill the role of project managers that take ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of critical projects.
“It’s all about critical thinking and soft skills in terms of interacting with others,” he explains.
Focus on process, technology, and data
Other key capabilities will become integral alongside collaboration skills. These include a solid understanding of underlying business processes. Somebody who can define and manage an end-to-end customer experience process from idea to activation is valuable, says Steuer. “You must understand what the process is before you can automate it,” he explains.
Data literacy and a working knowledge of technology will also be crucial. “A lot of times when people think of marketing, they think of the creative side – and you still absolutely need that,” Steuer says. “But you also need people who are analytical, who can dive into the data, help track the key performance indicators, and link them to the objectives and key results.”
We are not suggesting that a marketer needs to understand how to code – though it certainly doesn’t hurt. Once the processes are defined, software such as low-code application development platforms accelerate the creation of technology solutions. This empowers marketers without requiring them to become professional programmers. Similarly, data literacy doesn’t necessitate a degree in data science. Marketing professionals can understand data and statistics while mastering analytics, but they needn’t double as data architects.
These data-oriented marketers will be instrumental in meeting one of the key challenges in the marketing business: quantifying value. Marketers will be under pressure to define the value of a campaign, Steuer says. “They must understand how to quantify the impact of a certain campaign or offer or treatment, and then be able to measure the value on the back end.”
One skill for any team keen to excel in this kind of value-driven marketing context is testing. Savvy marketers frequently conduct A/B, champion-challenger testing and optimization that helps them to improve the customer’s experience, Steuer says. “So testing and tuning the experience and being able to work within an agile framework become really important.”
In the quest for accountability, some marketing departments have set up dedicated value functions. Vakil describes them as constant optimization systems to help teams understand whether individual customer experiences are generating value and how best to enhance them.
Others are taking it a step further and looking beyond the marketing function for leadership. That includes targeting executives currently in a strategic role or leading a business unit.
“We’re seeing commercial people moving into CMO roles quite a lot these days,” Vakil says. They’re seeing more success because the CMO’s responsibilities are becoming more data driven. It’s no longer enough to convince people to act on your strategy. Now, metrics such as ROI are key.
The search for new skills
As marketers’ skill sets broaden, Steuer advises employers recruiting new graduates to look beyond the traditional talent pool, which focuses on marketing majors. He recommends targeting candidates who can demonstrate creative talent along with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills.
As for existing employees, the most valuable thing they can do to keep their skills up to date is to learn how to work with and analyze data. They should get familiar with new technology, such as low-code systems.
“If you’re willing to learn, then as long as you have the basic critical thinking skills, you’ll be able to pick it up in the time window provided,” Vakil says. “That’s generally around eight months to a year.”
Tomorrow’s marketing executives must be prepared for change. Digital-first organizations might be ahead of the curve here, as they’ve had the chance to build dream teams that understand new technologies and prioritize data-driven decision making. Bricks-and-mortar companies that are modernizing might find themselves playing catch-up. Either way, marketing professionals that invest the time and energy in these new skills will find themselves well-positioned for the future.