When asked to think of the evolution of marketing, many start out envisioning a “Mad Men” scene with marketers brainstorming creative concepts born of intuition and a glass of bourbon in hand. Today, marketing encompasses a litany of channels, disciplines, and technologies – with departments that cover everything from creative campaign strategy, to search engine optimization, to content planning.
As the marketing department evolves to match the channels necessary to capture the attention of increasingly distracted audiences, there has been a question weighing on the mind of many of our Found Friday viewers – what are the real skills necessary for marketers to be successful today and what does that look like moving forward?
Marketing Technologist or Creative Marketing Strategist?
It would be hard today to present yourself as a legitimate marketer if you didn’t have some idea of the role of technology in your job. However, how much technical knowledge the marketing generalist will need in the future and how much that role will be taken over by a different person in the organization is the subject of many conversations. The question many marketers are asking: “Are people who are geared to be creatives also going to be able to embrace the role of scientist?”
This question clearly defines the two diverse functions of marketers today: that of the creative, intuitive marketing strategist and the analytical, data driving marketing technologist. Will CMOs be able to embrace both these roles or will one be taken over by the Chief Marketing Technologist role that’s appearing in C-Suites of some very large brands? The challenge for both may be understanding and collaborating with the other.
“In the future, we’re going to be seeing a need for certain people focused more on the technology side and other people who fill the intuitive, creative marketing roles,” notes Ray. “I think that both types of people need to be able to communicate with each other.” He goes on to note that both disciplines are equally as important and need to be given equal due within the department.
Whether or not you’re the Chief Marketing Technologist, all marketers will need to understand and appreciate the role that data plays in the marketing ecosystem and be able to make data-based decisions. The days of the strictly intuitive, creative marketer are gone (and I would say they never really existed and are simply romanticized for entertainment value.) Although marketers of the future may not need to know how to build these technologies, they will need to at least know what tools are available, how they work together, and the data each tool provides to inform future decisions.
The recent emphasis on marketing technology has led to a certain downgrading of the marketer who has honed their craft and is making a difference using marketing theory and practice. According the Erin, there’s been a dangerous shift in thinking that has led some people into believing that anyone can take on the role of marketer.
“I think the shift started during the first tech boom. As technology became a bigger part of society and advancements bled into almost every facet of life, the emphasis for most brands became focused on the engineering and product development department. Somewhere along the way, people starting to think that anyone can fulfill the marketing role, regardless of background,” states Erin. “It’s scary to think that someone would pay such close attention to building a product and not place equal emphasis on its positioning in market, how it is messaged to target users, and how it stacks up against competitors in the eyes of consumers.”
Where ever the person comes from, the stage has already been set for a new kind of marketer, the marketing technologist.
Who Will Be The Marketing Technologist?
Depending on who you ask, the marketing technologist will be someone with a strong marketing background who learns technology, or someone with a strong analytics or technical background who understands marketing. Either way, for most people, one of the skills has to be secondary to the other.
Those who believe that future marketers will come from a technical background are looking at all the marketing tools that must be linked together and the data that must be analyzed and acted upon as the catalyst for creating a new breed of marketer that is first technical and secondly marketing oriented.
“Understanding marketing can’t be secondary if you’re a marketer,” asserts Ray. “The challenge remains for CMOs to understand what technology trends are happening, how they’re going to impact their business, who they need to hire, and how they need to communicate common goals across all departments and roles.”
Depending on the size of the organization, the many functions of marketing may be handled by a couple of generalists, or a whole team of specialists. Making statements about the amount of technical ability that a marketer might need in the future means lumping all these various types of marketers into one homogenous group. Anyone who has ever worked at a startup, a large enterprise, and an agency can tell you that marketing is a hugely varied discipline and a “one size fits all” approach will likely lead to trouble.
For each function within the marketing department, there are significant differences in how much technical acumen and what type of acumen is required to do the job. Social media marketers will need a different skill set and use different tools than an email marketer or the advertising manager – and as these channels evolve their skill sets may overlap or diverge.
Large vs Small Marketing Organizations
Smaller marketing organizations may have the challenge of needing to understand a lot of technologies and roles in order to compete in todays ecosystem. The number of hats to wear continues to increase while the amount of headspace stays the same. However, one advantage most small marketing organization workers have is that they often get a broader picture of how technologies and actions fit together to form a larger picture – something often difficult in a large company where teams and departments may not coordinate often.
