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What Takes a Marketer from Good to Great?

April 15, 2021


What Takes a Marketer from Good to Great?

The last year has sped up a lot shifts we were already seeing in marketing. TikTok exploded, Gen Z started to come into their own and make their presence felt. Consumer buying habits shifted, and their values have changed. Some things we thought we valued—like green initiatives—went on the back burner. Marketers wondered how to connect with people and shifted their channels. Our customers looked to brands for guidance.

Yet there have also been plenty of stalled plans, cutbacks, and layoffs. Many marketers are looking for new positions. The pandemic gave us some time to think about what we’re really doing, what we want to do. And now we have the chance to find those opportunities. Those of us who were lucky enough to keep on keeping on have had plenty of those same questions come up though. What are we really doing? What are our brands all about?

As we look to the future, a lot of us will be thinking about where we want our careers to go, what success means to us. And we’re also going to be thinking about how we can stand out in the crowd.

So, what does it take to be not just a good Marketer, but a great one these days? Some interesting research shows there are quite a few skills that both Marketers and employers have been overlooking.

A Difference between Junior and Senior Marketers

The first thing I noticed is that a lot of junior people in marketing say they don’t know what skills they need to succeed. Some have ideas, but the top answer for what hard skills do you need was “don’t know.” That answer was the second-most common in the soft skills category too.

What can we get from that? A lot of our junior people are feeling lost at sea here. They don’t know what skills they should be working on. That attitude likely stems a bit from the pandemic. Our junior people haven’t been at the job long, and now everything is up in the air. As much as marketing was undergoing shifts before, this is like an earthquake. Everything is being rewritten, and it’s happening fast. So it makes sense that people who are learning the job are feeling a bit like fish out of water.

But I think it also points to the idea that we’re maybe not giving our junior people the tools they need to succeed. Mentorship might not be where it needs to be, and that’s leaving our junior team members in the lurch. They need direction.

Why do I say that? Because senior Marketers have much clearer answers. Nobody in that category seems to be saying they “don’t know” what skills they need to be successful.

Our junior people can’t develop the skills they need to be great Marketers if no one mentors them. And if senior Marketers are looking for these skills in our proteges and new hires, we might be frustrated. We might worry about a lack of talent.

What Skills Do Great Marketers Need?

That’s part of the reason this research is so important. It shows us what skills senior Marketers think are important to develop. It can help us in our own careers. But it can also help us direct more junior Marketers toward the skills they should be developing.

Hard Skills

Most of the “hard skills” identified focused on data. Data analysis, number-crunching, and research were some of the most in-demand skills. More importantly, what are the insights and ah ha’s inside the data! 

Of course, desired skills differ between regions of the world. Data analysis was more important in North America, for example. And in places like South America, there was a focus on business fundamentals for Marketers. There’s an idea that Marketers need to understand how businesses run. That makes a lot of sense.

Soft skills

Soft skills are harder to quantify. A lot of us think of them as “people skills,” but they often go beyond that. Two of the most important identified around the globe were empathy and listening.

Collaboration also ranked high, particularly in regions like Asia and South America. 

What does this mean? It suggests we need to get closer to our customers. We need to listen to them, and we need to understand them. We need to be able to put ourselves in their shoes, so to speak. That means we can feel their pain, their joy. It’s more than sympathizing; it’s feeling it for ourselves.

Why the focus on empathy? I think it’s pretty obvious in the current environment. Our customers are anxious, upset, scared, angry. They’re feeling a lot, and if we want to deliver for them, we need to not just sympathize. We need to be able to empathize with them. Only when we feel what they’re feeling can we craft strategies, messages, campaigns that resonate with them.

We have to be able to prove that we “get it,” that we’re not just saying we do and then delivering a hollow sort of message.

Listening is the key to understanding. A lot of people say things they don’t actually mean. It’s easy to misinterpret people for that reason. Our customers aren’t lying to us when this happens. It means they’re unsure or unaware themselves. Or they haven’t quite figured out exactly how to tell us what they’re feeling or what they need.

Collaboration as an in-demand soft skill isn’t much of a surprise. Most marketing departments work in teams. And most of us need to collaborate with people from other departments in some way. We might need collaboration from sales, or maybe we need the finance department to back us up.

Putting It All Together

As I look at the lists of in-demand hard skills and soft skills, I see intersections between them. The hard skills in demand right now speak to the soft skills. Being able to do data analysis or good research also means we should be able to listen.

If we’re going to do good research, we also need to be curious. Curiosity can lead us to innovation and insight. It also leads us into conversation and collaboration with our customers. We also need to be confident in our own abilities. Why confidence? It makes it easier to listen and learn from others, because we don’t see them as threats. If we’re not confident, we could feel a customer who comes in and tells us that they don’t like what we’re doing is a threat. They’re telling us that we’re getting it wrong, that we’re failing.

If we’re confident enough in ourselves, then we can be more open to learning. And learning is also driven by curiosity. That leads us to ask why—which is the basis of the best research and data analysis. These skills let us spot patterns and trends. Then we can look for the reason why those patterns exist. In this way, we become problem-solvers too.

Curiosity leads us to ask why; creativity can give us the how. The two often go hand in hand. Curiosity lets us spot a problem, and creativity lets us think about solving it in new ways. That leads us to imaginative solutions.

And from there, we need to be excellent communicators. We need to be able to motivatepeople, both internally and outside the business. And that’s rooted in empathy and understanding. Our goal is to be persuasive. Whether we want to involve our customers in a new vision for the brand or we need internal teams to work together, we have to be able to bring them together.

So, What Makes a Great Marketer?

I think the underlying thread here is empathy—feeling. We need to do more than understand our customers or our brands. We need to feel them.

That’s the difference between a good Marketer and a great one. Good Marketers can create campaigns and put together decks and identify patterns and trends. Great Marketers make a point of understanding those patterns and trends, of asking why, and of putting the customer at the centre of strategy. And that means feeling what the customer feels. What are they feeling, and what do they want to feel? How does our strategy address those feelings? And, if we have empathy, we can ask how the strategy will make our customers feel—and we can find the answers in our own responses.

Of course, we also have to learn to think for ourselves and develop our own approaches to strategy. Keeping empathy in the foreground will help us as we move towards our own unique methods and positions. And curiosity will keep us asking why!


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I am a businessperson who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing to inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

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