7 Skills You’ll Need in Marketing for 2021

Jim Ewel

With 2020 behind us (thankfully), how should we prepare for 2021? If you’re a marketer, here are seven essential skills marketing leaders will need in the new year.
1: Able to adapt
Wasn’t 2020 the year when we needed every bit of resolve we could muster to deal with the avalanche of change? Yes. But don’t think that things are going to suddenly get back to “normal.” If anything, expect as much or more change.
Adapting to change is a skill, one that can be developed and honed over time. It requires listening to your customers and the marketplace to detect the early warning signs of impending change. It requires the ability to adjust your marketing quickly and often. If you optimize your marketing campaigns weekly, or even daily, you’re going to adapt to change faster than those who run the same campaign for months.
2: Alignment

The average tenure of chief marketing officers (CMOs) continues to decline – to just 41 months in 2019, according to the recruiting firm Spencer Stuart. One reason for this: marketing doesn’t speak the language of business and isn’t aligned with the goals of the rest of the organization.
In 2021, make sure you’re aligned with the goals of both sales and executive management. Start the year by having candid conversations, asking sales and management what marketing is doing well and what they could do better. Make sure you understand the most important metrics from their point of view. Find alignment, not just once at the beginning of the year but quarterly, to ensure the alignment holds.
3: Napkin plans

Are you writing a marketing plan for 2021? Don’t. Traditional marketing plans are broken. They’re too long, seldom read, out of date soon after they’re written, and don’t provide a concrete approach to revisions as conditions change.
Instead, learn how to write what I call “napkin plans.” Napkin plans are:

  • Short – Your plan should be no more than two to three pages long
  • Visual – Create a simple graphic that conveys your 2021 plan. People will remember the image even if they don’t remember your words.
  • Based on feedback – Share your plan early and often. Involve other people in its creation. Ask for and incorporate others’ feedback. People support what they help create.
  • Revised regularly – Schedule some time each month to re-examine your plan, and, when necessary, revise it. Make sure it’s always current.

4: Saying no
Marketers are really bad at saying no. Developers have no trouble saying no. Finance has no problem saying no. If you never say no, you never prioritize, and you can’t focus on the most important things you need to get done.
5: Limit your work-in-progress (WIP)
Humans aren’t very good at multitasking. Limit the amount of work that you’ve begun but not finished (work-in-progress). This practice encourages us to finish work rather than accumulate lots of half-finished work in our to-do lists.
Most marketers should limit their work-in-progress to no more than three items at a time. In other words, if you have three items in progress, finish one of them before starting a fourth. You’ll find this improves your throughput and helps you get more done.
6: Validated learning
Modern marketers test their assumptions and optimize their campaigns. I call this validated learning. Some people call it growth hacking. Make 2021 the year that you build an infrastructure that allows you to run more tests and run them more often.
If you’re not testing today, begin by setting a goal to run two tests per week. If you already run tests, make it a goal to triple the number of tests you run each week by year’s end.
7: Creating remarkable customer experiences
Customers no longer want to buy products; they want experiences. From the first moment of contact with your brand, the experience should be consistent, interesting and engaging. As a marketer, how can you work with other departments in your organization to create remarkable customer experiences, ones that customers love and tell other people about?  
If you need a place to start, simplify the buying process. Study where customers are confused, when they disengage, and fix these problems so that the experience of buying from you is straightforward and easy. Sounds simple, right? It’s not.
Jim Ewel is a leading voices on Agile marketing. He co-organized the first meeting of Agile marketers and co-authored the Agile Marketing Manifesto. Ewel runs an Agile marketing consultancy, where he has helped over 60 organizations adopt this futureproof approach to marketing. Learn more at AgileMarketing.net.

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