Confidence is king

Digital is infiltrating direct marketing, and as the domains collide our roundtable guests discuss how marketers are coping with embracing new skills that will strengthen existing ones.

IDM panel

The panel (l-r above)

Chair: Dave Chaffey, chief executive Smart Insights
Lawrence Mitchell, marketing director Reed Business Information
Mike Hughes, director general ISBA
Paul McCarthy, chair, IDM Marketing Capabilities Council
Mike Cornwell, chief executive, the IDM
Lisa Turner, marketing director, The IDM
Sheree Hellier, head of insight and programme development, the IDM

IDM logo
Sponsored by The IDM

‘With confidence, you have won before you have started,’ Jamaican political leader Marcus Garvey said. At the third annual IDM Marketing Skills roundtable for Marketing Week, we brought together senior client marketers, a trade body and an industry guru to find out what it takes to be an effective marketer in 2013 – and what specific skills that marketer needs. It seems we could all do with a confidence boost.

The Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM): How has marketing changed and how has that affected the role of the marketing manager today?

Mike Hughes (MH): Digitally driven changes to the media landscape continue to provide marketers with an unprecedented number of challenges. This translates into an increasingly demanding task in assimilating and assessing new techniques, drawing insights from an unending flow of data, and then executing markedly more complex strategies in an integrated manner.

A recent survey of ISBA members confirmed that this is their major concern. It is, therefore, unsurprising that marketers’ confidence has wobbled a bit – particularly now that so much power has shifted to the customer – and particularly true of those who reached senior positions ahead of the digital wave breaking behind and over them.

Lisa Turner (LT): That’s right. What we’re finding, not only at the IDM but among the various communities of experts that we work with, is that campaigns don’t exist in the same way as they used to. In an ‘always-on’ world, you need ‘always-on’ marketing, where there’s as much reaction as pro-action.

Lawrence Mitchell (LM): We’re incredibly fortunate to be living in these changing times and, for me, there’s never been a better time to be a marketer. In our organisation, marketing managers have a critical role, as they’re the ones that bring everything together. They own the plan and have the responsibility to get the outcome and, while we don’t expect them to have the detailed knowledge of how to get the best from a particular technology or a set of data, we do expect them to understand and be interested in what can be achieved from them.

It’s hard to brief and manage a team or an agency in, for example, a pay-per-click campaign if you don’t have a confident understanding of it yourself. It’s one of the main benefits I found from doing a professional qualification – it gave me the overview I needed and taught me to ask the right questions of the people around me.

In a lot of ways, we expect our marketing managers to make mistakes. That is hard to admit in an organisation where no one wants to fail, but we shouldn’t be afraid of failure. It’s how we learn from those experiences and become better.

Our panel was unanimous that it’s much harder to be a “rounded” marketing manager today. There’s a need for them to be able to use both left and right brain – to embrace technology, understand data, yet also have the creative flair to make the most of these, as well as the people skills to achieve the right outcomes.

The IDM: So what are the skills that today’s marketing managers need to develop?

LM: At RBI we used a persona framework to identify what the ideal marketing manager should be like. Two key descriptions kept recurring: agile and focused. A marketing manager today needs knowledge across a lot of different sectors and be comfortable shifting from one to the other. However, there is also an absolute need for focus, being able to prioritise ruthlessly and say no.

Paul McCarthy (PM): Marketing managers have become more responsible for managing not only their own teams, but a plethora of other relationships – IT, for example, to get the most from technology, and finance for setting and reporting on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). And on top of the need to manage the customer relationship, they must be responsible for managing customer value too.

MH: The marketer’s primary role as ‘conductor of the orchestra’ has never been more important – interpreting new opportunities to colleagues in other functions and getting the organisation to deliver. This particularly applies to the boardroom, where senior marketers do not always find it easy to learn its language to demonstrate their strategic and contextual abilities.

