The complete marketer

The ‘whole marketer’ combines technical skills, leadership skills and personal awareness, writes Abigail Dixon

Marketing’s role has changed significantly over the last two decades. It has evolved from being a support function focused on communications, to one that supports sales and product development teams, to its role today, as the function that is responsible for driving the development and delivery of businesses’ long-term commercial growth.
Naturally, as the role of marketing has been elevated, the breadth of skills required of marketers has widened dramatically. Today’s whole marketer possesses a triad of skills: technical skills, soft and leadership skills, and the all-important skills involved in personal understanding.

The new remit

Marketing’s broad remit today often makes marketing leaders accountable for the delivery of profit targets and commercial growth. This is a significant shift. It has been fuelled by organizations seeing the commercial benefits of developing and delivering products and services that are based on insight – not only insight which identifies market opportunity, but true insight, which provides a deep-rooted understanding of customers and consumers. It means devising ways to satisfy consumers and address customers’ pain and gain points, as opposed to merely retro-fitting a product development, or trading purely on price.

With the skillset required to lead the organization’s growth now so broad, some marketers have been left with skills gaps. Some are technical, such as digital marketing and agile marketing skills. Other marketers find they need to develop their ‘soft’ and leadership skills, so that they can not only lead their marketing teams better, but can lead cross-functional teams in the wider business. Marketers can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by the breadth of responsibilities. This is where my concept of the ‘whole marketer’ has been developed: to define the three skills areas that really matter today.

The skills triad

The first part of the triad is the technical skillset that underpins marketers’ ability to lead the commercial agenda. This includes the ability to develop and set the long-term strategic plan; increased commercial acumen – understanding the organization’s financial terms, and the ability to take ownership of all lines in the profit and loss statement; and the ability to measure the effectiveness and return on investment generated by marketing investment, by setting and tracking KPIs.

Insight is also essential. Not only has insight driven organizations to become marketing-led, it’s where the true definition of marketing lies, in satisfying the wants and needs of our consumers and customers. We need to know how to take data and use it to make informed decisions; how to generate rich data from unique sources; how to mine data to develop actionable insights that resonate throughout the entire organization; and how to act with bravery and pace, using insight to bring changes to market.

At the same time, we can’t forget about what first made the marketing department famous: communication. We need to constantly evolve our approaches to reflect the latest thinking in how we communicate with our audiences, in an omni-channel approach, utilizing (where appropriate) digital advancements. And we have to work more strategically with agency partners to deliver on commercial goals.

Of course, marketers’ approaches are not standing still. There is new thinking in the way in which we target our customers and consumers, how we develop propositions and how we communicate, thanks to the enhanced understanding of consumer decision-making that is rapidly emerging from behavioural science and the increased availability of data and insight. The way we bring plans to life is changing, with more iterative and agile approaches increasingly common. The rate at which we communicate is constantly evolving too, thanks to technological advancements and the evolution of digital channels. And there are increased demands from our consumers and customers, who expect brands to deliver experiences with instant gratification, authenticity, transparency and so much more.

The second part of the triad is soft skills: the skills and behaviours needed to build a deep-rooted understanding of consumers and customers, a can-do attitude, the ability to influence, and the bravery needed to bring to life plans which can disrupt saturated marketplaces. Leadership skills are critical too, both to lead the marketing function and to lead and inspire cross-functional teams, generating motivation and inspiring colleagues to deliver the goals and vision.

The third aspect of the whole marketer concept is personal understanding. This is the ability to have confidence in who we are, what we want and what we need on a deep-rooted level – in our souls, even – to feel fulfilled. It is knowing what we want for our lives as a whole, and it is the ability to identify the beliefs that may be stopping us from achieving our goals. Whole marketers can understand themselves better. They also help others in their teams find fulfilment, allowing work to play to team members’ personal values and supporting those team members in achieving their goals, both inside and outside work.

Marketing’s upward trajectory has changed the marketing function almost beyond recognition. The skills triad that defines today’s whole marketer gives the people behind brands and business growth everything they need to have successful, fulfilling careers in this ever-challenging yet rewarding industry. 

Abigail Dixon is founder and director of Labyrinth Marketing, host of The Whole Marketer podcast, and author of the forthcoming book The Whole Marketer: How to Become a Successful and Fulfilled Marketer (LID Publishing, May 2021)