I’m often asked by aspiring marketers: “What’s the most important marketing skill to learn? Is it SEO? PPC? Analytics? Copywriting? Video? PR? Social media?” Or, “What should I learn first?”
Surprisingly, it’s none of those things.
In my 30-year career as a marketer, from copywriter to SEO, from traditional media to digital, I have found one skill that trumps all of them. With this one skill, everything else follows naturally.
Before I tell you what it is, let me share a brief story.
When I was young, I used to rollerskate a lot. Not inline skates or rollerblades, but the four-wheel kind you see at roller derbies. I was quite good at it, too. But it took me a while to learn — a lot longer than the average seven-year-old child.
I was born with a congenital disability. My mother was a petite woman, but I was a hefty baby born at almost 12 pounds. Growing inside my mother’s tiny frame, my legs had little room to grow. So they ended up misshapen, and I had to wear prosthetics until the age of three.
Ice skating was always a challenge. As a French-Canadian, this disappointed me. I always struggled to keep my balance and was in a lot of pain. But when rollerskates came along in the 70s, it gave an opportunity to learn how to skate. Four wheels provided more stability than single blades.
At first, I fell. I fell a lot. I fell more times than I care to remember. Keep in mind, there was no such thing as protective gear or training in the mid-70s. So I had plenty of bumps, bruises, scrapes, and scratches.
Eventually, however, I became quite good at it.
40-some years later, I took up inline skating for the first time. I thought maybe it would be easy to learn since I knew how to roller skate. But inline skates were new to me and were more of a challenge than I expected. I fell countless times. I felt like a frustrated, stumbling kid, again.
But this time, however, I had tools to help me. I bought elbow pads, knee pads, wrist guards, and of course, a helmet. And there was also a skate park nearby. So I kept trying. Eventually, I became acceptably good, which surprised me.
Fast-forward to yesterday.
I did an SEO audit for an agency client. It was on a French medical website. It allowed me to revisit and practice my maternal language, which was fun. However, much like jumping from my childhood rollerskates to inline skates for the first time 30 years later, this audit was a tad more daunting.
I’m quite fluent in French. It’s my native tongue. I also can write and translate business communications easily from one language to the other. But since this audit included a technical SEO and UX analysis, I had to use complex marketing and technical terms in French — lingo I’ve never used before.
I have a tendency to use English terms whenever I speak with francophone clients, as most French Canadians are bilingual and understand them. But this was a written report for a medical client in Quebec who used highly technical terminology. So it was important to use proper wording.
Luckily, just as I did with inline skates, I used tools to help me.
Google Translate was not one of them. Sure, Google does a good job translating in a broad sense. But it doesn’t consider technical jargon, regional dialects, or contextual meanings. Instead, I used other tools that are far more effective.
The one I’ve used for many years is Linguee.com. It’s a search engine that culls passages from the Internet containing the text you’re looking for, and displays, side-by-side, its bilingual equivalent.
Linguee is not a translator. Rather, it pulls the same passages from a site’s corresponding multilingual version or translation, which gives you proper context, usage, and even regional dialect, too.
Here’s my point to all this.
In today’s trying times, they say you must adapt or die. “Pivoting” is a word that now pervades our business and marketing vocabulary. But being able to adapt or pivot requires skill. And that skill is resourcefulness. It’s not some talent, aptitude, or gift, but a learned skill.
Resourcefulness trumps SEO, PPC, copywriting, selling, branding, or any other aspect of marketing. All those things are important. But if you learn this fundamental skill, everything else will become easier.
In French, the word for resourcefulness is “débrouillardise.” It comes from “brouillard,” meaning fog or haze, and “débrouillard” is to “de-fog,” the capacity to see through the fog or to “unfog yourself.” (Yes, it sounds like that other word.)
When we talk about someone who is skilled in resourcefulness, in French we often say she’s got the “d-system,” the initial for débrouillardise.
Of all the successful people in the world I’ve learned from or followed, one common denominator stands out the most: they are all incredibly resourceful.
Some call it creativity, ingenuity, or initiative. But most people associate creativity with talent. I prefer creative problem-solving because it’s a skill. It’s not something you’re born with. In fact, more and more schools are teaching and assess students on creative thinking and creative problem-solving skills.
As R. Keith Sawyer, a professor of educational innovations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, once noted:
“You’re absolutely not born being more or less creative. It’s ways of acting and thinking that anyone can learn. That’s an empowering message, especially for those people who have always thought, ‘I’m not a creative person’.”
Marketing is a form of creative problem-solving, and solving marketing problems requires resourcefulness, whether it’s:
- A problem a market is experiencing that needs to be solved,
- A problem in creating the best possible solution to that problem,
- A problem in reaching, serving, and retaining that market,
- Or a problem in outperforming competitive or alternative solutions.
There are more, but they all seem to revolve around those four.
Whether you’re a marketer, a plastic surgeon, an entrepreneur, or an SEO professional like me, your goal is to solve problems. Sometimes, it’s an effortless process. Other times, it takes a little bit of imaginative thinking.
Being creative doesn’t mean you need to pull something out of thin air to create something new. More often than not, you’re just pulling from a vast pool of knowledge, past experiences, similar situations, related industries, network of contacts, and so forth to come up with a solution where none existed before.
In fact, the best solutions and biggest breakthroughs often come from looking at distantly different fields where you can mine marketing ideas from.
One way to is to keep feeding your mind, trying new things, meeting new people, learning new subjects, and so on so that you arm yourself with a growing bank of knowledge and experiences to pull from and use when needed.
But you must also have the humility and courage to keep learning and trying new things. The moment you think you know enough, you’re limiting your pool of ideas you can draw from when problems arise. And they will.
Some people say that I can easily troubleshoot and “sherlock” things. But I think it stems from being resourceful because I know a little about a lot of things. I’m a jack of all trades and a master at being a jack of all trades.
(Now that I know I have ADHD, it explains why I seem to jump from topic to topic to stay motivated, and why people with ADHD are highly creative.)
Resourceful marketers also share something else in common. They all seem to have a critical side and a creative one. One side comes up with new ideas, angles, and marketing approaches. The other loves data, numbers, and evidence. One side comes up with an idea, the other side wants to test it.
In my case, I’m part artist, part analyst. Each side complements each other — or fights with each other like rivalrous siblings. (Welcome to my world.)
Just like learning to roller skate, it’s a balancing act.
The point is this: resourcefulness is not just about coming up with ideas. It’s also about testing, experimenting, and constantly gathering feedback. Doing so allows you to try different things to find that one missing puzzle piece, that sweet spot or “secret sauce” that can create phenomenal results.
Everything you try creates a result. Every result, win or lose, is a lesson to learn from. And every lesson adds to your growing pool of resources.
Being knowledgeable is not what helps you to thrive, grow, or pivot, especially in some of the worst economic climates. And it’s not being creative, too, for creativity alone doesn’t equate success.
It’s being resourceful.