As the new normal becomes the new future, businesses are working vigorously to adapt to the ever-changing market. They are adopting new technologies and leaping into more digital transformation rather than be left behind. As we all move into this new future, the traditional role of marketing will change as well.
In early 2021, Arktic Fox, in conjunction with Michael Page, released a report on Marketing State of Play. This in-depth report explores the core challenges marketers are grappling with in the current climate, including challenges related to prominent skill gaps, martech and data challenges.
To explore the report findings in-depth, Cheetah Digital and Arktic Fox hosted a webinar, “The Marketing State of Play: Leadership Matters”. During the all-female panel discussion, these trusted experts explored the marketing skills needed to drive success in a tech-led environment, and why diversity and leadership are now critical more than ever before.
Challenge 1: Soft skills to drive success
The Marketing State of Play Report identified soft skills required for marketers to succeed in the current marketplace. These key soft skills include effective communication and presentation skills, capabilities in stakeholder management, the ability to think critically and solve problems, displaying leadership and collaboration qualities, and working as a team productively.
Teresa Sperti, Director and Founder at Arktic Fox, says marketing teams are increasingly starting to solve small strategic issues within the organisation: “All of these soft skills are amplified in the organisation. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. We start to see the gaps in soft skills amongst individuals as we work through and across the organisation.” says Sperti.
“Critical thinking and problem-solving are vital for solving new and different problems that the organisation hasn’t faced before,” she explains. “Collaboration and teamwork obviously work towards enabling alignment and breaking down silos. All of them are critically important.”
Sperti predicts the importance and demand for these soft skills are not going to decrease in the near future. She believes marketers will be required to possess these skills to succeed in their role moving forward.
Those with strong soft skills will feel the need to “dumb down”
Natalie Gray, Expert Lead Marketing Operations at ING, says those with strong soft skills, will feel the need to “dumb down”.
“For me, it is refreshing to say that these are core requirements from a team to enable them to succeed in their transformation journey. You’ve got to have courage. You’ve got to be able to put yourself out there and be confident enough to ask difficult questions in a landscape that maybe you don’t understand,” says Gray, adding leaders should get comfortable with not knowing the answer all the time, as this will happen.
Leading the technical team, Rae Leong, Director of Technical Services at Cheetah Digital, says one of the most critical soft skills to have is active listening: “Being comfortable and vulnerable enough to ask those difficult questions is key. When requirements come up, that may not be usual cases that we see, you need to use those critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”
“Additionally, if we’re not actively listening to the other things that may or may not be said directly in sessions, we’re going to miss critical information that is going to contribute to our ability to deliver anything,” Leong adds. “From a technical services team perspective, it’s important to look beyond what is there. It’s important to ask those tough questions and actively listen. It will help us understand what outcomes we’re trying to achieve.”
Challenge 2: Talent acquisition
The current pandemic has slammed international borders shut, which – according to the Marketing State of Play Report – could be a hurdle for acquiring the right talent for businesses.
Gray says all businesses are feeling the pinch of closed international borders as employee turnover increases: “The pandemic has put candidates in quite a powerful position, and recruiters are now more vulnerable,” she explains. “It’s a tricky one because when you urgently have vacancies to fill, you run the risk of paying top dollar for mediocrity. That’s something you’ve got to be conscious of.”
A lesson for organisations from this pandemic is the fact they’ll need to broaden their acquisition efforts and actively seek out the right talent in different places.
“Whilst the borders are still closed, there’s a whole workforce that doesn’t work in the traditional methods of nine to five. Such as mums coming back from parental leave, and those in the later years of their career,” Gray says, adding: “We need to be thinking not only about borders but also about other pockets of people.”
Some organisations are paying top dollar for mediocrity
Sperti agrees, noting some organisations are paying top dollar for mediocrity: “The industry as a whole has been slow to move on improving our talent acquisition. We are not as progressive as other markets. People have been elevated really quickly and demand high salaries, but don’t necessarily have the skill set required, particularly when it comes to soft skills,” she says.
“We overlook those soft skills in comparison to the candidate’s technical skills. But when you’re navigating this change, such as when you’re implementing martech or when you’re going through a transformation, you’re required to navigate change effectively. That’s where soft skills become so important.”
Sperti says from a technical standpoint, candidates may have the skills, however that is not enough. Encouraging adoption of these technical changes requires strong soft skills: “We are talent poor as a country,” she adds, pointing to the fact this has driven up salaries and caused issues for those small to medium businesses.
