Keep Learning—Or Get Schooled by the Competition

By Ginger Conlon

Complacency is not an option. Marketers who think they can get by on what they already know may quickly find themselves in a new career. Marketing is shifting faster than the tides; marketers at every level have to keep learning and growing to stay relevant. This may mean adopting new approaches or skills, polishing ones you’ve gotten complacent with, or resurfacing ones you’ve disregarded or neglected.


What should you as a marketing professional prioritize? Do you need to develop or sharpen your analytics skills? Get proficient with more marketing technologies? Hone your creativity or intuition? Be more attuned to customer needs? Be open to shifting your mind-set on testing new approaches and partners’ accountability?




But before you think, “That’s way more than I have time for,” take a deep breath. We’re here to help.


Ten industry experts share their advice for ways to be more creative while getting the most from marketing technology, using analytics to increase the relevance of your interactions and solidify customer relationships, and stoking internal relationships to speed progress and improve bottom-line results.


Daniel Incandela, CMO, Return Path

Pipeline projection, funnel movement, data analysis, and more are all important; but none of them rise to the “top” focus for marketing leaders in 2018. Instead, my answer encompasses these and more: change management. More...

Amit Bivas, Head of Marketing, Optimove

A marketer’s success or failure will come down to one crucial skill: the ability to be an engaging and persuasive storyteller. More...

Colby Cavanaugh, SVP of Marketing, Emma

It’s marketers’ responsibility to drive human connection at a brand level. That’s why I believe being human is one of the top skills marketing leaders must strengthen in 2018.  More... 

Jana Ferguson, Chief Client Officer, Drum Agency

if there is one skill set that you as a marketer should focus on improving this year, it’s understanding the tech stacks of today and how they all can work for your brand. More...


Lou Jordano, CMO, Crimson Hexagon

The explosion of consumer insights fueled by online data and enterprise data is exactly what marketers have been wanting for years. The best marketers will embrace this wave of customer data. More...


Chris Lynde, CEO, SaleScout

What all marketers need to do in 2018 and beyond is to modernize how they think about data and its role in sales acceleration and revenue growth. More...


Scott Hornstein, Partner, B2P Partners

The skill that marketers need to learn or strengthen in 2018 is the ability to gain the unique insight that only comes from one-to-one, in-person interactions. More...


George Wiedemann, CEO, DRUM Agency

The top skill for senior marketers today is the ability to think and operate strategically across all channels, addressing customer needs holistically instead of with siloed point solutions. More...


Ryan Phelan, VP Marketing Insights, Adestra

Naturally, there's no single path to enlightenment or success. But in 2018 marketing execs must be sure they understand three essential concepts for success and articulate them to their teams. More...


Ran Ben-Yair, CEO, Ubimo

To truly take advantage of the opportunities that data transparency presents, in 2018 marketers should abandon their legacy mind-set, create an in-house data infrastructure, and demand accountability from business partners. More...


Daniel Incandela

CMO, Return Path

@danielincandela | @ReturnPath

I love the question: What’s the top skill to learn or attribute to adopt or strengthen in 2018 for marketing leaders?


When I first read it, my mind jumped to a number of possible answers: pipeline projection, funnel movement, sales productivity, data analysis, and more. Although all of those things are important; it’s my opinion that none of them individually rise to the level of the “top” focus for marketing leaders in 2018.

Instead, my answer encompasses all of these challenges and many more: change management.


It is widely reported that CMOs have the shortest average tenure of any position within the C-suite—just 42 months, and shrinking every year. This means marketing leaders face mounting pressure to deliver strategies and solutions on a shorter and shorter timeline. In addition, marketers face constantly changing conditions, business challenges, and competitive landscape.


Any marketing leader who intends to succeed in the today’s environment should be prepared for unprecedented levels of change. But there are steps we can take to make change easier to manage. Following are just a few.


Watch for new data trends. Today’s marketing is driven by data. We use data to analyze leads by channel and region, map marketing programs to pipeline, calculate productivity per head, and estimate the potential new business at every event. But the tactics we employ will undoubtedly change in the next six to 12 months. New technologies will emerge, and future prospects will have different needs and expectations. Our collection methods and the type of data we assess will likely change, as well.


As part of your continuing education, watch for early signs of change and new trends around marketing data. Be agile enough to respond quickly as these changes occur, because adapting to change is the best way to ensure the continued success of your marketing team.


Advocate, educate, communicate. I believe that within most companies, marketing is a poorly defined and widely misunderstood function. At a high level, the role of marketing is to develop a strong brand, drive business demand, and help the shape the company’s culture. As marketers, we understand this and often take it for granted — but we shouldn’t assume that this is clearly understood across the organization. 