LM: While marketing managers need confidence in functional skills such as technology, finance and sales, there needs to be a huge focus on people skills too. At our organisation, we train managers to operate within a complex matrix working structure, which covers topics such as stakeholder management; political intelligence and conflict resolution.

Mike Cornwell (MC): Cross-departmental communication and co-operation is crucial. I once worked with a large bank that sent 13 people to one of our meetings – eight of whom had never met before! How can you set KPIs, understand your customer journey, or measure when basic internal communication is lacking?

Sheree Hellier (SH): What I’m hearing in our research is that there’s a pattern of lost focus and rigour. In the areas of testing and evaluation for example, there’s an uncertainty as to what to test and what to measure. And often it comes down to the intangibles, like attitude. A marketing manager needs to love what they do and always be hungry to learn and improve.

PM: We also need people who can think – who don’t just focus on the process, but on good practice in terms of applying that process. How much time is spent setting KPIs, even measuring them, but then doing nothing with the resulting information? It’s the same with customer insight.

I once worked with an organisation that had a dedicated customer insight department, but their agency never had any direction from the inclusion of customer insight in their briefs. The problem is often that there’s no integrated thinking and ‘clear line of sight’ from strategy development though deployment to evaluation and iteration.

When it comes to discussing the specific, functional skills that marketers in general need to embrace, it appears there’s a need from both ends of the career ladder – marketing directors who arrived in their role before the digital revolution lack the knowledge and confidence to use newer digital marketing techniques. Juniors coming in have grown up with digital, but lack the core marketing skills that will help them make the most of their knowledge.

Dave Chaffey (DC): Having to learn so many new tools and techniques in such a short period of time has meant that some of the core marketing principles have been lost among marketers. Look at data. There’s so much noise about big data right now, when in fact, most organisations struggle to get to grips with their small data.

MC: There’s a growing trend towards data being seen as the gold dust that turns into insight that turns into return on investment. So client organisations are increasingly bringing this in-house, meaning there’s a real need for talented data experts.

PM: Most general marketers aren’t comfortable, or confident with data in the way that direct marketers are and they don’t integrate holistic data analytics with digital practice. Marketers need to remember that data and digital are not separate.

LM: I have seen search specialists, once trained in direct and data skills, begin to use a whole different approach to great effect. However, things are more complicated. Take content marketing, or social media. It’s not just about being able to use a medium – you need multiple skills to get maximum value. In many ways, it’s where PR now meets direct marketing.

So as the IDM is a training provider, were these the answers we’d expected? To a large extent, yes. Digital skills training is very much in demand at the moment – and, increasingly, data skills. What surprised us was how, although marketing’s focus is on embracing change and new techniques, we mustn’t underestimate the importance of people skills and, fundamentally, confidence. And what’s confidence?

In today’s world, when you’re under pressure to be accomplished in so many different areas, it’s about knowing your subject inside out. It’s about having the ability to get the best from people. It’s about making decisions. It’s about not being afraid to learn from failure.

The key skills for 2013

People skills

Having these will allow you to get the best from everyone you work with, whether it’s your team, cross departmental colleagues, or higher management.

Core marketing principles

Knowing your customer, planning, strategy, testing, measuring, evaluating, improving.

Data skills

Get the small data and the big data isn’t such a large issue. And remember that digital and data are inextricably linked.

Social media skills

It’s not just about knowing what social media can do for you, it’s how you do it too. Writing, PR and customer service skills all play their part.

Content management

It’s a connected world and human nature to share. Content marketing is one of today’s hottest marketing practices.

Confidence boosters

IDM training courses and qualifications designed and delivered by marketers for marketers include:

  • IDM Diploma and Certificate in Digital Marketing
  • IDM Award in Data Management
  • IDM Award in Email Marketing
  • Social Media Strategy
  • Content Marketing

For the full portfolio, visit



All together now

Lucy Handley

Training together as a team offers benefits to learners, a faster pace of development and more efficient ways to introduce new ideas to the workplace.


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