In speaking with thousands of marketers and businesses over the past several years, we’ve learned that marketing has an incredible potential to impact people’s lives.
In fact, the American Marketing Association defines marketing as:
“The activity, set of institutions, skills, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
I love that. We as marketers are benefiting society at large!
But marketing skills and career growth don’t come easy in a field that moves at the speed of light. It seems like every week companies are demanding an evolved skill set out of their employees – giving rise to a new era of marketing roles such as the Full-Stack and T-Shaped Marketer.
Brands that can successfully bring a variety of people, marketing skills, and unique perspectives together have a huge advantage when it comes to providing value.
That’s why we’ve partnered with the incredible marketing team at Asana, a leading work management software, to break down the top 7 invaluable marketing skills that help some of the greatest brand teams on the planet produce consistently great content.
Let’s dive in!
As Sujan Patel writes on his blog, “the modern marketer has to be familiar with a lot, good at many, and master of a few.”
Having a variety of skills and tools not only provides ultimate flexibility as a team to create a variety of successful marketing campaigns, but it also allows each marketer to shine as an individual.
These 7 high-level marketing skills will help to ensure your team has ultimate flexibility and individuality.
There seems to be a general belief that marketing has always been about storytelling – and that marketers have always identified as natural storytellers.
But that may not be the case.
LinkedIn found that just seven years ago the number of marketers listing “storytelling” on their profile as a skill was obsolete. It didn’t exist at all as a respected marketing discipline.
Today, however, between 7 percent and 8 percent of all marketers on LinkedIn worldwide identify themselves as storytellers based on their profile descriptions and list of skills.
As a marketer, storytelling doesn’t just mean telling your audience what your product or service does or what it has done. Effective storytelling involves a deep understanding of human emotions, motivations, and psychology in order to effectively communicate with them in an authentic and engaging way.
During the writing of this article, Asana CMO Dave King told me: “The best marketers are problem solvers and storytellers. Content creators should ask ‘what problem is this piece solving for my audience.’”
As marketers, there are endless ways to tell a story.
One of my favorite ways to develop a compelling story is to use “The Story Spine” formula created by professional playwright and improvisor Kenn Adams. Over the years, Pixar has won countless awards by using this formula, including 13 Academy Awards, 9 Golden Globes, and 11 Grammys.
Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
I encourage you to practice this formula for your own own brand, products, or services.
Let’s give it a shot with a brand we might all know of: Nike.
- Once upon a time there was a passionate shoemaker that wanted to get his shoes into the hands of runners around the world.
- Every day, he worked on perfecting his shoes so that these runners could perform at an optimum level.
- But one day, this shoemaker realized that supplying shoes to thousands of runners around the world was no easy task.
- Because of that, he worked harder and harder to ensure that he had the supply of products needed to be successful despite what critics said.
- Because of that, his shoes continued to improve and more and more athletes started to wear them in prestigious competitions.
- Until finally, it wasn’t just about running anymore. It became about something bigger – finding your inner champion doing what you love in gear that makes you feel great.
As Ken describes, “The Story Spine is not the story, it’s the spine. It’s nothing but the bare-boned structure upon which the story is built. And, that’s what makes it such a powerful tool.”
It’s up to us as marketers to fill in all the little nuances of the story.
As many marketers know all too well – there is always something to be done.
Being an effective prioritizer is one of those marketing skills that doesn’t get talked about enough, but plays a huge role in the success of your team and content.
Producing consistently great content means saying yes to a handful of awesome content ideas/opportunities and saying no to many others.
The Asana marketing team uses a project labeled “Content Opportunities” to which anyone in the company is highly encouraged to contribute ideas. Then, when their marketing team is ready to take action on a piece of content or campaign, they add it to their Editorial Calendar project.
This management of ideas, projects, and initiatives is what allows them to be super focused and productive on a consistent basis.
So how can you develop prioritization as a marketing skill? And how can you prioritize content and campaigns that will perform at a high level?
That’s where the importance of goal-setting comes into play!
At Buffer, we’ve experimented with a variety of goal-setting frameworks such as OKRs, Locke and Latham’s 5 Principles of Goal-Setting, BHAGs, and lots more.
Today, our marketing team is using two types of goal-setting methods depending on the scope. For long-term planning and strategizing, we use a modified Warren Buffett Framework, and for short-term (experimental content), we use a framework called ICE.
The Modified Warren Buffett Framework
My colleague Hailley has long admired the original framework for setting goals from Warren Buffett – a method where you write down 25 things you want to accomplish in your career, and from that, pick the top five as the focus and put the other 20 on an “avoid at all costs” list.
We’ve since adopted a modified version of this goal-setting framework. Here’s a quick overview of how it works (with a real-life example goals from one of our 6-week cycles):
Step 1: Choose 10 goals
Brainstorm a list of 10 goals related to your work on the team that can be accomplished in a certain, predesignated timeframe.
