Marketing Career In Depth

Taskmasters: who are the marketers of the future and how will they work?

By Charlotte McEleny | digital editor

October 23, 2018 | 7 min read

Marketers of tomorrow will need the skills of a conjurer if they are to combine the myriad tasks asked of them in the fluctuating world of modern commerce.

Evolution is a hard thing to predict. Without the benefit of foresight, it’s hard to see the difference between the adaptable and the vestigial – to deduce what’s useful and what will be left behind. The same follows for the marketing industry, where change is one of the few true constants.

To discuss what the marketer of the future will look like, we asked agency heads and industry experts to dissect current trends and speculate about the roles marketers will hold, where they’ll perform them and how they’ll survive and thrive.

As the ways that businesses operate and engage with audiences change, marketers will be responsible for predicting and exploiting shifts. They’ll need the ability to react to new information in real time, the sensitivity to translate complex ideas into emotional stories and the sharpness of vision to ensure flawless execution.

According to Stephen Hamill, vice-president of Oracle Marketing Cloud for Apac, a marketer’s acuity and insight will soon become crucial for businesses worldwide. He says: “The job of the marketer has changed in scope from one focused on brand awareness and creativity to one that is more focused on outcomes, and attached to the return on investment for every marketing campaign or strategy. The marketer’s role has been uplifted to one where they are part of the everyday C-level conversation and aligned to driving business outcomes.”

Wayne Arnold, who founded digital marketer Profero, recently left agency life to travel and draw inspiration for his next career move. Considering the same question from his new status as an outsider, he lands on a similar answer: “Marketers need to think more like chief executives. I worry that our industry defaults to the tactical far too easily. If we think like chief executives, as business solvers who can use creative skills to confront business problems, I think we will be in a great place. That means investing in personal education around accounting, legal issues and the stock market –not just around our inner circle of creativity.”

Leaving that ‘inner circle’ of personal and professional networks is a theme that comes up regularly – but it’s also clear the marketer of the future will need be able to see entirely beyond the limits of both industry and location.

At MullenLowe Profero, the idea that staff should be ‘globally curious’ is a core value. Vincent Digonnet, the agency’s Apac chief executive, explains why this concept is key for the future of marketing: “‘Hire on attitude, train on skill’. That mantra has been on my desk for 20 years, and it has never been more relevant. Only culture and attitude really set us apart from our competition, and MullenLowe Group, through the best-written manifesto I have ever seen for a communication group, has the values and behavioral commitments to make a difference. Being globally curious is one of them. It is the relentless search for the new and innovative.

“For us, curiosity knows neither boundaries nor geography. It is a core trait at a time when all norms are being challenged, when technology has totally disrupted the way we work, and when we need to embrace skillsets that did not exist five years ago to produce the work that will allow our clients to stay ahead of their competition.”

Taking these ideas further are Rosie and Faris Yakob, former agency leaders who have built marketing consultancy business Genius Steals around their passion for travel. The pair, working with a network of remote freelancers and staff, now help clients on a project-by-project basis.

While some clients took time to get used to the idea of working with remote suppliers, being physically separate from a business plays to Genius Steals’ strengths. “We think there will be roles inside large organizations where they attempt to play a more consultative role, but the challenge with change agents is that they face big obstacles in being heard. Once inside the system, advice becomes free, and thus isn’t valued. Outside support is valuable, because people working on the inside can’t see the system for what it is. It’s incredibly limiting, and it’s why you see a lot of senior leaders pulling in external consultants.”

Agreeing with both Hamill and Arnold, they say this drives a need for more generalists within organizations who can tie complexities together. “There will always be a need for craftspeople, but there’s an equal need for an understanding of how it all ties together. That requires having some knowledge of the craft, but also an understanding of the bigger picture.”

With complexity, however, comes added pressure. Marketers are increasingly expected to be plugged in and always ready to get to work. Yet across society, greater awareness of physical and mental health is provoking a rethink of work-life balance amid a frenetic future. Working environments are being reshaped across many industries, with previous practices and norms recognized as unfit for purpose in the modern economy. Most notoriously in Asia, overwork is literally killing people.

Yakob adds: “In public relations, they say ‘It’s PR, not ER’. We talked to one agency that started offering yoga in the office because so many of their employees were quitting to become yoga instructors. It might help in the short term, but instead of just offering yoga classes, giving people a better work-life balance may be a better solution.

“Many companies look at this from such a short-term perspective – they want to see people at their desks and working. There has to be a shift toward valuing the product, not just presence. And it’s tough, because people who hold senior positions probably had to invest many long hours to get to where they are. They think the same is required of young people. But if anything, these long hours just burn people out.”

On this topic, the Marketing Society is putting its head above the parapet, using its ‘Brave’ agenda to drive topics around mental health and create a better environment for neurodiversity.

Speaking on the ‘Brave’ agenda, Marketing Society chief executive officer Gemma Greaves says this focus on mental wellbeing isn’t only good for our minds, it’s good business too. “We need to change our recruitment policies, overcome unconscious bias, embrace people’s differences. It may not be easy, but it’s the right thing to do. And we know that diverse teams, talents and skills produce better commercial results.”

It can be hard to manage the fine line between passion and overwork, says Hamill. “I believe most marketers are driven by passion for their craft – to create the best customer experience possible. They are victims of their own passion when it comes to work-life balance. They don’t switch off because they love what they do. With technology and the rise of digital marketing, it’s easier than ever to take work home. Marketers of the future must figure out how best to make personal lifestyle choices and manage their time in the interest of their health and wellbeing.”

The marketer of the future, then, needs to be a passionate leader with a chief executive’s ability to drive business change and oversee an increasingly wide array of tasks, channels and customer experiences, an urbane businessperson who understands global and cultural complexities, as well as someone who knows when to switch off, take a deep breath and … change the world. It’s no small task, but if anyone can do it, it’s a marketer.

This feature first appeared in The Drum's August issue, which looked at The Future of Marketing.

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