In speaking with thousands of marketers and businesses over the past several years, we’ve learned that marketing has an incredible potential to impact people’s lives.
In fact, the American Marketing Association defines marketing as:
“The activity, set of institutions, skills, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
I love that. We as marketers are benefiting society at large!
But marketing skills and career growth don’t come easy in a field that moves at the speed of light. It seems like every week companies are demanding an evolved skill set out of their employees – giving rise to a new era of marketing roles such as the Full-Stack and T-Shaped Marketer.
Brands that can successfully bring a variety of people, marketing skills, and unique perspectives together have a huge advantage when it comes to providing value.
As Sujan Patel writes on his blog, “the modern marketer has to be familiar with a lot, good at many, and master of a few.”
Having a variety of skills and tools not only provides ultimate flexibility as a team to create a variety of successful marketing campaigns, but it also allows each marketer to shine as an individual.
These 7 high-level marketing skills will help to ensure your team has ultimate flexibility and individuality.
There seems to be a general belief that marketing has always been about storytelling – and that marketers have always identified as natural storytellers.
But that may not be the case.
LinkedIn found that just seven years ago the number of marketers listing “storytelling” on their profile as a skill was obsolete. It didn’t exist at all as a respected marketing discipline.
Today, however, between 7 and 8 per cent of all marketers on LinkedIn worldwide identify themselves as storytellers based on their profile descriptions and list of skills.
As a marketer, storytelling doesn’t just mean telling your audience what your product or service does or what it has done. Effective storytelling involves a deep understanding of human emotions, motivations, and psychology in order to effectively communicate with them in an authentic and engaging way.
During the writing of this article, Asana CMO Dave King told me: “The best marketers are problem solvers and storytellers. Content creators should ask ‘what problem is this piece solving for my audience.’”
As marketers, there are endless ways to tell a story.
One of my favourite ways to develop a compelling story is to use “The Story Spine” formula created by professional playwright and improviser Kenn Adams. Over the years, Pixar has won countless awards by using this formula, including 13 Academy Awards, 9 Golden Globes, and 11 Grammys.
Once upon a time, there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
I encourage you to practice this formula for your own brand, products, or services.
Let’s give it a shot with a brand we might all know of Nike.
As Ken describes, “The Story Spine is not the story, it’s the spine. It’s nothing but the bare-boned structure upon which the story is built. And, that’s what makes it such a powerful tool.”
It’s up to us as marketers to fill in all the little nuances of the story.
As many marketers know all too well – there is always something to be done.
Being an effective prioritizer is one of those marketing skills that doesn’t get talked about enough, but plays a huge role in the success of your team and content.
Producing consistently great content means saying yes to a handful of awesome content ideas/opportunities and saying no to others.
The Asana marketing team uses a project labelled “Content Opportunities” to which anyone in the company is highly encouraged to contribute ideas. Then, when their marketing team is ready to take action on a piece of content or campaign, they add it to their Editorial Calendar project.
This management of ideas, projects, and initiatives is what allows them to be super focused and productive on a consistent basis.
So how can you develop prioritization as a marketing skill? And how can you prioritize content and campaigns that will perform at a high level?
That’s where the importance of goal-setting comes into play!
Brainstorm a list of 10 goals related to your work on the team that can be accomplished in a certain, predesignated timeframe.
Remember to focus on goals and not tasks. A good way to remember this is that tasks describe how you spend your time, whereas goals are your results.
Next, go through and add a tag to each goal with the category that it falls into. The tagging system should be unique for each person.
Come up with your tags, and assign them to each of your 10 goals.
This is the most difficult portion of the exercise! Refining the list from 10 to the three that you will focus on during the specified time period.
Pick one goal for each tag that you have on your list.
Then, add a P2 and a P3 to prioritize the rest of your goals within the list.
That doesn’t mean you have 10 goals all competing with each other at the same time.
It means that as soon as you complete a P1 in any one of the categories, you then (and only then) move onto your P2 and P3.
“ICE” stands for Impact, Confidence, and Ease.
Below is a description of each element directly from the creators of the ICE Score Framework at GrowthHackers:
For each idea, give each factor a score from one to ten. The overall score is determined by taking the average of the three scores. You should start with the idea that has the highest score.
For example, let’s say you wanted to run a content partnership experiment with a peer or influencer within your industry (similar to this one!) Your ICE score might look like this:
Comparing that to other ICE scores, you can quickly determine which ideas to tackle next and which ones to table for the time being. Over time, you’ll be able to score ideas quickly and efficiently.
Why is team collaboration necessary?
Part of the answer, according to research from strategy professor Benjamin Jones at the Kellogg School, is that our individual knowledge base is becoming more and more specialized.
Jones gives a great example of the Wright Brothers and building an aeroplane:
“In 1903, two people designed and flew an aeroplane. Today, a Boeing 787 has dozens of specialists working on the engines alone. Then there are the controls, the hydraulics, the airframe itself. There is an incredible range of specialized skills needed.”
There is an ever-growing need for collaboration among specialists (teams) within companies to get a product or service off of the ground.
Whether you’re launching a full-on marketing campaign or simply posting a video to Facebook, creating a consistent message across channels is an important part of building your brand.
We’ve found that having effective collaboration tools in place makes all of the difference.
