Marketers need to broaden their horizons to achieve greatness

Grant Duncan explains what marks out the modern marketer

I spent more than 20 years in advertising and worked with many CMOs, varying from the inspirational to the lacklustre. I came away with a clear sense of what good looked like - courage, political nous, integrity, candour, clarity of purpose and a real gut feel for what makes consumers tick were characteristics that separated the great from the average. I joined Spencer Stuart in 2008, and the UK office has since placed more than 40 CMOs.

With that has come a far deeper understanding of what marks out the modern marketer. Yes, the foundation is still about all the traditional skills - managing the brand, developing consumer insight and delivering on the brand promise - but the new-model marketer needs skills that are altogether grittier.

Accountability is mission-critical. The digital thunder-cloud has saturated every aspect of marketing, pouring unprecedented volumes of data into organisations. This isn't about mind-numbing analysis, but evaluating rich, added-value consumer information that feeds back into product and service enhancement and sharper, more relevant marketing. So, to make a deep impact on your organisation's marketing, your skills need to be underpinned by analytics and a rigour far in excess of the historic norm. Add to that the continuing economic grind where every penny that marketing spends is scrutinised, and proving the financial value of your activity is paramount.

Another feature has been the tendency for marketers to play to the UK gallery. Historically, fame has come from being lauded by your peers from a tight circle of opinion-formers - the UK trade media, awards juries and agencies' chattering classes. The modern marketer must avoid being parochial and isolated and instead actively gain exposure to a wide array of different functions, business challenges, product categories and geographies.

Decision time

Recent research conducted by Spencer Stuart has revealed that there are two choices that result in a step-change in the careers of high-potential marketers, often catapulting them into the most interesting roles.

The first is to cross into a new industry, sometimes a less glamorous one. Marketers who transition successfully find the experience both daunting and exciting, but also that their lives and careers have been enriched as a result. Our experience is that an increasing number of employers recognise the value of marketing talent from other sectors in bringing fresh ideas and change.

The second choice is to gain experience outside the UK, preferably in an entrepreneurial growth market. Markets are now truly global, and an international posting is no longer a career departure lounge. A willingness to place yourself in unfamiliar and often uncomfortable situations, and to learn about different social, cultural and economic systems, is likely to play a significant part in your career development and the formation of your marketing leadership skills.

Marketers will still be great when they are fearless, imaginative and consumer-centric, but the best will spot that credibility and success require embracing experiences that their predecessors might have rejected for lacking profile and plaudits.

Grant Duncan is technology, communications and media practice head at Spencer Stuart.

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