Why You Need 21st Century Marketing Skills

digital marketing skills for the 21st century

marketing skills for the 21st century
Recently, I wrote about the top 7 marketing skills you need as a CMO in today’s business. But, really, the entire marketing world changed — even over the last 5 years — and I expect we’ll see a total change in the marketing skills demanded by top businesses.

If you’re hiring, take a look at the marketing skills listed in your job descriptions. Do they meet your firm’s marketing needs going forward?

If you’ve already got employees working in marketing, what can you do to update their marketing skills for the 21st century?

Why businesses don’t have the right marketing skills?

As a marketing professor over the last 20+ years, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re not teaching enough of the right marketing skills to students.

There’s a little history behind that, but it came down to criticism that we were teaching too many applied skills and not enough marketing theory. So, in the ’70s, everything changed almost overnight. We developed theories, borrowed from economics, psychology, sociology, and, later, anthropology to generate theories to explain consumer behavior and guide the development of marketing strategy.

What resulted was a great body of conceptual thinking, but we spent so much time teaching this stuff to students, we forgot to teach ANY applied skills (I would argue we also failed to teach them the application of the concepts we taught, but that’s for another discussion).

Companies, in response to our failure, thought they could retrofit other majors to fill marketing roles — engineers is a common one because they have the analytical skills. Or they’d hire English majors (they can write) or political science majors (they’re cheap), maybe a psychology major or two.

Great. These folks have some of the skills you need in marketing a 21st-century company, but they’re missing the key skill — marketing.

And, believe me, marketing concepts matter. Understanding consumer behavior (influence, motivation, self-identity, decision-making), building 21st-century marketing strategies (using BCG, etc), managing innovation (adoption, diffusion, tech management, valuation), and many other marketing concepts are indispensable for marketing a brand and there’s simply NO substitute for knowing marketing concepts.

So, it’s not like solving a math problem where you can either get an answer you can’t. Not knowing marketing concepts leaves you in the dark — you think you’re doing a good job, but you would do MUCH better if you understand marketing.

What you don’t know, you don’t know you don’t know.

What skills do you need in the 21st century?

Good question.

A colleague sent me this infographic, which I believe summarizes the marketing skills needed in the 21st century and charts the change over the last 5 years.

So, let’s take a look at the top trends in hot skills for marketers: [source: Evolution of Marketing Skills | Infographics]Infographics: Evolution of Marketing Skills

Analytics, analytics, analytics

Appearing throughout the infographic are data analysis skills. Unfortunately, most marketing programs only include market research, which is a great source of primary analytics but fails to mention analysis of secondary data. But, with the rise of digital, these secondary information sources dominate. That’s where companies think hiring an engineer or data scientist will bail them out.

But, that’s not true. Especially at the more senior levels.

Marketers are necessary for answering the tough questions (and knowing which questions to ask in the first place), which engineers and data scientists can’t.

As an example, take a look at this report from Google Analytics. What insights can you gather from it?

Well, that depends on asking the right questions and knowing a little about consumer behavior.

First, we know 25-34-year-olds convert at a higher rate — that says your messaging works with this age group and, to a lesser extent with those slightly older — 35-44. Strategy, continue focusing the message on this group.

However, these groups spend less money, on average, on your site — suggesting they don’t have the money to buy as much product as they might want (they’re either buying lower-priced products or fewer of them). So, a strategy might be to either offer ways to extend their purchase ability (financing, discounts, etc) or change their perceived cost (break down to pennies/ day, for instance). This is even more true for the 18-24 age group, which offers great potential as more of them visit than almost any other age group.

The group 45-54 convert to a lesser extent, but have the highest purchase value. Maybe they’re buying for their kids? Maybe the message just isn’t resonating with them. Strategy: create messages that resonate better without annoying the younger demographic, or, if they’re buying for their kids, emphasize this in messaging.

demographic analytics to drive ROINotice, that the appropriate strategy is a combination of understanding the numbers (that AOV is more important than conversion rate and much more important than sessions) and understanding of consumer behavior. No BI guy can reliably generate such insights.

Marketers also need to understand tagging so they can effectively assess the return on various types of sharing and do effective A/B testing.

Content marketing/SEO

Traditional SEO was replaced by content marketing years ago, yet businesses still think of them as separate. Here’s where the English majors get hired to do marketing — hey, they can write, can’t they?

But, there’s a critical difference between knowing how to write and knowing what to write and that’s where marketing comes in. Understanding influence, decision-making, group dynamics as well as sales make a huge difference in the ROI of content marketing. Remember, your goal is to sell stuff, not just drive visits with your content. And marketing skill plays a huge role in making the cash registers ring from your content marketing strategies.

Ancillary to content marketing, marketers need skills that support content creation such as:

photoshop – since you don’t have time to send every image need through an art department as you do in traditional advertising. As a marketer, you need to be able to create photoshop images, add titles, do a little editing, and optimize sizing for your various needs.

HTML/CSS – not that you need to code websites from scratch, but you should be able to tweak a website or add a little javascript to make a post look just so.

social media – because it’s important for SEO (as it’s one of the factors in the algorithm that determines SEO) and for generating visits and motivating sales. But, social media is also a huge benefit for traditional market research (qualitative) as you can discover attitudes toward your brand, unmet needs, problems with your product/ services, and even learn more about your target markets.

Marketing channels

Email marketing, mobile marketing, PPC, and the rest are marketing skills needed to understand various channels. Just like knowledge of marketing tools, you need to master the intricacies of various channels to ensure you optimize your marketing return.

What if I don’t have the right marketing skills?

Well, you’re in luck. There’s never been a better time to learn and master better marketing skills. A number of free sources offer training or guidance in developing marketing skills. Here’s a partial list:

  1. Copyblogger and Buffer both offer great tips for content marketing (and of course, my blog)
  2. Occam’s Razor the Google Analytics blog are both perfect for learning more about analytics
  3. Codecademy is a great place to learn any type of coding. They also offer certifications and testing for less than $20 per month. I think their interactive classes are great.
  4. After years, Adobe now offers training for their suite of creative tools, like photoshop. Check them out. Image tools like Canva and Pablo make it easy for novices to create custom images with minimal experience.

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