Building Marketing Leaders of The Future
Looking inside of a new roadmap of core skills to drive vision and leadership in the industry to see what it takes to be a leader in marketing?
This ideal skill set has changed dramatically in recent years as the responsibilities and experience of today’s marketers have expanded in scope. While strengths that used to set marketers apart — like crafting a powerful brand voice and a brilliant go-to-market strategy — are still more important than ever, leaders today need to be savvier with marketing technology, data fluent, and measurement focused. They must be equipped to decide which systems power their strategies, connect the customer experience across an array of channels, and address new innovations such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence. They are also accountable for demonstrating and optimizing ROI.
As marketing’s purview has widened, we’ve seen individual roles become increasingly narrow and specialized, creating silos of digital capability. Budding marketers often focus on technical skills around a specific set of digital tools such as Optimizely and AdWords that translate to growing sub-fields, including conversion rate optimization and SEO/SEM.
The problem with this approach is that by focusing on a limited set of tactical skills rather than the broader goals those skills help achieve, marketers risk losing visibility into how brands grow. They also lose the ability to solve complex problems that span beyond their immediate domain.
This creates several human capital challenges:
- Lack of leadership development: A narrow skill set is not suited to leadership roles in marketing, which increasingly require synthesis across social channels and touchpoints.
- Lack of career guidance: To grow beyond narrow domains, marketers need clear guidance on what skills and industry experience they should develop and what career options become available as a result.
- Lack of clarity in hiring: Without clarity around the essential marketing skills or how to assess for them, recruiters can only guess at who might be a high-potential candidate. And without clear expectations, new hires are not set up for marketing success.
To better prepare the next generation of marketers, leaders across the industry urgently need to come together to explain the broad skill set needed for marketing success in the field today. As a wide-ranging set of good marketing leaders across the consumer goods, technology, publishing, and education sectors, we formed the Marketing Standards Board to channel our collective experience toward this purpose. With the goal of defining excellence in the field and providing transparency into marketing careers, we’ve crafted a framework that will help provide this clarity for individuals, teams, and business partners.
What Makes a Marketer?
Marketing is comprised of four major functions, each with a distinct goal:
- Brand: Define and communicate brand purpose, value, and experience.
- Brand marketers are responsible for brand strategy, brand communications, and working across the organization to create a holistic customer experience.
- Sample job titles: VP of global brand, director of integrated marketing, brand manager
- Acquisition: Win new customers for your products and services.
- Acquisition marketers are responsible for acquiring customers within a given budget. They run campaigns and think strategically to improve performance.
- Sample job titles: Director of search engine marketing, lead generation specialist
- Retention and Loyalty: Retain customers and expand share of wallet.
- Retention and loyalty marketers are responsible for engaging customers. They deeply understand consumer behavior and work to maximize customer lifetime value.
- Sample job titles: Manager of CRM, director of brand activation
- Analytics and Insights: Get business insights and drive ROI using data.
- Marketing analysts are responsible for analyzing increasingly large volumes of data to derive insight that informs business decisions.
- Sample job titles: Marketing analytics manager, data scientist — marketing.
These four functions are common threads of marketing success, and they frame goals that haven’t changed over time. They were true when TV, print, and radio were the dominant media, remain true today with the prominence of web and mobile, and will remain true for whatever media and products come next. Although the execution required to achieve these goals has changed due to new tools and technology, the underlying purpose provides a stable frame of reference to understand and explain our profession.
Experienced marketers will often prioritize the skills needed for their role spread across more than one of these functions, given that a single role is often accountable for multiple goals that require a blend of skills.
A Career Framework for Marketing
With the four functions of marketing in mind, we have drafted a framework that captures our collective thinking about the career paths and associated skills required in marketing today.
Let’s break down each section of the framework and how we see it being used to guide career progression.
Level 1: Foundation
To begin a career in marketing, individuals need the bundle of skills in Level 1, from understanding customer insight to marketing technology. These skills allow them to be valuable early-career professionals, and are essential irrespective of company type, stage, and industry. From an HR perspective, Level 1 encompasses the set of required skills for most entry-level and early-career marketing candidates. They are the building blocks of marketing success that are needed and can be assessed for, regardless of one’s future career path.
Level 2: Application (Mid-Level)
Level 2 is for mid-career professionals and includes the four key functions we identified above. After demonstrating strong fundamentals from Level 1, most marketers will find that their career paths grow into a mix of Level 2 applications. Not all mid-career professionals need or desire expertise in all four areas — many will find their talents best suited in one or two. However, awareness of the full spectrum can identify strengths on which to double down and gaps that may lead a marketer to seek more support from others on their team.
For example, there are brand managers who are incredible at building out brand identity and communicating the value to consumers. They are clearly Level 2 marketers specializing in brand, even though they use acquisition and retention strategies to execute on their objectives. Similarly, there are search engine marketing managers (Level 2 marketers in acquisition) who are tremendously effective at finding new customers, and CRM managers (Level 2 marketers in retention) who specialize in engaging and delighting existing customers. Finally, new roles have emerged that are as much data professional as marketer, and as such we see Level 2 marketers in analytics.
It’s our job as leaders to guide team members toward Level 2 applications based on talent and interest, and define with our HR colleagues which (and how many) Level 2 skills are needed in each role, at each stage of seniority. Skills across these Level 2 applications, paired with strong vision and judgement, will prepare individuals to become marketing leaders.
Level 3: Leadership (Senior Role/Management)
For team members who seek leadership roles, Level 3 contains the bundle of additional skills needed to be successful marketing directors, vice presidents, senior vice presidents, and, ultimately, chief marketing officers. While having Level 3 skills does not make a leader, a leader typically possesses all of the Level 3 skills. At the leadership level, overall domain expertise and verbal communication skills becomes as important as setting the vision and strategy for the marketing team. Because these roles require problem-solving across the specialties of marketing, from customer experience to tech and data, successful Level 3s have often covered more than one Level 2 during their careers.
Next Steps: Putting Words Into Action
We formed the Marketing Standards Board six months ago to provide clarity into marketing careers for individuals, teams, and business partners. Our career framework is a first step toward achieving this goal, but it’s only effective if followed by action.
Our goal is for this career framework to be a valuable tool for:
- Aspiring marketers who want to understand what skills they need to enter the field.
- Mid-career professionals who want to understand their career options.
- Marketing leaders who want to build capable, well-balanced teams.
- HR leaders who want to build transparent, consistent career pathways.
To put this theory into action, we are going to use this framework within our organizations to:
- Explain career progression and roles across our teams. We’ll use the framework to guide development conversations by linking individual marketing activities to strategic objectives on our marketing teams.
- Guide high-potential employees on how to round out their skills. Point to individual strengths and gaps in Level 2 applications and Level 3 skills to support conversations with team members who show potential to take their career to the next level.
- Evaluate job candidates based on the function for which they are applying. Use one or more assessments to define and validate skills needed in open positions.
If you could benefit from these same actions, we encourage you to join us in using the framework for similar purposes in your own organizations. Our industry needs to use a common language around marketing, and that language extends beyond our board.
In parallel, we’re seeking feedback from our colleagues and friends to refine this framework. We’re starting with partners in our executive teams, industry associations, and peers around the world. We’re also asking you. If you have feedback on how this could be useful for you, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By coalescing on what it takes to succeed in marketing businesses, we can begin to examine some of the big talent strengths and weaknesses in the profession and better prepare the next generation of successful marketing leaders. We analyzed 20K+ Certified Marketer Level 1 assessment results; download The State of Skills: Marketing 2020 report to find out what we discovered.