Tap Your Inner Marketing Seer: A Conversation With Futurist Garry Golden

If you were hiring for the marketing department of the future, would you rather hire someone who’s highly technical and knows how to crunch the data, or someone who understands the art and is very creative?

Tap Your Inner Marketing Seer: A Conversation With Futurist Garry Golden

Garry Golden, a futurist and expert on emerging trends at innovation-training firm futurethink, suggests we need to align talent development with the forces that are driving change in marketing.

While companies are driving customer education through content marketing, Golden said, the trend in successful organizations is that education starts within. Learning and performance support are increasingly being integrated across teams. If you don’t see it, just talk to some millennial job candidates, who probably won’t accept a job unless you can show them your company provides training and development for future career growth.

Read on for our enlightening conversation.

CMO.com: What does a futurist do?

Golden: They are three things that we do. We identify and monitor change. We look for signal, and we imagine implications of those signals. And then we communicate the need for change.

CMO.com: Isn’t that part of what any good marketing organization does?

Golden: Marketing groups are often the eternal unit within an organization that’s concerned with the future, right? They’re the ones looking about them. They’re looking at the present. They’re seeing these changes. They’re paid to think about the implications.

CMO.com: How do you think marketing will change in the future?

Golden: Marketing is likely to be more art than science, only because of the creative process and challenge of things that cannot be measured that still drive brand experiences. The lens might be the art of marketing becomes more a scientific process. But the best marketers will be people who love storytelling—making connections and bringing value to clients.

CMO.com: How do you reconcile that with the burgeoning data-is-king mindset?

Golden: For me, marketing is always going to be more intuitive, more based off of the gut, more art than science. But as we look at a world where our interactions with brands become more quantified, more visible, more known, these feedback loops from that information are likely to influence the art of marketing. So I think it is likely that the culture of marketing, that creative process, will continue, but it will increasingly take on a more scientific-method mindset.

CMO.com: If you were hiring for the marketing department of the future, would you rather hire someone who’s highly technical and knows how to crunch the data but doesn’t have a lot of insight and art about marketing, or would you hire someone who understands the art and is very creative but to whom you would teach analytical skills?

Golden: I would say both and neither. [Laughs.] If I am the CMO, I am looking to move beyond the era of hiring so-called I-shaped individuals that have a depth of expertise in a single area.

CMO.com: I-shaped?

Golden: I-shaped, as the capital letter I—people who have a depth of expertise in analytics or a depth of expertise in content creation but nothing horizontal. I am looking to hire T-shaped people who have a depth of expertise in a particular domain and also breadth that goes across that I to make the T in other skill sets.

So what you’re looking for is someone that may have depth of expertise in analytics but has also taken courses and has experience in digital storytelling or neuroeconomics or psychology.

CMO.com: What do you mean about storytelling and making connections being the future?

Golden: I think it’s important to think about what’s changing but also about things that are not likely to change. Analytics is one signal about the future. The need to make connections is another signal. As a futurist I try to imagine the implications of both. Marketing leaders have to recognize the importance of effective and engaging storytelling as a foundation that’s not likely to change, even in this age of analytics.

Being forward-thinking, marketing has to communicate with empathy and compassion. One of marketing’s tasks, after all, is to understand “people who are not like me”—people we want to be our customers.

CMO.com: That’s a nice point to bring this around to hiring diversity and how we think about building our marketing teams.

Golden: Well, I think the reality that CMOs are confronting in an incredibly fragmented marketplace—when we think in terms of customer segmentation—is that there is an advantage to being able to hire individuals that bring different backgrounds, different life experiences to the table.

Being able to see the world through other people’s eyes is a mindset that is desirable when you think about hiring and retaining the best talent.

CMO.com: As a futurist, how do you recommend that CMOs deal with these changes to improve how they recruit and hire?

Golden: I think there’s a connection between marketing strategy and hiring. CMOs and managers will need to integrate learning and performance support across their teams as organizations attempt to keep current with the accelerating pace of change.

CMO.com: But recent surveys tell us that employers are spending less, not more, on education and training for employees. (See “Are You Whining About Talent?”)

Golden: That’s what has to change. In the future, marketing teams will be based more on a culture of learning. The ExperienceAPI (xAPI) is a new specification that allows employees to capture “I did this” experiences related to training, learning, and workplace performance. xAPI is off the radar today in most marketing organizations, but we’re seeing it in some places. LinkedIn embraces xAPI—individuals are starting to promote their “learning graphs” or “performance graphs” as a primary reflection of their capabilities, more so than chronological work history found in a resume.

I think the imperative for CMOs is to advocate for dedicated funding, dedicated resources to support lifelong learning and continual enrichment for their workforce. The world of marketing itself is changing at an accelerating rate, and it will be important for CMOs to make learning and performance support central to the culture of their business department.

CMO.com: Why not just go out and hire the people who have the skills that you need right now and let people go who aren’t really doing the job?

Golden: The case for retaining people that might not have the skills now is that they have other experience and other expertise that would be considered a loss if you let them go. And the key here is hiring and retaining lifelong learners.

The skill sets that someone has that you hire today—those skill sets may have a shelf life of 18 months in the world of marketing. So it’s going to be important that CMOs hire people that can see past the shelf life of their skill set and constantly enrich themselves learning new skills.

CMO.com: How do millennials fit into the future of marketing?

Golden: For millennials, a key quality of an organization that they wish to work for is training, development, and support for future growth. That’s an important signal for CMOs to consider. Individuals looking to work for companies are asking, “Will I be supported as a learner within this organization?”

The millennials are driving that. But here’s what I see that may not be so obvious: The other major group is the aging baby boomers, who are increasingly positioned where they need to work longer and to upgrade their skills for an ever-changing world.

CMO.com: So you’re saying that, in the future, the solution to hiring millennials and to retaining more senior workers is one and the samemore training and development?

Golden: Exactly. Companies that don’t see that signal and address it in an accelerating way are not going to be the most competitive ones.

CMO.com: What would you say to CMOs who want to address the future more effectively?

Golden: The future is always going to change in unexpected ways. Tapping your inner futurist, learning the art and science of foresight, of anticipation, will be critical to your future success.

Here’s an exercise to help with that. Choose a subject that you do not understand—let’s say that subject might be chatbots, messaging apps that use AI. Go to Twitter, identify 10 people that are top leaders in that field, and then follow them for six months. Learn from the people who are living and breathing this field of innovation that you don’t understand. Don’t follow other chief marketing officers. Soon you’ll be able to contribute to the conversation. To be your own futurist, the key is to go where the things you do not understand are.