The Topline

In a future where new and emerging technologies will disrupt the marketing landscape in unprecedented ways, one of the consequences is that the competitive landscape becomes highly democratized and levels the playing field to an extraordinary degree. In order to compete effectively, stand out and win, companies will increasingly rely on marketing. And the marketing function will be vastly different than what it is now. 

For that reason, marketers need to be thoughtful about how they find, train and nurture talent, and build effective teams, to be ready for that future. They must redefine the competencies required to set their teams up for success. (For example, at Mastercard, we created an entire matrix of competencies that the future marketing and communications professionals need to have, which is the basis on which we now create all learning experiences and most key job rotations.)  

In my previous newsletter, I wrote about how future marketers will need to be general managers with a deep understanding of the industry as opposed to being pure marketing specialists. They should be intellectually agile and be able to think both creatively and analytically. They need to be intuitive, yet quantitative. They not only need to grasp and practice the art, science and technology of marketing, but also understand culture, data and business finance. In essence, they need to be like Leonardo da Vinci.

While finding talent with those abilities is the goal, it is a significant challenge. Leonardo da Vincis are not easy to find and even when found, may not want to join marketing, at least in its current state. Therefore, organizations must corral people with different skill sets, and build a cohesive team, and craft effective processes that collectively make it work like a Leonardo da Vinci team. 

How Companies Should Build Marketing Teams of the Future

To build a strong marketing team of and for the future, the first step is to assess what skills and competencies are needed. While a vast majority of it is common across most organizations, you need to assess what is uniquely required by your organization, given your competitive context and company culture. These are not just skills for today, but for tomorrow. Think in the context of AI, IoT, AR, VR, blockchains, NFTs, real-time optimization, multi-sensory marketing…

Second step is to identify the key talent in your marketing organization and map which skills are prevalent across your marketing leadership in particular and across all team members in general. This exercise, in my own experience, has uncovered some surprising candidates, who had the skills of the future, but not necessarily had the spotlight on them. This exercise will also show you what your most significant needs are and where the biggest gaps are.  

Third, you need to begin putting together your dream team, bringing various types of team members together. The talent landscape can have many types of people, but you need to focus on six of those, for your future team:

1. Existing talent of specialists and subject matter experts, who have the learning agility to advance in their field of specialization or go beyond to other areas of marketing/company.

2. Existing talent of marketing generalists, who have a good understanding of the various aspects of marketing and have the ability to go and grow outside of marketing too.

3. Existing talent of generalists with no marketing expertise, but know the organization very well and can build bridges very effectively between marketing and the rest of the company. 

4. Employees of the company, outside of marketing, who can be rotated into marketing to help bring in outside perspectives, effective cross functional relationships and also enable cultural transformation in the company that embeds marketing in the right frame.

5. Candidates outside the company or industry, who bring in different perspectives and experiences and help jump start your own company’s thinking.

6. Students and young professionals who are starting their career and will be foundational to your future organization.

Each type of team member is essential in their own way. Together, they provide the right mix of skills and abilities needed to build a sustainable marketing program. If companies figure out how to leverage their talent and coordinate them effectively, they will collectively produce way more than the sum of their parts. 

Retrain Existing Talent

Existing marketing talent is perhaps the most valuable piece of the puzzle as they know your industry and your company, inside out. They must factor into any team strategy. However, they might not have the all the skills and competencies for the future environment.  You need to identify the gaps on the future competencies matrix and provide them with different forms of training and experiences to bring them up to the cutting edge.

Typically, many of the existing team members tend to be specialists. If somebody wants to continue to specialize, that’s perfectly fine. They just need to understand that they are targeting to gain mastery in their domain, and stay in that field. Realistically, they would not be heading up the marketing function down the line. The key is to make sure that they are exposed to the latest and greatest in their field, to keep advancing their knowledge in their domain space.

Existing talent of marketing generalists is the pool from which your future leaders of the function emerge. You should plan to give them job rotation opportunities, within and more importantly, outside of marketing,  They need to get an appreciation of marketing from an outside-in perspective, and also be able to connect the dots between marketing and the other areas, like finance and operations & technology (O&T) of the company. That way, they are better able to connect the dots between marketing initiatives and business outcomes.

Existing talent that has no marketing training or background, but has deep organizational understanding and an outside-in perspective could provide an invaluable benefit to the whole function, by being able to help integrate marketing with the rest of the company. If you are a company where marketing is still a nascent function or one that is on its transformational journey of gaining organizational credibility and gravitas, these individuals can prove to be invaluable. 

Since the field of marketing itself is transforming so rapidly, it’s crucial that marketing leaders retain and retrain their existing talent. There are many avenues available here: online courses, university programs, exchange programs with other companies, and book clubs, to name a few. Marketing leaders may also want to consider putting together advanced courses that employees are required to complete in order to be considered for certain roles or promotions. 

Find New Talent

Recruiting new, skilled talent is more difficult now than ever. I find industry forums are excellent venues for finding the best marketing minds and building a pipeline. People put on their best behavior in an interview context, but you get to see their true selves in non-interview settings. Also, I always find referrals from your own team turns up the candidates with the best fit and skill sets.

While recruiting new talent, organizations need to not only find cultural fits who have the necessary skills and competencies, they need to be cognizant about where these employees are coming from. In some companies, marketing drives the agenda. Marketers in such companies are used to being in the driver’s seat. At other companies, marketing enables and supports the business, but it is not the main driver. People coming from one type of company may struggle, at least initially, at the other. I have seen over the years, many marketers struggling to adjust to the role marketing plays in their new organization that is totally different than in their previous companies. 

 Focus on Students

When I first entered the workforce, marketing was the most desired career choice with a compelling trajectory. It offered exposure to great thinkers, opportunities for travel, creative innovations, and so much more. It was action packed, glamorous, fun and fulfilling.  Today — forget about it. The best talent goes to Silicon Valley, investment banks or consulting firms. As marketers, we must woo those talented students, expose them to the discipline, make them realize the awesomeness of the function and draw them in. 

If companies want to appeal to the best and brightest students, they need to build brand equity for their companies in the universities/colleges. One way to do this is through internships. Providing students with hands-on experiences with substantial projects helps build their skill set while testing their aptitude. 

It’s also very important for marketing leaders to show up on campuses. They can get involved with campus recruitment, manage training programs, partner with universities to provide case studies — anything that will generate interest and prepare the talent of the future!

Long Story Short

Talent keeps me up at night. There is so much competition for excellent people, and the best talent likely wants to go into roles that seem currently more desirable. Given how the perception of the industry has shifted, rising talent likely won’t choose marketing as their preferred career. Therefore, it’s the job of marketers to inspire individuals to enter the field and stay. It’s critical for the industry to get this right because talent will make or break a brand. We need to market marketing!