Are you ready for the rise of the hybrid marketer?
The marketing ecosystem is evolving – and the role and skills of marketers must evolve too
August 17, 2017
There used to be two ways to survive and thrive in marketing. You could be a specialist marketer, picking an area like brand and communications, events or email and building up your specific skills to become an expert in your field. Alternatively, you could be a general marketer, specialising in strategy, brilliant at seeing the overall marketing picture and how all of those different activities fitted into the plan for a business. The career path in marketing usually meant moving from the specialist to the strategic. As you became more senior and demonstrated your grasp of fundamental marketing principles, you could rely on your more specialist colleagues and their agencies to handle all the specific executional stuff.
This two species of marketer happily co-existed for decades. Then, things started to change. Digital evolution speeded up, the ecosystem in which marketers operate became a lot more complicated a lot more quickly, and these two mutually dependent species of marketer suddenly started to look threatened. Now, a new breed is taking over: one with a skill set that’s broader, deeper and more adaptable. We are entering the era of the hybrid marketer.
What do I mean by a hybrid marketer? I mean a marketer who sees it as part of their role to learn any new, emerging skill that might have relevance to achieving their objectives. I mean a marketer who doesn’t leave executional knowledge to others – but is wired to seek continually to acquire it. I mean a marketer who doesn’t stick to one specialism but seeks to acquire a working knowledge of any that might be relevant.
The hybrid marketer: designed for a connected marketing ecosystem
Hybrid marketers are evolving because the marketing landscape is suddenly more connected. Brands can no longer afford to treat ‘brand and communications’ as distinct from ‘email marketing’ or ‘social media marketing’. It’s increasingly difficult to execute in one of these areas without a reasonably in-depth understanding of the others. There’s no point planning an event if you can’t also plan to promote that event across social media and email, through employee advocacy and more.
Equipped to look under the bonnet of the internet
It’s not just knowledge of a growing range of specialisms that marks hybrid marketers out. The depth of their knowledge is also rapidly increasing. To be an effective digital marketer today, you need a grasp of the fundamentals of coding languages such as HTML and CSS. You need a basic understanding of how the internet works underneath the shiny veneer – the good old ones and zeros that make it tick. This helps you understand what can be done visually with a website or email newsletter. It also makes you nimble and agile, able to make changes on the fly without calling in agencies – and ensuring you can keep up with the pace that digital marketing requires.
Senior marketers need hybrid instincts too
A degree of technical knowledge is also vital to more senior, strategic marketers. The more technology-driven the marketing landscape becomes, the less valuable abstract marketing thinking is. True creativity embraces constraints – and you can’t think creatively as a marketer without understanding the technical considerations surrounding you. The best marketing leaders are hybrid marketers at heart – they’re interested in the detail of the different channels and platforms their teams might use, and they’re able to build a strategy that reflects reality.
The hybrid approach to media transparency
The rise of hybrid marketing goes hand in hand with the demand for greater transparency in digital media buying. Brands have become very aware of the need to be able to interrogate partners and suppliers about the clicks and impressions they are paying for. With media buying increasingly automated, they can’t hope to do this without some level of relevant technical understanding. They need to be able to peer into the programmatic black box and see what’s going on.
The data that shows marketing’s skill set is shifting
We can see the shift taking place in the nature of marketing when we look at the skills that marketers list on their LinkedIn profiles – and the skills that marketing recruiters most frequently search for.
The list of most common skills is dominated by the old model of strategic or specialist marketing. It includes Marketing Strategy, Advertising and Market Research. Digital Marketing, Social Media Marketing and Online Advertising are in there as well. However, the list of fastest-growing skills is very different. It’s dominated by the types of skills that hybrid marketers are committed to learning: specialist expertise in platforms like Hootsuite, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, for example.
Fastest-growing skills on marketers’ LinkedIn profiles:
- Content Marketing
- Facebook Marketing
- E-commerce SEO
- Social Media
- Inbound Marketing
Looking at this list, I can’t help but notice the influence of the rise of content in propelling hybrid marketing forward. Brands are quickly realising that, to make content work as a strategy, they need to learn very specific skills: not just the ability to commission, judge, write and edit compelling content, but also the supporting skills that a well thought-through content strategy requires.
How content adds to the value of hybrid marketers
The best content marketers are experts in gap analysis, distribution and measurement strategies; they have technical knowledge of content platforms and rich media requirements. The more we understand about the role of employee advocacy in driving reach and engagement for content, the more marketing takes on an internal-facing role. And as content demands new approaches to measuring effectiveness and demonstrating ROI, marketers have to be ready to reinvent the standard metrics and analytics they’ve become accustomed to.
Content has also helped to increase the profile of SEO – ensuring that it is no longer seen as an afterthought or add-on. Once upon a time, digital marketers would create beautiful looking websites or thoughtfully written blog posts and then ask a specialist agency to sprinkle some magic SEO dust on them and ensure they were visible on search results. Today, the process is reversed. Smart content marketers know that SEO needs to inform their strategy from the start. You don’t need to be the leading expert at search engine algorithms, but you do need to have a basic grasp of how search engines operate, how consumers interact with them, the basics of SEO design and development and the tools that can help you embed SEO into your content planning.
How to become a hybrid marketer
Hybrid marketing skills aren’t just more valuable and more desirable than they were just a few short years ago. Crucially, they are also more accessible. This is the other side of digital’s impact on marketing. It's not just that marketers have the means and motive to become multi-faceted – they have far greater opportunity to do so as well.
A quick search on the LinkedIn Learning platform reveals more than 300 video courses on SEO, more than 30 on marketing automation and over 100 on programmatic. Marketers have a wealth of other free learning resources available to them online as well. They’re increasingly able to add new skills, without interrupting their marketing career in order to do so. Not too long ago, broadening your marketing skillset required permission and investment from your business to go take a classroom-based course. Marketers today are far better placed to decide on the type of skills they need to add – and set about adding them on their own time.
Marketing is an increasingly self-directed career – and it’s an increasingly self-promoted one as well. We live in an era of personal branding, when any professional has the potential to take greater control of their options and opportunities. They can define what they have to offer and demonstrate their qualities to the world. Hybrid marketers are built to do this more effectively than most: content marketing skills help them to build a personal brand through writing thought leadership content; applicable digital marketing skills help them to amplify it. They are equipped to take far greater control of their own careers.
The career paths of a growing number of senior marketers show how the rise of the hybrid marketer could well broaden the role of marketing in general. As a recent report from Marketing Week demonstrated, the boundaries between marketing, customer experience, corporate communications, innovation and insight are increasingly blurred. The careers of senior marketers like Helen Tupper of Microsoft increasingly feature tours of duty in all of these roles, across several different businesses. As hybrid marketers make it into the senior levels of our profession, this trend will grow. Hybrid marketing doesn’t just increase the opportunities for individuals; it increases the scope of marketing as a whole: more connected, more applicable and more relevant than ever.