Here’s a quick example of some of the tools and workflows we use in order to help our teams create consistent messaging:
These three tools are invaluable for transparent and cross-functional collaboration and communication among teams within your organization. They’re especially important for us at Buffer as a fully remote company!
Without a solid distribution plan in place, your messages may never reach their intended audiences. Having the skills to not only create the assets but efficiently deliver those assets across multiple channels, is an important quality for any marketer.
Here’s a quick look at some of the tools and workflows we use to distribute consistent content:
At the core of any great team, collaboration is trust. Trust is the willingness and openness to intentionally communicate with teammates on your direct team and across the company.
It’s up to you to make space (physically or virtually) for people to meet and share ideas. Pixar is a perfect example of this in action – they designed their offices so that artists, designers, programmers, and marketers would purposely bump into each other.
Humans are, by nature, very visual beings.
In the brain itself, there are hundreds of millions of neurons devoted to visual processing, nearly 30 per cent of the entire cortex, as compared with 8 per cent for touch and just 3 per cent for hearing.
In other words, the most successful marketing teams are not only able to communicate messages in written form, they’re also able to create stunning designs that aid in telling a compelling visual story.
Buffer wrote an article in 2017 titled, “Why Every Marketer Needs to Be a (Part-Time) Designer” and the general theory still remains true, even more so, today in 2021
The best part is there are tons of free resources our there to get started! Here are some of our favourites:
Visual storytelling is one of those marketing skills that is often overlooked but plays a massive role in the success of every single piece of content.
Have you ever wondered how some marketing teams come up with so many great ideas?
Behind every one successful marketing idea or campaign, there were dozens (if not hundreds) of little failures along the way.
It reminds me a lot of what is known as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in product development. An MVP is a product that has the minimum amount of features required to validate if people want it or not.
The same theory holds true for marketing experimentation and testing.
A marketing team that is unafraid of failure and willing to run hundreds of different tests in order to quickly validate ideas will often succeed over a marketing team that puts their eggs (ideas) into one basket (channel/campaign).
The Information, for example, might have hundreds of potential story ideas in Asana at any one time — prioritizing experiments and ideas based on competition, importance, opportunity costs, and lots more.
Although there isn’t a truly scientific way of running marketing experiments, this is the formula that Buffer created to systematically test ideas:
They start with setting clear goals and then work backwards from there.
If they wanted to increase Buffer blog traffic by 10% in one year (goal).
Their marketing team would start by getting together and brainstorming all of the different ways they could accomplish that – SEO, social media, affiliates, etc.
They would then prioritize ideas based on impact (Warren Buffett Framework / ICE Scores) and begin testing.
Then, they would constantly measure and analyze results along the way while making incremental improvements.
Approaching experimentation and testing with a growth mindset, similar to developing a product, is a marketing skill that will help take your team to the next level.
As marketers, we’re all somewhere on the analytics expertise scale (whether we know it or not!) From the analytics wizards to those of us just starting to dip our toes in data analysis, we all have a base layer to work from.
The Director of Marketing at Buffer, Kevan Lee, puts it perfectly:
Asking good questions, when it comes to data and marketing analytics, is an invaluable marketing skill to have on any team.
This graphic from Moz shows just how many BIG questions there are to ask:
At first, asking all of these questions can be a bit intimidating.
What if I don’t know the answers?
One way we like to think about approaching analytics is this idea of “Crawl, Walk, Run” – It might look something like this if you’re just starting out:
Another great way of thinking of analytics is the “Hierarchy of Analytics” model made popular by data wizard Christopher S. Penn:
In the beginning, you might experiment with various analytics platforms and tools in order to get a feel for the basics of marketing analytics. Understanding what data is available, its limitations, and what you can report is a great start.
Then, as you become more skilled and confident with data, you might dive into things like understanding why something happened or what might happen in the future based on your findings.
There are some incredible data analysis tools out there from companies like Google, IBM, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft that can help you do just that!
I like to think that the path to becoming a great marketer is a lifelong journey and never truly complete.
Knowledge, passion, and expertise are intangible qualities that we usually don’t acquire overnight. These are often developed as a result of years (even decades) of hard work, mistakes, self-reflection, and personal growth.
Even a virtuoso like Michelangelo was quoted as saying, “I am still learning” late into his career.
Buffer and Asana aim to build their marketing teams around folks who are naturally curious, hungry to learn, passionate, and open to new ideas.
“A love of learning is one of primary skills we look for in marketers because it tells us a couple things: do they love what they do, and are they curious about the world?” explains Kevan Lee. “Those two factors alone can take you quite far!”
Just like food nourishes our bodies, information and continuous learning nourishes our minds.
But where do you start on your learning journey as a marketer?
We’ve found that having a framework in place allows us to identify opportunities for growth. Buffer calls it the T-Shaped Marketer Framework:
We encourage you to create one of these templates for yourself. It’s an incredible, eye-opening activity that will provide you with a clear path forward.
Then, we suggest forming habits around the marketing disciplines you’re most excited about:
If you’re curious, inquisitive, genuine, and if your intent is sincere, there will always be people who will support you in your journey.
Experiment and try out new things – some of them might even scare you! Once you gain some momentum, keep it going. That will set you up for a lifetime of success in marketing.