6 min read

Marketing skill sets and superpowers

There are three types of skills in marketing - two are super-powers and other is what what most marketers do.
Marketing skill sets and superpowers

Let me guess. You felt you were missing out and so decided you’d better ‘do some marketing’. So you hire a tech-savvy millennial to tweet and boost the odd Facebook post. Maybe they even setup Google Analytics. After all, data is the new oil, right?

You read somewhere that blogging is good for business. So you find someone to crank out cheap articles that cover every angle for pushing your stuff. You read the warnings about coming across as self-serving but life’s short…

… you wonder why sales are not taking off.

In desperation, you ramp up the Facebook ads and bung some money at Google Ads. After burning a small fortune, you decide it’s not working and pull the plug.

Or, more likely, you keep the ads and blog going but scaled back. You’re not convinced it’s worth it but you’re afraid to stop entirely in case it is doing some good. Despite having tons of data from Google Analytics, you just don’t know what’s working and what isn’t.

So, you slip under the comfort blanket of going through the motions of what you think you should be doing. And your business continues as it did before. Flat-lining at best.

You tell yourself it’s OK because you made an effort. You tried social, ads and even blogging. Over-hyped you think, but hey, you gave it a shot.

What more could you have done?

Three skill sets and two superpowers

The danger is to fall for the short-cuts, the quick fixes and the magic bullets.

Getting started with tactics and (some) tools is seductively quick, and (seemingly) cheap. The problem is that without knowing why, how or whether you should be using them, you end up wasting a lot of time and/or money.

Back in the last century, when marketing looked like advertising, there were just two skill sets that mattered: creative and copywriting.

Here in 2019 however, I find it helps to think about three categories of marketing skill set:

  1. Strategy
  2. Ops
  3. Tech

Most of us just want to get on with it and like little kids we are irresistibly drawn to the bottom-less cookie jar of assorted, all-you-can-eat ‘Tactics & Tools’ cookies.

So, we charge in like headless chickens, pecking away randomly at the sweet crumbs of comfort we half-remember reading about. A Google ad here, a Facebook boost there… Until we give up exasperated at the cost of failure in time and money.

What’s happening is that we sense we should be doing something. But frankly, we don’t know where to start so we just grab at whatever we think we should be doing. We think we’re making progress because we’re busy.

Busy… screwing-up, even the basics.

Meanwhile, the real superpowers stay hidden in plain sight.

So, lets take a closer look…


Strategy is taking the time to consider your goals, and figuring out how to hit them.

A good marketing strategy will:

  • Answer the questions: Who is your ideal customer? Why should she care? How will you acquire and retain customers?
  • Map a direct line of sight between your business goals and your marketing objectives
  • Pin-point the obstacles and opportunities for marketing success
  • Identify the highest leverage marketing techniques, frameworks and technologies for your unique circumstances
  • Zero-in on the people, budget, tactics, tools and actions you need
  • Decide how you’ll coordinate everything, track progress and course-correct towards your goals

Coming up with a good strategy is not a case of cranking a handle.

It requires many skills, not least the understanding and hard-won experience of the nature and efficacy of marketing and how it drives business.

Coming up with a good strategy requires the knowledge and ability to pattern-match which techniques and frameworks are best suited to overcome your specific set of challenges and exploit the opportunities to move your goals forward. Without these skills you won’t even know what you don’t know.

Psychology and creativity have always been central to good marketing but increasingly, opportunities to get ahead are being opened-up by technology. A good strategy draws on a unique blend of skills and insights across psychology, creativity and technology.

Dabbling in a handful of random tactics without a strategy is like parachuting a battalion of paratroopers into enemy territory, naked and blindfolded!

Bad strategy (or skipping it altogether) is the shortcut to failure. It means burning money and time as you run in ever smaller circles.

Good strategy is a force-multiplier. It is the way to maximise the return on your time, resources and opportunities.

Strategy is not just a skill set but a superpower.


Tactics are what you do from day-to-day to hit the goals identified by your strategy. Tools are the services and software you need to get the job done.

Without a strategy, you have no idea what to do, when anything should start, how long it should take, which tools to use, who you need with which skill sets, when they should start, how long anything will take, or how much it will all cost.

The Ops skill set are the skills required by your costed, scheduled and equipped team of people who know what they need to do to move the needle on your marketing goals.

Day-to-day execution will include things like writing blog posts, SEO, crafting persuasive ads and landing pages, defining retargeting audiences, making videos, designing impactful graphics, coming up with ideas of what specific things try next, and keeping everything on track and to budget.

Your strategy will tell you how many people you need and what specific skills they need to have. If you have a small budget and/or modest ambitions then perhaps one person will do it all. More likely, you’ll need a team. These people could be in-house and/or drafted-in on a freelance or contracted basis. Again, your strategy will tell you what you need and can afford.

Ops is the skill set you need to put your strategy into action and achieve your goals.

But, skip the strategy-bit and you’ll go nowhere fast.


As well as the existing tools you need (& can afford) to get the job done, your strategy will also tell you what tools you’ll need to build (or get built). It will also tell you what needs to be done to get all these tools to work together.

A tool might be a spreadsheet in which case you don’t necessarily need technical skills.

You might be able to get different tools to talk to each other without serious technical skills. By using Zapier for example.

Setting-up a tool to track baseline marketing analytics data (like Google Analytics) or email marketing (like MailChimp) to do the basics is an almost trivial exercise from a technical standpoint.

Building, integrating, and even configuring many tools however, will require technical skills along a spectrum of seriousness.

Barely serious technical skills include tweaking or writing basic CSS and HTML. (Advanced CSS/HTML is a different matter and further along my non-serious spectrum of seriousness!)

Slightly serious technical skills might include being able to configure Google Tag manager to work with a Facebook pixel & custom events, re-marketing audiences and conditional sequences.

Moderately serious technical skills could include being able to write jquery to meaningfully improve a customer experience.

More serious technical skills might include programming an AI-capable chatbot from first principles in Node.js which integrates with your client and server-side marketing and application stack. Professional programming skills are called for here.

Marketing technology (martech) budgets continue their march forward with no signs of slowing. Up from 22% of the budget in 2017, technology now accounts for a whopping 29% of the total marketing expense budget, making martech the single largest area of investment when it comes to marketing resources and programs.” – Gartner

Gartner also warn “Ensure you have a martech roadmap for integrating applications, marketing and customer data to avoid costly mistakes.

The point is to know what technical jobs are needed for you to advance your marketing and business goals. You can then make informed choices about how to get them done, who to do them, when and how much they’re going to cost.

Tech is the 2nd superpower. But without a coherent marketing strategy you won’t even know what’s possible!

A word of warning: Getting external advice on IT strategy that impacts your levers of growth and is independent of an overall marketing strategy could prove to be a costly mistake. In other words diving off in random directions with IT (or tech) that affects the acquisition and/or retention of customers and is decoupled from a coherent marketing strategy is asking for trouble.

In Sum…

There are 3 categories of skill set in marketing: Strategy, Ops and Tech

Strategy is the starting point and the preeminent superpower. The force-multiplier that uncovers the priorities, obstacles, opportunities and lights-ups the fastest, best and lowest-cost way to hit your goals.

Ops is the execution of your strategy. Cranking the handle. Not randomly but with purpose. Think paratroopers!

Tech is the other superpower that is unlocked by your strategy. Tech is the key to innovation and differentiation but only in the context of an overall marketing strategy.

You need to leverage all three skill sets to win. Good luck…