By Mark Schaefer, Marketing Consultant
I was on a panel recently with four supersmart, deeply experienced marketers. I moderated the event and asked them this question: What one key skill do marketers need to acquire to succeed over the next five years?
“Integrating channels,” replied a leader from a Fortune 500 company. “Think in terms of omni-channel.”
“Networking … the ability to make connections,” said the head of a marketing think tank.
“Building community,” opined the community manager for a national firm.
“Content creation,” said a university professor.
Certainly these are all very important skills but I think they are missing the biggest one of all.
“I think you need to be a data tamer,” I said. “This is not going to be the most popular answer, but increasingly marketing is math. You need to get comfortable with analytics and statistics … at least for the next five years.”
So what’s so magical about five years?
No, you can’t be Don Draper
I find that many people (especially students) think marketing is “Mad Men”-esque. They believe it’s copywriting and dreaming up the next Oreo cookie campaign over a few Manhattans. But that’s not the reality of our world at all. Marketing strategy starts with numbers and ends with numbers. So … you better like numbers.
“I can definitely see a time when … you'll simply ask your device a question about your customers or competitors, and it will know what data to pull, what analysis to run, and how to interpret the results.”
The good news is, we have numbers streaming at us from so many places that measuring the impact of what we do has never been easier — if you know what to look for. You see, unless you have some understanding of what the numbers mean and how you can make all this big data work for you, it’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed. That’s why I have long advocated the need for some background in statistics and analytics in a marketing education.
Winds of change
But, I also see how this can change dramatically in the near future.
In the long run, I don’t think big data will be a thing. I have had a chance to experiment with some new analytic software packages and it is downright amazing how these tools can make data behave with very little effort.
I just received an Amazon Echo — it’s kind of like a voice assistant for your home. It’s pretty limited in what it can do, but I do feel remarkably comfortable asking it a question out loud and getting a quick answer about the weather, sports or whatever is in the news. It’s not too difficult to make the leap and imagine what business will be like when we have automated, voice-activated assistants available to sort through complex data for us.
In the foreseeable future, I can definitely see a time when we won’t have to worry about specifying the correct statistical test or making sure your data is “cleaned up.” You’ll simply ask your device a question about your customers or competitors and it will know what data to pull, what analysis to run, and how to interpret the results. It will even provide the ideal visualization for your report to the boss. Like you, I’m looking forward to the post-pie-chart era.
Bye bye, big data
In this new environment, we won’t think about the big data that is fueling those answers just like we don’t think about the sophisticated electronics at work when we are flying to a business meeting or responding to an email. It’s just there. It just works. We don’t know how, we don’t care how. We don’t give it a name. The Marketing Answer Machine will be our best friend.
And, so will the Engineering Answer Machine, the HR Answer Machine, and so on. The pieces are coming together. Maybe in the not-too-distant future marketing will be less about math and more about business transformation.
What do you think? Share your thoughts with @DellPowerMore on Twitter.
This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.