Marketing with soft skills

Three key factors help businesses, organizations and marketers stand out

There are few things more embarrassing for a digital marketer than to sit in a meeting with a client and field a question about a new app or study about which we are not familiar.

We immediately rush to learn everything we can about this new technology or the findings of that report, often without stopping to consider whether it’s worth the time we’re investing in it. So it’s no wonder that the core principles of marketing, the simplicity of delivering the right message to the right audience at the right time, enticing that prospective customer to do business with us, are getting lost along the way.

As an industry, we’re focused on the trends, the technology and the “new shiny things,” but we’re losing sight of the three key factors that help the most successful businesses, organizations and marketers stand out from the rest. These are the factors that are hard to quantify, and difficult to explain, but you just know it when you see them.


The most important attribute successful marketers can have is the ability to put themselves in another’s shoes. Can you identify with your customers’ wants, needs, emotions and decision-making process? Most business owners and marketers create the messages that portray their product or service in the way they want it to be seen, but they don’t truly understand the perception of the customer on the other side of the screen.

If you’re trying to win over new customers, you need to be able to see the world from their point of view. If you’re having a hard time doing this, try interviewing a few clients who are currently working with you, as well as a few who chose not to work with you.

Ask for honest feedback about their wants, needs and concerns, what factors they considered and what ultimately led them to their decision. Then write your marketing messages as if you were speaking directly to those individuals. It will make all the difference in the world.


I recently picked up a magazine and noticed a full-page color ad with a glaring grammatical error IN THE HEADLINE. I couldn’t believe my eyes. How had this passed by the writer, the graphic designer, the director and the magazine’s editor?

This was probably a several thousand dollar mistake, and the advertiser may never know why their ad was a failure. In fact, they’ll likely assume that it was placed in the wrong magazine, or that the audience wasn’t interested in their service or thought the price was too high.

I worry that the crucial soft skills of communication are being replaced by our focus on “shinier” skills. While STEM education is arguably crucial, putting so much emphasis on it takes away from basic writing skills such as spelling and grammar. Students are being asked to turn in typed papers, which allow them to rely heavily on spelling and grammar checking tools, as early as elementary school. Therefore, teachers aren’t able to determine whether their students have a strong understanding of the written language, and everyone continues moving toward the next goal or test without understanding the fundamentals behind them.


A marketer’s awareness of the situations and environments affecting their prospective customers, and their development of messaging to speak directly to those situations, make all the difference between tremendous success and mediocrity.

Recently, the music-streaming app Spotify developed one of the timeliest and most audience-conscious ads I’ve ever seen. In the commercial, they show a couple moving their entire house on a flatbed truck, with the song “My House” playing in the background. At the end, they show a caption stating that if you decide to move to Canada this November, this song could be on your playlist.

They picked up on a tongue-in-cheek conversation people have been having with their friends about the presidential election, and how they’ll “move to Canada” if the election goes a particular way. The ad itself is not political; it’s a great example of reaching into the minds of an audience and speaking directly to them. They were aware of what people were saying and thinking, and turned this conversation into a timely marketing message.

While technology is important, and we need to be where our prospective customers spend their time, it’s vital that we maintain the skills of empathy, writing and consciousness in order to develop messaging that actually speaks to them. For students interested in digital marketing careers, I’d encourage you to focus on building these skills, for this is where you’ll develop the brilliant ideas that no app can replace.

Melissa Albano-Davis, principal of Grapevine Marketing, can be reached at 603-685-4782, ext. 101 or

Categories: Business Advice, Marketing & Advertising