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What Skills Should Marketers Master in 2016?

The skills that marketers need to succeed are rapidly changing and expanding. Today it’s no longer enough to have a creative flair or a knack for data analysis or even deep expertise within a specific channel. Marketers need to broaden and deepen their proficiencies in everything from segmentation and measurement, to analytics and tech skills, to customer engagement and change management.   

Here, 14 marketing insiders, each with a unique perspective on the marketing industry, share their predictions for the skill it’s most important for marketers to master in 2016 and why. Read on here, or click on the eBook cover above to download the full eBook.


Tom Wilde, SVP Strategic Development, Universal Wilde 
In our always-connected world, social media and other data-collecting tools make it easy to catalog customer details, including location, recent purchases, and product reviews. As technology touches more and more facets of consumers’ lives, marketers will continue to gain more access to data than ever before. With this in mind, the most valuable skill for marketers won’t be to know how to gather data at every touchpoint—as many marketers might expect. Rather, it will be to know how to organize and interpret that data in a way that informs strategic marketing campaigns. 

This heightened analysis of data will give brands the opportunity to easily personalize communication and therefore better interact with customers. Over the next year marketers who are able to offer brands efficient solutions to help with this data culling, and counsel on how to seamlessly incorporate this data into plans that move the needle, will see their successes increase.

Rebecca Kaykas-Wolff, Director, Product Marketing, Oracle Marketing Cloud
@rebeccakw @OracleMktgCloud
Where 2015 was the year of becoming more data-driven in practice, 2016 will be all about maturity and focus in not only campaign execution, but also enablement through partnerships and the ecosystem. Most marketers have embraced the concept of harnessing data to drive better, more relevant business results; many, however, are still struggling with how to sustain success through effective operational design, partnership alignments, and laser-focused commitment to concepts like centers of excellence and internal thought leadership—as well as bringing on the right agencies and partnerships. Data will continue to be at the center of these conversations, but having the right process, partnerships, infrastructure, and technologies will be critical.

Mike Finnegan, VP of Programmatic, Live Nation
If branded content was the new skill that marketers had to master in 2015, then content targeting and analytics should be the focus for 2016. eMarketer reported that only 36% of U.S. social media users find banner ads to be effective, compared to sponsored messages on Periscope (61%), Snapchat (58%), or Instagram (56%). This shift reflects the move from conventional ad placements to an “in-the-trenches” battle for consumers’ attention. 

This eMarketer study is helpful for brands to understand what channels should be on their “2016 To-Do List,” but marketers must still make sure their content dollars are spent effectively. Measurement and validation are often an afterthought so long as scale and innovation are driving the effort. With many social platforms still in their infancy, distributing content is primarily contextually driven. And even if marketers must live with the reality of spray-and-pray content distribution, measurement remains an Achilles heel. 

Don’t be confused: Proper measurement and analysis are necessary skills that all content marketing teams must possess—and use from the onset of a program. The tools are certainly available to all brands and platforms alike. Building in-house expertise should be the focus of content marketers in 2016.

Eric Stahl, SVP of Product Marketing, Salesforce Marketing Cloud
@ericstahl @marketingcloud
This year will be the year of predictive marketing, so marketers need to master this approach. Although predictive marketing strategy and technology have been around for a few years, businesses will adopt it in new ways in 2016.

In the past, deploying predictive marketing involved hiring a team of data scientists to build a modeling system, analyze the data, and report on insights. Now, advances in technology have enabled businesses to implement predictive marketing without the need for that team of data scientists. As we like to say at Salesforce, data science is now directly in the hands of marketers.

In light of these shifts, the focus in 2016 will be on marketers further amplifying their predictive efforts by combining predictive analytics tools and strategies to drive deeper, more actionable customer insights.

Part of this involves understanding that customer experience is about more than just marketing. Every division of a company should be aligned around customer experience and success to enable personalized one-to-one customer journeys with the business—and marketers must learn to integrate their marketing systems and processes with other parts of the business to achieve a truly holistic view of the customer.

Matt Goddard, CEO, R2integrated
@R2imatt @R2integrated
Marketers have to master breaking down silos so they can apply customer experience management across all channels and beyond just their brand’s website. The CMO has to bring together the technology, brand, media, and content disciplines to function as one cohesive team capable of creating a customer experience ecosystem.

More mature marketing organizations already have the technology in place to manage customer data and personalize content, but now marketers need to master connecting the experience across channels. From the banner ads their customers see, to the search results and the native Google sponsored promotions that appear in email, to the social, mobile, and Web messaging—marketers have to connect the dots. They have to master bridging the experience through content, images, and calls-to-action that matter in the right moment for their customers and that will drive a measurable result for their own business objectives.

