The 10 Essential Skills Every Marketer Needs

10 Essential Marketing Skills - ContentOro

Today and in the posts that follow, we explore the 10 essential skills necessary to be relevant in today’s marketplace. As marketers we do not have to become experts in all 10 skill areas, but we do need to understand their benefits and limitations, and how they can contribute to delivering remarkable customer experiences. Here is a quick overview.

1. Build a Successful Marketing Career

Success in this marketing landscape requires that we be agile—learning, unlearning, and relearning—in order to be marketers who can adapt to change. It can be a challenge to let go of ideas, practices, and perspectives that have worked well and even made us marketing stars in the past. Research shows, however, that those proven leaders who cannot let go of entrenched patterns do not thrive in turbulent times.38

Living in a state of discovery can feel exhausting and unsettling, but consider this: In a world where the terrain is shifting, standing still is an extraordinarily risky proposition. While we instinctually seek safety, a more successful approach is adaptation. As Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and coauthor of The Start-Up of You warns, “Without frequent, contained risk taking, you are setting yourself up for a major dislocation at some point in the future.”39

Plenty of opportunity exists for those of us who can successfully re-envision our roles and expand our skillsets to match the needs of this new marketing environment. Positions like Content Strategist, Community Builder, Converged Media Specialist, Marketing Technologist, and Manager of Customer Experience reflect some of the new competencies that companies are developing in their quest for customer-centricity. Several new C-level positions that focus on the customer are opening new career paths. (More about this in point 2)

To take advantage of the opportunities that this new landscape offers we must actively manage our careers to identify the skills and experiences we need, and how we are going to acquire them. Intentionally building our networks creates vital and vetted information flows that keep us up-to-date and augment our resource base. Branding ourselves and being thoughtful about proactively managing our reputation and contributions to the field have become essential. Seeking out developmental relationships including mentors and sponsors can offer necessary support to boost our careers. Finally, consciously putting ourselves in situations where we can feed and flex our creative muscles kindles our imagination, uncovering new possibilities for how we can contribute.

2. Design Valuable Customer Experiences

In an environment in which customer experience is increasingly critical, the thoughtful design of individual customer experiences, and of how multiple touchpoints work together as a whole, is too vital to be left to chance. Knowledge of design thinking, a disciplined process of observation, idea generation, and rapid iteration of products, content, and experiences, jumpstarts our organizations’ creativity and transports us beyond our “go-to” options, unlocking new opportunities for creating shared value. An understanding of basic tenants of behavior design and the persuasive impact of technology enhances our ability to create interactions that prompt people to act. Mapping the customer journey of each of our market segments deepens our understanding of when, where, and how our prospects and customers interact with us. By tracking their sentiment across each of these touchpoints, we can evaluate the effectiveness of each of these encounters, prioritize our efforts, and optimize our customer experience.

For example, working with MCorp Consulting, a customer experience and brand consultancy, a large commercial real estate lender that struggled with low rates of customer satisfaction and retention realized significant improvements in its customer experience. By mapping its customer touchpoints, the company was able to evaluate the effectiveness of its interactions and identify those who were most essential for driving customer engagement. Drawing from this insight, the company was able to improve or eliminate underachieving touch-points, create new processes, redefine roles and responsibilities, and establish relevant metrics, enhancing its customers’ satisfaction and loyalty, and increasing overall loan volume.40

3. Find Actionable Insight in Big Data and Marketing Analytics

Big data and marketing analytics can be powerful tools for marketers. Indeed, after analyzing more than 250 customer engagements over the span of five years, McKinsey concluded that companies that put data at the center of the marketing and sales decisions have been able to improve their marketing return on investment by 15 to 20 percent—that equates to $150–$200 billion of additional value based on global annual marketing spend of an estimated $1 trillion.41 Best Buy is among those companies that are realizing gains. As an example, the consumer electronics retailer was able to double membership in its Red Zone loyalty program in three months through a razor-targeted email campaign prompted by insight derived from advanced customer analytics.42

Finding the business value in clicks, shares, swipes, and pins is easier said than done, however. It requires an ability to capture relevant data, integrate disparate data sources, maintain and store massive amounts of information, and apply advanced analytics to detect the important signals amid a lot of noise.

