I am writing this post as a call to action for marketers of all ages and professional dispositions.
Here's the crux of my argument. As the marketing function is increasingly influenced by digital technologies, it is becoming more complex, multivariate and integrated.
Many organizations are taking note of this, and turning to their marketing departments to engineer the broader company-wide digital transformation necessary to survive and thrive in today's integrated digital economy.
Fair or not, marketers are now viewed as the digital transformation change agents in many organizations. This presents unprecedented opportunities and perils for the modern marketer, who is now expected to have a broader skillset transcending mere artistic creativity and strategic thinking in order to foster organizational digital integration and transformation.
In short, it is no longer enough for marketers to be marketers; they are now expected to be marketing technologists.
Ashley Friedlein, the CEO of Econsultancy echoed this sentiment in a recent post he wrote on digital transformation:
The bigger game here is that digital transformation is really part of marketing transformation which itself is part of business transformation...Whilst digital is the catalyst and driver of change, particularly for organisations whose business models have been most digitally disrupted, it looks like marketing as a function within business is to be the primary agent of change.
The problem is that most marketers do not possess the skillset required to competently discharge such a formidable task as digital transformation. In fact, many marketers lack formal training in or a basic understanding of many quantitative aspects of business that are becoming increasingly relevant in the digital age. The following data points bear out this notion:
- A survey of more than 1,200 top-level management and marketing execs from around the globe conducted by The Fournaise Marketing Group found that 90% of Marketers are not trained in Marketing Performance & Marketing ROI; in fact, 67% didn't even know that ROI required a financial result. Many reported using "softer" KPIs as their main ROI metrics, such as brand awareness (64%) and audience reach (31%).
- The same survey found that more than 80% of marketing execs are unable to write a P&L and Balance Sheet correctly when given a simple business scenario. Many were unable to give the correct definitions of basic Financial KPIs used day in day out by CEOs and Boards (EBITDA, P/E Ratio or ROE), and are unable to correctly explain the impact Marketing can have on a company's balance sheet.
- To compound the problem further, there is an abundance of evidence to suggest that marketers are struggling in their ability to deal with Big Data. To cite an example, according to 2013 research from the Path to Purchase Institute and Shopper Marketing as reported by eMarketer, less than one-third of US consumer packaged goods marketing execs reported that they were "highly able" to process transaction-level data.
To sum up, at a time when more is being asked of marketers than ever before, many are woefully underprepared. As a marketer, this simple fact can be viewed with consternation or elation. An eternal optimist, I choose to view it as an unprecedented opportunity for those of us willing to roll up our sleeves and sharpen our skillset; those of us willing to work hard to transform ourselves into the marketing technologist next door.
The Skills that Pay the Bills
Sounds great, you may be saying. But exactly what does it take to be a marketing technologist? Though by no means an exhaustive list, here are some of the key competencies needed:
- A basic understanding of business accounting/finance. If nothing else, make sure you are able to read a corporate balance sheet and P&L statement; you need to at least know enough to be able to demonstrate to those holding the purse strings (for your clients or at your own agency) that you are actively tracking the financial ROI of your marketing efforts.
- The ability to think mathematically. In an age where virtually every marketing initiative is quantifiable, having a basic grounding in statistics, logic and analytics will help you meaningfully interpret data so you are better able to translate your findings into actions that will refine existing campaigns and shape new ones. If you are interested in learning more about the concept of thinking mathematically, I highly recommend you check out the free online course put on by Keith Devlin of Stanford through online MOOC (massive online open course) Coursera, Introduction to Mathematical Thinking.
- Finally, you still need to be able to write well and think creatively and strategically. Ironically, the ascendency of digital marketing has given birth to a renaissance of sorts in content marketing, much of it written. In fact, one of the most difficult positions to fill in the digital agency world is that of the good ol' fashioned content creator; at least until the robots come and take all of our jobs.
I am not saying that every marketer needs to be proficient in every aspect of marketing and technology- that'll never happen. Here's the reality, though: given the complexities involved with running today's digital campaigns, many businesses/agencies are now looking for marketers with multiple skill sets.
As a sometime recruiter of such talent, I am always looking for two-for-ones in any marketing candidate. Two recent examples that come to mind are a journalist who is an awesome web developer, and a graphic designer who can also produce videos.
On any given day, the former can be found designing a website and writing its copy; the latter shooting a client video and designing the CTA and landing page on which it will be featured. On a functional level, these types of employees are indispensable in today's integrated digital marketing economy.
Make it Happen
Here's my final two cents on becoming a marketing technologist. I honestly believe that anyone, at any age, has an innate capacity to learn and add to their knowledge base. The emergence of free online learning sites like Code Academy and MOOCs like Coursera , Udacity, edX and Khan Academy make this process practically feasible for anyone with motivation and an internet connection.
In today's complex, fast-moving, highly competitive marketing environment, substance trumps form: it's better to have a broad scope of provable skills that you actually excel at then a top degree from a fancy (and expensive) school. Our integrated digital marketing economy waits for no one; it doesn't discriminate between the young and old, the affluent or wanting, but instead seeks out top talent that must be proven and re-proven on a daily basis.
It is not too late for the would-be marketing technologist in all of us to seize the manifold opportunities afforded by today's integrated digital marketing economy. More than any time in the past, technology has given us ultimate control our own fate. As individuals we are really only limited by the range of our internal initiative and effort.
So what are you waiting for?