We all have a relative who, as a child, walked uphill to and from school in a snowstorm and remembers when milk was five cents a gallon and gasoline only 25 cents. For marketers, the nostalgia equivalency might be hand-addressing bulk mail or negotiating the price of a newspaper ad.
Like so many other aspects of our lives, technology has disrupted how marketers work, evolving their role and what’s required to enter the field. For women, marketing is both a modern, tech-powered profession and another no-coding required path to thriving in the technology industry. Bonus: a recent article suggests that digital marketing skills can also boost your hireability and make you more appealing for even non-marketing jobs.
I polled a cross-section of female marketing leaders from a variety of industries to get their take on what’s changed and how more women can succeed in the space. Their insights show an industry in the midst of rapid and dramatic transformation.
The Move Online and to Multi-Channel Marketing
Perhaps no shift is as profound as that from the physical to the virtual. A few short decades ago, marketers were focused on print, broadcast and outdoor advertising mediums that drove buyers into retail outlets. Today, marketers must manage integrated campaigns across multiple physical and digital mediums that all work together to convert buyers in a way that can be tracked and tweaked in real time.
GoDaddy Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Fara Howard says that’s made marketers into swift decision makers who are highly analytical and deeply familiar with customers, adept at delivering the right content to the right audience at the right time.
That ability to cut through the noise and motivate someone in the buying moment is critical because the competition for attention is fierce, says Archana Agrawal, CMO of Airtable. She cites an explosion in channels and formats coupled with rapidly changing audience preferences as variables that make for a highly complex set of factors buffeting marketers.
Fictiv’s Head of Marketing, Christine Evans, says that means the days of putting out a creative ad campaign, sharing some impression numbers, and calling it a day are long gone. Instead, multi-channel campaigns must create a “surround sound effect” that guide a customer’s journey all the way through the funnel – with the numbers to prove it.
An emphasis on numbers was the most common theme amongst all the marketers with whom I spoke. The availability of data to create custom, target campaigns, and the need to track data as a measure of success are critical for modern-day marketing teams. Yet, the enormous amount of available data has also led to challenges and further refinement.
Vodafone Business CMO Iris Meijer pointed to the ability to merge structured and unstructured data sources as an advancement that provides more accurate insights and closes the gap between what is known and what can be known about customers. Kim Caldbeck, CMO at Coursera, says combining human-led stories with data-driven personalization and targeting is also critical because it increases the accountability of marketing and its ability to drive business results.
But Airtable’s Agrawal cautions there is a downside to all this data. She says markets must be able to “properly harness that data and not drown in it.” If successful, then marketing approaches can be brilliantly creative and scientific at the same time.
An Expanding Role for Marketers
The ability to segment, target, and track customers at a granular level is one of the reasons behind marketing’s growing clout within organizations. As Evans noted in our conversation, this makes it easier to document marketing’s direct contribution to the bottom line.
Vodafone’s Meijer says it has also led to a more collaborative relationship between marketing and sales. Marketing teams’ increased focus on lead generation and account-based marketing appeals to sales teams and has helped nurture a fertile alliance between the two.
But the CMO of the nonprofit Financial Health Network, Laura Barger, says that marketing’s growing influence stretches much further and into the C-Suite. She’s seen marketers increasingly become responsible for owning P&Ls, driving complex segmentation strategies, and influencing significant business decisions because of their increased access to and understanding of engagement data.
Anita Dorf, CMO of the Neat Company, agrees with this cultural shift from marketing being the first expense cut to becoming one of the last. At times, it can still be an uphill battle, but more often than not, successful marketing teams are proving that marketing is an essential driver of growth.
“The role of marketing has evolved from being a punctuation mark to becoming a deeply ingrained element of business strategy,” observed Barger.
Authenticity of Mission
An important element of that C-suite participation has been marketing’s push to ensure organizations embrace social responsibility and impact opportunities.
In fact, most of these marketers mentioned a mission- or purpose-driven culture as part of what attracted them to their roles and what continues to inspire them. This was echoed by Coursera’s Caldbeck. As the CMO of a B Corporation, she is excited to see more companies prioritize their mission as their North Star when making company, branding, and marketing decisions.
Whether a focus on sustainability and the environment, diversity, or other community-level social engagement programs, all were unanimous in saying that authenticity – not platitudes – was key.
Pandemic Influenced Trends
Like every other aspect of our personal and professional lives, the pandemic has also changed how marketers think about the status quo. Over the last year, they say the importance of digital engagement, more personal connections, and virtual communication – without causing virtual fatigue – have all become apparent.
Deena Bahri, CMO of StockX, said one of the overriding lessons of the pandemic was that nearly every business can now be global. Just as supply chains can span countries and continents, so too can customer networks. She is focused on how to appeal to those customers from around the world that found the brand during the pandemic by using region-specific efforts like digital-first city guides.
GoDaddy’s Howard said the pandemic also proved that virtual channels are effective places for customer conversations. From online listening to social media discussions to comments on branded content, this digital engagement provides real-time feedback as to whether marketing is hitting the mark or not.
Interestingly, a few marketers said we must be careful not to swing too far towards virtual events. Financial Health Network’s Barger said virtual fatigue is real and marketers must find a more balanced way to engage with customers. Fictiv’s Evans agreed, even predicting a return to some traditional marketing mediums like direct mail because tactile engagement provides a refreshing counterpoint to a year’s worth of digital noise.
Preparing for a Career in Marketing
For those looking to enter the marketing field, the growth of technology and the emergence of data-driven programs have created demand for new skills and therefore new opportunities for more people.
In particular, marketing now encompasses disciplines such as engagement, growth, segmentation, communications, and marketing tech or data. Actual job descriptions could range from being a content creator to a website optimizer, researcher, or channel manager.
Regardless of title, the consensus amongst these marketers was that an understanding of data and its function within marketing is core. For those women proactively seeking a career in marketing or tech marketing, sharpening your data chops is the fastest path to employment and success. Their collective pro tip: marrying data proficiency with soft skills like storytelling, copywriting, and problem solving.