It’s up to us to educate those around us about the marketing function, its strategy, and its goals. We should be able to readily explain how marketing is improving the brand and helping drive demand. More important, as marketing strategy shifts, it’s imperative that we’re communicating the how and why of those changes. Marketing is a key part of any company’s overall business strategy, and this kind of advocacy can help to ensure that it remains so.


Think holistically about success. If marketing is to play a role in shaping our company’s culture, then it’s our responsibility as marketers to help all areas of the company succeed—not just marketing. Believe it or not, this is a self-serving goal, as well as an altruistic one. Think about this: If sales isn’t hitting its quotas, then marketing’s successful demand-generation efforts are irrelevant.


For most marketing teams, this requires a new way of thinking about our role within the company. For example, one of the most important relationships within many companies is the one between sales and marketing. Building that relationship and providing the right messaging, content, and pipeline will help the sales organization to flourish. Similarly, a strong bond between marketing and the services team can enhance customer marketing efforts. The list goes on and on.


As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” There’s no question that marketing is in a period of rapid change. The key to success going forward is to be ready for change and find ways to embrace it, rather than fighting for the status quo.


It’s fun, exciting, and daunting time to be a marketer. The stakes are high—but the upside potential is staggering. Are you ready?

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Amit Bivas

Head of Marketing, Optimove

@AmitBivas | @Optimove


Whether it’s this year, 10 years from now, or one hundred years from now, a marketer’s success or failure will come down to one crucial skill: the ability to be an engaging and persuasive storyteller. Marketing is about telling a story, whether it’s a product story or a brand story, and the better story you tell, the better chance you have at achieving your marketing goals. But it’s not just about reaching a certain number (conversions, churn, etc.); it’s about crafting campaigns that resonate with customers in a way that drives real change.

Demonstrating emotional intelligence and empathy goes a long way in marketing


communications; no one wants to be treated as if they’re a data point. If you’re a good storyteller, your customers will never

feel that way.

Up until the 1990s, marketers were traditionally Don Drapers, meaning they were focused on the creative aspects of the trade, rather than on the scientific aspects (e.g., metrics, numbers, and analysis). Since then, the definition of the marketer has shifted; today marketers are expected to be scientists and artists simultaneously, a forced combination that doesn’t necessarily work.


Personally, I think marketers should focus on being Don Drapers again, so they can direct their energies on what they signed up to do — tell new and impactful stories — and leave the numbers to the analysts.          Back to Contributors list

Colby Cavanaugh

SVP of Marketing, Emma



Today’s consumers are more connected than ever, and we’ll only see that trend continue with the continued proliferation of mobile. But right now, there’s still a fundamental disconnect between people and the companies that wish to reach them. It’s marketers’ responsibility to drive that human connection at a brand level. That’s why I believe being human is one of the top skills marketing leaders must strengthen in 2018.

The sheer competitiveness of digital media makes this even more critical. As companies continue to make the shift toward digital, interpersonal skills will become even more


important to companies wishing to create the kind of brand experiences consumers appreciate and remember. At the same time, customer have raised the bar on what they expect brands to do. It’s absolutely critical that marketers understand how to use all the data they know about their audience to provide an experience that feels both relevant and human.


Some business leaders believe that new tools can come in and do this work for them. Buzzwords such as “artificial intelligence” and “machine learning” get thrown around a lot these days, as if they can replace the work of the marketer. Don’t get me wrong: Marketers must absolutely find ways to scale using the tools they have at their disposal, especially in today’s digital climate. They need to be able to take their genius and creativity and the good work they’re doing and amplify that across their entire customer base.


But the fact is, there’s no replacing the work of the actual marketer. Remove the human element and marketing doesn’t work. Solutions exist that promise to do all of the work for you, but it’s the wrong approach to engaging your customers, the wrong approach to delivering value, and the wrong way to use the tools we’ve been given. Instead, we as marketers have to make sure we’re keeping marketers and marketing at the heart of our strategy and deploying these new tools in the right way: the way that’s going to best serve our customers.


Take email marketing as an example. To get it right, you have to leverage your subscriber data in ways that lead to one-to-one experiences in the inbox, not experiences that come across as condescending or creepy, or simply don’t make sense. We’ve all seen automated emails that miss the mark with personalization because they’ve been deployed with no human context or intuition. Instead, marketers should be the ones in the driver’s seat. Rather than setting and forgetting it, they must use a combination of careful thought, planning, and testing to determine what works best for their consumers.


