The senior-junior skills gap in marketing

ADMA new skills assessment highlights strengths and weaknesses across marketing leadership and teams when it comes to marketing capabilities

Senior marketers are increasingly looking to build their innovation and opportunity identification capabilities and recognise soft skills and collaboration as critically important across the marketing function.

Yet there is clear gap in the way planning and execution knowledge is shared between senior leaders and their teams.

These are just a few of the insights to come out of a pilot study of ADMA’s new Marketing Skills Assessment tool, now available to member and non-member organisations and individuals.

The assessment offering is built off the back of a capability framework devised by the association with input from industry aimed at creating a 360-degree view of marketing skillsets. ADMA’s capability framework is focused on four main quadrants: Discovery, strategy, planning and execution. Within these, 12 capabilities and more than 35 skills have been identified.  

ADMA CEO, Andrea Martens, said with marketing as a discipline continuing to evolve, the association needed to deep dive into specific capabilities required across marketing teams, from the most senior to junior positions, and how these are supported by skills.

“While these skills change rapidly – often due to technology – core marketing capabilities such as insights, strategy and innovation are timeless,” Martens told CMO. “One thing we needed to do was understand the relationship between capabilities and skills, then ensure marketers and marketing leaders are given insight into where to focus development of their teams so they remain relevant and effective in their roles.

“The two are very much designed to work together. The ADMA Marketing Skills Assessment builds on the capability framework. And what it’s design to do is give clarity on marketing capabilities, career paths and support marketers in getting there.”  

Martens said ADMA’s capability framework and resulting assessment have been nearly two years in the making.

“The key was needing a 360-degree view of marketing. That was clear feedback we were getting from CMOs: You need to look at the entire mix. Whether marketers are generalists or specialists, having an understanding of different elements of the mix is critical as you progress through your career,” she explained. “We did contemplate going in at a job level, but actually for marketing, it has to be based on capabilities. Because that’s the constant.”

Alongside the core 35+ skills, Martens noted four soft skills which apply regardless of seniority: Collaboration, curiosity, critical thinking and creativity.

“Interestingly, they were ranked in the top 10 skills executives needed to develop when we did our initial benchmark story,” she said.

“The biggest shift we have seen is the pace of change rather than the skills or capabilities themselves. This pace has impacted business planning cycles and ensured collaboration is key. That again comes back to elevated soft skills. They’re also critical going forward. The reality is marketing on its own can’t fix a lot of these issues – marketing has to work with sales, IT, production teams and others to really solve business problems.”

ADMA built the framework, skills assessment tool, then set up an initial pilot with 300 people. The initial phase provided an understanding of where pressure points exist at senior as well as more junior levels.

“Importantly, we’re also factoring in how important individual skills are to the role you are in,” Martens said. “Because some roles are quite specific, making sure we have that clear intersection identified of whether something is important in your role, versus whether it’s not, is vital to then assessing accordingly.”  

Off the initial pilot, ADMA is producing a report, which will share key insights on where growth opportunities exist as well as the gaps across the marketing function.

The skills gaps

Not surprisingly, the roles data and technology play are apparent across all levels. Journey mapping and product development are also saturating the mix but particularly so at senior leadership levels, Martens said.

With regards to soft skills, there is recognition they are always critically important and something you need to be constantly working on, just like any other skill, she continued.

“Being able to collaborate when you’re at a junior level may well be vital in your team. But being able to collaborate at a c-suite level with your peers is just as critical, if not more, to ensure a customer’s voice, and the brand voice, is heard in a business,” Martens said.  

In addition, analytics and optimisation came out as essential skills for both generalists and specialists. Generalists ranked more highly in terms of curiosity and creativity.

At more senior levels, there’s an emphasis on discovery and strategy elements, while at a junior level, execution and planning skills are dominant. Yet ADMA’s assessment also showed the clear need for marketers that are full mix.

“Particularly at that senior level, you are expected to go from insight to strategy, planning and execution and have that oversight,” Martens said.

However, this is where several gaps emerged. Discovery and strategy, or what Martens called “exceptional fundamentals”, weren’t as strong as she’d hoped across mid to senior level marketers. She partly attributed this to the rise of communications-led and performance-driven marketers.

“When it comes to business strategy and brand strategy, executing through communications is one channel. When that channel overrides everything, you lose that 360-degree view,” she said. “The challenge being put to marketers is to drive business growth and return. To be able to do that, you need to understand your customer and business data and develop brand strategy that can be executed across all elements of the mix. Pricing and distribution are equally as important as comms.  

“This assessment puts that lens on it and shows the importance of that full mix marketer. Ultimately, that is what is being asked for of CMOs from business return from CEOs, boards – with that investment, what is my return on spend.”

Another area of concern for Martens is knowledge sharing between senior and junior marketers. “As soon as you have direct reports, sharing knowledge is critical. That was lower than we expected,” she said.

“Knowledge sharing around critical thinking, planning and strategy were pretty good. But when we get down to areas more executional in nature, such as personalisation, positioning, digital and data platforms, it’s not.

“It seems what happens is there’s broad knowledge sharing on strategic topics, but not as much as on specifics and those things sitting more in the planning and execution quadrants.”

One reason for this could be how tech-driven planning and execution have become. “It’s moving at such a pace that for senior leaders to be across all of that to the degree their team needs to be across it is probably really difficult,” Martens commented.  

Technical skills are not easily transferrable, either. “There is an expectation for senior marketers to develop their teams but not necessarily the other way around – learning from those with technical skills to upskill at that higher level,” Martens said.  

“That’s why, to truly understand where your team has gaps in those areas you may not be as conversant in, is actually a big part of the opportunity. Because you need your team to be performing 150 per cent in those spaces you’re not necessarily doing so.”  

Again looking at senior marketers, Martens cited highly evolved skills in goal setting and strategy planning, as well as CX, brand and targeting. In terms of where they are developing knowledge, it’s around innovation and opportunity identification.

“Interestingly, the mid-level have the in-market execution and targeting but innovation and brand strategy aren’t there. How are they going to bridge the gap if that knowledge is not shared? In order to be a strong senior leader, you need those strategic elements,” she added.

Read more: The skillsets the CMO50 are building across marketing functions right now

The ADMA Marketing Skills assessment is available to all members, as well as non-members for $120 + GST. Those who complete the tool get an individual report, while top-tier company members also get a team report and debrief as well as recommendations on training and development roadmaps. Martens hoped to have 70 per cent of all members complete the assessment by the end of Q2.

Martens said the framework and assessment insights have also made clear where gaps and opportunities are in ADMA’s training and education offerings. “The planning and execution stage is ADMA’s strength and that’s where the mid-level marketer needs to continue to develop in order to get to expert levels,” she said.

Data-driven marketing also coursed through every element of the mix. ADMA has several new data analytics courses on the way focused on data visualisation and storytelling, plus an array of masterclasses on offer. It’s also working with the UK-based DMA on regularly refreshing educational content.

“For skills such as strategy and insight, that’s where we’ll work with someone like Mark Ritson on the Mini MBA. At the same time, we make it clear where the skill gaps are and you can take there to wherever you want to go,” Martens said.  

“The sooner we can get members and the community through this, the sooner marketers will know where to put those precious learning and development funds and be investing in the development their teams need.”

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