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Are the demands of modern marketing creating a re-prioritisation in skills requirements?

Research conducted for Econsultancy’s new Skills of the Modern Marketer Report indicates that marketers are attributing more value than ever to so-called ‘softer skills’, alongside the more traditional vertical expertise that recruiters look for.

Marketers are already recognising a high degree of complexity in their roles, but many feel underprepared in terms of skills to deal with the degree of change they see coming down the line.

A recent report by Adobe (PDF) found that 40% of the marketers they surveyed stated that they wanted to reinvent themselves, but only 14% said that they knew how to achieve this. 

This is both a challenge and an opportunity. Findings from our research reveals a growing importance in some vertical skills, particularly those related to content, mobile and social.

Some broader skills areas, most notably customer experience, content and data, are also perceived to be amongst those growing most in significance for the organisations we surveyed.

It was however, the increasing emphasis and priority given to ‘softer’ marketing skills, notably reflecting a number of the areas mentioned in the Modern Marketing Manifesto, that was perhaps most interesting.

How important would you say the following softer skills or behaviours are to being an effective marketer in the modern digital world? 

Interviewees spoke of the need to combine digital expertise with classic marketing knowledge and approaches, but also of a heightened relevance of skills and behaviours such as adaptability, articulation and persuasion, hunger to learn, collaboration, creativity, data-driven decision making, empathy, curiosity and passion. 

Self-motivation and continuous learning was felt to be important in the context of a continually changing environment.

In fact, Laszlo Bock, the SVP of people operations for Google, recently named this in a New York Times interview as one of the key attributes that it looks for when hiring staff:

For every job, though, the number one thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information.

Qualities like this are, he says, critical in enabling different and new thinking. Marketing technology blogger Scott Brinker, when interviewed for the skills report, echoed this view, saying that:

If there is one skill to watch for it’s the ability to be a self-motivated learner.

When respondents to our survey were given a pre-selected list and asked to rate which softer skills were most significant, those that scored most highly as being ‘very important’ included the ability to embrace change, to spot opportunities and adapt strategies quickly, and also being passionate, curious and hungry to learn.

Some overarching areas of focus, most notably an aptitude for content and content marketing, a solid commercial sense and customer focus, and a broader understanding of digital channels, were seen to be relevant for all modern marketing roles.

But the key softer skill mentioned most by our interviewees was articulation and persuasion: the ability to appreciate the broader context of digital roles, functions and activity; to communicate their value in compelling, jargon-free ways to the rest of the business; to understand wider business requirements and interpret these into digital solutions; to work effectively with other non-digital teams and traditional marketers to bring them on-board with strategies.

Is this a revolution? It’s true to say that whilst these softer skills have always been important, they have undoubtedly taken on a new heightened level of significance for today’s marketers.

Some of those interviewed for the report felt that it will be these skills that will increasingly be the differentiator. In the words of one interviewee:

The softer skills are what will define the successful digital marketer of the future.

You can download a copy of the Skills of the Modern Marketer report here.

Test your own digital marketing knowledge with our Digital Skills Index Lite or get in touch to test your whole team or organisation. 

Neil Perkin

Published 26 May, 2014 by Neil Perkin

Neil Perkin is the founder of Only Dead Fish, and a consultant and contributor to Econsultancy. You can read his blog, and follow him on Twitter.

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