Tools like automation can help with scale and efficiency, sure, but it’s the marketer that ultimately has the ability to utilize those tools in the right way. Marketers who use tools like AI, machine learning, and automation to amplify the human element, rather than replace it, are the ones whose companies will succeed in 2018 and beyond.              Back to Contributors list

Jana Ferguson

Chief Client Officer, DRUM Agency



I’ve been in this industry since the days of keyliners and faxes. There’s no doubt that the needed skill sets for marketing and advertising have changed since then. The one thing that has been constant is that those changes have been driven by technology. From the advent of Macs and what they did for creative development, to data collection and what it’s done for analytics and customer targeting, to AI and what it’s doing for data-driven decisioning and cognitive technology. 

As Google thought leaders have said, “We’re getting closer to a point where campaigns and


customer interactions can be made more relevant end-to-end—from planning to creative messaging to media targeting to the retail experience. We will be able to take into account all the signals we have at the customer level, so we can consider not only things like a consumer's color and tone preferences, but also purchase history and contextual relevance. And all of this will be optimized on the fly in real time.”


So, if there is one skill set that you as a marketer should focus on improving this year, it’s understanding the tech stacks of today and how they all can work for your brand. Strategy today is dependent on your tech stack, your investment in data collection, and how you curate and use them both.


It’s imperative to understand advertising platforms, for example, not just from the marketing perspective, but also from the e-commerce and, sometimes, even the supply chain side. Doing this allows you to create and plan customer journeys from the first impression through the conversion and cross-sell.


Technological advances today are creating new opportunities for storytelling and marketing. Brands are investing millions into these platforms. If you as a marketing strategist don’t understand their capabilities and how to connect the dots through your brand’s ecosystem, then you can’t create a cohesive strategy that utilizes all of those capabilities.


As marketers we have to understand what’s possible with automation, machine learning, and the ensuing meta-analyses. To do that, we have become technologists; we must become proficient enough with these platforms to learn how to connect the dots. We need to create blueprints for the automation and journeys, determine when the chain breaks and where we can continue the journey, create optimization strategies that are linear and non-linear, and test like crazy to determine what’s worth the effort and what isn’t.


Doing all this will give us the skills to use these platforms to their full capability to create powerful one-to-one marketing and customer journey maps — taking a unified approach, across all screens and all channels, both offline and online.

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Lou Jordano

CMO, Crimson Hexagon

@LouJordano | @crimsonhexagon


In 2018, it’s more important than ever for marketers to deeply understand their target audience. Of course, this isn’t new — understanding your audience has been one of the most fundamental aspects of marketing since time immemorial. What’s different in 2018 is there is much more customer data available than ever before — primarily in the form of online and social media data.

This trove of consumer insight data is both a challenge and an opportunity for the modern marketer. A challenge because it forces marketers to be even more data-driven and data-

savvy and be comfortable working with customer data from a variety of sources. And an opportunity because it provides

much deeper and more exhaustive customer information from which to base messaging, campaigns, and one-to-one

customer interactions.


The best marketers will embrace this wave of customer data. The explosion of consumer insights fueled by online data and enterprise data is exactly what marketers have been wanting for years; it would have felt like the Holy Grail for me earlier

in my career.


The marketers who can use this data to inform every aspect of their work will clearly separate themselves from the rest of the pack. The job of any marketer is to put themselves in the shoes of their target audience, and to create content and campaigns that speak directly to them. The data to help them do that is finally here. Now it’s time for marketers to use it to their advantage.


What do my customers want? What’s important to them? What drives their decision-making? These are all questions that marketers must be able to answer if they want to drive the right business outcomes.


If you want to be a successful marketer in 2018 and beyond, you should constantly be asking yourself these questions and turning to the data to inform your answers.                  Back to Contributors list

Chris Lynde

CEO, SaleScout



Data fuels every marketer’s strategy. We’re on a never-ending quest for data to inform our decisions, understand our customers, accelerate sales, and maximize marketing performance. With the extraordinary increase in the velocity and volume of digital data available to marketing professionals, we are constantly challenged with identifying what’s relevant, accurate, and valuable to feed our marketing and demand-generation efforts.

But it’s important to understand that “bigger” data is not always better data — especially for B2B marketers. In the B2B space, which is usually a smaller set of buyers than in B2C, the


same group of decision makers are saturated with offers on an ongoing basis. Given this context, the traditional attributes of data accuracy, recency, and intent become even more critical drivers of sales and marketing success.


