The qualities that make a great modern marketer

Toby Horry, managing director, Dare
Toby Horry, managing director, Dare

In 1988 I went on my first shoot. It was for Lunn Poly holidays and was the first in a series of ads entitled "Getaway" (not sure whether they're in D&AD or not...)

I remember several things from that shoot, not least the ability of a film crew to eat its own weight in paella. Another thing I remember was the client. In my youthful naïvety, I observed that they had the easiest job in the world: four days sitting on a director’s chair, being waited on hand and foot, and then out for a slap-up meal in the evening.

As I gained experience I began to realise there was possibly more to it than a week in Mijas twice a year. But when it came to marketers and advertising, it seemed straightforward; the best marketers worked with agencies to identify insights that informed a marketing strategy and became fantastic advertising, which solved business problems.

Then the internet happened. And the recession, the global/local axis, about 1bn new channels, real-time buying and Snapchat. And big data – whatever that is.

Every brand is different, so it’s hard to describe the perfect marketer. But the approach and qualities that a modern marketer needs to succeed are now clear.

A focus on behaviour before message. There is a growing body of work that starts with a brand behaviour and builds out: American Express "Small business Saturday", Walkers’ "Do us a flavour", Barclays "Your bank", Best Buy’s "Twelp Force", Zappos, Red Bull’s space jump… Most brands are undifferentiated, media money doesn’t stretch year-round and lying is not an option. Therefore, if a brand can do something incredible or unexpected, it is more likely to have an impact – and one that lasts. This requires marketers who can lead the organisation and its behaviour, rather than be led by it.

A focus on longevity rather than campaign burst. Marketing is a 365-days-a-year task. Customers don’t hold their buying decisions until a brand’s campaign window. The best brands make fantastic advertising but also have a reason to deserve someone’s attention when they’re not in media. This is beginning to have a significant impact on the marketing jobs market, with a far greater demand for those with a journalistic background and the best marketers displaying characteristics and skills more reminiscent of editors.

An ability to embrace uncertainty and flex the plan. Opportunities or threats can arrive at any time. The best marketers expect the unexpected and are willing to change the plan to accommodate new data or deliver something tactical within a few hours. In this environment, marketers with good instincts will thrive better than those who constantly search for proof. Definitive proof can rarely be found and the time taken finding it may give the competition an advantage.

More, smaller ideas. This is not to say that the need for a purpose or organising thought for the brand is not as great as ever. It’s just that the execution that really helps you land that purpose may not be the one you expected. Newer channels allow you to test the water with multiple executions in a live environment, then put weight behind those that get most traction. Great marketers in this regard are those who see creative opportunity in everything, no matter how big or small.

Beyond digital. The best marketers realise that the world is digital, so having specific "digital marketing" roles is somewhat counter-intuitive. Certain digital channels may still require specialists, but, increasingly, the best marketers are trying to break down channel-based silos and build a more joined-up team.

These themes and characteristics are really just scratching the surface and there are plenty more that represent the modern marketer. The downside to all this is that the marketer in question may see fewer director’s chairs in Mijas.

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