Future-Proof Your Marketing Career With the Right Soft Skills

Have you ever reached a point in your career when you feel like you’re hitting all the right notes in your day-to-day work, but you can’t quite reach the next level?

This type of professional frustration can be serious, because it often leads to a noticeable drop in performance that compounds the problem. You’re discouraged because you’re not advancing, so your output suffers, you don’t advance, and the cycle continues.

Marketers in particular are prone to this issue, with 40% of respondents to a 2014 Adobe study revealing that they believe they need to reinvent themselves at work.

Sadly, only 14% knew how to make that transformation happen.

Technical marketing skills are obviously key to a successful career, but in a field that changes as fast as ours, soft skills may actually be what you need to stretch to the next rung on the corporate ladder.

But trying to work on nebulous soft skills like “communication” is like trying to boil the ocean. Instead, we need to figure out exactly what soft skills marketers need to survive and thrive in our modern environment (and, of course, how we hone those skills once we know what they are).

7 Most Important Marketing Soft Skills

In 2013, Econsultancy released a 48-page, 3-part study on the skills of the modern marketer.

While it includes expected coverage of the growing skills and data analysis gap, it also focused on soft skills that will differentiate future outstanding marketers.

These are the seven skills that were rated as “very important” by the highest number of respondents:

  1. Ability to embrace change (75%)
  2. Ability to spot opportunities and adapt strategies quickly (63%)
  3. Passionate and keen to learn (61%)
  4. Open and collaborative (45%)
  5. Ability to deal with uncertainty (45%)
  6. Lateral thinking and the ability to make connections between disparate ideas (38%)
  7. Comfortable taking risks (26%)

For those who don’t originally come from a marketing background, this list should be encouraging. If you can cultivate all of these aspects of your professional portfolio, while still delivering value in your chosen marketing vertical, you’ve got an excellent chance of succeeding in this field.

3 Steps to Strengthen Your Soft Skills

Ok, it’s nice to know what the most valued soft skills are in a marketing department, but that information alone doesn’t really get us any closer to long term career success.

What we need is a systematic approach to soft skill development that’s akin to what we would adopt if we were trying to learn a new technical skill.

We need a plan.

I suggest following three very simple steps:

  1. Cheer for change. Recognize that our industry is one of constant change. Don’t fight for the status quo; embrace the inevitable fluctuations.
  2. Know thyself. Develop a strong sense of self awareness. This is the only way you’ll be able to identify your soft skill shortcomings that need work.
  3. Draft a plan. Get specific and detailed in outlining how you plan to improve your soft skills. If you don’t, it will stay at the bottom of your massive to-do list indefinitely.

Marketing Changes. Learn to Love It.

As marketers, it’s easy to bemoan the shifting sand under our feet.

Just when we figure out a social channel, the algorithm changes (or a completely new network shows up).

Personalization and real-time marketing are expected, but nobody wants to feel like marketers are stalking them.

Technology and channels seem to proliferate like irresponsible rabbits.

The thing is, while the rate of change may have increased, the shifts themselves aren’t anything new. Ever since Gutenberg started churning out cheaper books, marketers have been trying to keep pace with media disruptions and audience preferences.

About the time we got print right, along came radio. And we were barely getting the hang of that when television started disrupting those listening habits. Then digital media showed up and we’ve all been running around like headless chickens ever since.

Marketing isn’t settling down anytime soon, and as we saw in that top seven list, the marketers who can not only accept this environment, but learn to thrive in it, are the ones who will be in demand in the future.

Choose to be one of those marketers.

Remember, these are two of the most important soft skills for marketers:

  • Ability to embrace change
  • Ability to deal with uncertainty

Know Yourself, and Ask For Help

Hopefully when you saw that list of soft marketing skills, there were a few that made you sit up a little straighter because you know you’ve already mastered them.

Others…maybe not so much.

The important thing is to know the difference. Until you’ve identified your weaknesses, you can’t start shoring them up.

Take a personality test (or three), see if your organization offers 360 reviews so you can get insight directly from colleagues, or ask trusted friends that are familiar with your professional work to weigh in.

Make a Plan for Soft Skilling Up

If you need to learn email marketing, there are dozens of blogs, online courses, and in-person trainings that are available to help you out.

But if you’re looking for ways to be more open and collaborative, there aren’t exactly classes and certifications out there. One of the best ways to develop your soft skills, according to Monster, is to find someone who you think embodies the skill you’re looking to develop and ask for their help.

Compliment them on a specific situation where they exhibited the skill, and then request their help in achieving a similar level of awesomeness.

Professional development coaches, and possibly your human resources department, may also be able to supply a reading list to supplement your real life self-improvement efforts.

Whatever path you take, be sure it’s specific and deadline-oriented. Set yourself goals, including timelines for achieving them. Otherwise “improve soft skills” is unlikely to ever climb to the top of your to-do list.

Soft Skills Are Your Problem

You might be able to convince your boss to send you to training for a technical skill, but a willingness to learn or the ability to deal with uncertainty are things you alone can effectively foster.

Take responsibility for this crucial component of your professional development.

If you can, you may find that your stellar soft skills are what set you apart from more qualified peers in the very near future.

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Andrea Fryrear
About the Author:

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea loves to dissect marketing buzzwords and fads looking for the pearls of wisdom at their cores. Her favorite topic is agile marketing, which she believes holds the key to a more fulfilling (and less stressful) marketing career for individuals and a more powerful marketing department for business. When not scrutinizing the latest agile methodologies, Andrea can be found on the volleyball court, at the park with her two delightful kids, or baking “calorie-free” cookies. Connect with her on Twitter @AndreaFryrear, or on LinkedIn.

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