We’re thrilled to have had the chance recently to sit down with Ben Sharp, of Visa’s Digital Transformation team, to discuss his passion for marketing. Specifically, Ben is an expert on marketing skills development, and his recent work at Visa has made the most of his knowledge and abilities.
We wanted to pick his brain about this topic because Ben has years of experience on both ends of the corporate marketing game - at small and nimble startups like GoBeyond and Capture Wines, and huge mega-brands like Merrill Lynch, Salomon Smith Barney, and, of course, Visa. Interestingly, as he shares in the interview, there are some trends in marketing development that stand out regardless of the size of the organization.
At the end of the interview, we’ll circle back with some key takeaways and we’ll be looking for your input too. This is part one of a two-part series.
Q. What skills do you notice marketers lacking in today’s fluid business environment?
A. From my current perspective at Visa, we’re seeing two categories of marketing skills that are definitely lacking and that we need to seek out in new hires and in skills development of our current team members as well.
The first is the need for a client-focused mindset and the complementary skill sets that go with that point of view.
See, at Visa, we’re in a unique position as a B2B2C company. In other words, we don’t really sell a product direct to the consumers or directly to businesses. Instead, we serve as a backbone or conduit by which our clients offer various financial products to their customers. In the past, Visa’s primary goal in marketing was large-scale branding to make the end customer comfortable with the Visa brand so they would be more likely to move ahead with a Visa product.
But today, that job has been accomplished. The brand is well known. We’ve found that now, more than ever before, our marketing needs to be for and on behalf of our clients - helping them to reach out to their consumers in new and interesting ways, including digital channels. So that client-focused mindset is now the most important thing since that’s where we need to focus our efforts.
The second area where we’re finding marketers to be lacking is in what I call professional intelligence skills.
As opposed to technical skills - putting together a campaign, doing the creative work, using the tools - professional intelligence includes strategic communications, structured thinking, and collaboration, among others. Far too many marketers are lacking in these areas even while they excel in the more technical side. Bringing the two together is really where the future of marketing resides.
Q. Where do you think organizations should focus when it comes to developing their marketers?
A. In this case, I think there need to be different focuses based on what the needs of the organization are.
As I mentioned before, Visa’s marketing focus used to be brand awareness. That’s what drove the company’s decisions on every level of marketing and that was also the key metric the company was concerned with - where is our brand awareness?
At this point, though, the brand awareness of Visa is already very high. It’s difficult if not impossible to truly measure any kind of rise in Visa’s brand awareness, so it’s no longer a valuable metric for us to focus on. Instead, we’ve shifted focus to a connected but different metric: brand preference. Why do people choose Visa over a competitor or over using cash? That’s where we can see and measure improvements at this point.
So, to get back to the question at hand, I think an organization needs to focus on developing their marketers based on the needs of the company now and in the foreseeable future: Do they have the right mix of skills to meet the company’s demand going forward? Are they asking the right questions and are they thinking along the right lines to be of value to the organization, not just today, but next month and next year as well.
Knowing what the right KPI should be, who should own that metric, and how it’s going to be measured throughout each campaign - those are skills every marketing team needs today.
Q. How does Visa continually develop their marketers’ skills?
A. We’re taking a blended approach to development. We start with instruction-led training (ILT), then supplement that with a host of different online resources - everything from webinars to self-paced e-learning modules to white papers and articles where we give our marketers access to best practices and third-party research.
We’ve created about a dozen different “learning paths” using this blended approach. Each path is a collection of content that serves as a foundation for development. Whereas in the past the company used to just say, “ok, this month everyone is going to take a class on social marketing,” now all the tools and resources are provided so each marketer can look at this menu of options and say, “ok, what do I need to bone up on next?”
The value of this approach is that marketing development is no longer an interruption that may or may not be relevant to the individual. Instead, each individual can set their own yearly development goals and follow the paths that are most relevant for them and their needs. This allows for necessary flexibility for cultural differences, workflows, deadlines, and a number of other factors that just weren’t considered in the past.
Doing it this way is a little more intensive up front in creating and organizing all the content, but I believe the Visa marketer is more well-rounded and able to add more value for our clients as a result.
In Part 2, Ben will explain how Visa learned to develop their marketers’ skills from other organizations, their approach to implementation and alignment, and Ben’s thoughts on how marketers will respond.