The next five years will transform marketing in ways we’re only beginning to imagine, and the marketer of the future will need certain characteristics to thrive in this new and shifting environment. Like early life on Earth, they’ll need an adaptable body capable of rapid evolution. But, being adaptable is just the start; marketers in the future will also need a strategist’s eye, an empathetic ear, a curious mind, and a creative heart.
If you have any experience with toddlers, you’ve witnessed curiosity in its most intense and ceaseless form. As soon as babies can crawl, they are off and exploring their world. In a child’s first year she will ask roughly 4,000 questions. And at least half of those questions are really the same one: “Why?” That’s because small children are beginning to notice the world around them and they want to better understand it.
Why ask why? Marketers need to recapture that driving “need to know” to thrive amidst a changing marketing landscape. A curious mind delves beyond the surface of new topics and views challenges as puzzles to be solved rather than obstructions to be avoided. When faced with a new platform, tool, or methodology, embrace your inner toddler’s brain and dive with eagerness and a sense of adventure. As Einstein once said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.”
There is some debate over whether or not creativity can be taught. I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. While some lucky few may be programmed to become best-selling authors and award-winning musicians, all of us are capable of creative thinking. Even the most data-driven, analytical strategist on your marketing team can, and does occasionally, have eureka flashes of inspiration. To increase the frequency of those moments, you need to get your creative blood pumping by engaging in creative habits.
- Brainstorm before bed. A tired brain is more likely to explore tangents and find new connections.
- Schedule a daily daydream. Allow your mind time to relax and wander.
- Get moving. Take a walk during your workday. We’re better at thinking creatively after exercising.
- Color outside the lines. Do something artistic just for fun. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it. This is about having fun while creating.
- Learn outside your comfort zone. Read an article, watch a documentary, or listen to a podcast. When we learn new things, our brains assimilate that knowledge into existing problems.
3. Strategic thinking
Strategy is the yin to our creative yang. In order to have balance – and effective marketing strategies – you have to have both. You can have the greatest, most creative ideas in the world, but unless you can implement those ideas within the framework of your organization’s larger missions and understand how they move the needle forward, they’re pretty much useless. To think strategically requires you continually assess your business and your industry and apply new business insights. To be effective marketers, we must be a chimera of strategy and creativity. We need to breathe in data and breathe out big ideas.
Here’s the good news. Just like creativity, it is possible to strengthen your strategic thinking.
- Work in a group. Open yourself up to new perspectives, question your own opinions, and learn from the experiences of others.
- Zoom in, zoom out. Look at problems from 1,000 feet in the air, then zoom in to look at how one individual is affected. Repeat as necessary.
- Play strategy games. Break out your Risk board or sign up for Lumosity.
- Stop and breathe. Too many decisions are based on reflex, on the need to be the first with the solution. To increase your strategic thinking skills, remind yourself to take a moment and think through an idea or plan before putting it into place.
Adaptability is essential to a marketer’s success. Much like the chameleon, you need to be able to blend into new environments quickly. Marketers of the future need to not only survive but thrive in uncertainty, adapting constantly to an ambiguous and shifting landscape around them. This means pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. If you’re not a data-driven person, take a course on analytics. If you excel in operations but rarely speak up with big ideas, start attending more brainstorms and challenge yourself to come up with at least five ideas.
Remember that the future isn’t fixed. The rules are changing every day. To succeed in the next generation of marketing, you’ll need to be able to see those changes coming and change with them.
Empathy is the act of listening to a person’s perspective and then sharing that perspective. For marketers to be successful, we have to relate to customers and foremost serve their needs. When we listen to our customers with empathy, we are actively putting down our own goals and objectives, at least for a moment, and engaging completely in the customer’s perspective. Taking that perspective back to your messaging, empathetic thinking allows marketers to derive deeper and more holistic customer insights, which lead to better-informed go-to-market strategies and an increased sense of relationship between customer and brand. It’s so important that companies are even offering empathy training to help employees better connect with customers.
Of the five skills for marketers, empathy is likely the most important skill for future marketers. Empathy has to be the force behind all business communications and objectives. The ability to look outside ourselves and see things from another’s perspective fuels creativity, inspires curiosity, and informs strategic thinking. Better understanding our customers is why marketing changes and why we must adapt.
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