How technical do marketers need to become in order to realize this value? Going forward it will be impossible to separate marketing from technology—software, content, creativity, and infrastructure will be completely interwoven. However, this does not mean that marketers must become data scientists. We do need to be capable of broad analytic thinking so that we can ask the probing questions that frame solid data analysis and be able to build and manage technically savvy teams. Given how critical the insights derived from big data and analytics are to the success of our marketing efforts, we must also be informed enough to influence or own the purchase of the necessary technology and ensure that it can be readily adapted for use by front-line marketing managers.

4. Employ Entrepreneurial Thinking for Discernment and Agility

In markets characterized by high levels of uncertainty and rapid change, an entrepreneurial approach to decision-making enables us to act quickly in response to changing market conditions, even in the face of ambiguity. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is notorious for his entrepreneurial decision-making style. Favoring intelligent action over intelligent inaction, Bezos has a “ready, fire, steer” style, as opposed to the traditional “ready, aim, fire approach.” Bezos encourages his employees to spend less time aiming and more time doing in order to drive creativity and innovation. One of the company’s internal awards, “Just Do It,” recognizes employees who take the initiative to do positive things for the company without having to involve their boss.

Entrepreneurial decision-making does not mean shooting from the hip. Rather, it means creating evidence for or against our ideas through immediate and frequent testing. This iterative process allows us to continuously act and learn, enhancing our organizations’ knowledge, experience, and agility. Entrepreneurial decision-making also includes practices such as determining budgets by defining acceptable losses, pursuing multiple options simultaneously, and building purposeful partner networks. Being able to decipher when to apply entrepreneurial decision-making and when to employ traditional analytic methods is essential for today’s marketer.

Consider the experience of the early stage company Carsurfing. Building upon customers’ appetite for sharing services, Carsurfing set out to develop a mobile application to facilitate ride sharing to major cultural and sporting events. Before the app was ready to be launched, members of the Carsurfing team noticed a high volume of chatter in social environments about Burning Man, an annual art festival in Nevada. Recognizing the opportunity that the festival presented to test the validity of their product idea, the team moved quickly to temporarily shift their focus from building the app to creating a dedicated landing page for Facebook users that were planning on attending the event. The Company’s ability to move quickly paid off. By tapping into the conversations and creating a space for festival attendees to connect, Carsurfing was able to facilitate over 800 rides to Burning Man, attracting its first customers and validating their “barely alpha” product at the same time.43

5. Create a Winning Content Experience Strategy

Our customers have changed the way they connect with brands. Traditional broadcast messaging is no longer effective on its own; content now drives our interactions. Our ability to tell great stories and design engaging experiences to catalyze customer connection is critical to our being invited into the customer experience journey. Storytelling is quite different from writing ad copy or press releases. It facilitates our prospects and customers finding themselves in our story and often includes tools that bring them into the experience.

Consider what McCormick is doing to engage its customers around spices. Understanding the truth in George Bernard Shaw’s comment, “There is no love sincerer than the love of food,” McCormick makes the world of flavors easily accessible to its customers. Cooks can plan their meals with the help of the company’s website—even at the last minute—by simply inputting the food items and spices they have on hand. Acting like top chefs in a quick-fire challenge, McCormick generates recipes for a mouthwatering dinner.

To proactively design multiple menus around its customers’ individualized food preferences, McCormick offers Flavorprint™. By filling out a simple digital survey, customers provide the necessary data to generate a footprint of their favorite flavors.44 Based on this knowledge, McCormick recommends recipes that incorporate those flavors. Who knew that we would like Mojito Lime Grilled Lamb Chops and Smoky Montreal Steak Sauce Burgers? As cooks rate, search, and share recipes and products, Flavorprint™ gets smarter and more accurate with their taste bud preferences. All of McCormick’s recipes and seasonings carry a FlavorPrint™ symbol that helps its customers make better selections even when they do not have access to these digital tools.

Understanding the power of peer-to-peer influence, McCormick encourages its customers to socialize their experiences and recipes in McCormick’s multiple social environments including Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Each of these touch-points offers McCormick and its customers an opportunity to get to know each other better and to share their solutions for leftovers, an abundance of zucchini, and a craving for cinnamon with a broader community.