Chris Wong, VP of Marketing Solutions, IBM Commerce 
@FightOn_CWong  @IBMcommerce
Marketers have long relied on behavioral and demographic data and analytics to inform their decisions, but often struggle to achieve the next level of personalization. In 2016 successful marketers will master the skill of cognitive computing, which will allow them to better crunch consumer data, understand complex questions, and continually learn. 

Startups like Uber, Airbnb, and Nest are disrupting the way consumers buy and expect service, and today’s marketers are challenged to change the way they engage the always-on consumer. But to do this, they have to make sense of unimaginable amounts of consumer data, generate insights in context, and, more important, gain a better understanding of consumer buying habits. Enter cognitive computing: It makes the right connections and puts them into the context of consumer behavior, giving marketers a higher level of confidence to make decisions and, thereby, make better decisions to deliver timely, relevant messages and offers to individual shoppers.
Applying cognitive computing to marketing will allow brands to focus on what they do best—developing engaging, personalized experiences—while ensuring that they reach their customers the right way.

Robert Tas, CMO, Pegasystems
@TasRobert @pega
In 2016 most marketers will be mastering the new definition around customer engagement. In today’s always-on digital economy the bar is constantly being redefined for all of us. This is not just about advertising, but about end-to-end customer engagement. This means arming marketers with tools like predictive analytics that provide insights to drive not just more targeted offers, but also conceptual and personalized interactions across all stages of the customer journey. Any marketer who’s not increasing their analytics skills this year runs the risk of alienating their customers with bad experiences.

New analytics tools are now making it much easier for marketers to use analytics to their utmost advantage. These tools move beyond simple reporting and visualization that often leave it to the marketers to make sense of it all. Instead, new solutions can automate the process of turning raw data and insights into specific actions. This allows them to take the guesswork out of their marketing efforts and more definitively know the next best action to take with each customer every time. It’s the difference between engagement that falls flat and engagement that differentiates the brand, keeping customers loyal and coming back for more.

It’s more important than ever for marketers—particularly CMOs—to take a leading role in keeping their customers happy in the age of digital transformation. And there’s no better way to start off 2016 strong than by using and mastering the tools at their disposal to build personalized interactions, one at a time.

Adam Padilla, Cofounder and President, BrandFire
The skill that marketers need to master in 2016 is the art of the strategic partnership. Find value for your consumer in the offerings of like-minded products and services, then partner the two brands together to create a synergy that you both can benefit from. The era of rebuilding and reinventing the wheel to take everything in-house is over. It’s all about letting specialists stay in their lane, and be experts rather than jacks-of-all-trades. A consumer product that wants to offer delivery is best served partnering with Uber or Postmates than trying to create a delivery system themself. A media company that tags and catalogs a media library could partner with a social media company that wants to provide targeted content to members. With so many innovative products and services available today, the possibilities are limited only by the creativity of the marketer—it’s a very exciting time.

Bill Lonergan, CEO, RadiumOne
@LonerganBill @RadiumOne
The most crucial skill a marketer can master in 2016 is to “see beyond their own four walls”—the use of big data to get to the heart of customer behavior and understand what makes interactions happen. The majority of consumer interactions take place outside a brand. This data, if captured and used by marketers in a timely fashion, is extraordinarily powerful.

If marketers rely solely on their data, their understanding of their audiences will be severely limited in two respects:

 1.  It will only reflect the interactions with the brand, keeping extremely valuable information on consumer interests, media, and app consumption outside their grasp. Additionally, the brand will have no insight into consumers’ sentiment and interaction with other brands, previous purchase history, influences, what they share with or receive from others, and more.

 2.  It doesn’t include any information on people who have not previously or recently interacted with their brands. Most of the digital world has not visited their sites, downloaded their apps, or purchased their products. It’s critical to know not just the people who have already raised their hand with the brand, but also those who might do so in the near future.

When marketers learn to look beyond how consumers interact with their own brand and instead at the consumer experience as a whole, they’ll be in a much better place to influence purchasing decisions. 

Neil O’Keefe, SVP of CRM and Member Engagement, Direct Marketing Association
@NeilOKeefe @DMA_USA
In 2016 we’ll see a full mind-set shift, where marketers will stop thinking about digital marketing and instead focus on marketing in a digital world.

Imagine if marketers stopped sorting their channels into “digital” or “not digital,” but instead analyzed channels by what would be most effective for their goals. To bridge the creative and the analytical, marketers may need to invest in talent recruitment and training—but those investments will pay huge dividends for their team. Only by acknowledging that marketing can be both an art and a science will we begin to unlock our industry’s true potential and move marketing from a nuisance to a consumer resource.

Marketers should strive to make personalization predictive, not simply a result of engagements that trigger personalization. Through strategic use of data analytics and cognitive business AI, marketers have the ability to make their data work for them by anticipating customer needs, optimizing their websites for SEO, and even determining content production and release.

