A Forrester Consulting report in September found 56% of marketing leaders said they are restructuring marketing teams to focus on new initiatives, and 48% added they are retraining marketing teams.
What are they retraining their teams on? What are the necessary skills to survive in marketing in 2021 and beyond?
Executing customer-first programs according to the research requires an understanding and mastering of the virtual lifestyles of today’s consumers.
“Marketing and partner teams must possess the skills and experience to develop digital-first strategies, concepts and executions. Brands must staff, train or hire partners that think in the virtual worlds in which their brand and work must occupy," researchers said in the report.
Asynchronous Video and Demand Generation
Naturally, chief marketing officers shoulder the responsibility of making sure marketers are upskilled. Ed Breault, chief marketing officer of Aprimo, said his team started to get ahead of the curve skill-wise before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. A big focus was on demand generation teams and the ability to leverage asynchronous video communications and coupling that with dark-funnel, intent-based demand signals, which goes under the team’s account-based marketing (ABM) and outreach.
“The idea now from a skill standpoint with demand generation marketing is having the ability to know how to decompose enterprise brands into independent buying centers to create demand units,” Breault said. “And then appropriately modeling that out. The challenge then becomes, can you go and form a relationship with them in the dark funnel.”
The skill sets include having marketers able to perform outreach on video, be completely relevant and execute on high value offers. Breault sees these demand generation skills as “new-school communication," Asynchronous video coupled with understanding intent models, how to interpret signals and craft an outreach strategy. Then pull high-value offers into that outreach in order to get the value farther up the funnel.
“It's so hard to get folks interested in taking your call these days so we've had to upskill significantly," Breault said. "We’ve had to tap into our strategic consulting teams and our subject matter experts and bring into our outreach something that's so valuable that this target would be willing to pay for it, and therefore they get on the phone with us and have a conversation.”
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Interactive Content, Virtual Chops
Aprimo’s also pushing skills in the creative and design arenas for its marketers. It’s turned to interactive content solutions — check out some examples of interactive content.
“It’s about the idea of pattern disrupting, making sure that what we do stands out from the crowd,” Breault said. “We've been working with a lot of interactive content, and knowing that your content pieces have to have not just high value but also the function of it needs to be there. And so, leveraging interactive content solutions and taking a static image and bringing it to life. We have creative designers now using that new technology.”
And speaking of content, marketers have now also had to skill up in running virtual events. Aprimo breaks down its virtual events in “seasons,” much like a Netflix series, Breault said, making up for the lack of in-person events due to COVID-19.
“One of our big things when we went into COVID was we recognized it's a great time to give our customers a hug,” Breault said. “We quickly went from our event that we were going to have in Austin (Texas) … to having to shut that down and having an always-on digital experience for knowledge content and learning and development.”
Gaining an Edge in the Creative, Category Design
2020 has been a huge year for digital marketing, naturally. The large-scale pivot to digital marketing has put us all in the situation that virtually no edge can be found for a marketing team in digital marketing, according to Rasmus Skjoldan, chief marketing officer at Magnolia.
“Everyone’s already pretty savvy by now or is fast-tracking to acquire those skills,” Skjoldan said. “Going into 2021, getting 'even better' at digital marketing’ is only the foundation. We’re not at the end of the pandemic but in the middle of it. So that means you will need to find a competitive edge outside of ‘even better' digital marketing.”
As a B2B tech CMO, the edge is in creative, category design and by making sure teams get ready for another year of 2020-level speed of change, he added. “We’re not getting back to normalcy anytime soon,” Skjoldan said.
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Regular Audits for Practice and Procedure
More than ever, marketing needs a harmonious blend of art and science, according to Elaina Shekhter, chief marketing officer and head of strategy and senior vice president at EPAM Systems. “Strategically applying data science and analytics to an immensely creative process is the key to any successful marketing campaign,” Shekhter said. “Marketing teams must practice continuous innovation, deliberately experimenting with advancements in martech to transform user interfaces and customer experiences.”
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that resilience and agility in people, technology and processes are crucial to being effective, she added. “Marketing teams,” she said, “should hold regular audits of practices and procedures to ensure alignment with business, sales, development and product teams, and be able to modify as needed.”
These audits should also re-establish a commitment to understanding the audience, with an acute awareness of their problems, opportunities and solutions. “A strong marketing team should not be afraid to fail, fail fast, learn and ultimately never make the same mistake twice,” Shekhter said. “To do this, teams need to test and learn at speed — deploying and evaluating results in real-time. This allows for quick pivots and course adjustments and ultimately campaign success.”
Agile Marketing Always in Play
Did COVID force Shekter's marketing team to be agile/retrain current skills/adopt new skills? There is no doubt that COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation and the pace of change for many companies worldwide, including many of EPAM Systems' clients, she said. “We are adaptive by design, working across functional teams, using an agile approach that is outcome-driven rather than activity-based.”
Her marketing teams are continually refocusing and reprioritizing campaigns based on customer needs and business requirements. “Understanding the market and how it is changing is critical for long-term success,”
Shekhter added. “Our agile marketing approach isn't just about the now and navigating the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, being able to adjust, track and adapt has been key to planning and executing a successful future.”