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This article was published on February 21, 2015

Hiring a data-driven modern marketing team

Hiring a data-driven modern marketing team
Nick Cicero
Story by

Nick Cicero

Nick Cicero is the Director of Client Strategy @Expion and Editor @socialfresh. Nick Cicero is the Director of Client Strategy @Expion and Editor @socialfresh.

Nick is the founder and CEO of Delmondo. He works with brands and startups improving their digital marketing and social media strategy, focusing on branded content. 

The recent proliferation in new channels (Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, digital TV, mobile messaging apps) 
and new technologies (marketing automation, retargeting, custom audiences) has made it more challenging than ever to deliver a consistent strategy and inspired customer experience.

Modern marketers look at things like working dollars vs. non-working dollars. Conversions, leads and churn rate. Likes, comments, and shares. Retweets, reblogs, and reposts. CRM, CPM, CPA, and CPC. The list goes on.

The modern marketer is a unicorn.

Ben Richards of Ogilvy entertained the crowd at the recent Percolate Client Summit with his comparison of the mythical creatures to today’s marketer, and when you think about it, he’s absolutely right.


The modern marketer is a unicorn because so much more is being demanded of human capital, but budgets rarely are enough to support advanced hires in every position. This means that it’s just not enough to specialize in one core area of marketing (ex. SEO, Social Media or Field Marketing) because every marketer needs to be as multi-skilled as the best utility infielder on the best MLB team. Problem is, it’s a lot harder to hire and keep these unicorns than it sounds.

There will always be a need for advanced positions, but there is clearly a new baseline for modern marketers.

Anyone working in a marketing role today needs to step it up. And companies need to hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to the people they bring in to fill those roles.

So how do you identify, hire and keep talented modern marketers in your company? Here are three suggestions.

1. Test marketing candidates like you test engineers

When you’re interviewing to become a software engineer at most tech companies today, you go through a series of code tests that assess your skill and aptitude not just on the programming language of your specialty, but scenario-based problems that test how you think on your feet, how you react to unknown variables, and so on.

As we said before, the modern marketer must have more than one main strength to be successful. Yet we still have marketing teams hiring people based on a few interviews or maybe a writing test, often forgetting about testing that analytical knowledge.

So what’s the “code test” for your marketing team look like?

Instead of the typical interview asking about their marketing philosophies or background, prepare both written and verbal questions that measure a candidate’s tech savvy and analytical “IQ.”

A few ideas for questions to get you started might be:

  • Can you explain the difference between metrics and analytics?
  • What are some tools you’ve used for measurement and analysis?
  • Describe a time where you had to use analytics to support a marketing decisions

2. Hire the unbiased marketers and the outliers

weigh up

There’s a delicate balance in the building of a modern marketing team. While you’re looking for new candidates, you need to figure out the right mix of consistency, quality and contrarianism to achieve harmony.

If everyone agrees, there’s no friction for varied viewpoints and growth, and if everyone disagrees there can be no consensus to push ideas forward.

This is why you need to hire your marketing team for their experience across a number of different planes, but largely they’ll fall into one of two camps, the Unbiased and the Outliers.

The unbiased marketer

Modern marketing does not look like the marketing of 15, 20, 30 years ago. It doesn’t even look like it did five years ago.

While it shares similarities the rate of change is faster than ever before, and all too often new hires bring old ways of thinking into organizations poised for growth, stunting the development because they resist new ideas or processes.

This is why it’s not uncommon for more and more marketing teams to hire people outside of traditional marketing backgrounds, or as I’m calling it, “The Unbiased Marketer.”

In my experience at Percolate, I work alongside people who have launched special projects in the financial industry, Fulbright Scholars in Psychological Research, and fellows at the White House.

The varied skills and experiences they bring into our marketing team aren’t rooted in just the 4 P’s, they’re rooted in life experiences and logical thinking from complex problems in completely different worlds.

“The Unbiased” marketer is unique, they bring fresh thinking and have the hunger to learn and soak in the “traditional” tactics that all marketers need, and that makes them a more consistent employee, willing to integrate fully into the systems currently in place and be nimble as changes happen.

This is almost a polar opposite to the outlier, as we’ll explain below.

The outliers

Pair of shoes in row against wall

Author Malcolm Gladwell describes outliers as “the person who doesn’t fit into our normal understanding of achievement.” These are the people who don’t always look like they’d be the right “culture fit” if we listened to years of old hiring best practices and safe thinking, but end up being drivers of high levels of success.

Outliers, especially in the context of modern marketing, are the agents of change, the people who crave what’s next, living for the bleeding edge of technology. They’re often years ahead of the curve and bring new concepts, technologies and attitudes into your company that help to kickstart your existing teams and help you punch into audiences above your own.

Outliers are precisely who Steve Jobs had in mind when he asked the world to Think Different, andmodern marketing teams need to look at outliers as an asset to your organization instead of looking at the outliers in a negative light.

While often more unpredictable than The Unbiased explained above, Unbiased Marketers and Outliers have the same hunger and passion for success. The Outlier lives and breathes for innovation, for change, and while sometimes that can result in a seemingly contrarian attitude, the outlier’s outspokenness doesn’t go unnoticed, even if not obvious on the surface.

Looking at both Unbiased Marketers and Outliers when designing a modern marketing team builds a solid foundation of consistency and innovation. Teams that find the balance between these two types of people can benefit from rapid growth of process and overall education of the entire marketing team.

3. Train, retrain and empower

Once you’ve found (and maybe even hired) a really talented marketer, you need to figure out how to gain their trust and help them grow to become a strong leader for future marketing team members.

Train your employees on the processes in place when they enter the marketing team. Make it clear how communication flows through the various business units in your organization.

Make an effort to open up lines of communication for the new hire with people outside the marketing team, provide mentorship to new hires to accelerate the “getting comfortable” phase, and make clear how their ideas can be heard and come to fruition.

Retrain all marketers on standard marketing practices – even the most senior marketers need to sometimes step back and refocus themselves on the basics of copy, design, storytelling and brand positioning.

Confucius said: “The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?”

With more and more being demanded of marketers, it’s easy to sometimes let the basics slip away from us. Retraining and a constant attitude of continued learning ensures that marketing teams are always looking for “the door,” as Confucius said, no matter where it might placed be in the room.

An empowered employee is one who will work hard to elevate themselves above the rest then redistribute their learnings across the entire organization. Build systems that allow for employees to teach one another as they move up the ranks in your organization.

These empowered employees already understand your company’s position and your marketing team’s mission, making them an invaluable advocate internally to help others grow and learn. This is how leaders are created from within.

Additionally, a culture of empowerment helps companies recruit younger talent. A lot of companies struggle to engage their millennial employees in the workplace, but that’s not stopping them from coming, 86 million millennials will be in the workplace by 2020—representing a full 40 percent of the total working population. By empowering this millennials, you’re empowering future marketers for years to come.

Today’s marketers need to have experience with the technology, tools, creative vision, and an eye for design, along with the mind to leverage data and analytics.

The times have changed. If you want to build the datadriven culture that modern marketing demands, finding, training, and motivating this new type of employee are now critical skills needed to build the marketing team of the future.

Read next: Getting development and business teams on the same page

Image credit: Shutterstock

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