Remember to focus on goals and not tasks. A good way to remember this is that tasks describe how you spend your time, whereas goals are your results.
Step 2: Assign a “tag” to each goal
Next, go through and add a tag to each goal with the category that it falls into. The tagging system should be unique for each person.
Come up with your tags, and assign them to each of your 10 goals.
Step 3: Pick three goals to focus on (P1s)
This is the most difficult portion of the exercise! Refining the list from 10 to the three that you will focus on during the specified time period.
Pick one goal for each tag that you have on your list.
Then, add a P2 and a P3 to prioritize the rest of your goals within the list.
That doesn’t mean you have 10 goals all competing with each other at the same time.
It means that as soon as you complete a P1 in any one of the categories, you then (and only then) move onto your P2 and P3.
ICE Score Framework
“ICE” stands for Impact, Confidence, and Ease.
Below is a description of each element directly from the creators of the ICE Score Framework at GrowthHackers:
- Impact: The possible impact the idea could have on the business if considered a “win
- Confidence: This relates to how confident you are in whether it’ll result in a wi
- Ease: This relates to how many resources, and what kind, are needed to implement the idea
For each idea, give each factor a score from one to ten. The overall score is determined by taking the average of the three scores. You should start with the idea that has the highest score.
For example, let’s say you wanted to run a content partnership experiment with a peer or influencer within your industry (similar to this one!) Your ICE score might look like this:
- Impact: 8
- Confidence: 7
- Ease: 7
- Total: 22
Comparing that to other ICE scores, you can quickly determine which ideas to tackle next and which ones to table for the time being. Over time, you’ll be able to score ideas quickly and efficiently.
Why is team collaboration necessary?
Part of the answer, according to research from strategy professor Benjamin Jones at the Kellogg School, is that our individual knowledge base is becoming more and more specialized.
Jones gives a great example of the Wright Brothers and building an airplane:
“In 1903, two people designed and flew an airplane. Today, a Boeing 787 has dozens of specialists working on the engines alone. Then there are the controls, the hydraulics, the airframe itself. There is an incredible range of specialized skills needed.”
There is an ever-growing need for collaboration among specialists (teams) within companies to get a product or service off of the ground.
In our experiences at Buffer and Asana, the most successful marketing teams coordinate on two important levels:
- Messaging: Ensuring there’s consistency in what is being said across channels (blog, website, social, etc.
- Distribution: Planning and sequencing content rollout for maximum impact across channels
By combining the right set of marketing skills in both messaging and distribution you are setting your campaigns up for a much higher rate of success.
Whether you’re launching a full-on marketing campaign or simply posting a video to Facebook, creating a consistent message across channels is an important part of building your brand.
We’ve found that having effective collaboration tools in place makes all of the difference.
Here’s a quick example of some of the tools and workflows we use in order to help our teams create consistent messaging:
- Kick off a conversation in messaging app, Slack, about the proposed idea or campaign:
- Start a doc in Dropbox Paper with additional details, comments, copy, etc:
- Create a project within Asana and assign tasks to team members across the organization:
These three tools are invaluable for transparent and cross-functional collaboration and communication among teams within your organization. They’re especially important for us at Buffer as a fully remote company!
Without a solid distribution plan in place, your messages may never reach their intended audiences. Having the skills to not only create the assets, but efficiently deliver those assets across multiple channels, is an important quality for any marketer.
Here’s a quick look at some of the tools and workflows we use to distribute consistent content:
- WordPress for hosting and creating blog content:
- Discourse for internal distribution, information, and announcements:
- Buffer for social media planning, scheduling, and analytics:
At the core of any great team collaboration is trust. Trust is the willingness and openness to intentionally communicate with teammates on your direct team and across the company.
It’s up to you to make space (physically or virtually) for people to meet and share ideas. Pixar is a perfect example of this in action – they designed their offices so that artists, designers, programmers, and marketers would purposely bump into each other.
Humans are, by nature, very visual beings.
In the brain itself, there are hundreds of millions of neurons devoted to visual processing, nearly 30 percent of the entire cortex, as compared with 8 percent for touch and just 3 percent for hearing.
In other words, the most successful marketing teams are not only able to communicate messages in written form, they’re also able to create stunning designs that aid in telling a compelling visual story.
We wrote an article in 2017 titled, “Why Every Marketer Needs to Be a (Part-Time) Designer” and the general theory still remains true, even more so, today in 2018.
The best part is there are tons of free resources our there to get started! Here are some of our favorites:
Visual storytelling is one of those marketing skills that often goes overlooked, but plays a massive role in the success of every single piece of content.
Have you ever wondered how some marketing teams come up with so many great ideas?
Behind every one successful marketing idea or campaign, there were dozens (if not hundreds) of little failures along the way.
It reminds me a lot of what is known as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in product development. A MVP is a product that has the minimum amount of features required to validate if people want it or not.
