THINK Contributor

The art of Marketing: 3 soft skills every marketing team needs

By , February 17, 2017

You’re here on this site to learn about the power of technology: How machines can add the power of cognitive learning to customer analytics, marketing automation, and real-time personalization, among other things.

But let’s talk about something non-tech for a minute. Let’s talk about people.


Because although great marketing is enhanced and aided by technology, great marketing needs people—the sort with actual blood pumping through their actual hearts—to successfully dream up and implement great marketing campaigns (and to make the tech investment worthwhile).

Certainly, marketing technology programs need people with hard-core skills. They need people who are excellent marketing strategists, content creators, email and analytics experts, and designers/creatives, among other things.

But what about the softer skills you need to on your marketing team?

Such skills might be harder to quantify, but in my experience they are just as key to a successful marketing program as someone who can precisely tailor a media plan or build a killer landing page or personalize the heck out of content for a warm prospect.

Here are three soft skills I value in a marketing team member: 

1. Jargon-free communication skills.

The ability to clearly and unambiguously articulate key concepts across the organization is necessary to a successful marketing program. 

That means you as a marketing team member understand, and can explain, how technology supports broader business goals from a business point of view, not just a marketing point of view.

The value you bring is not just about delivering a zillion sales-qualified leads, for example. It’s about the real business impact that those leads deliver when they convert at an average conversion rate of 75 percent. (I know… we wish!)

Being able to connect the dots in compelling, lingo-free communication (both written and spoken) is a valuable skill on a marketing team. This isn’t just about speaking or writing well. It’s about conveying ideas ways that lead and inspire others—even if you are managing up. (Maybe especially then.)

Think as an educator, not a salesperson: You are educating others, not straight-up selling others on your ideas. 

Why? Because you are more broadly interpreting (showing, telling, and explaining) to the rest of a team what marketing brings to the table—and in doing so educating others on marketing’s critical role in your organization.

2. An Independent Mind and Curiosity.

My favorite people to hire are those who ask questions. (And they invariably become my favorite people to work with, too.)

And the best question is Why? And the second-best question is What if?

Sometimes Why isn’t the exact phrasing. It could masquerade as How does this work? Or maybe What’s our goal?

And sometimes What if isn’t the exact phrasing, either. Sometimes it presents as Wouldn’t it be cool if or Could we perhaps?

Why? is ultimately the question that sets up a small flare in a conversation, functioning as a plea to pause and figure out what we are doing before we go all in. Why are we doing this again? What’s the real value?

And What if? is the question that sparks imaginative thinking and creativity, both of which are the fuel that make your programs hum right alongside the tech.

In tandem, the two questions of why and what if indicate independent thinking and a kind of curiosity that’s invaluable to any marketing team.

3. Pathological Empathy.

I saved the best for last, because I believe empathy is the thing that separates great marketing from mediocre marketing.

And not just any old run-of-the-mill empathy, but pathological empathy. As in obsessive empathy for the audience you are trying to serve.

Pathologically empathic marketers don’t just create marketing personas and plug them into marketing programs and then deploy campaigns targeted to them.

Instead, pathologically empathic marketers try to fully grok the customer mindset. They try to understand their hopes, dreams, aspirations, frustrations, and annoyances.

They listen more than they talk.

They don’t just walk in their customers’ shoes; they put on their socks and pants and shirts and hats… and they move around in those, too, trying to get a feel for what it’s like in their world.

Why is pathological empathy important? Because your prospects and customers don’t care about your products and services. Instead, they care about what those products or services can do for them. It’s a subtle shift, but an important one—if you want your marketing to resonate with your customers.

And to be able to articulate what’s in it for them and create programs that resonate… you have to have answers beyond a surface level.

* * *

So those are the skills I’d hire on my marketing team, beyond the more obvious hard-core marketing skills.

What about you? What’s critical to your team? What do you look for, or what do you hope to nurture in yourself?


Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal best-selling author, keynote speaker, and the world’s first Chief Content Officer. Ann speaks and writes about how you can rethink the way your business markets. Cited in Forbes as the most influential woman in social media and recognized by ForbesWoman as one of the top 20 women bloggers, Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a training and education company with the largest community of marketers in its category. She was a long-time monthly columnist for Entrepreneur magazine, she is a member of the LinkedIn Influencer program, and she is the co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (Wiley, originally published 2011. Paperback 2012.) The book has been translated into nine languages, including Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Italian, and Portuguese. Her most recent book, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content (Wiley, 2014) is a Wall Street Journal bestseller. She has more than 350,000 followers on Twitter and writes about content, marketing, and life at the highly entertaining AnnHandley.com. A pioneer in digital marketing, Ann is a co-founder of ClickZ.com, which was one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary. She started her career as a business journalist and editor. Ann is based in Boston, Massachusetts. Ann is a paid contributor to THINK Marketing.


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