The Fourth Skill

Somebody screwed up. I don’t know who, and I really don’t care, because as a result of this screwup, I’m sitting in first class on my way home from my firm’s conference in Miami. And I’m sitting next to my colleague Dennis, who’s in first class because he screwed up — he took a job that requires him to fly across the country way too often.

Dennis is a rare find in the world of marketing — and not just because he likes me. It’s because he has what I call the fourth skill.

For a long time, there were two marketing “skills” — branding (although it was generally referred to more often as advertising) and direct marketing. I’m oversimplifying, of course, since within each of this disciplines there are a number of specialized (and no less important) skill sets.

Then along came the Internet, and a new skill family emerged — online marketing. This new skill family married technology, user interface design, and direct marketing skills.

Now let me ask you a question: Of the marketers you know, how many are comfortable in all three areas, and can converse equally well with experts from all three disciplines?

I only know one — Dennis. He has the fourth skill. An understanding of branding, direct marketing, and online marketing. An ability to help organizations create marketing strategies and plans that integrate the three disciplines. And an ability to discuss marketing ROI with the financial folks as well as the marketers.

I don’t think that at this point in his career that Dennis is looking to become a Chief Marketing Officer. Which is too bad, because he would be a good one. Successful CMOs in the future will need the fourth skill. Liking me is optional.

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5 thoughts on “The Fourth Skill

  1. Pingback: Fixing The Marketing-CEO Disconnect « Marketing ROI: Whims from Ron Shevlin

  2. Hey, there’s a least one other person you know who is comfortable in all three areas…there was a part of my career where I had to manage all that Brand Advertising stuff – I actually know how to buy billboard space and TRP’s! And deal with big agencies.. 😦

    Agree on the premise for CMO’s. What I’d like to know is what kind of person is Dennis, what is his background, how did he get like this? We need to grow some more…

  3. Dennis worked at Fidelity for years, and actually started its in-house agency. He left and started his own firm which focused on online marketing. And then came to Epsilon, where he’s been firmly ensconced in the database marketing world.

    And so, now I know [at least] TWO people with the fourth skill. Two people who don’t strike me as even looking for a CMO position in a large firm. Let’s hope that some of the other people with the skill are amenable to taking the CMO job.

  4. Hi Ron –

    We haven’t met yet, but I’m a recent Epsilon “acquisition” via Abacus.

    The thing I’ve noticed about CMOs is this: they are much earlier to lose passion for their craft than other C-level execs. It also seems that the few folks who have your “fourth skill” know the gargantuan (and rarely stimulating) challenges they’ll face in large organizations and end up staying on the professional services side of the business.

    We talk all the time about the operational efficiencies and insights gained when silo’d data and infrastructure are brought together. So why are we missing the boat when it comes to silos of marketing functions? Why aren’t there more marketers learning how these three disciplines truly integrate to affect customer perception?

  5. Hi, Fatemeh — Thanks for commenting. Looking forward to meeting you (in real life?). You really hit the nail on the head w/ the remark about the gargantuan challenges. It reminds me of the situation CIO (chief info officers) faced 10-15 years ago, as well. I think the reason that many of them stepped up to the challenge was that — at the time, at least — they believed (rightly or wrongly) that taking the CIO position was a step towards the CEO suite. I’m not sure that many of today’s CMO aspirants see that path.

    And, in my opinion at least, it’s not a mystery what more marketers aren’t integrating the silos. You “grow up” (in a particular job or function) and begin to believe that there’s ONE RIGHT WAY. If you grow up in branding, then that’s the ORW. If it’s another function, then that’s the ORW.

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