10,000 Hours to Marketing Success

In his recent book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell posits that success is a function of timing, culture and hard work. He defines hard work to reach genius level competence as 10,000 hours of practice. What do the Beatles, Bill Gates and other geniuses have in common ? Apparently they all practiced their craft at least 10,000 hours.

Should your Marketing team also have 10,000 hours of practice ? That’s almost 6 years of Marketing experience. It raises an interesting question: why is it that some organizations don’t consider Marketing a real craft ? Why is Marketing often seen as the function that anyone can do, and hence, doesn’t require specialist knowledge ? Or, as the Branding Strategy Insider blog put it: 

It has been my experience that “marketers” are quite varied in their ability – from “clueless” to “brilliant.” The problem is that many people can’t tell the difference between these two extreme ends of the continuum.

Well, Marketing skills do matter. Did you know that companies with higher demonstrated Marketing skill levels perform better financially than companies with lower Marketing skill levels ? This has been proven empirically, as covered in “Market Orientation, Corporate Culture and Business Performance,” by S. Singh.

Improving Marketing Skills Leads to Better Business Results

Improving Marketing Skills Leads to Better Business Results

According to the Marketing Excellence Survey, a Marketing skill benchmarking service which has surveyed over 45,000 employees, improving people’s marketing knowledge leads to changes in their beliefs about what marketing can contribute to the business. This, in turn, causes changes in behavior, improved use of marketing metrics, and finally, better business results.

The intuitive, but often overlooked finding that higher skills equals better results over time, means that Marketing skill development should be a focus of every organization. No set of Marketing strategies are complete without a strategic plank focused on this important area.

Here are 4 simple steps for developing your Marketing organizations skills:

  1. Make It A Priority— The CMO has to make this a priority. It’s too easy for skill development to be deprioritized when workloads heat up. Take a longer term view. Don’t try to accomplish everything in a year, but do strive for consistency. Engage employees from top to bottom in the development of the program.
  2. Benchmark Marketing Skills — There are a number of firms such as Marketing Excellence Survey (MES), which specialize in measuring marketing skill levels. Benchmark skills within your industry and relative to others. In addition, assess which skills are most important given the business model and marketing strategies. This, combined with benchmarking, will help you focus the organizations limited resources.
  3. Train the Organization — Implement targeted training programs to address the most important skill gap areas. You can create programs in-house or pull program content from organizations like the CMO Council or Corporate Executive Board or others. Whichever approach you choose, it’s important to match the content to the identified skill gaps and involve the most senior marketing leaders in the training.
  4. Measure Progress — Measure the quality of the trainer and content for each training module. Learn and improve with each training session. Periodically re-run the original benchmarking study to see where you’ve progressed and where you haven’t, and adjust accordingly.

If you’re still not convinced, how about this:  a focus on Marketing skill development provides a clear signal to the Marketing organization that senior management cares about them and their development. It motivates employees and reinforces their importance to the firm.

CMO’s are challenged to get results and get them fast. There’s a need to exploit every possible tool in the Marketing toolkit to get better results. It’s obvious that increased marketing competency should lead to better results. With the research to prove it, there’s really no excuse left — whether it takes 10,000 hours or not.


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