How to keep your marketing skills sharp

We live in complex times as marketers. Every day brings new advances, new technologies, new ideas for us to incorporate in our work. How do we keep our skills sharp? How do we avoid becoming overwhelmed? We can look to one of the most complex martial arts systems for some answers.

Boston Martial Arts class

I’ve been practicing ninjutsu for over 20 years now; the system I practice is composed of 9 separate lineages. Each lineage has its own distinct techniques and methods. By some counts there are over 700 different techniques to learn.

The way my teachers keep the material organized and teachable is through three principles: refinement, patterns, and frameworks.


Refinement of the basics is the first strategy martial artists learn. We practice the basics endlessly: throwing thousands of punches and kicks, cutting the air with wooden swords, hitting the heavy bag until our hands are sore. With enough practice, we can execute the basics competently even under duress. While I may not be in the dojo every day any more, I practice my basics daily.

Consider as marketers the basics we have at our disposal. Fundamentally, we are…

  • Writers.
  • Problem solvers.
  • Mathematicians.
  • Coders.
  • Photographers.
  • Artists.

If we practice our basics as frequently as possible – even outside of work – we learn to use them in nearly any situation. One of the reasons I blog every day is to practice my writing and composition basics. What are your basics? How often do you practice them for practice’s sake?


Once we’ve become minimally competent in the basics, we start stitching them together. We learn combinations of basics, such as a lead jab, rear cross, and kick. We develop agility with our basics. As we assemble them in different ways, we begin to find that certain sequences solve different problems. We learn these patterns, these sequences, either from our own experiences or from our teachers, who learned them from their teachers, and so on stretching back to antiquity. The Japanese martial arts call these kata, or patterns. Kata are nothing more than previous winning solutions for a particular problem.

Consider as marketers the patterns we develop. We connect writing and coding together to create HTML, to build web pages and email newsletters. We connect illustration and statistics to create infographics. We connect video and audio to produce webinars. Begin to catalog the different patterns you execute on a regular basis and what problem each pattern solves.


Frameworks are how we group patterns together by function. Someone’s grabbing you with two hands? The various lineages have different but related techniques to deal with this situation. Someone’s got a knife / sword / spear? Again, different but related techniques address this problem.

Consider as marketers the problems we face. Facebook changed its algorithm again? What actual problem does this pose? It causes a decline in our ability to create awareness and capture attention. What kata, what patterns do we have at our disposal which solve this problem? We have techniques around advertising, public relations, and other social networks which solve for awareness and attention.

When we begin to classify our knowledge by what problems we can solve, the body of knowledge we have as marketers becomes much more manageable.


When we combine constant refinement of the basics, practice and development of our patterns, and organization of patterns into frameworks, our skills never dull. Every new piece of knowledge we gain fits into one of these three areas, either as a new basic, a pattern, or a framework. We evolve to create our own system of marketing.

As marketers, if we adopt the practices of the martial arts masters, we will never become overwhelmed. Instead, with time and practice, we’ll become marketing masters.

Special credit and thanks go to my teacher Mark Davis of the Boston Martial Arts Center, for his patience and instruction over the decades!

If you enjoyed this, please share it with your network!

Want to read more like this from ? Get updates here:

subscribe to my newsletter here

Marketing Blue Belt Preorder

Order your 2016 Marketing Planning Framework

Make marketing technology work in an organization

Verna asked,

“What is the dynamic between the marketing technology operations and other technology teams?”

To make marketing technology work, we must be equal parts marketer and technologist. The Chief Marketing Technology Officer (or equivalent) is the bridge between the CMO and the CTO.

To make marketing technology work at an organization as a distinct entity, we must build two things: coalitions and insights.

Coalitions are allies in each of the departments of marketing and technology, respectively. Building relationships helps us to advance our strategic needs as marketing technologists. We find ways for everyone to win; a project success for marketing technology also means a success for marketing and a success for IT.

Insights are understandings of what other departments and teams are working on that we can integrate. Is IT deploying a new cloud database? Determine how we can make it a valuable part of our marketing work. Is marketing launching a new display ad campaign? Determine how we can make the campaign smarter and more efficient with technology.

The ideal situation is when we can bring marketing and IT together to share success. Both departments can point to successes we broker as their own; department heads can showcase how they, as team players, helped the other and helped the organization advance.

Marketing technology fails most when we lack both coalitions and insights; keep a careful eye on both and reinforce them to reduce the likelihood of failure.

toshitsugu takamatsu.jpg
Photo credit: Masaaki Hatsumi

The ninja of old have an expression, as relayed by Toshitsugu Takamatsu, 32nd grandmaster of the Togakure ninja lineage: the art of winning is attaining that which we need while making the world a better place. This aphorism perfectly encapsulates the answer to Verna’s question: we help marketing and IT to win, and in doing so, marketing technology wins as well.

If you enjoyed this, please share it with your network!

Want to read more like this from ? Get updates here:

subscribe to my newsletter here

Marketing Blue Belt Preorder

Order your 2016 Marketing Planning Framework

What does advanced marketing look like?

Kerry Gorgone asked this intriguing question on Twitter:


Advanced marketing subjects is an interesting question. What is advanced marketing? What does advanced marketing look like?

To answer this question, let’s look from the perspective of the martial arts. In your beginning days, you learn mechanics. How to punch. How to kick. How to block or evade. You drill the basics, learn to condition your body and mind, and get good at doing very tactical things.

In your middle years, you evolve from individual tactics to series of tactics strung together. The Japanese martial arts call these kata; loosely translated, kata means form or pattern. They’re the memorialized versions of fights that were won and lessons learned, basic strategies for winning.

In your advanced years of training, you transcend tactics and individual fight strategies to look at strategies and points of view outside of the fight itself. What caused the fight? What causes people to be violent? How can you set up your life and the lives of those you care about to be less at risk of violence?

Turning this lens back on marketing, in the beginning of the career, you’re doing all the 101 stuff. What’s a good tweet? How often should you send email?

In the middle of your career, you should be building campaigns by putting tactics together, leveraging tactical synergies, and working towards your overall marketing goals.

The advanced part of your career is when you evolve beyond campaigns to grand strategy. What’s the big picture really look like? What are the things that will impact your marketing in the next year and the next decade?

For example, I was recently reading the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2015 report. This is a fascinating, brilliantly written report of political, economic, societal, and technological threats to our collective well-being. Look at some of the top-ranked threats:


Let’s look at the upper right hand corner, which are the threats with the highest impact and the highest likelihood of occurring.

Cyber attacks. Water crisis. Underemployment. War. Climate change. All of these risks are macro trends that will impact our entire civilization. If they’re societal shocks, you can bet they’re going to impact your overall marketing strategy. The question becomes: what are you going to do about it? How are you going to plan for it?

Some of these macro trends will be marketing opportunities. On climate change, technologies that slow or even reverse climate change and carbon emissions will be hot commodities. If you’re looking for an exciting marketing opportunity, that kind of technology promises adventure for you. Underemployment will change the landscape of the workforce; can you be one of the leaders in finding new ways to retrain people or identify transferable skills we’re not even looking at now?

This is what advanced marketing looks like. It’s light-years beyond the best time to tweet or what color a dress is. Using your marketing skills to address these challenges will not only be profitable, but could make you into the superhero you’ve always wanted to be.

If you enjoyed this, please share it with your network!

Want to read more like this from ? Get updates here:

subscribe to my newsletter here

Marketing Blue Belt Preorder

Order your 2016 Marketing Planning Framework

mautic is open source marketing automation