Marketing Unicorns: Reality or Mythology

by Akbar Jaffer
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Internet Marketing Unicorn

Internet Marketing UnicornFive Key Skills to become a Marketing Unicorn

I heard the term “Marketing Unicorn” first time in 2013 during a random shop-talk with a former colleague. Then, in 2014, I heard the term again many times at both the MarTech conference and the HubSpot conference. So let’s see if marketing unicorns are a reality or a myth.

The field of marketing has seen an incredible paradigm shift. Embracing the innovations in marketing, technological and otherwise, are essential for success for today’s business.

“Marketing Unicorn” refers to a new kind of marketing leader. The term represents two things; a significant change in marketing practices and a key change agent that is both driving this shift and is being driven by it.

Let’s first examine the marketing paradigm shift; then explore the leadership characteristics necessary to successfully drive new marketing.

Quick History of Marketing Automation
Some argue that marketing automation really began back in 1440, at the times of the Roman Empire, when the printing press was born . However, since then the definition of “automation” has changed and also how various degrees of automation have impacted the art of marketing.

Fast forward to 1980’s when the electronic Rolodex gave birth to database marketing and, later in that decade, Sales Force Automation was born. In 1993 Tom Siebel (founder of Siebel Systems) formally took Sales Force Automation and married it with Customer Relationship Management (CRM). For a very long time marketing automation was limited to process automation like leads and campaign management, lead to opportunity conversion, and loyalty programs.

Marketing Paradigm Shift
I am sure you have heard the phrase “marketing has gone from being an art form to science.” Marketing automation has gone through a tremendous change mainly driven by Internet Marketing and it’s components such as Inbound Marketing movement, search engine optimization (SEO), paid Search (SEM), Social Media, and the list goes on. The marketing automation systems require defining complex business processes and, equally complex, software configuration, reporting, monitoring and so on.

Marketing Unicorns
Marketing today requires different types of professionals — those who are equally adept at marketing and technology. The creatives and engineering type; sometimes labeled Chief Marketing Technology Officers (CMTO), and affectionately referred to as unicorns because they are so difficult to find.

Unless you graduated college in mid 1990’s with a degree in Computer Science, a MBA, a career as a software engineer and then as a product marketer, you missed being “inside the tornado.” The rest of us mere mortals must cultivate following set of skills and gain certain experiences in order to have a shot at this esteem title of Marketing Unicorn.

1. Data Science and Business Intelligence

The imperative to success of modern marketing is dependent upon a solid foundation in data science. Understanding of data quality, database administration, SQL language, and segmentation and contacts management is considered the basics. This field is so critical that leading educational institutions like Northwestern University are offering focused advanced studies such as Master of Science in Analytics.

2.Sales Force Automation

It is critical to develop a deeper appreciation for contacts-to-lead, lead-to-opportunity, pipeline management, forecast management, conversion rates, average deal sizes, win/loss analysis and more.  To become a leader, one must become a subject matter expert and a champion of the best practices in this area to help your organization differentiate itself with optimized marketing operations.

2. Business Process Optimization

The new marketing leader must develop a greater appreciation for interactions between people+systems+tools. The leader must become a master at lead life cycles, sales cycles,  business process automation, customer relationship management systems (CRM), Marketing Automation systems,  enterprise software configuration, and software testing.

3. Internet Marketing

This is a broad discipline which may include but is not limited to content strategy, Content Management Systems (CMS), website development, Social Media, inbound marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), Paid advertisement (SEM), Webmaster tools, web analytics, software quality assurance concepts such as software performance and scalability, A/B and multivariate testing and much more.

4. Artistic Creativity and Social Connectivity

We kept the best part of the old marketing. After all the math and science is done, what drives the results are the creative ad copy, the graphics and design, the esthetics, and the musicality of an advertisement. The same boldness and creative genius that gave birth to the Apple’s 1984 commercial. And to bring everything together, you need the people and communication skills to build relationships with the right people.

Marketing Unicorns are a reality. The new marketing is still in its infancy and the new marketing leaders are still emerging. I will revisit this topic in a year and share my findings.


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