Last week, I attended a fascinating talk given by CJ Simister. Jane Simister, an educational consultant who specialises in independent thinking, has written a number of books on this topic including “The Bright Stuff”. Her premise is around the need to give our children a broader set of skills from an early age that will enable them to flourish in a changing and unpredictable world. She argues that many of our schools and educational establishments are oriented around passing exams, often encouraging children to conform, follow instructions and take a linear, standardised route as they seek to make sense of the world. Yet setting children down this narrow pathway is difficult in a world that is changing so rapidly that we don’t know what jobs we are equipping our children for, let alone what knowledge is needed by them to thrive within these new professions. In this environment, children need to combine their knowledge with a broader range of skills that enable them to be resourceful and independent, imaginative and daring, to be risk takers and draw on their broader talents as they tackle new challenges.
This got me thinking about the skills we are building in our marketing community to equip them for a changing future. Whilst building knowledge of the tasks that need to be performed is important for developing todays plan, equally relevant are the behaviours and skills that we should bring to those tasks. These are the broader skills that will help them not only with current challenges but equip them to cope with future volatility.
Mark Ritson in a recent article in Marketing Week had particular criticism for the task of producing a SWOT. “The prevalence of SWOT in brand plans is a sad testament to the lack of conceptual knowledge that many marketers have. If the best strategic tool you can muster is SWOT then it’s probably time to try another career”. But is it in fact the SWOT itself that is flawed or rather the way that so many people are using it? Absolutely, there is no merit in filling in a SWOT blindly, treating it as a form-filling exercise or as a means of showing that you’ve ticked the “strategic planning” box in your role. Where I have seen the SWOT used powerfully, however, is where marketers have really questioned their assumptions, delved under the surface of the facts, made interesting connections across the SWOT and then used it as a springboard to generate creative strategies and plans. Combining the format with these behaviours makes the template used relatively unimportant; what’s more important is the way in which we use it, using it as a tool to facilitate good thinking. And as different tools and methodologies come in and out of favour, what won’t change is the need for marketers to embrace a questioning, imaginative and daring approach as they seek to build fresh ideas about the future.
If we therefore buy the importance of building skills that enable our marketers to thrive in the future, rather than just today, this begs a question around what are the key characteristics and skills that marketers need to survive and thrive in our changing world.
I would highlight three in particular:
Innovation methodologies remain important to provide frameworks that enable cross functional teams and stakeholders to work together. Yet more important are the creative thinking approaches that we employ to identify and develop new opportunities. Beyond innovation, the technology explosion is continually bringing new opportunities to do things differently and to connect with customers in exciting new and more relevant ways. A creative approach to unleashing these opportunities is essential.
Developing that one killer insight that forms the basis of the brand is still an elusive dream for many – more realistic on a day to day basis is to ensure that all marketing activities have at their core an insightful understanding of customers and how they live their lives. Our marketers need insightful behaviours that enable them to more effectively dig deeper to reveal the true reality; behaviours such as exploring from different angles, listening for clues and nuggets, connecting information and projecting to help reach conclusions.
In order to truly champion customer orientation in the business, marketers need to be ever more skilled in engaging the organisation. Influencing the business to put customers at the heart of the business strategy and adopt approaches that drive value for both customers and the business has never been more important.
So as we focus on building the capabilities of the marketers in our teams, let’s continue to build knowledge and understanding around the core principles of marketing today. But in parallel, let’s not forget to build their abilities to be the marketers of the future, able to survive and thrive in a changing world. Do let us know your thoughts on skills that our marketers need to be future proofed.
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