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Developing Transformational Marketing Skills

The following is a guest post from Jeff Kavanaugh, author of the new book: Consulting Essentials: The Art and Science of People, Facts, and Frameworks.

If you read this blog regularly, you’re already familiar with the concept of transformational marketing. Most traditional marketing is—to put it bluntly—annoying. To potential clients, it feels like being talked at. What do you do when someone talks at you? Right, you switch off and look for something more interesting to do instead. Why would marketing be any different?

In the 21st century, people want more than a list of reasons to buy. They want reasons to care. For marketers who are still thinking tactically, this is impossible. While their primary objective is to convince prospects to buy what they’re selling, they will never be able to forge the connections that inspire action. Only when marketers make a genuine move toward delivering value to their customers will they be able to shift this dynamic.

We talk a lot in this forum about crafting a compelling story, developing an effective strategy to tell this story, and putting in place appropriate systems to activate this strategy. This article will focus on some of the skills required to do all of the above successfully.

Learnability: The Basis of It All

What is learnability? Simply put, it is the desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt one’s skill set, in order to stay relevant and succeed. Another way of putting it is that learnability is the capability to consistently learn at an accelerated pace. How is this relevant in transformational marketing? Unless you can understand the perspective of your clients, receive their feedback, and quickly use it to learn and grow, what chance do you have of telling them stories they want –and need— to hear?

Tactical marketers learn how to overcome objections, get clicks, and force sales, but sooner or later even the most profitable tactics lose their gleam. Why do adverts from the 1950s look so dated and cringe-worthy today? Because the tactics they employed, while highly successful at the time, now appear naïve and obvious. People can tell when they’re being sold to and they become increasingly resistant to approaches they have seen before. Those who are willing to exercise humility and learn what their clients need can avoid this law of diminishing returns. They can continually assess their approach to determine whether the people they want to reach find it meaningful and valuable.

Too many people hide behind the false notion that some individuals are born smart and others are not. This is a mistake. If you’d like to improve your learnability, the first step is to make learning tangible. Before you can learn, you need to understand what you’re trying to learn. What are you trying to accomplish? What are your goals? What questions are you trying to answer?

There is no single quality that guarantees a person will be able to learn, but there are several clues. One of the biggest is intellectual curiosity. Another is persistence, and a third is confidence. In a constantly evolving workplace, the capacity to learn is perhaps the single greatest asset a person can have. In the context of transformational marketing, it underpins all the other relevant skills.

Critical and Creative Thinking: Diagnosing Problems and Crafting Solutions

How successful is your current strategy? What could you do to improve it? It’s easy to see how the capacity to think both critically and creatively shapes your success. If you can think critically, you can see what’s not currently working. If you can think creatively, you can develop solutions that may work better.

Critical thinking is sometimes perceived negatively. Why, people wonder, should we not think positively? The distinction, however, is not about emotions, or about being complimentary as opposed to critical. Critical thinking is a way to use your brain to its full potential, and increase the quality, not just the quantity, of thought.

Many people believe that critical thinking is not relevant to business. They want to focus purely on the problem at hand. In a tactical marketing context, this might be crudely defined as “get customer A to buy more of product X”. The problem with this type of narrow approach is that learning a skill without knowing how to understand and solve the real problem behind it reduces that skill to a commodity, rendering us too inflexible to adapt with the times. We’re back to the insight that any tactic, no matter how successful initially, will one day stop working. Without critical thinking, how can we define and address the real problem at hand?

Creative thinking is the other side of the coin. While critical thinking seeks to understand scenarios, creative thinking is a way of looking at problems or situations from a fresh perspective. People who think creatively bring new things into existence. Can you imagine how useful this could be in your marketing activities? What do you do when you need to tell an original story, adopt a fresh strategy, or install a new system?

An essential characteristic of creative thinking is openness to new ideas: the most original thinkers always believe that there is more than one way of doing things, and that there’s value in testing out the various available options. In a world of readily available information, it’s easy to consume. Creativity, however, asks something more of us. It asks that we engage actively and create something, be that a physical product, a piece of software, or simply a novel idea.

Oral and Written Communication: Speaking and Writing to Generate Action

Many people believe that good communication is a gift, given only to the charismatic. It’s not: it is a skill that can be developed and learned. This essential insight is good news. People with highly extroverted personalities may be good at getting up on stage and speaking their minds, but that doesn’t make them good communicators. A more introverted person who delivers a thoughtful, considered communication aimed at delivering real value may influence an audience far more than a brash, overconfident person who doesn’t take the time to understand the needs of their audience.

This applies equally to transformational marketing. The person who talks loudly and constantly may succeed in winning the compliance of their prospects, but how genuine will it be? Is there a chance that potential clients will agree to their requests in the hope of gaining peace, with no real intention of acting upon them? Contrast this with the person who takes the time to make inquiries of their clients, determine what they truly need, and deliver a solution that meets those needs. Which person will have more influence in the long-term?

The word “communication” is based on the Latin word communicare, meaning to share. Good communication is a form of sharing. When you’re thinking of another person, you might give them a gift to show consideration for their needs. At its best, communication can be like a gift to the receiver, conveyed either in person or through digital means.

This is equally true of both oral and written communication; when speaking to a client or connecting via email. The more care you take in your communication, the more you reveal of your authentic self. We regularly emphasize the value of authenticity in transformational marketing, and this is why. People respond to people. When you communicate authentically with clients—and, indeed, internally—others will sense that you have their best interests at heart and they can trust you.

Conclusion: To Succeed in Transformational Marketing, Build These Core Skills

In this brief blog post, it’s not possible to provide a comprehensive review of every skill required to grow your transformational marketing capacities. Nonetheless, the ones described above provide valuable building blocks and can be applied to almost any situation.

To increase your learnability, be willing to see every scenario as a learning opportunity. Of course, you want to get good numbers, but you can also see every interaction as a source of valuable information. What questions do people ask you? How do they respond to the stories you tell them? What actions do they take in response to your communications? All these data points—and many more—can help you to learn.

Similarly, be willing to exercise critical thinking to investigate what you can do better. If you’re struggling to engage with clients, or people are getting lost in your system, ask yourself why that’s happening. Then, utilize creative thinking to come up with potential solutions. Not all of these solutions will be effective, but you must be willing to contemplate the possibility that there are better ways of doing things, and to actively seek out those ways.

Finally, when you communicate—both orally and using the written word—ask yourself how attuned you are to the needs of your audience. Are you delivering communication that they will likely be highly interested in, or one they may dismiss as boring and irrelevant?

These aren’t simply tactics to manipulate sales. They’re skills you can call upon repeatedly, to grow your transformational marketing abilities and improve both internal and external relationships. I hope you’ll use them well and find them valuable.

For more insights from Jeff on how to learn these important skills, check out his book, Consulting Essentials: The Art and Science of People, Facts, and Frameworks.