9 Essential Marketing Skills for Career Growth: Here’s What the Data Says

Successful marketers know how to hit key performance indicators and drive progress toward shared goals. They also apply that mentality to their careers, and realize that professional growth is a long game.

So what’s the secret to a productive career in marketing? According to research, you need an essential mix of both hard and soft marketing skills. Here are the competencies you need to rise in the ranks (and payroll), according to some of the latest data. 

Top Hard Skills in Marketing

“Hard” skills are specific activities and competencies that you use to execute the mechanics of your job in marketing. The most emphasized skills for a particular job will shift depending on your specialty, industry, and customer profile. However, digital marketing disciplines tend to value several common hard skills across the board. 

1. Data Analysis 

Deloitte’s CMO Survey found that data analytics was the most common area for spending by marketers, growing by 40% in just one year. Additional findings highlight data analysis as the industry’s biggest skills gap, making it a hard skill most needed across leadership and junior employees. 

Regardless of whether you work in content, product marketing or demand generation, the ability to measure and analyze your campaigns to prove return on investment is non-negotiable. 

If you want to move up the ladder, technical proficiency in basic data tools like Google Analytics and Salesforce is a good place to begin. Useful data can come from a wide variety of additional sources, including: 

  • Customer service and support solutions
  • Marketing automation tools
  • Customer data management
  • Account-based marketing systems
  • Social media marketing tools
  • Digital advertising platforms
  • SEO applications
  • Market research and competitor research
  • User surveys and sales calls

2. Project Management

Marketing is as much a discipline as it is an art — and nothing is as disciplined as scoping and delivering a project.

Marketing leaders need to juggle multiple projects at once. That means staying organized, meeting deadlines, actively listening, and problem-solving. It’s why rising marketers need to ruthlessly prioritize,  seek feedback from others, and ask questions for clarity. 

While you may feel tempted to say yes to every request thrown your way, it’s important to know when to say “no,” or at least “not right now.” Recognize when a task is “too big with too little time” and negotiate alternatives with your stakeholders. Quality trumps quantity.

Project managers also need to work flexibly across a variety of tools and platforms to effectively coordinate teamwork that may be spread across siloed parts of a broader team. Examples of key project management tools include: 

  1. Project Coordination
    Examples: Trello, Asana, Monday.com, Microsoft Project
  2. Communication and Collaboration
    Examples: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet
  3. Content Creation and Management
    Examples: Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign), Canva, WordPress, HubSpot
  4. Analytics and Reporting
    Examples: Google Analytics, Semrush, Tableau, HubSpot Analytics
  5. CRM Systems
    Examples: Salesforce, HubSpot, Microsoft Dynamics

3. Social Media Marketing 

With some 5 billion users worldwide, social media is firmly entrenched as an essential brand builder and revenue driver. 

Mastering social media marketing allows professionals to build and nurture relationships with potential customers, employees, and business partners in a way that traditional (and often expensive) marketing channels can’t match. 

For marketers, it’s incredibly important to build marketing skills across the organic and paid sides of social media platforms. Here are the important ways to leverage each half of the social marketing equation:

Organic Social Media

Engagement and Awareness: Aims to build relationships, engage with the audience, and foster community. Effective for increasing brand visibility and credibility over time.

Content Variety: Includes posts, stories, videos, and live streams, giving your company and your audience multiple opportunities to interact.

Free, Algorithm Dependent: Distribution is free, but reach and visibility are influenced by platform algorithms and policies, with no guarantee of durable reach.

User-Generated Content: Social platforms rely on content created by followers and fans to populate their feeds, which gives brands an opportunity to engage in an authentic way.

Paid Social Media

Targeted Advertising: Allows precise targeting based on demographics, interests, and behaviors.

Budget Control: Marketers set and manage their advertising budgets.

Analytics and Insights: Social media ads can provide detailed performance metrics and insights, along with A/B testing.

Quick Results: Social ads, when well targeted, are capable of delivering immediate visibility and engagement.

Multiple Formats: Includes options like sponsored posts, carousel ads, video ads, and stories.