“We’ve got talent challenges on a number of fronts, not because of border closures, but it’s driven by the fact that we have a skills gap. For example, the Marketing State of Play Report highlighted marketing leaders admitting two-thirds of their team do not have strong knowledge of data,” she explains.
“Additionally, four in ten marketers admitted that they don’t have strong knowledge in digital marketing, which has been around for a long time. It clearly indicates that organisations, particularly in Australia, aren’t prepared to invest in training and development to the levels needed in the current marketplace,” Sperti adds.
Organisations are still investing in training and development like they were ten years ago – which won’t work
“But the reality is that macro environments change demonstrably. We can’t invest $1,000 a year to train our people anymore,” Sperti explains. “We have to continuously re-skill and re-tool. So it’s going to take more investment than that, and organisations at the moment aren’t prepared to do that.”
Sperti says instead, organisations are now poaching people from every other organisations: “People are moving from organisation to organisation. This doesn’t help build sustainable change within organisations at all. We’ve got to think differently about the problem and seek ways of tapping into different resources in the market,” she adds.
Challenge 3: Complacency and willingness to adapt to change
Sperti says there’s been a degree of complacency in business: “Now that the market landscape has changed, and competition is growing, we need to find new ways to compete and innovate,” she says. “In the last five years, things have changed dramatically. There’s some great marketing talent and exceptional marketing leaders. However, as an industry, I’m not sure we’ve grasped really what challenges are ahead of us.”
“Whilst traditional marketing skills are still important some people aren’t open to learning and evolving,” she adds. “If that hesitancy to change is at a leadership level, it cascades down throughout the organisation. Staff will come defensive of their role within the organisation and their role within the industry.”
“Marketing leaders will be vulnerable behind closed doors and list their weaknesses, but they don’t feel comfortable showing that vulnerability in front of their peers and teams,” she says.
“If marketers can’t be vulnerable, how are they going to learn and evolve? We need a bigger conversation happening in the industry. COVID has enabled a lot of organisations to start to pick up the pace to catch up. There’s a lot of people learning on the job, which is okay. But it’s an expensive exercise to learn on the job as well. We should have been better prepared for this and not waited for the pandemic as a catalyst,” Sperti says.
Challenge 4: Diversity and leadership
With the rising importance of experience, and consumers increasingly aligning with brands that have a clear purpose, Sperti says the focus of marketing leadership is all about driving and influencing the organisation’s agenda.
“Leaders need to be actively shaping culture and the changing agenda within the organisation,” she adds. “Marketing leaders need to understand what drives the business and focus their efforts and energy on influencing that strategic agenda, and shifting their gaze.”
When it comes to campaigns, Sperti says the industry has been talking about the need to shift from a campaign-based approach for the last five to ten years: “Still within organisations today, the marketing team spend the majority of their time on campaigns. That’s not to say campaigns are not important, however there are greater strategic issues that marketing needs to play a bigger role. Marketing leaders need to be able to cast a clear vision across the organisation, and partner to make that vision a reality,” she explains.
Experts wholeheartedly agree organisations need to do better at representing and embracing diversity, culture and different circumstances. Gray adds diversity is about hiring people from all walks of life, for example, “…mums with newborns and those in their twilight years.”
“I think about those two buckets quite a lot because of resilience, experience and skill sets. Those jobs are there for the taking, so what’s the blocker? It baffles me. We know none of us work a nine to five day job anymore, and we’re all able to have work-life integration,” she adds.
Leong says marketing teams need to have different experiences, skills and exposure: “We’re very lucky in my team. We’ve got team members from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Philippines, Costa Rica, UK and South Africa. Our diverse background means they’ve seen clients that operate on different approaches, in different regions and with different experiences. This diverse exposure is very important at Cheetah Digital,” she concludes.
To watch the full panel in action click here.
Article written by Caitlin Riordan, VP Client Success and Services, APAC, Cheetah Digital
About Cheetah Digital: Cheetah Digital is a cross-channel customer engagement solution provider for the modern marketer. The Cheetah Digital Customer Engagement Suite enables marketers to create personalized experiences, cross-channel messaging, and loyalty strategies, underpinned by an engagement data platform that can scale to meet the changing demands of today’s consumer. Many of the world’s best brands, including Hilton, Neiman Marcus, Walgreens, and Williams-Sonoma trust Cheetah Digital to help them drive revenue, build lasting customer relationships, and deliver a unique value exchange throughout the customer lifecycle. To learn more, visit www.cheetahdigital.com.