I still remember the first time it happened. I was interviewing a candidate for a marketing position, asking fairly routine questions. It was a pleasant, efficient exchange. Twenty minutes or so later, after I had mentally checked all the boxes, I was satisfied that the candidate was perfectly qualified. As I shook his hand and concluded the interview, I felt a pang of uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. In that moment, I knew I wouldn't hire him.
This wasn't a simple instance of “going with my gut.” No, it was more than that. Something was missing ... something equally, if not more, important than an impressive litany of credentials.
The candidate was competent. That's why I decided not to bring him on board.
These days, competence is good, but it's not good enough. The world of marketing is drastically different than it was five years ago. Economic pressures are shrinking discretionary marketing budgets and forcing accountability and traceability to all programs. In addition, analytics tools, digital marketing programs and the social media explosion are constantly changing the landscape. So, yes, marketing success requires core competency, but it also demands innovation and agility.
Seth Godin once wrote: “In the face of change, the competent are helpless.” Competent people have routines—the same way of doing things, ritualistic patterns of thinking. Generally, they're terrific anchors, but poor sailors. They don't fare well in uncharted waters.
Markets are changing so fast now that it's adapt or die. But how can global companies bend, flex and stretch to fit the seemingly fickle demands of buyers? Often this requires a change in the business model. Remember when Blockbuster had movie theaters shaking in their boots, only to feel painfully vulnerable itself when Netflix came along? What about organic grocers, which are now taking on mighty supermarket chains? And look what happened to Borders. Is an insurgence of indie bookstores on the horizon? I wouldn't doubt it.
These smaller players have dexterity, creativity and adaptability. Almost instinctively, they ride the racing current of demand, steering fearlessly into the unknown and changing direction as market squalls warrant. These are the type of people we desperately need in marketing right now. We need folks with wicked good skills and a start-up mentality—people who take constant measures and calculated risks, understanding that nothing is completely under their control. When they act, it's with passion and ingenuity.
Gone are the days of “feel good” marketing. We're living in an age of heightened accountability, where change is the only constant. Everything must be measured to objectively quantify our success or failure. Today's marketers must be willing to constantly adjust, rip and replace to achieve the outcomes they're looking for.
So what do you do with the job candidate or employee who deserves a Good Housekeeping Seal for marketing? Ask yourself how he would do as an entrepreneur. If he doesn't have a prayer, keep looking ... or start mentoring.
James Rogers is VP-marketing at Hoover's. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.