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The future of marketing: Are skills keeping up with increasing demands?

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As marketing grows ever more complex, are marketer training and skills keeping pace? One recent study found wide-spread dissatisfaction among marketing and advertising executives with the skills of job applicants. According to the Online Marketing Institute's “State of Digital Marketing Talent,” 40% of respondents said they have more marketing positions open than they can fill with qualified talent, with analytics being the most desired skill. The OMI study was based on an August online poll of 747 companies. But many observers say the focus on specific skills is misplaced, as tools and tactics evolve rapidly and become outdated quickly. “Future marketers will have to be worried more about the big picture, particularly the interfaces with other disciplines within the company,” said Ralph Oliva, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Business Markets at Penn State University's Smeal College of Business. “It doesn't matter about the latest thing you did on social media. What's important is understanding the principles for navigating what will always continue to be a new world of marketing tools.” The ISBM recently released a study on the future of b-to-b marketing, “The B2B Agenda: The Current State of B2B Marketing and a Look Ahead,” authored by ISBM Leadership Board Chairman Fred Wiersema. The study identified four key trends expected to dominate not only marketing but marketing hiring in the future:
  • Marketing is becoming more strategic, with increasing responsibility for the organic growth strategy of companies.
  • Marketers must recognize the importance of global markets and the challenges they represent.
  • Technology's “disruptive power” could make certain b-to-b practices obsolete.
  • B-to-b companies must transition to “marketing realities,” including moving from a product focus to a market focus, or shifting from being operations-driven to customer-driven.
“We want to equip our students to have the principles to navigate the changing world rather than trying to tease out the last piece of analytics from the latest tool,” Oliva said. This approach is being reflected in new hiring practices at b-to-b companies. “We are hiring a new breed of marketers that recruiting firm Korn/Ferry coined "agile learners,' ” said Kathy Button Bell, VP-CMO at Emerson Electric Co. “Agile learners can be change agents to help companies become much more responsive in this age of transparency.” Recruitment companies are finding a market for young marketers who understand the spectrum of channels and devices used by customers. “When employers tell me what they're looking for in their marketing candidates, adaptability is right up there near the top,” said Jerry Bernhart, principal at marketing executive search company Bernhart Associates. “If you're looking to avoid data and math, marketing is not the career for you. But you also have to have a good dose of intellectual curiosity. You need to focus not just on the "what' and the "how' but also on the "why.' You must have a thirst for knowledge and be eager to learn and adopt new technology.” Gary Slack, chairman-chief experience officer at b-to-b agency Slack & Co., Chicago, said: “B-to-b used to be the place where unsuccessful salespeople were dropped, or for college grads who couldn't get a job at bigger b-to-c agencies. But I think the profession has attracted better and smarter people. “The rise of integrated marketing communications has produced many b-to-b marketers who aren't siloed in the way the traditional marketing profession used to be.” Northwestern University business professor Don Schultz spearheaded integrated marketing communications in the 1980s. It is now the core of his work as emeritus professor at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. “It's a holistic approach, based not on more campaigns but rather processes,” Schultz said. As part of this holistic approach, Schultz said tomorrow's marketers must be fully acquainted with analytics. “Big ideas only occur if customers respond to them,” he said. “We're convinced that behavioral data is where the world is going to be, taking data and messages and making sense out of it.”
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