Transforming marketing capability

By John Howkins

Most companies recognize the need to understand their current marketing capability, often with the aim of transforming the marketing department into a function that can deliver more against the wider business goals.

The starting point is ‘What skills do we currently have?’ This is usually answered with a skills audit or simply a review of current skills. It’s currently a ‘hot topic’ for marketing with many companies either having recently completed a skills review or planning to do so (59% of marketing leaders surveyed conducted an audit in the last year).

Our unique experience comes from working with a number of the UK’s largest marketing companies, conducting audits which range across Europe and other regions. We have worked with ISBA (an industry membership body representing Britain’s advertisers) on projects for an international pharma company and a global leader in automotive amongst others. This has built our knowledge and understanding of how to tackle skills audits and also how to avoid the many pitfalls of simply doing an ‘audit’.

Some learnings include;

1. Any skills audit needs to be supplemented with insight gained from talking directly with marketing leaders, stakeholders or partners. A third party will get the best results, as employees and marketing leaders will respond more openly. This wider picture of needs and opportunity is vital to understanding how people are rating the skills they think have and those they need to improve.

2. The largest skills gaps identified from an audit, do not necessarily mean these are the top priorities. Typically, many people will self-assess themselves as needing training in digital skills, but across the organization there are often sufficient digital skills if they are only applied more effectively. The skills gaps need to be assessed against the aims for the marketing function.

3. Once there is a clear picture of the skills gaps these need to be viewed strategically. There is no point in trying to bring every skill up to the same up to the same level, creating an all-round good level, but failing to excel at any one skill. Like all good strategy it’s the art of sacrificing some skills in order to excel at one or two, so the organization can perform at a higher level than its competitors.

The reality of many marketing skills projects is that they start with high ambition, get mired in complexity and fail to produce any resulting significant action. Only by using people who have expertise at applying a broader perspective will this problem be avoided.

The concept of an audit or even a review is dull, but it hides the significance of the opportunity. Skills audits should perhaps be called ‘strategic capability programmes’ so that their potential is recognized.

If a skills audit is conducted well, here is the sort of feedback a good project will get;

“You delivered everything that we hoped for on this project and a lot more too. You provided a clear picture of our marketing team’s capability strengths and gaps, but also dug deeper. You brought real insight into our opportunity as a marketing organisation and a highly strategic recommendation on where we should focus to not just improve but to transform from good to industry leading.”

Area Marketing Director Northern Europe, Pharma Company

If you want to learn more about how we approach skills audits, contact John Howkins at Sword & Stone.

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