Original insights in international business and marketing
I’ve spent the past 15 years working in various Marketing roles. From small firms to massive industry juggernauts, from upstream product Marketing to downstream sales and business development, I’ve had a firsthand opportunity to see what skills come in handy and what profiles & personas fit best in this line of work. That’s not to suggest that there is ever a perfect profile for a marketing role, but there are traits that are common among the best Marketers I’ve encountered. Most of these are fairly universal and can apply to any marketing role, regardless of the industry or geography.
1. Product knowledge. It goes without saying that the price of entry does require at least a basic level of product understanding. Not suggesting that to become a good Marketer you need to know every nut and bolt of your product, but a minimum familiarity is necessary to earn credibility both inside and outside the organization. How can customers and sales people trust you and count on you if you can’t talk product with them? You don’t have to be an expert but you need to know what you are talking about. I’ve seen Product Managers get up in front of an audience and bumble through a product presentation. It was painfully obvious to everyone in the room that the fella had no clue about the product and you could almost feel the trust in him just evaporate causing long term damage to his credibility… Of course, not everyone comes into a new role or business immediately understanding all the various products and services. You need training and you need hard work. You also need humility to accept all that you still need to learn, you need to reach out to others for help and you need a keen drive/desire to understand things. Intellectual curiosity is what I look for here. After all, the role of a Marketer can be fairly transparent and independent of the product they are selling. I’ve known male Marketers responsible for lines of feminine hygiene products. Nothing suggests you absolutely need to be a user or intimately familiar with your product to be good at what you do.
2. Context awareness. In Healthcare you might call that clinical or domain knowledge. In other industries it might be called market familiarity. Regardless of the field you are in, to successfully generate demand for what you make or offer, you need to understand how, where and why it fits in a particular environment. Who are the buyers, the users, the end recipients and what does their world, their reality, their context look and feel like. A good Marketer needs to have a feel for the entire eco-system in which he is trying to establish him or herself. You need to a holistic understanding of the customer’s environment and be able empathize or relate with their condition and the demands of their job. This often comes from having spent years in their shoes or milieu. It can also come from regular visits and interactions. It cannot, however, come exclusively from books, reports or teachings. Marketers need to live the customers’ lives to really understand them. Nor is this a one-time deal. Even seasoned domain experts can become stale and out-of-touch over time. Staying current is a must but it becomes a greater challenge as Marketers rise in the organization and eventually start to distance themselves from the customer’s context. There is always the danger that those responsible for the most strategic business decisions are often those furthest removed from the customers’ context.
3. Marketing prowess. Whether conducting traditional or digital Marketing strategies, today’s leading Marketers need to have what I call a “creative passion for communication.” In other words they need to be driven by the beautiful challenge of conveying a message that through its content, medium and design will move customers to buy your offering over that of others. Internally this all needs to be measurable and done in the most cost-effective way. Hence the Marketer needs to always be on the prowl to optimize his or her message to keep resonating in a world of continually changing needs and expectations. Good Marketers are comfortable with communication and enjoy the art of crafting messages for their products or services.
4. Global awareness. In this day and age, when we are increasingly interconnected through trade and technology, I find it increasingly hard to operate successfully (in any role, not just Marketing) without having a more international view of things. Of course, there are those who will say that since they are only responsible for one market, one country, one geography that they don’t need to learn about what is outside their purview. While understandable, I find it difficult and indeed dangerous to succumb to this type of thinking. Products are developed and sourced globally, trends are international (Gangnam Style anyone?), audiences are getting more diverse, inspiration and ideas come from anywhere in the world, social medias & communities are not defined by borders, companies are multinationals, competition is increasingly foreign, passion & interest in the human condition are universal, so why limit ourselves to local thinking? I would venture to say that in this day and age, if marketers are not globally aware, they are not worth their salt.
5. Customer intimacy. If Marketing’s mission is to generate demand then it can only be achieved through deep customer understanding. Yes, it sounds like a cliche but but in today’s intensively competitive markets the spoils go to he or she who understands the customer best. This type of intimacy, however, does not come from surveys or focus groups. It comes from a series of meaningful interactions conducted virtually, face to face and also in situ. CRM can certainly help achieve some of this but it is no substitute for an ongoing dialog and relationship. Too often we treat Sales and Marketing like a hunting expedition: we get the deal or campaign done and then we move on to the next “prey.” True customer intimacy is more like farming where the relationship is deeper and more revealing precisely because it is not seen by the customer as transient or transactional.
Of course none of this can be construed as a complete or definitive list. There are many other important skills worth having: Leadership, organization, integrity and a strong work ethic to name only a few. Meanwhile, much of these “Must-Haves” can be learned or acquired through years of experience and careful training. Passion, however, cannot be learned or faked. It is the one key ingredient that separates the good Marketers from the great ones. It’s also what elevates all of the aforementioned “Must-Haves” to a whole new dimension of excellence and it is the one key thing that I most look for in Marketing candidates.