Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
January 18, 2018

What skills do marketing leaders need in an increasingly data-driven world?

Understand customers, meet their needs and win their loyalty. 

Though these fundamental goals of marketing haven’t changed, companies today have entirely new ways to achieve them with digital tools and resources that continue to increase in both number and sophistication. And as the marketing world becomes increasingly data-driven, the required skill sets for marketing leaders are changing accordingly. 

In our recent survey of 200 companies — representing the consumer goods and services; technology, media and telecommunications; healthcare and life sciences; industrial; professional services; and other industries — we asked their top marketing leaders what skill sets must be present to succeed in the function in the future. Data marketing skills topped the list — with more than half (52%) of the respondents describing them as a “must have.” Other highly valued skill sets were customer insight, cited by 48% of the respondents; innovation (38%); data management and analytics (38%); and cross-functional collaboration (36%).

We also asked the respondents to name the personal attributes they prize most in their marketing leaders today. Both the ability to collaborate effectively across functions and customer orientation came in on top, tying as the most desired attributes for 58% of the respondents. Next were creativity and out-of-box thinking, which was listed by 40% of the respondents and analytical thinking (38%).

Digital is driving the future of marketing

While they vary in the extent of their digital processes and capabilities, all the companies we polled said they are accelerating their digital marketing efforts to be more relevant and accessible to their customers, and to better understand and engage them.

As consumers and businesses become more technologically savvy — and engage with content across a variety of digital channels — marketing leaders are working hard to improve their proficiency in data systems and digital design. Almost 60% of those we surveyed told us that their company’s digital capabilities are either beginning to produce results or have advanced to high levels of sophistication.

With advanced data analytics, algorithmic marketing strategy, hypoth­esis generation and machine learning all taking bigger roles in today’s marketing mix, marketing leaders must have a strong grasp of the capabilities of big data, what their teams need to harness its power and a willingness to assign resources that support their company’s digital strategies.

When we asked marketing leaders where they would allocate the most investment to bolster the capa­bilities of their marketing teams, three out of four of them (74%) chose digital and analytics over creative activities. In other words, while creativity is still valued, digital capabilities are taking top priority.

Managing talent means balancing ‘magic’ with ‘logic’

To create an optimal mix of skills in the marketing func­tion, leaders must assess their personal biases, strengths and weaknesses — and those of their teams — and be willing to cultivate new skills and understanding within their companies, as well as look externally for talent.

Asked to describe the main strengths of their existing marketing functions, nearly two out of three (61%) of the respondents said they were vision, creativity, intuition and relationship-building. The remaining respondents said their primary strengths were data-gathering, analytics, logic and a rational world view.

Ultimately, marketing success in an increasingly data-driven environment means finding the right balance of talent with marketing “magic” (creativity) and marketing “logic” (data acumen). To reach that balance, nearly 80% of our respondents said that they would need to both develop their existing team and hire external experts.

To strengthen their digital marketing campaigns, 51% of the respondents said they have established digital marketing training for their teams and 30% have hired internal data/analytics experts to join the marketing function in the past 12 months.

The end goal? For the vast majority of our respondents (80%), gaining better customer insight is their top priority for digital.

What’s next?

While it is true that marketing has been profoundly transformed by the escalating scope and power of big data and analytics, its basics remain the same. Digital innovation has expanded marketing thinking, improving judgment with better facts and insights, but it hasn’t replaced any of its functions. Looking ahead, companies need marketers who bring a blend of digital and data acumen and creative magic to fully connect with consumers.


Gianluca Bianchi is a member of both the Consumer and Technology, Communications & Media practices and leads the firm’s Supply Chain Practice in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He is also a member of the global Marketing Officer Practice and leads its efforts in the Italian market. Reach him via email and follow him on LinkedIn.

Jacomien Bolier is a member of Spencer Stuart’s Consumer, Digital and Agriculture practices. She specializes in searches for CEOs, senior executives and non-executive positions for leading B2C and B2B organizations. She has more than 20 years of international leadership experience in an array of functions, including general management, commerce, sales, marketing and communications. Reach her via email and follow her on LinkedIn.

Ana D’Anglade is a consultant in Spencer Stuart’s Consumer, Digital, Retail, Apparel & Luxury Goods and Hospitality & Leisure practices. She also leads the Marketing Officer Practice in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Reach her via email and follow her on LinkedIn.

Grant Duncan leads Spencer Stuart’s Digital Practice in Europe, the Middle East and Africa and the Technology, Media & Telecommunications Practice in the UK. Reach him via email and follow him on LinkedIn.