4. AI and Machine Learning

Marketing is recognized as one of the most valuable use cases for generative AI in business. As more teams adopt AI, the ability to use these advanced and evolving tools to drive efficiency will be highly sought after.

By staying ahead of the curve and expanding their knowledge of AI and ML marketing applications, marketers set themselves up to be indispensable. Some top marketing uses for AI tools include: 

  • Content Creation: Get to a good outline, first draft, or optimized, streamlined final version faster with generative AI — but make sure you are implementing quality control.
  • Data Analysis: AI tools can be very good at turning a data set into a narrative memo, saving marketers untold hours that would otherwise be spent poring over spreadsheets and Salesforce reports.
  • Promotional Assets: Have a major report, a new campaign brief, or a bylined blog post from your CEO? Generative AI tools can turn a cornerstone asset into emails, ads, webinar abstracts, newsletter blurbs, and more in seconds.

Top Soft Skills in Marketing

Business is about relationships, and interpersonal skills are key to building the relationships that get things done. Marketers can level up their career progress by building these “soft” skills into their portfolio:

1. Leadership

Recent research by Deloitte found that leadership is the most valuable skill for both chief marketing officers (CMOs) and senior marketing leaders. It’s easy to see why: a marketing candidate’s eligibility to move up the ladder hinges on their ability to lead cross-functionally.  

Make it second nature to mentor those in junior positions, and you’ll naturally foster a culture of empowerment and accountability within your team, which raises your influence and impact.

The marketing industry requires leaders to frequently navigate new complexities in their roles. Marketing Week’s survey of CMOs found a diverse background of prior roles in finance, research and development, and creative direction. What do they all have in common? The ability to lead.

2. Communication

Building relationships within the C-suite, conveying ideas and market data each quarter, and simplifying the complex doesn’t happen without deft communication skills. 

Recent reports highlight how increasingly challenging it is for marketers to secure cross-functional support — making strong communication skills a must for marketers to secure buy-in for their initiatives, rally stakeholders around common goals, and get results for their marketing efforts quarter after quarter. 

Today’s growing demand for personalized messaging and stellar customer experiences demands that marketing professionals: 

  • Develop compelling brand narratives
  • Ideate targeted messaging
  • Build and nurture lasting customer relationships with personalized communication

The alternative, according to Grammarly’s 2024 business report, is more stress, lower productivity, and strained relationships. 

3. Strategic Thinking and Planning

While artificial intelligence is here to stay, marketers still need to develop innovative marketing motions with the kind of strategic thinking and detail-oriented planning that experienced professionals do best. This includes competencies like: 

  • Accurately analyzing market dynamics
  • Integrating customer insights 
  • Staying on top of industry trends
  • Finding new growth opportunities
  • Optimally allocating marketing resources
  • Using data to make ROI-positive decisions

4. Work Ethic

Managers notice if you’re diligent, focused, consistent, and lean into initiatives. Can-do attitudes — which requires plenty of emotional intelligence — often take aspiring marketers further than strictly leaning on their hard skills. 

Shrinking or even slow-growing economic conditions make work ethic paramount. In the tech industry specifically — but really across the broader economy — a long run of near-zero interest rates fueled fast growth in equity markets, which led to expansion, job creation, and growing budgets. With that era now passed, the marketers who can thrive will be the ones who deliver the most value.

5. Data Storytelling

No matter where you sit in the marketing org chart, it’s important to build connections and inspire action. Data-based storytelling is one of the best ways to do so.

It’s easy to forget that “business-to-business” still means “person-to-person,” yet storytelling remains a key marketing pillar. Simplifying the complex is what data storytelling comes down to. Gartner illustrates it with an equation: 

Storytelling = visualization + narrative + context

Applying the right tools to visualize data, mapping out a compelling narrative, and adding context that brings a story to life gives marketers a better chance for buy-in — or promotion.

Marketing Careers Are a Marathon — Not a Sprint

To succeed, marketers need to master both hard and soft skills to impact the marketing KPIs that matter — and that are directly correlated with career growth. Understand your marketing career objectives and be proactive about chances to prove to your superiors that you’re dependable, beyond fulfilling the basic day-to-day tasks. 

Advocate for yourself, and above all else, be passionate about your work. It will show.