Together we can step up and deliver for the customer. Data exchanged between marketers and consumers is a metaphorical handshake, where the customer says, “I will provide you this information if you promise to deliver me offers that are relevant to my needs and wants.” Keeping that promise is essential—not simply for a company’s bottom line, but also to maintain a connection to customers and drive the work of our industry forward.

Sean Zinsmeister, Director of Product Marketing, Infer
@szinsmeister @inferinc
The year ahead is going to be all about mastering account-based marketing (ABM). It’s time for marketers to apply the same rigor to outbound marketing that they have to inbound and lead-nurturing programs. ABM has the potential to open up new revenue channels now that all companies can easily identify best-fit accounts and deliver personalization at scale—via advertising, direct marketing, and more.

Predictive ABM tactics drive bigger, faster deals. But to capitalize on this opportunity, marketers need to advance their skills around market planning, prospect management, and measuring campaign efficacy:

  • In a predictive-driven world, marketers should leverage account scoring to pinpoint the most likely to buy existing accounts, as well as to fill in gaps with new lookalike accounts. This helps ensure that they’re aligning effort to impact.
  • Once marketers have built the best possible target accounts list for their business, the next key skill they’ll need is the ability to interpret a wide variety of customer signals for a deeper understanding of how to carve up their marketable universe. Smart marketers use a blend of firmographic, technographic, and behavioral data to conduct advanced segmentation around prospect groups with the highest revenue potential.
  • Marketers will then need to leverage innovative ABM campaign tactics and new personalization technologies to activate these accounts and move them forward in their customer journey.
  • Finally, marketers should master sophisticated techniques for measuring engagement and campaign success. This will help them use more agile test-and-invest strategies, such as adjusting messages, content, and channels on the fly. 

Lyle Stevens, Cofounder and CEO, MAVRCK
@thelylestevens @MavrckCo
2016 presents a digital marketing landscape where consumers’ attention is not only fragmented, but also self-selected, from the ads they see (or don’t see) to the stories that appear in their news feeds. Consumer trust in traditional advertising has eroded to the point of ad backlash: ad blocking is growing exponentially, with 48% U.S. adoption in the past year alone, according to PageFair. 

However, consumer trust in each other remains high: research from Nielsen finds that 83% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family over all other forms of advertising. This shifting tide of influence has brought forth the rise of micro-influencers—everyday social media users who have a highly engaged following (500 to 5,000) around relevant topics. As consumers continue to eschew traditional ads, paid celebrity endorsements, and marketing blasts in favor of more personal, authentic, human-to-human communications, marketers must adapt.

In 2016, it’s not sufficient for marketers to rely on the prebaked assumptions of past success; those channels are either not effective or no longer exist. The modern-day marketer needs to be a skilled marketer—equal parts data engineer and creative. Adoption of a human-to-human marketing strategy requires marketers to understand the data analytics around which segments of customers are influential and how the friends they’re engaging can deliver the most value for the brand.

Marketers must be able to creatively apply these insights to the messaging that activates influencers on behalf of their brand, successfully driving conversion at scale that achieves their business objectives. 

Chris Byers, CEO, Formstack
Technical skills, such as basic coding and video production, will soon be requirements for half of all marketing hires. Data analysis will also be in high demand, as research predicts a shortfall of up to 1.5 million managers with data expertise by 2018.

Furthermore, marketers must pay attention to the ever-increasing mobile-user population. It’s crucial to think creatively about improvements to user experience on mobile.

And finally, marketers should hone their social media expertise; pay close attention to what actually converts, more than just what’s popular. Marketers who take social media skills further can transform likes into leads.

Katrin Ribant, Chief Solutions Officer, Datorama
@Ribant @Datorama
Marketing is undergoing a dramatic change as CMOs push for closer integration with other groups within the enterprise to more easily access and better understand the broad array of data driving business impacts. Customer journey and purchasing decisions are influenced by many areas outside of traditional marketing, including customer service, sales, CRM, and IT.  Marketing is increasingly becoming the central point through which many disparate data streams can be accessed and understood—revealing important signals supporting a consistent and effective customer experience. According to a Gartner for Marketing Leaders survey on the role of marketing in customer experience, by 2016, 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36% four years ago.

As such, we’re seeing a new set of hybrid titles emerging among our customer set such as CMO/CIO, chief transformation officer, or chief marketing technologist (CMT). These titles point to the blending of marketing and IT skills, which will be the hallmark of a successful marketing professional in 2016.

Marketers are becoming hybrid professionals whose skill sets includes proficiency with a wide variety of new analytics technologies and approaches to data access, modeling, and integration—a skill formerly associated with data scientists and IT professionals. Add to this that the average enterprise marketing department uses more than 50 different applications and it’s clear that CMTs need to reengineer internal marketing roles and responsibilities with a greater focus on becoming analytically driven.

This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Part 1 is, “What Change in Customer Behavior Will Impact Marketing Most in 2016?” And Part 3 is “What Should Marketers Do Differently in 2016?

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