Sixty Second Strategies: What skills does the marketer of 2021 need?

Jasmine Butler Burnham

Jasmine Butler Burnham

Marketing Manager

The Financial Services Forum

Perhaps it’s the advent of a new year, prompting many to consider the promise of a bright new future bejewelled with new technologies and ways of working that might change their job and business in unpredictable and unrecognisable ways.

Or perhaps (more likely) it’s the LinkedIn content echo chamber, serving me article suggestions based on the topics I’ve been surreptitiously dwelling, commenting on and liking recently. But, I feel as if over the past few weeks I’ve been reading a lot about the marketing skills that will become most coveted in 2021 and beyond.
As someone who considers a future career spent programming and managing tech stacks a hypothetical nightmare, it was beginning to somewhat worry me that some of these articles seemed to hypothesize that marketing skill sets will intersect with and indeed, perhaps even be superseded by technology, software solutions and AI.

I’ve always been optimistic that creativity of thought, astute commercial awareness and an ability to care deeply about the customer and their experience of the brand were human attributes that AI might struggle to truly replicate. But then again, Sophia the Robot now has a Twitter account – and, I’ll be honest, she has way more followers than me. Is it possible that Sophia might soon be applying to manage the Forum’s humble social media offering?

This got me thinking about the changing and evolving role of marketing, particularly in light of – and driven by – increasingly intelligent technologies. Is marketing as we know it slowly fading away to make room for a new and very different beast? Or, will the core tenets of the discipline remain baked into our foundations forever, even as machines become smarter and more convincing at replicating human qualities?

To get a view from some of the most senior, forward-thinking and insightful Members in our community, I asked three marketing leaders from three very different businesses; ‘what skills does the marketer of 2021 need?‘. And here is what they had to say:



“I’d submit that three crucial skills – or I might say ‘behaviours’ – would equip a marketer well for the years ahead.
First: be more sceptical. Losses through fraud from digital advertising (circa 70% of which is programmatically driven) are estimated at $40 billion in 2020 and have overtaken global annual credit card fraud, despite the fact that card spending dwarfs digital ad spending by a factor of 10. If you’re allocating ever-increasing sums to digital advertising, what degree of confidence do you have in the effectiveness metrics you’re being fed?
Second: be less targeted. Highly personalised, one-to-one advertising is declared by self-proclaimed ‘experts’ to be more effective. This may be true if you’re pursuing a deeply unambitious goal – a click – but, if you’re looking to build a large and successful brand, there’s little, if any, evidence to support the contention. Highly targeted advertising, particularly of the digital variety, has its uses, but big brands are not built in private. As an advertising medium, the internet is undoubtedly a superior Yellow Pages, but an inferior TV.
Third: think more, do less. Inexorably, we privilege quantity over quality. In saturating the web with a tsunami of irrelevant, poorly crafted (and often self-serving) babble cloaked as ‘content’ – typically excused on the fallacious premise of an ‘always on’ strategy – many brands fail to communicate anything compelling or ownable. Simultaneously, they proclaim the ‘big brand idea’ to be dead… which is so much easier than actually developing a big brand idea, of course.”


“It’s a time for End of Year Reviews right now and I find myself reflecting on performance with my direct reports and the achievements of 2020.
Those conversations never focus on the technical skills that the individuals bring to the party but on their learning agility at various levels. As we look into 2021 I think we will continue to operate in a fast moving environment where plans change and marketers will need to pivot and deliver in first-time situations.
We will have to make stark choices and prioritise effectively with limited funds. Being resourceful and creative will be key. Agency spend will inevitably be squeezed which means upskilling and cross skilling in tasks like copywriting, which historically would have been outsourced, will be fundamental to delivering more with less.
Of course we’ve seen the acceleration of digital but we’ve also seen an increased desire for meaningful and human brand interactions – that’s a key focus for an insurer like AIG Life in the protection industry. It’s also important to us that we increase diversity in our marketing collateral and make sure that our activity reflects the world we live in.
Perhaps that’s about building a new ‘marketing memory muscle’. Instead of relying on the way we’ve always done things we must engage more broadly, lift our heads up, have courageous conversations and make new active choices.”


“In a world of automation, robots, machine learning, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, marketers of the future need to focus on delivering the human touch in digital transformation.
And they needn’t be worried about the naysayers that challenge this often emotional and psychological domain of marketing and customer insight.
The growing field of evidence based studies in Behavioural Science and the rise and rise of experimental design based use cases, is proving these soft details are critical in delivering innovative technology solutions to real people in the real world.
Augmented Intelligence will be the way forward with humans in the loop and helping to shape and deliver messages and experiences for customers.
Details such as the time taken for a chatbot to respond can help or hinder how customers brains respond. To the brain, does a response that takes too long becomes frustrating? On the other hand, an almost instantaneous response to a complex request makes our brains feel our needs are not being considered.
How long in milliseconds or seconds it takes a chatbot to respond is worthy of behavioural science research and empirically evidenced papers are available, if you have the time to look..
It’s not rocket science, just human science :-)”

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