What all marketers need to do in 2018 and beyond is to modernize how they think about data and its role in sales acceleration and revenue growth. Here are three core elements of understanding data for you to consider:


1. Rethink your accuracy expectations. Why should marketers expect 60 to 70 percent accuracy rates on the contact data purchased from data vendors? If you were in the market to buy a new car, would you accept one that only had three tires? Marketers should demand more from their vendors. The expectation should be 100 percent accuracy. What would that do to your conversion rates, pipeline development, and close rates? Look for vendors who combine unique data, sophisticated technology, analytics, and good old fashioned human verification to create superior data products that perform well every time.


2. Reevaluate who your target audience is. I’ve seen an evolution of titles and roles across many industries, especially hyper-growth SaaS and tech companies. Traditional titles may be too narrow or may not reflect the job role; consider, for example, Chief People Officer or VP of Customer Journey. Marketers can overlook a significant segment in their data selection if they’re not looking for these title variations and, consequently, miss a significant opportunity. Today, the more sophisticated data vendors are “normalizing” titles and roles and can work with marketers to identify these missed segments.


3. Identify and track what triggers your prospects to act. Instead of blasting mass emails or cold calling prospects, sales and marketing professionals have additional tools at their disposal. Sales intelligence tools, for example, provide real-time triggers to enable marketers to pinpoint and time their messaging to the right audience, at the right time. For instance, if you sell to healthcare startups, imagine getting triggers when they’re flush with cash — crucial insight, considering that companies that just closed a round of funding are eight times more likely to respond to a sales solicitation.


Data is undergoing a revolution, and the ability to effectively analyze, optimize, and maintain its accuracy is the game-changer strategy for all marketers. This is particularly true for account-based sales and marketing programs where visibility into key decision makers is imperative.


Increasing accuracy at the point where data is entered into the CRM and MAP systems, and solving the problem of data degradation as contacts move or change positions, can have a huge, positive impact on pipeline growth and sales. I’ve seen this firsthand with marketers who demand 100 percent accuracy from the start. They’ve significantly reduced marketing and sales ops spend, while generating greater than 20 percent close rates on that data. Now is the time to change your mind-set and start demanding the data quality you deserve.              Back to Contributors list

Scott Hornstein

Partner, B2P Partners



Let’s begin with a question: How many of your marketing staff have ever seen or spoken to a prospect. Or a customer, for that matter?


My guess: Not many.


It’s not just you, it’s your competitors, as well. Which is why gaining firsthand, unique insight into the men and women that inhabit our classification of “prospect” or “customer” is a potential game changer.


Positioning, content, and messaging become infinitely more effective once we gain a deeper understanding of how our prospects and customers describe their issues and challenges, their individual and collective contribution and rewards, who they trust, and how and why they make a decision.


So, the skill that marketers need to learn or strengthen in 2018 is the ability to gain this unique insight. If you do this with commitment and agility, it will bring a vitality and immediacy to your marketing, and your product or service to your customers.


Learning and applying the person process will help you gain the unique customer insight you need.


Some Voice of the Customer research has evolved into what we call the prospect persona process. It’s a high-reward process that consistently prevents costly mistakes and illuminates the way to accelerated revenue. For example, one company developed a disruptive product for a risk-averse market. The company’s leaderships felt that certain they could capture the market even without a track record. Using the prospect persona process, the company learned that prospects disagreed, but those potential buyers also recommended a more appropriate entry point.


The prospect person process involves talking, probing, and carefully listening to prospects and customers, with intelligence and empathy, within a purposeful conversation. The result is a portrait of the person, framed within their business setting. An archetype.


It is their story, written by them, of how they do business. And because it is authentic, it can engender a vision and understanding common to both marketing and sales. It is most powerful when marketing a high-consideration product or service.


However, the persona process does not stand alone.


Marketing is most effective when it combines information from three sources:


  1. Data analysis. What definable and measureable actions and steps have prospects taken? Analysis of the data brings a critical aspect to our understanding of the person and the organization.

  2. Internal intelligence. Nothing can replace or replicate the sales team’s knowledge of the industry, the players, and the personalities.

  3. Persona research. This not only unifies the marketing and sales perspective, but it also enables us to talk to our customers and prospects about what they think is most important, and where they go for trusted information, in their own language.


Within this triangulation of customers and prospects the most powerful lever is the research, because it lets those individuals speak for themselves. When you put this all together and load it into the martech rocket ship, you turn competitive differentiation into clear and compelling competitive advantage.              Back to Contributors list

George Wiedemann

CEO, DRUM Agency



“P&G trimmed its global agency roster last year from 6,000 to 2,500 and expects to cut about half of the remaining agencies in 2018,” CFO Jon Moeller said in a recent AdExchanger interview. P&G has worked hard to tackle the fractured customer journey and customer experience brought about by the specialization and digitization of customer communications over the past 30 years.

