The other day my eight-year-old son asked me what I was doing. To my reply of "I am studying", he made one of his puzzled faces and said "Aren't you too old for that, mummy?"
My initial reaction was to counter that I was therefore perhaps too old to play football with him in the back garden (especially in the cold, rain and mud). But then his words made me think. Is skill development age sensitive? After 20 years in marketing, shouldn't I have learnt everything by now?
In recent years I felt at times daunted by the fast developments in technology, digitalisation, AI and data analytics. The sudden and dramatic changes in circumstances produced by the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on everyday life has done nothing but reinforce the necessity for individuals and organisations to keep innovating and find alternative yet effective ways to engage, work, problem-solve and interact.
As we have said on this platform many times before, marketing has been at the forefront of the recent accelerated shift towards digital transformation, tasked with reshaping the customer experience and articulation of a renewed brand proposition that is more in line with customers' values.
In order to develop this new knowledge, new skill and achieve deep understanding on ever evolving topics, should we drop what we are doing and spend six months on a full-time course? Is this the only way to become "true experts" in our field and collect the expertise that allows us to have a voice and make an impact on the world around us?
Unfortunately, this option is simply not working for me. Nor is it, as far as I know, working for many others.
But then my son's innocent comment made me think further and reflect on the real essence of what I do. Some fascinating aspects of marketing, in my opinion, consist in that it keeps evolving, steps constantly on uncertain territory where there is no absolute truth, and consists of an equal blend of science and art. It is gut and brain, commercial acumen and creative intuition, emotional empathy and precise analysis. Even metrics and reporting would just be bookkeeping, without the understanding of customers' behaviour and the social contexts in which data is collected.
This multi-faceted aspect of marketing brings two important implications, I believe. One: marketers are by nature intellectually curious people; and two, there are infinite ways for marketers to acquire knowledge.
As curious individuals, marketers are generally open to expand their expertise, have discussions and share opinions. Because of the non-exact essence of marketing, marketers are generally risk-takers, who know that there might not be only one answer to an argument and that their theory might have different interpretations.
This leads me to the second point, which concerns learning. Marketing is everywhere, it affects many aspects of our lives: when we watch Meghan and Harry's new venture on TV, when we do the online food shopping, when we look for a present to send to mum for Mother's Day.
One of the very few advantages of the pandemic has been the opportunity to do long walks for some desperately needed "me-time", when, at my own pace and in a way that was most suitable for me, I listened to some fascinating podcasts and learnt on many interesting marketing topics, from the advantages and disadvantages of sustainable marketing to leadership, from the newfound love-affair between sales and marketing teams to authenticity in brand.
Personally, another productive way to learn and feed my thirst of knowledge is when I am with my fellow marketers. Being able to openly discuss and share perspectives, experiences and ideas, in a supportive and non- judgmental space is the most valuable and enriching experience. The repeated periods of lockdown and social distancing measures have dramatically reduced the opportunities to meet and socialise, however technology has surely allowed alternative ways to be connected, engaged, and creative as individuals and in teams.
Over the past year I have also started a few short online courses, 1-day or 1-hour long workshops or cycles of 1 day learning over a period of a few months. By integrating this type of microlearning into my daily routine, I re-discovered the joy of challenging myself and thinking more critically through discussion and brainstorming.
To conclude, beyond the support that corporations (should) give to learning activities for their employees, it is very much up to the individual (marketer or not) to adopt that "learning-for-life mindset", embrace new ways of doing things and, consequently, make time to learn and upskill. Only by continuously challenging our own assumptions and bringing more knowledge to the table, can we acquire new perspectives, become useful to our team, clients, and be true leaders. However, it isn't a one-size-fits-all process, but a multi-step, lifelong and very personal one. I might even learn something marketing related next time I play football with my son, who knows?