There is a running joke among marketers that just about every single person we encounter claims they’ve had a marketing job at some point in their life. If they sold classified ads for the college paper, or were in pharmaceutical sales, or helped their brother promote his lawn-mowing business, they think they know how to do our job. It’s nice to find a common bond with someone, but it can be insulting when someone insinuates that being a successful marketing or advertising professional is easy, or doesn’t require many years of hard work.
Other professionals like teachers, lawyers, accountants, and doctors must take certain classes and pass difficult tests to enter their fields, and are required to participate in career-long continuing education programs. However, there are no formal exams that marketing people must take to prove their worth and capabilities. There are benefits and drawbacks to this. One of the major drawbacks is that anyone can claim to be a marketing “expert,” so clients can be easily fooled. If I were in charge of judging a skilled marketing professional versus an imposter, the following are the four criteria I would employ.
1. ABILITY TO DEVELOP A SOUND MARKETING STRATEGY
Savvy marketing people will be able to evaluate the market situation, business plan, and goals, then translate those into a realistic and measurable marketing objective. With this in mind, they can then (and only then) craft a strategy that is specifically designed to meet that objective. Not all marketing strategies are created equal, nor should they be. Every brand or business has a unique situation. Therefore, every marketing strategy should also be unique, and the strategies that are built around particular goals of a business will see the most success.
2. INSIGHT TO DEFINE THE TARGET IN HUMAN TERMS
A well-defined target audience is crucial to be fruitful in one’s marketing efforts. To know your current and prospective customers well is the only way to create messages that will resonate strongly with them. A skilled professional will be able to do the appropriate research to gain a solid understanding of the target.
By target, I don’t only mean the demographic information like age, income, gender, and race. I also mean “human” information like personality type, work style, belief system, activities, lifestyle, and more. Experienced marketers have ways to gather this information and develop the insights around it in order to describe the ideal customer as if they were a real person — or even better, describe them as if they were a friend.
3. CAPABILITY TO CREATE A DISTINCT BRAND POSITIONING
The great brands of the world find a way to differentiate themselves from the competition and/or fill a unique need in the marketplace. They also find a way to do this consistently over a long period of time. Creating a distinct brand positioning and personality isn’t something that can be invented. It must stem from the essence of the business (or product) and also must be meaningful to the target. The most gifted marketing-minded people can uncover this brand spirit and develop an integrated communications plan that is perceived to be genuine, believable, and relevant to the business — all important to be effective in your efforts.
4. EXPERTISE TO DESIGN A SEAMLESS TACTICAL PLAN
Once all of the above items are cemented, the next difficult job is to design a marketing plan that is integrated across the stages of the customer life cycle. It’s imperative to reach the target with appropriate messaging in each of the various phases of buying — from brand awareness to purchase through evangelism. This is where true expertise can “make or break” a brand. It’s very difficult to formulate and implement an integrated marketing plan over the long haul, especially as the tactical marketing landscape evolves daily.
So as a brand and business reviewing your options for hiring marketing professionals — be they advertising agencies or consultants or senior-level employees — ask them about the four skill sets mentioned above. If they have a solid understanding of how to do these things very well, then you probably have a legitimate expert on your hands. If they flinch and avoid the question, then you might want to look for more options.
Emily K. Howard, a marketing strategist since 1997, developed her skills at some of the country’s top marketing firms including DDB Worldwide, while working on brands like American Airlines, Pepsi, Bloomberg and Merck. Now as Vice President of Esparza, Emily’s integrated communications approach helps clients find order in marketing chaos. She’d love to hear from you and can be found on LinkedIn or @ekhoward on Twitter.