Digital skills as a strategic leadership imperative in the VUCA environment

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Robert Mandeya

IN my previous installment I explored strategic leadership in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment and one issue that came out clearly is that of organisational leadership to provide guidance and direction to their teams.

Indeed, it is not a cliché to say success is 20% skill and 80% strategy. It is important to note that working with teams of a diverse background, skills, experiences, cultures and beliefs poses a great challenge for many a leadership.

For many leaders making clarity of communication and establishing mutual understanding with teams is even a greater challenge. The VUCA environment, such as what Zimbabwe is currently going through, requires leadership to communicate even more, often with teams, clients and stakeholders at all levels.

Building your marketing team

With the advent of the digital age, it means a lot of business is now transacted on digital platforms. Given the volume of information posted on these platforms, it is becoming more difficult to cut through the noise and position your brand as a leader on the digital highways. This means leaders must ensure their teams have the skills and structures to stand out in the maze of information. Building a content marketing team is no easy task — and it is getting harder and harder by the day. The digital audiences have become more diverse, more disparate and arguably more discerning in the branded content that they consume. This means it has become increasingly difficult to build a team that understands the growing number of content platforms, the audiences, who use them and can then create content that utilises the full power of each platform.

As such, business leaders must strategise around digital marketing by building content teams with both the skill and the direction to drive a return in the organisation’s investment in content.

Evolving content marketing

The approach that many brands are taking towards content marketing has evolved significantly in recent years and with that transformation, the skills and expertise that are necessary for an effective strategy have changed. Traditionally, it was very easy for brands to see content marketing as a process that simply produces a quantity of written prose between the hours of 9am and 5pm, and many organisations focussed their team-building efforts on recruiting good copywriters who understood how the written word works on the web.

While that is still an undeniably important skill, a combination of modern search algorithms, an explosion in the number of marketing channels, the sheer volume of content that your messaging is competing with and the ease with which your audiences can simply ignore your content has meant that content marketing is now a multi-medium, multi-channel and multi-skilled discipline.

Challenges of the evolving strategy

This evolution has created a series of challenges. Organisations are now having to think much harder about how and where they up-skill their content marketing teams, about where they invest their resources and what their core objectives are. Brands are now in the market for digital skills and roles that they perhaps did not previously consider as part of their content marketing operation, and are invariably recruiting from a finite resource of talent. This means new digital skills are required for teams. In some cases, those challenges can be mitigated by looking at the skills that already exist within your organisation and promoting a corporate culture that encourages everybody within the organisation to become a part of the content production process, but this is sometimes easier said than done.

It is worth noting that there is not a single “optimum” content marketing team structure that applies to every organisation.

What matters are: the objectives that you set in place for your marketing, the insight that you have about your audiences and the strategy that you develop in order to reach those audiences and achieve those ambitions. These are the factors that will determine the channels you use, the type of content that you need to produce and, ultimately, the resources that you need.

The 21st century content team

The growth of content has largely been driven by changes to both the platforms that marketers rely on and the sheer number of platforms that have now come to market and been adopted by the audiences that brands hope to reach. Google’s search algorithm updates, particularly the Panda update, have driven a marked shift in how brands approach content, forcing them to focus much more on producing quality content that genuinely aids the consumer journey.

At the same time, social media platforms in particular have opened up new opportunities for brands to engage with their audiences — but have also placed additional demands on both the types and volume of content that those brands need to produce on a daily basis. Equally, consumers have become much more sophisticated in how they engage with brands, both on and offline.

Consumers want to be more informed and they have different expectations on how they engage with a brand (and how brands engage with them). At the same time, the multimedia, multi-device world has ensured that these consumers are “always on”, and that they are also much harder for brands to reach in a meaningful way.

What it means is that content marketers and the teams that they work in now have to be multi-skilled. They need to be able to take a brand story or message, and effectively translate that across multiple mediums, multiple formats and multiple platforms—sometimes to audience demographics that vary wildly from channel to channel. Given the critical shortage of electricity due to the long hours of load shedding in Zimbabwe, it means even reviewing the working schedules and styles for teams. It requires leadership to even consider flexi-time approach for teams in digital markerting

Mandeya is an executive leadership coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Institute of Leadership, Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw/www.lird.co.zw.

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