The same theory holds true for marketing experimentation and testing.
A marketing team that is unafraid of failure and willing to run hundreds of different tests in order to quickly validate ideas will often succeed over a marketing team that puts their eggs (ideas) into one basket (channel/campaign).
The Information, for example, might have hundreds of potential story ideas in Asana at any one time — prioritizing experiments and ideas based on competition, importance, opportunity costs, and lots more.
Although there isn’t a true scientific way of running marketing experiments, this is the formula we’ve come up with at Buffer to systematically test ideas:
We start with setting clear goals and then work backwards from there.
Let’s say we wanted to increase Buffer blog traffic by 10% in one year (goal).
Our marketing team would start by getting together and brainstorming all of the different ways we could accomplish that – SEO, social media, affiliates, etc.
We’d then prioritize ideas based on impact (Warren Buffett Framework / ICE Scores) and begin testing.
Then, we’d constantly measure and analyze results along the way while making incremental improvements.
Approaching experimentation and testing with a growth mindset, similar to developing a product, is a marketing skill that will help take your team to the next level.
As marketers, we’re all somewhere on the analytics expertise scale (whether we know it or not!) From the analytics wizards to those of us just starting to dip our toes in data analysis, we all have a base layer to work from.
Our Director of Marketing at Buffer, Kevan Lee, puts it perfectly:
“The great thing about deepening your skills in analytics is that we all have a base layer to work from. We all know how to build intuition. And intuition is just an absorbed history of data. Add to that the ability to ask good questions, and you’re well on your way. (The tools themselves matter far less than you’d think.)”
Asking good questions, when it comes to data and marketing analytics, is an invaluable marketing skill to have on any team.
This graphic from Moz shows just how many BIG questions there are to ask:
At first, asking all of these questions can be a bit intimidating.
What if I don’t know the answers?
One way we like to think about approaching analytics is this idea of “Crawl, Walk, Run” – It might look something like this if you’re just starting out:
- Crawling: Which channels get the most engagement?
- Walking: Which tactics and/or strategies are contributing to this engagement?
- Running: Which channels, tactics, and strategies should we implement to increase engagement?
Another great way of thinking of analytics is the “Hierarchy of Analytics” model made popular by data wizard Christopher S. Penn:
In the beginning, you might experiment with various analytics platforms and tools in order to get a feel for the basics of marketing analytics. Understanding what data is available, its limitations, and what you can report is a great start.
Then, as you become more skilled and confident with data, you might dive into things like understanding why something happened or what might happen in the future based on your findings.
There are some incredible data analysis tools out there from companies like Google, IBM, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft that can help you do just that!
I like to think that the path to becoming a great marketer is a lifelong journey and never truly complete.
Knowledge, passion, and expertise are intangible qualities that we usually don’t acquire overnight. These are often developed as result of years (even decades) of hard work, mistakes, self-reflection, and personal growth.
Even a virtuoso like Michelangelo was quoted as saying, “I am still learning” late into his career.
At Buffer and Asana, we aim to build our marketing teams around folks who are naturally curious, hungry to learn, passionate, and open to new ideas.
“A love of learning is one of primary skills we look for in marketers because it tells us a couple things: do they love what they do, and are they curious about the world?” explains Kevan Lee. “Those two factors alone can take you quite far!”
Just like food nourishes our bodies, information and continuous learning nourishes our minds.
But where do you start on your learning journey as a marketer?
We’ve found that having a framework in place allows us to identify opportunities for growth. We call it the T-Shaped Marketer Framework:
T-Shaped Marketing at Buffer. Feel free to grab a download of the Sketch file or Canva template we used to build this, if you’d like to customize it for your company.
I encourage you to create one of these templates for yourself. It’s an incredible, eye-opening activity that will provide you with a clear path forward.
Then, we suggest forming habits around the marketing disciplines you’re most excited about:
- If you want to get better at data analysis, try taking a course on Udemy or Skillshare to expand your skills
- If you want to dive into video marketing, experiment with creating a video in Animoto or take a free Adobe Premiere tutorial on YouTube.
- If social media is your passion, we’ve got a ton of great learning resources on our Social Blog, Skillshare, and the Buffer Podcast.
- If you want to improve your organization, workflow, or project management skills, Asana has created a ton of great resources and best practices for work management on their blog.
If you’re curious, inquisitive, genuine, and if your intent is sincere, there will always be people who will support you in your journey.
Experiment and try out new things – some of them might even scare you! Once you gain some momentum, keep it going. That will set you up for a lifetime of success in marketing.
Over to you
Thank you so much for checking out this post!
If you’re interested in learning more about career and marketing skills from some uber-talented professionals in the industry, feel free to check out the Asana blog. It’s packed with some incredible insights.
We’d also love to continue the conversation with you below!
What skills are we missing from this list? What has helped your team create consistently great content? What would you suggest to those looking to hire marketers?