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Modern Marketing Skills—Emerging Competencies in an AI World

March 6th, 2018 · No Comments

By Kathy Baughman

Envision the modern-day centaur as half human and half machine. In visualizing this, you probably imagined the top half of the human body kluged to a mechanical base. The resulting being could outpace the limitations of human movement with the ability to reason and create. Instead, picture two powerful brains—one human and the other comprised of artificial intelligence—that together represent the new age of marketing. People who thrive in this new reality will collaborate with machines and rapidly co-develop new intellectual capital and highly effective processes and systems.

Kathy Baughman blog artwork

This vison was laid out across multiple sessions at the recent B2B MX conference. While artificial intelligence is already embedded in many marketing tools and platforms, its adoption is poised to rapidly accelerate. One study cited at the conference predicted that in two years, 54% of marketing jobs will be replaced by machines. The good news is that machines and humans will each handle tasks for which they are best suited and, in the process, develop a new level of person and machine collaboration.

Kathy Baughman blog art, Phoenix Desert Museum

The collective angst centers on what functions will survive and what new ones will evolve. Common wisdom indicates that AI will overtake functions to produce, perform, and predict at scale. Many tasks that eat up much of a marketer’s day will be automated. This includes things like providing personalized experiences, predicting next best action, generating demand, uncovering threats to brand reputation, drafting social shares, writing or creating basic copy and headlines or A/B testing. It may even suggest new campaigns or activities you didn’t think to explore.

Humans will focus on the strategy side of the equation, finding the intelligent start for its machine counterpart, engineering course corrections, and discovering new directions that previously remained buried in mounds of data. Different and evolving skill sets will be valued; the attributes, expertise and experience that comprised a foundation for success in the past will not necessarily work going forward.

Here’s the skill sets that will matter:


The role of strategist will cross multiple functions to create meaningful marketing outcomes. Marketers will need to understand how to engineer meaningful experiences, engage at multiple touchpoints, make omnichannel a near seamless reality and drive deeper loyalty by understanding the customer deeply and predict their individual needs. Marketing around pain points requires deep understanding of the buyers’ world. Strategy will be required to:

  • Produce revenue generating ideas with intelligent execution
  • Tap the right tech tools to make AI perform in a meaningful way
  • Know what to add and subtract from the marketing equation
  • Serve as a true partner to buyers and customers

 Strategist skill sets are necessary to succeed across all marketing functions. 

Data Scientist

Possessing mad data analytics skills is a passport to success. During her session, Rebecca Lieb suggested that knowing the data side of the job equates to job security. AI produces huge stores of data that need to be turned into actionable insights. Data is currently siloed making it difficult to create a single view of the customer. AI can help centralize and deliver micro experiences in a nanosecond. Understanding the reactions to these experiences and which work the best for specific cohorts or segments provides the marketing team an intelligent foundation for scaling and allocating resources to programs that work.

Another aspect of data analytics is helping sales enter the conversation at the right time with the right context. With buyers researching deeply before interacting with a company, it’s important to prevent sales from engaging too soon.

One participant on a CMO panel opined, “Every marketer needs to be able to interpret data and uncover the stories and lessons that it can tell.”

Journalist/Reporting Skills

Author James Taylor showed a video of marketers interacting with IBM’s Watson. They asked a series of questions that guided the machine to find prospects for specific products and services. They accomplished this by posing increasing granular queries that resulted in a target list in a matter of seconds vs. potentially days. It struck me that the marketers were using basic reporting skills to ask the right questions to get at the right solution or information.

This skill set will also come in handy for many functions where delving deeper matters. Persona development is a good example. Companies need to understand the right questions to answer at each point of the buyer’s journey. Great reporting skills can help with this task.

Curiosity coupled with a replicable inquiry process will be an increasing valuable combination in marketing teams.

Content Skills

Content remains the currency of marketing. As marketers switch mindsets from selling services to becoming indispensable assistant to it buyers, content becomes an even more important asset across the entire journey. Lieb suggested that hiring for content skills is more important than advertising acumen. The decreasing efficacy of online advertising makes content skills paramount. A buyer seeing 10 sequential pieces of content is more valuable than one seeing the same banner ad 10x. It’s more challenging to create content that fits an earned/paid/owned converged media approach than it is to focus solely on advertising.

Marketers need to invest in multiple channels to avoid risk as the efficacy waxes and wanes between channels. This requires a broader knowledge of channels and media choices for content marketers going forward.


Long considered a soft, artsy skill, creativity is having its moment. Evolved enterprises are constantly changing, making flexible, creative approaches to organizational structure essential. In addition, transformative experiences and new channels need the juice of creativity to actualize.

Creativity also is the driver of great content. As interactive content becomes a bigger part of the experience lifecycle, creative brains need to invent and innovate content formats. While machines are already generating some content formats, human creativity supplies the model.

Skills will change and evolve at a rapid pace. Recently, the mantra was the need for every marketer to have digital and social competency. These are now tablestakes. The list continues to evolve as transformation accelerates in technology, tools, channels and the ability to extrapolate highly relevant data. Marketers need to be lifelong learners who can quickly apply learnings and collaborate to invent new strategies and approaches.

Kathy Baughman Kathy Baughman is president and co-founder of ComBlu, a firm specializing in content strategy, community building and thought leadership programs. She has written several research reports, white papers and eBooks including Content Supply Chain, The CMO’s Guide to Personalization, The Alchemy of Content and Taming the Content Vortex. This post also appears today on the ComBlu blog. Reach Kathy at

Tags: Advice from a Pro · Guest Post

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