In a large organization, there may be a Chief Marketing Technologist, CPO, CTO, or CSO who has to work alongside the CMO and each of these teams would need to collaborate on marketing initiatives. Challenges arise when the creative side of marketing and the technical side of marketing become two entities at odds with each other. There are also challenges when redundant technologies are instated resulting in budget waste and analytics nightmares.
For any size organization, it’s a risk to split the marketing and technology functions into two teams and to try to relegate the data and technical side of things to a team that is only responsible for the data. Truly strategic decisions cannot be made without some understanding of the data being generated by you and your team’s efforts.
“I think it would be really hard to have a CMO and a Chief Marketing Technologist in one organization,” states Erin. “I don’t even understand what a Chief Marketing Technologist is supposed to be responsible for honestly. What you really need is a CMO who understands the technologies that you use. At some point, one person needs to understand the strategic value of how to position the brand, how to market, how to differentiate products, and how to gather feedback to make recommendations for the future. An essential factor to a good CMO hire for any brand wanting to stay current is a broader understanding of both marketing creativity, strategy, and the technologies necessary to analyze both.”
Technologist or Data Analyst?
At the end of the day, every organization needs someone who is capable of talking to other people within the organization and providing leadership. That person doesn’t have to be an expert on everything, they just need to be able to understand the ecosystem as a whole. The CMO doesn’t have to be a Facebook advertising expert, SEO expert, and email marketing expert. But, they should know how to talk to all of those people at a strategic level and be able to provide guidance and direction for the organization based on results across all marketing teams.
“Trying to add more C-level titles because there is more technology or there are more people or there are more roles, it’s just going to be crazy. You can’t have 18 C-level people. It’s hard enough with four or five,” notes Erin. “What we’re really talking about at the C-level is the ability to hire, manage, and strategize with good people who are experts in departments.”
People often make the assumption that marketing somehow used be be purely intuitive and now it’s purely technical. It’s never been all one or the other and while the pendulum may seem to swing toward one set of skills or another – it’s always going to be important to find balance.
“I think there are times where the intuitive strengths that marketers bring are really important and more important than just relying on pure data alone,” notes Ray. “There are times where you need to be able to use both your intuition and data to make the best decisions.”
The amount of data that’s available is one of the reasons marketers are getting so concerned about the future skill sets required to do the job. While most brands are seeking simplicity and a maneagable workflow, we’re struggling with the amount of available information and data points that can be gained across not just our own efforts, but also competitors, and the industry. Finding ways to visualize and analyze the data in ways that actually inform future decisions and impact the bottom line remain huge challenges across the board.
What is needed is not so much a marketing technologist, but marketers who can analyze the data, turn it into insights, and then help turn it into action. So, if you don’t know how to read the data or access the data, then you don’t know how to turn any of that information into insights that matter.
“When people say marketers need more technology, what they’re talking about is marketers need better access and understanding of the information, how the web marketing tactics they’re using are working, and how to make smarter decisions based on that information,” asserts Erin.
Finding the Future in Marketing Curriculum
If we were to prepare people coming into marketing for the technology challenges of the future, that effort might start at the university level. The problem facing universities is the same problem facing marketers now. Things are changing rapidly and by the time you have a solid footing and understanding of what’s happening in the marketing ecosystem something changes. In the time it would take to develop a curriculum, marketing channels will have come and gone and the technology will have evolved.
If someone were to design the perfect university major for the marketing technologist it would have to include marketing theory and some technical expertise. It might include data science, math and statistics, analytics as well as writing and marketing best practices. The challenge would be finding people who are interested in that range of study. Surely a student looking at a communication or marketing degree would be turned off by all the science and math involved in the marketing technologist curriculum.
“What we need is a case study type of class. Having current marketers as guest speakers and treat it like a seminar class would be the only way to keep it real time,” advises Erin.
No matter where marketers get their training, and no matter their title: CMO, CMT, or marketing manager the most sought after professionals will be the ones that can meld their creative and intuitive marketing instincts with an awareness of the available tools and an understanding of the role of data in strategic decision making.