Reaching the level of chief marketing officer in an organization is undoubtedly a career high point, but the best CMOs know that staying in the top job is a matter of constant self-development.
That’s because what helped a marketer rise up through the ranks may no longer be enough to address some of the challenges a CMO will face in 2018. The variety and unique nature of various marketing channels, for instance, have only continued to change and evolve in unexpected ways. The kind of storytelling that engages an audience may look, sound and feel much different than traditional advertising or content marketing assets. Then there’s the higher-level tasks associated with building a strong brand, which means not only having an ability to lead a highly engaged team but to be closely connected to the needs, interests and social causes that matter to an organization’s customers.
Of course, lots of marketers do the majority of learning on the job, whether it’s in meetings with staff, other members of the senior leadership team or by talking to customers directly. Some might go back to school in their spare time, pursuing an online MBA or some other course that’s relevant to their daily work. Marketers also tend to be voracious readers, gleaning ideas and insights from books on a wide range of subjects. Those aren’t the only paths to keeping your marketing skills fresh, however.
While kids might be putting off the thought of studying for a few more weeks, summer isn’t a bad time for senior marketers to consider some offbeat learning opportunities that could be as fun as they are rewarding. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Most of us are more comfortable sitting in an audience than being on stage, especially if we don’t have the benefit of a script to follow. Those who study improv will tell you, however, that nothing beats the adrenaline rush of trying to figure out your next move when you’re thrust into a scene with someone else who feeds you a completely unexpected opening line.
Taking an improv class doesn’t have to lead to a sideline as a standup comedian or actor. For marketers, it can be a way of loosening up and opening to new ideas that may come their way. For those who have never tried it, a key concept in improv is basically “saying yes” to whatever scenario your partner throws your way. If they suddenly cast you as a lion tamer, for instance, you become a lion tamer. If they suggest you’ve just travelled back in time, you’re supposed to mentally transport yourself to a previous era.
“Saying yes” in improv forces you to work with whatever you have as creatively as possible. Marketers can benefit from this kind of approach because it’s so easy to get attached to things that worked in the past or to say no to technologies or concepts that don’t seem proven. Leadership is also, in many ways, all about the art of improvising. Why not learn from those who can do it before a crowd?
Travel is often part of the job in marketing, but some executives might find themselves behaving like the hero of Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist, sticking to their routines as much as possible in order to stay productive.
On your next trip, however -- whether it’s for business or pleasure -- treat it as much as a learning experience as a process of getting from A to B. What are the key ways you find yourself gathering clues about a local culture and history? How does that compare to the way customers come to know and love your brand? How do those in other locales welcome you and make you feel comfortable -- is it better or worse than the way you greet or introduce your brand to new prospects?
Once you’ve come back from a trip, reflect on what memories stand out, and why. Then think of the customer journeys you develop for your audience as a marketer: are they left with the impression you want, or something far different?
Unless you grew up in the late 90s or later, chances are you didn’t do a lot of coding in school. Instead, a lot of marketing leaders wind up having to oversee major digital projects without having a very good grasp of what’s involved in developing an application, web site or other high-tech experience.
As the value of computer programming has become more evident all around the world, the process of learning to code has become a lot more accessible, to the point where some online courses and tools can be taken by young children. CMOs may never directly be hands-on in application development for their firm, but even designing simple mobile games or software programs can provide new ways to approach problem solving and thinking through how people navigate digital properties.
Some marketers might already belong to an amateur baseball or soccer league, which is great from a fitness perspective. Depending on the season, however, try testing out a sport you’ve never played. There are the classics, like basketball, hockey or football, but don’t rule out sports like lacrosse, rugby or even Ultimate Frisbee.
While the parallels between team sports and working as a team at the office are obvious, marketers may be surprised by how playing an unfamiliar sport will help them notice new things about the dynamics of competition, new approaches to strategy and how to both minimize their weaknesses and maximize their strengths in a very short time period. Even if you lose every game, what you take back with you to work could offer some winning ideas overcome the challenge of connecting with customers.
Almost everyone had to compose verse when they were in elementary school, then left those skills behind as an adult. Without so much as opening a textbook or looking online, try writing a poem now, as an adult. You can rhyme, or just write in free verse. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not. Just write, explore and see what happens.
No matter the end result, writing poetry forces you to pay close attention to something, to use simile or metaphor to describe it and to keep it succinct but memorable. It may be a far cry from what a senior marketer’s team develops in terms of content, and that’s the point. By writing poetry, you might begin to adopt a poet’s mindset to the messages your customers see.
Maybe one of these learning ideas will motivate you. Maybe you’ll think of an alternative that’s better. The point is to keep learning and acquiring skills -- and then to apply them in ways that will make your work as a marketer even more successful.