Dear CMO:
Soft skills aren’t soft. They’re bloody hard.
“Hard” means, “I can measure the return on investment, the incremental lift in unit sell-through, and the increases in customer loyalty, and therefore, it’s true.” ‘Hard’ skills mean I have mastered four-function math. “Soft” skills require an understanding of human brain science, the psychology of influence, the anthropology of buying and using, the ethnography of user groups and the resulting impact of other people on our habits, and a myriad of other triggers that are frankly so complex that most marketing practitioners don’t even try to measure them at all for fear of complete paralysis. This is a real concern. It turns out that ‘soft’ skills are one hell of a lot harder than the ‘hard’ skills.
If we’re to be as effective as we can possibly be as marketers — promoting our products and services to people in the most persuasive manner possible so our meaning and context break through the clutter so clearly that those who really, truly want and need our solution understand our proposition and come to our websites and doorsteps — we need massively improved soft skills.
I’ve been involved in a lot of business review meetings, line-up meetings, strategic plans, etc, ad nauseum, and can say with a certain degree of certainty that there is great comfort in ‘hard’ skills. You can’t argue with four-function math. And it makes us feel that somehow, we’ve done our jobs. Many companies do tremendous jobs at the relatively easy analysis work and may even spend millions on ‘customer insight’ to validate preconceptions dearly held. But at the end of the day, the question that is never fully answered is, “so what are you actually going to do that will profitably grow the company?” I can tell you that 57.4% of respondents prefer our new packaging over Brand X with 6.5% sampling error at 99%, but I can’t tell you how we’re going to get them to actually buy more of it. That would require harnessed creativity, innovation, persuasion, influence… soft skills, in other words.
“Soft” means “weak.” It means, “less worthy than ‘hard’ skills.
“We need a new word for “soft” skills.