6. Engage Customers via Social Communities

Social media has created virtual neighborhoods where our constituents spend an increasing amount of time. Ninety-one percent of online adults access social media at least once a month, and the average online adult spends 37 minutes on social media daily.45 As a result, these networks and communities have become important touchpoints with our prospects and customers, often vital to cross-channel communication strategies. Conversations flow in these environments and important insights can often be found. In many instances, these networks and communities are influencing the design, manufacture, packaging, delivery, and servicing of our products and services, putting our customers directly in the center of our organizations.

To successfully play in the social sphere, marketers need to be well versed in each community’s individual culture and norms of engagement, and be clear about how to best participate. Prioritization is necessary given the sheer number of social spaces where we can have a presence. Engagement involves monitoring the conversation 24/7, actively managing our presence, generating appropriate content, distilling the insight, and sharing what we learn with our broader ecosystem.

In some instances we may choose to develop our own social communities. For example, through the branded social community IBM PartnerWorld, IBM offers a broad range of resources that help its business partners build, sell, and implement IBM-based solutions for their customers. Partners are able to take advantage of IBM programs like Selling Through Social Insights, which taps into the power of social listening to increase sales. Social Insights tracks data from over 280 million relevant social sources. The Social Insights dashboard synthesizes “who is talking” and “what is trending” in five strategic subject areas related to IBM products. Personalized recommendations for relevant content, combined with access to relevant IBM experts, provide rich resources for business partners to get up to speed on what is currently on their prospects’ minds. Armed with this knowledge, business partners are better able to turn leads into sales.

7. Maximize Marketing Effectiveness by Integrating Paid, Earned, and Owned Media

During the past few years, much focus has been placed on the power of owned media—the content that marketers create. Content belongs at the center of any of our experience strategies—it creates the customer experience journey. However, in many cases an integrated or converged strategy in which we combine our content with materials created by our customers (earned media) and amplify it with advertising (paid media) can maximize our impact.

Why is this the case? In a recommendation-based economy, earned media is paramount. It is what people find most credible. When we incorporate our customers’ stories into our content, we are harnessing the most compelling advocates for our businesses: satisfied customers. New forms of paid media that draw from reservoirs of social media-derived customer data are creating unprecedented targeting opportunities, offering the promise of being able to reach our prospects and customers with highly relevant messaging in the channels they prefer.

A quick flip through a recent edition of More magazine, a magazine for “women of style and substance,” illustrates this convergence via traditional media.46 A two-page advertisement for L’Oréal’s Visible Life CC Cream, features celebrity Andie MacDowell, who vouches for the color-correcting cream by saying, “No wonder it’s my new best friend.” Below are before and after pictures of regular women who have experienced “the CC transformation,” along with customer reviews from four happy users. Calls to action invite More readers to enter a contest to win samples of the product and to learn more about the cream on their website. Earned media (in the form of customer reviews) meets owned media (additional information about the product on their website) meets paid advertising (the ad itself).

8. Drive Sales with Intelligent Customer-Engagement Platforms

Our prospects and customers increasingly expect one-on-one contextualized interactions that reflect their behaviors and current situation–time, location, and device. Creating contextualized experiences is complex. It requires real-time capture of relevant customer data across channels and instantaneous application of predictive analytics to proactively offer appropriate resources. While this is challenging to do for one person, imagine the complexity of delivering contextualized experiences at scale.

To scale one-to-one communication, marketers need integrated customer-engagement platforms that can steward our prospects and customers through the customer experience journey. Smart marketing automation systems can assess where individuals are in the customer experience journey and distribute content specifically selected for them. They also detect potential content redundancies, changes in cadence, and shifts in interest and priorities, based upon behaviors such as clicks, views, shares, time spent with materials and reflect, and adapts content streams accordingly. This means that our customers are only invited into experiences that have a high probability of meeting their needs, avoiding spam.

Marketing automation also allows us to trace the impact of each marketing interaction on our prospects’ and customers’ behavior, making it possible for us to continually assess and optimize our efforts, and to more accurately demonstrate marketings’ contributions to key financial metrics. For many companies, marketing automation has also brought marketing and sales into closer alignment, helping to alleviate age-old conflicts.