A good deal of the P&G consolidation came from its digital marketing, to deal with waste caused by online fraud, non-viewable inventory, bot traffic, and over-targeting individuals.


P&G CMO Marc Pritchard saw that his marketing directors just did not have time and resources to coordinate the efforts of the five or six specialized agencies running most of its digital marketing. He therefore chose to consolidate his agencies, putting P&G in a better position to make strategic, holistic decisions.


I always watch P&G closely. Based on this shift in its agency relationships and the proliferation of technology and AI for marketing, I would say the top skill for senior marketers today is the ability to think and operate strategically across all channels, addressing customer needs holistically instead of with siloed point solutions.


While AI and tech may be reducing the need for some channel specialists, it has a long way to go to replace holistic strategic thinking (if it ever could). Don't get me wrong, technology experts and data scientists are essential in this industry and are some of the most in-demand skills. But to really solve client problems, analytics and tech roles have to be balanced with heavy-hitting marketing strategists who understand the customer journey and the brand experience, as well as the tools and how to use them to optimize marketing.


After years of focus on specialized, siloed solutions, the highest priorities for marketers has now circled back to unifying the brand experience across touchpoints. This drive behind what we call Unified Marketing is due to a rise in the need to meet customer expectations and optimize the total marketing spend for brands. Where siloing spend tends to create channel optimization, using middle metrics such as driving to the lowest cost per click, Unified Marketing balances all the touchpoint spends with the optimization of the best final metric, such as cost per account or lifetime value.


Even when channels seem individually optimized and at their peak performance, you would be surprised at how your results can improve by testing one individual touchpoint’s performance when coordinated and optimally linked to another. Marketing leaders in 2018 must take a holistic approach to evaluating and guiding the entire customer journey, and strategically linking that to the right tech stack.               Back to Contributors list

Ryan Phelan

VP, Marketing Insights, Adestra

@ryanpphelan | @adestra


I talk to business leaders every day about digital marketing. They all want to know how they and their companies can increase their revenue, improve performance, and accomplish great things. They ask, "What's the one thing I have to know? What's the best path to success?"


Naturally, there's no single path to enlightenment or success. But in 2018 marketing execs must be sure they understand these three essential concepts for success and articulate them to their teams:


Many marketers might be surprised to learn that AI is already making an impact in the workplace. For example, AI is helping marketers work smarter and faster by streamlining monotonous administrative tasks, saving time, and enabling marketers to focus on what they really want to do: lead creative and strategic initiatives.


Let’s say your company is preparing for a new product launch and needs to tag thousands of photos with metadata and various keywords. Traditionally, someone would have to review, process, and prepare each image and make sure the right department has the right access to their relevant materials. But with AI-powered image recognition technology, thousands of photos can be automatically tagged with the proper information and efficiently organized in a fraction of the time.


It’s important to remember that marketers will always be needed as the chief creators, directors, and architects of great campaigns. Relieving them of time-consuming administrative duties will only help power more creative campaigns.

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Ran Ben-Yair

CEO, Ubimo



Brand marketers have been clamoring for greater transparency in their relationships with agencies and other partners over the past few years as digital advertising has unlocked unprecedented opportunity, as well as numerous challenges. One area that has not received sufficient attention is data transparency.

Marketing leaders now have the ability to demand and achieve data transparency within their organizations and by extension with their external partnerships. In doing so they can transform their cultures with a newfound dedication to data transparency that can lead to


less waste and less inefficiency in their marketing and advertising plans.


First-party consumer data collection powered by improved technology has made it possible for marketers to develop more accurate and sharper consumer segments than in the past. The quality of the data is leagues beyond the early days of programmatic advertising when sketchy audience segments were built primarily from third-party data that were too often not up-to-date.


To truly take advantage of the opportunities that data transparency presents, you should abandon your legacy mind-set and create an in-house data infrastructure. This doesn’t necessarily mean building your own technology. In fact, I would advocate against that. What’s required is a fundamental shift in attitude where your brand takes ownership of its own data through dynamic, collaborative relationships with third-party technology platform providers.


Instead of “setting it and forgetting it,” make 2018 the year that you finally demand accountability from your business partners.

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About the Author

Ginger Conlon, chief editor and marketing alchemist at MKTGinsight, catalyzes change in marketing organizations. She is a frequent speaker on marketing and customer experience, and serves in advisory or leadership roles for several industry organizations. Ginger was honored with a Silver Apple lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the marketing industry.

Find her at @customeralchemy and on LinkedIn.