What Skills Do Modern Marketers Need in an Automated Economy?
As the field of marketing evolves, marketers must consider how to acquire skills for an automated world and collaborative business environment
Marketers face some new and daunting challenges in planning a career. The marketing landscape has changed so rapidly and extensively that many of the traditional guideposts for the future simply don’t exist. The good news is that there are powerful new developments in marketing that present opportunities for practitioners at different levels. Navigating a career path in marketing requires careful consideration of what skills and capabilities to acquire and personal decisions about what context in which to apply them.
How marketers make career choices depends on having useful information about the options. In the past they could rely on industry practice and stable job expectations for career progression. Now there’s sparse history and more challenges in identifying people and relevant information to assist the search for a career.
Shifting Marketing Environment
Fifteen to 20 years ago there were established jobs as product and advertising managers (and their supporting assistants), sales (heavily face-to-face) and channel managers (in-person, phone, retail), marketing researchers (mostly doing survey research and some behavioral tracking) and media buyers (TV, radio, print and direct mail). Only a few consulting firms had substantial marketing practices. In many roles career success could be measured by taking on greater responsibilities for budgets, staffs and communication with top management.
Fragmentation developed in many of these areas, along with increasing digital information availability and technical capabilities. Data-driven marketing, customer relationship marketing, customer value/ROI management and customer experience management emerged. New roles require more facility with data acquisition and analysis; more expertise in designing and testing new offers and messages; more understanding of the internet as a communication medium, sales channel, data source, app and social network environment. Wider understanding of communication formats (e.g. online video, mobile) became necessary.
Changing Career Outlook
As a result of these changes, there were more areas in which people were needed and, in the older roles, some reduction in needed people due to automation. There was less clarity about career options, paths, evaluation and compensation. New jobs were created in digital, social media, data science, analytics and e-commerce. Jobs that emphasized strategic market planning, managing large numbers of people and creating brand assets that have long-term value became less of a priority. Jobs that linked directly to revenue and profit impact increased in priority.
At the same time, over the last 20 years, agencies, service bureaus and consulting firms of various types have formed. The marketing process now involves many types of third parties to handle tasks that the primary company chooses not to perform directly with its own staff. The outsourcing of business processes leads to development of capabilities by these specialist firms and creates potential career paths for some.
Looking ahead, automation is likely to take over more of marketing’s traditional functions when the tasks are repeatable and potentially programmable. For example, parts of the media buying process are being impacted by programmatic buying of advertising. Computer capabilities that enable networks to match large numbers of buyers and sellers have the potential to replace manual processes requiring face-to-face interactions.
Choosing a Way Forward
Marketers who are starting out in their career, as well as experienced marketers who need to stay current, ought to consider some common sense recommendations:
1. Think carefully about what formal training is needed. Most levels of work in marketing will require some experience with handling data, whether in a customer contact role or a data management and analysis role. However, it’s not obvious that simply maximizing technical training is a good option. Artificial intelligence and robotics could make marketing jobs less dependent on the computer skills of users. While many current applications don’t operate smoothly (e.g., automated telephone marketing, some automated reservation systems, some e-commerce sites) these could improve performance over time.
2. Understand the trade-offs between pursuing a specialty (e.g., mastering a particular media application or type of customer contact) versus becoming a generalist who coordinates multiple specialties (e.g., coordinating research using multiple methods, data and analysis). Since new applications are continually being developed, it behooves a specialist to have sufficient skills to be able to adapt to emerging technologies rather than lock on to just one specialty.
3. Invest appropriate time in managing your own personal brand, i.e., what to be known for, what expectations to set for prospective employers and what type of value to contribute to the market. This question ought to include consideration of the type of business and place in the value chain of marketing. For example, the career choices would be different in a company that markets directly to end customers versus an agency or service firm that provides value to marketers.
The boundaries between all these types of companies have changed a lot in the past 20 years. Frequently there are calls for collaboration of different agencies (including companies that are competitors) to support a particular company. Terms like “ecosystem” and “frenemies” capture the theme that roles between companies don’t easily fit into the traditional categories of vendor, supplier and customer. The people within these firms need to know how to relate to other firms in new ways.
4. Plan to acquire information that will help with career management going forward. Experienced people often have several mentors who provide some guidance on the possible paths ahead and provide a long-term perspective on decision criteria. Finding appropriate role models will be harder to do since much of the marketing environment is new in the last five to ten years. Senior marketers who have worked in a particular role or at a single company probably won’t have as much value as a mentor as someone who has navigated between/adapted to different roles and companies.
A potential mentor’s experience in a traditional command-and-control structure will probably be less relevant than experience in companies that have flatter organizations, exhibit more flexibility in their daily processes and make heavy use of information technology to run their businesses. Entrepreneurial experience may be quite relevant in a mentor. While fulltime entrepreneurship may not appeal to everyone, learning what it takes to manage one’s own brand in different contexts, over time, may be crucial.
Given the availability of information on people and careers, marketers ought to consider ways to leverage technology to find relevant career advice. One way to use the tools is to more effectively find a mentor with relevant experience. Social media platforms, such as LinkedIn for professionals, are used heavily by the human resources and search industries for candidate recruitment. Presumably the databases include people with the ideal qualities to serve as mentors, if only they can be found.
Another way to leverage the technology is to use data to understand alternative career paths, by the actual behavior of people in terms of their companies, roles and progression over time. Data can create an understanding of what’s been happening in the field in recent years. Digital tools like recommendation engines can support decision-making. Perhaps technology may complement and even substitute for some of what the human mentor can do.