9. Build Worthwhile Loyalty and Digital Couponing Programs

Brands can no longer feel certain about their customers’ commitment. Loyalty erosion and customer defection are pervasive. Ironically, most loyalty programs do not do much to create loyalty. Although people enroll in the programs, the majority are not inspired to remain active. The best way to create loyalty is to ensure incredible brand satisfaction by creating remarkable customer experiences. For some companies, offering a loyalty program that enhances the customer experience can be a winning strategy.

Starbucks’ loyalty program is leading the way. Designed to give its customers more of what they love—coffee—“My Starbucks Rewards” grants free drinks and exclusive offers to customers based upon their usage. The first cross-channel loyalty program in the market, customers are rewarded for purchases made in Starbucks’ shops as well as for Starbucks packaged coffee purchased in grocery stores.
The free mobile app automatically tracks and manages rewards, making participation in the program easy. The app also includes a scan-and-go purchase option, locates nearby Starbucks, and provides free downloads of new apps and music. One of our favorite features is the eGift, which makes it possible to send Starbucks’ gift certificates to other loyalty members. Students love it when their parents send them a gift certificate for a fortified Red Eye during exams.

For some brands, a couponing strategy works well. A separate strategy from loyalty program offers, couponing may provide just the needed incentive to encourage potential customers to try, share, or act. Digital coupons and apps offer a faster and more convenient way for many customers to clip coupons.

Meijer, which operates groceries and superstores, offers its customers the opportunity to preview and select digital coupons and file them in their digital mPerks account, where they can be instantly redeemed at checkout. Their mobile app includes a find-it feature that makes it easy for customers to locate any item in the store.47 The program enjoys a redemption rate of up to four times the national average.48

10. Ignite Customer-Centricity across the Organization

Customer-centricity requires a higher level of operational maturity than we have needed in the past, because multiple functions impact our customer experience. Acting like symphony conductors, marketers need to be able to collaborate across the entire business ecosystem to facilitate customer-centricity at every important touch-point. This requires a realignment of efforts, the integrating of many processes and systems, and a shift in many of our organizations’ culture. It is a tall order, but as we have seen, companies are rising to the challenge.

What is more, extraordinary value can be created when organizations move beyond their own borders to inspire customer-centricity throughout their larger ecosystems. By sharing end-user data and coordinating their efforts, an entire demand chain composed of manufacturers, retailers, and media companies can develop proprietary insights into demand. This enhanced, customer-oriented view creates unprecedented opportunity and competitive advantage for each partner and the network as a whole.

What’s Next?

Overwhelmed? Remember, marketers do not have to be experts in each of these areas. Being knowledgeable in these 10 essential skills will take us a long way toward career success. In the posts that follow, we invite you to explore each of these 10 marketing skills in a way that we hope is useful for new hires as well as for the most experienced marketers. Examples of how large and small companies are putting these skills to work bring them more fully to life. Suggestions for metrics to evaluate success are included, where applicable, and lists of resources accompany each section. Hopefully, in the posts that follow, we will convince you that it is, indeed, a great time to be a digital marketer.

This content is an example of what ContentOro does for its customers…providing high-quality, relevant content from experts and their published books.

About the Authors

Larry Weber and Lisa Leslie Henderson are the cowriters of this Digital Marketing guide. Larry is the CEO of Racepoint Global, an advanced marketing services firm. A globally known expert in public relations and marketing services, Larry has successfully built companies and brands and is passionate about the future of marketing. Lisa is an observer, synthesizer, and writer who draws extensively from her background in marketing and consulting. Lisa and Larry have collaborated on two guides to date, The Digital Marketer, and Everywhere: Comprehensive Strategy for the Social Media Era. To stay current on their thinking, frequent and follow them at @TheLarryWeber and @ljlhendo.

Hashtags to Explore

#cx (customer experience)
#mktg (marketing)
#UX (customer experience)

In next week’s blog, we consider how companies are responding to the customer-centric era.

ContentOro revolutionizes the way digital marketers and brands acquire content for marketing. We partner with the world’s best publishers to bring the contents of their books to life on the web with our innovative technology. Creating compelling experiences that tie our content to our clients’ product is our mission.

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