What marketers need most: creativity, agility, and strategic alignment

Abstract cover design of Workfront's 2020 Global Marketing Report

Of all the skills required to be successful in marketing, which one do you think marketers value the most? If you guessed creativity, you are correct. When we surveyed nearly 900 marketing professionals in a range of industries spread across five countries, “the ability to think creatively” was the number one answer across the board, followed by “quickly responding to changing market forces” and “delivering quality work on time.”

The top three answers were remarkably consistent across all five countries, with the Netherlands being a slight outlier. Dutch respondents nominated “effective collaboration with stakeholders” as their top skill (which, to be honest, also requires a measure of creativity).

As brands across the world continue to weather the effects of a global pandemic, the ability to think creatively is essential in order to execute differentiated and relevant marketing campaigns—and the concept of “quickly responding to changing market forces” has taken on a whole new meaning and velocity.

But there’s a problem. Despite this clear and consistent understanding of what makes marketers valuable in their roles, they’re only focusing on their highest value work about 19% of the time. That works out to just over 90 minutes a day. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, pre-pandemic, many marketers spent more time commuting to work than actually focusing on the work they were hired to do. By way of contrast, knowledge workers in general spend about 40% of their time on their primary job duties.

So, what are marketers doing the rest of the time? On average, they’re spending:

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I recommend following a two-pronged approach to reclaiming your creative time. First, identify the real core of the problem, then equip your marketing teams with technology that can help you turn those numbers around.

Acknowledge the root of the problem.

The unnecessary meetings, excess emails, and manual tasks aren’t causing your creative challenges; they’re symptoms of a larger problem. When presented with a list of 10 common frustrations, marketers chose “not enough resources to handle growing workloads” and “lack of strategic alignment across functional teams” as their top two answers, followed closely by poor visibility into project status and productivity as well as how marketing affects the bottom line.

Given that marketers don’t have the resources they need and often feel disconnected from other teams, it’s no wonder they struggle to brainstorm collaboratively, manage effective campaigns, and ensure their efforts are aligned with the company’s top objectives. These are issues that need to be addressed at the leadership level.

Especially now, marketers are expected to work at speed and under great pressure, which makes it more important than ever for leaders to ensure marketers understand top priorities, so they’re not wasting time on low-level work. If you can also reclaim some of the time spent on email, meetings, and other distractions, so marketers are spending more than 19% of each day on their “real work,” that alone will solve a big part of the resource problem. On top of all of that, leaders must also ensure marketers know that their contributions matter and have the visibility to see how their efforts impact the company’s bottom line.

Equip your teams with the right technology.

As businesses adapt to remote workforces, the most unpredictable market in recent memory, and other changes in the way we all work, marketers need the right technology more than ever to help them remove obstacles, mitigate frustrations, and unleash the creativity and agility they value—and that their companies need.

Unfortunately, 56% of marketing teams are still using disintegrated systems. On average, marketers use eight different tools to manage the various aspects of their work, including projects, tasks, requests, communication, design, reviews, approvals, calendars, documents, and more. Switching between all of these applications day in and day out wastes additional precious minutes, which quickly add up to hours.

Because of this, most marketers (85%) say their organisations need to do a better job at integrating and connecting key systems and tools so that they can focus on the creativity their role demands.

Take a holistic approach to work.

Embracing modern work management technology enables marketers to take a holistic approach to all aspects of work—including collaborating across teams and time zones, automating intake processes, connecting work across key creative applications, executing and tracking campaigns, and proofing and approving collateral.

Additionally, work management allows entire enterprises to align all work with key business goals, providing the context and visibility to make data-driven decisions and execute the right work at the right time. That means less time spent requesting updates over email, logging in and out of different systems, and entering the same data into multiple siloed marketing tools. Instead, marketers can reclaim more time to put their top skills into practice.

Marketers know how to work creatively and with agility. They want to do more of this kind of work. They simply need to be freed from the obstacles that get in the way of building relevant and compelling bridges to their customers, especially in this unprecedented time.

The new normal seems to be that nothing is normal, and that means the global business environment is sure to be unusually dynamic in the months and years ahead. It’s more essential than ever that leaders clearly see the root causes of marketing challenges and provide marketers with technologies and practices that allow them to achieve strategic business outcomes in alignment with other key players in the organisation.

Embracing work management technology ensures marketing teams can leave mundane and repetitive work behind (currently 81% of the workday!) and unleash the creativity and agility that will carry their organisations into an unpredictable, but sure-to-be exciting, future.