Marketers need ‘hard’ skills if they want to be taken seriously

‘Soft’ skills like communication and empathy are clearly important, but marketers need to brush up on core technical skills like strategy, data and measurement to be truly effective.

neurodiversityWhat makes a good software programmer? The most common answer is their technical skills – how well they can code.

These are ‘hard’ skills. There is no point in hiring coders who can’t code, architects who can’t design buildings or finance people who cannot create a cashflow statement.

Non-technical, or ‘soft’, skills are usually defined as some mix of communication, teamwork and empathy, often with leadership, accountability or integrity thrown in for good measure.

For an indication of why soft skills are important, look at Mark Zuckerberg – the definition of a coder. He recently announced that Instagram will soon become ‘Instagram from Facebook’ and WhatsApp will turn into ‘WhatsApp from Facebook’.

Yes, Zuck is going to stamp two of the company’s most significant assets with the brand that UN investigators say has hosted messages inciting a possible genocide, and which has played a key role in fomenting Brexit and disseminating fake news.

Cultivate a deep understanding of the soft skills you want rather than relying on instinct or intuition.

Yet the world appears to reward hard skills and discount soft skills. If something is hard then a conclusion is drawn that it’s rigorous, with zero conjecture. If it is soft, it is seen as weak and less important.

Soft skills are supposed to be inherent in marketers, something we came from the factory with. We understand consumers, we can brief and assess creative, we have emotional intelligence – they’re our core competences. So, should we get a free pass in this debate? Well, no.

Econsultancy’s ‘Skills of the Modern Marketer’ report finds only 46% of UK marketers possess a marketing degree or certified marketing qualification. And there is a shortage of the skill sets of strategy, data and measurement, and brand management – core technical skills. I would hazard a guess that more than 46% of computer programmers have a directly relevant degree.

Yes, it’s true the Mark Zuckerbergs of this world, who have attained a level of expertise in the harder skills, are still capable of getting it all wrong, and need to focus on their soft skills. Yes, it’s true that what will differentiate us from the robots when they come to take our jobs is our emotional intelligence and soft skills.

But today’s world is buying hard skills and discounting soft skills, whether we like it or not. Marketers need to embrace this new reality, and get our own house in order.

Let’s look at ourselves and define the technical marketing skills we need to truly develop, just like a programmer does. Become an expert in marketing effectiveness or in data and measurement.

Cultivate a deep understanding of the soft skills you want rather than relying on instinct or intuition. If it is leadership, study that to mastery level. If it is communication, become an expert speaker.

This combination will create a multiplier effect, and that is a true marketing mindset in action.