Ready, Set, Grow! How can marketing organizations ready themselves for 2019 and beyond?

Reimagining the Marketing Generalist for the Digital Age

The relentless change roiling the marketplace for the past decade has been shaking up marketing organizations, too.  In particular, the marketing generalist has been sidelined.  The face of marketing in the digital age has become that of the marketing specialist.

On any given day, a glance at the job openings posted on LinkedIn shows a plethora of specialist roles such as social media coordinators, data scientists, audience planners, community managers, content strategists, engagement coordinators, web developers, user experience managers, traffic analysts and many e-commerce specialties.  Generalist jobs are far less visible.  A recent survey of Centennials, who are just hitting the job market, found that two-thirds believe their career success is predicated on having some sort of a specialty expertise.

The marketing profession is being redefined by this shift to specialists over generalists.  But is this hindering marketing even as it is helping marketers measure up to the challenges of the digital age?  If so, what should marketing organizations do about it?

Spend time talking to mid-level and junior marketers at large companies who hold the once-coveted brand and product manager jobs and you hear that their days are filled with a disappointing and uninspiring mix of project and budget management tasks.  Strategy is set centrally, far away from local culture, with execution in the hands of specialists. It is no wonder that marketing is losing the talent war to big tech companies.  The marketing generalist, who rose to prominence with Procter & Gamble’s pioneering idea in 1931 of the brand manager as a mini-CEO, has lost its sheen.

The ANA Educational Foundation calls the “talent disconnect” in marketing and advertising a crisis that has reached the “breaking point” and requires “immediate action.”  This is not just about the marketing profession itself.  This is about companies having the talent it takes to grow in an increasingly competitive marketplace. The imperative to get the right talent in the right roles matters, and it matters a lot.

It is time to reimagine the marketing generalist for the digital age.  To attract, nurture and support the best and brightest talent, the role of the generalist must be celebrated again and reinvented.  The marketing generalist must be less of a project manager and task administrator and more of a visionary ‘intrapreneur’ with the charge to make things happen.  In short, a mini-CEO redux.

To revive and renew the role of marketing generalist, there are three things that are critical to look for and reward.

First, marketing needs more people with the flexibility of mind and spirit it takes to keep up with change and uncertainty, not more people with some sort of specialized knowledge.  The kind of knowledge that is relevant and helpful will change every year, so the people who are really needed are those who can change with it.

The modern marketing generalist must be equally comfortable with analytics, ideas and people.  This person must be able to make the complicated simple and not only speak the language of multiple disciplines but also be able to find the opportunities that sit between them. By connecting business, technology, design and consumers needs they can get to new outcomes.  Success requires a ruthless balancing of the future with the present, so this person must be able to navigate through uncertainty while operating within the lines of global strategy and the corporate matrix to deliver the next quarter.  In effect, the modern marketing generalist must be an ‘i-hybrid’ of investigator, instigator, influencer, inventor and investor.

Second, marketing needs to plug the gap between executional excellence and strategic insights. The ways of working adopted in many large companies over the last 10 years or so has led to significant gaps in marketing capabilities.  Global or regional control of brand strategy and assets has left the rising generation of marketers with little grounding in strategic thinking and brand-building.  At the same time, marketing leaders in the center have migrated further away from what’s really going on in the local executional environment.

Marketing leaders and marketing doers should all be trained in and equipped with both strategic savvy and digital know-how.  Rotational assignments in early careers are key, as are mid-career accelerator programs.  Moving forward, though, more fundamental improvements are needed.

Specialists will need to be augmented by centers of excellence with overarching responsibility to boost and constantly upgrade the capabilities of people within the organization.  In addition, structure, processes and tools will have to be adjusted to allow for greater democratization of strategy, more professional facilitation of project management, and more fluidity (and agility) in planning and engagement with all of the stakeholders connected to a brand.

Finally, and most importantly, marketing must restore the profile and allure that used to inhere in the job of the marketing generalist.  This role needs to feel as exciting and as forward-thinking as any role in tech, entertainment or creative services.  Marketers should look to generalists for the brilliance needed to pioneer and drive the future of organizations and brands.

Simply put, the marketing generalist with an ambit that straddles and yokes together commercial, consumer and creative capabilities is the most critical specialty of all.

The Organizational Practice of Kantar Consulting has helped many large organizations upgrade and improve their generalist skills in order to carry out end-to-end marketing transformation that leans into the future while still delivering quarterly results.  If you want to talk with us about how you can apply these ideas to your business, please give us a call.

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