Today’s marketers: increasingly specialised, in agile teams, with varied backgrounds, need to embrace experimentation, and be ‘whole brain’

Future Proof is a podcast hosted by Julie Kollman, who is Chief Research Officer at Kantar Consulting, and Andrew Stephen, who is the L’Oreal Professor of Marketing at Saïd Business School (Oxford University).

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In the latest episode, the hosts are joined by Kantar’s senior partner, Mark Visser, to look at how the job of a marketer has changed and how it is likely to evolve in the next few years. It is a really interesting discussion and, in my case, very timely, too, as I am preparing for the start of another academic year. I thought you might find this interesting, too. So, here is the link to that episode.


The key message from the podcast is that what is important in marketing has not changed. Namely, the marketing fundamentals continue to be: doing segmentation, developing the positioning, understanding consumers, being able to translate consumer insights into convincing solutions and messages, and doing proper performance management. Having said that, how marketers go about delivering on those fundamentals or, in other words, what marketers do, today, has changed fundamentally (because the challenges faced by organisations and the organisation capabilities required to meet those challenges have changed dramatically).


A key difference has been the shift towards specialisation. Two or three decades ago, the marketing department was composed mostly of generalists working on all aspects of the brand, with only a handful of specialists such as market researchers or media buyers. Today, however, it is the inverse situation: mostly specialists, with a handful of generalists.


Another clear change has been a shift from stable marketing teams to agile ones, where people with different specialisms are brought together for specific projects. This means that, now, the heads / VPs of marketing departments do not necessarily need to be masters who know everything about marketing (in fact, they can’t, because how marketing is done changes very quickly and dramatically). Rather, they need to be masters at identifying the skills needed and, then, assembling and managing an agile team with the right set of skills.


The trend towards increased specialisation has been reflected in firms attracting marketing professionals with a wider range of backgrounds than before – from design and communication, to IT and mathematics. These professionals are very knowledgeable about a particular specialism, but need to be trained on the marketing fundamentals, namely around understanding consumers and markets. The areas where firms are finding it most difficult to attract AND retain talent are “user experience” and “analytics”.


In terms of change in attitudes, there needs to be fluidity and transparency, as well as willingness to embrace uncertainty and experimentation.


Finally, firms need to be wary of focusing too narrowly on digital. It is important to be a “whole brain marketer” – i.e., balance both creativity and analytics – so that they can ask the right questions. It is also important to have a mindset of continuous learning and wanting to update skills.

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