CommerceNext Speaker Interview: Kieran Luke, GM, General Assembly

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Kieran Luke of General Assembly
Kieran Luke

As a preview to the upcoming panel titled “The Ingredients of a Successful Marketing Team” at this year’s ecommerce conference, Kieran Luke (GA’s GM Credentials) and Brittney Kleinfelter (Marketing Director at CommerceNext) talked through marketing team design and the standard levels, assessments and courses set by General Assembly’s Standards Board.

General Assembly (GA) put together a standards board of 13 CMOs to crack the code on ensuring long-lasting team success. They have established a set of standards and certifications for performance marketing that can help define skill requirements and expectations across the data science and digital marketing fields. Luke runs this program, which is why we partnered with him to put together this important session for CommerceNext.


Kleinfelter: Why did GA originally put together this marketing standards board?

Luke: We started noticing a hunger over the past several years to define the profession because it keeps morphing. And there’s also hunger to elevate it. For a long time, marketing, while being a key function with any company, hasn’t undergone the same professionalization as a finance or accounting function. Even product functions, like agile or project management, has become very professionalized.

Kleinfelter: How can having a set group of standards provide structure to a marketing organization?

Luke: Marketing skills are mostly learned in-house or sometimes while earning an MBA, but there hasn’t been this standalone professionalization of what being a marketer entails. Large companies now embrace digital transformations and adding digital aspects to their playbooks, necessitating structure and clarity as their teams scale. Structure is obviously important within a company, but it’s also really important as people move through different steps in their careers within marketing.

What we’re doing is getting the picture of the profession. Marketing, actually, is an extremely challenging profession. Marketers are responsible for an incredible array of functions within the company and it’s expanding, particularly with marketing, technology and data.

Building a team is important, too, and one of our underlying problems is understanding how we can create the next sort of set of leaders in an organization. We need to lay out a big picture for the team to enable growth, and for the rest of the company to understand what marketing can do and what investments are needed in a context that allows people to contextualize it. And I think for whatever reason that structure often existed in other functions like sales,  but within marketing, we hadn’t actually laid it out.

Kleinfelter: What problems in the marketing field do your standards address?

Luke: Our marketing standards board started by defining two clear gaps within the industry: (1) a lack of understanding of the common, evergreen threads of marketing, and (2) no way to actually benchmark skills. The marketing industry, in general, hasn’t had a menu of topics that a marketer needs to know and we see people get pigeonholed into specific functions within marketing. We’re looking at how people in, for example, strictly SEO or paid marketing roles can grow themselves out of those roles, and what a company can benchmark those skills against.

Kleinfelter: How do you define the ‘evergreen threads’ and skills needed across a marketing organization?

Luke: Different companies might structure things differently, but the foundation of everything the board has done to answer these questions is the marketing career framework. The framework is broken into three levels through which marketing individuals should evolve in their careers:

  • Level 1 is a person that meets the baseline—someone who has the basket of skills all marketers, no matter what type, should have. This has vastly evolved over time, but now that basket of skills and knowledge encompasses customer insights, creative development, marketing channels, metrics and analytics and, now more than ever, an understanding of the platforms and infrastructure utilized.
  • Level 2 specifies the four types of markets an individual can work within and grow: the brand component, the acquiring customers component, the harvesting, retaining and engaging customers component and the analytics component. As you think about developing talent, you have to be intentional about structuring your team such that all four are covered, and that you’re actually rotating talent through these four functions such that you can then develop Level 3 marketers.
  • Level 3 is defined as people who have mastered at least three of the Level 2 markets. At the level three standard, you’re really developing this talent with respect to leadership roles and skills more than marketing-specific topics.


Kleinfelter: How can an organization measure a marketer against those skills?

Luke: We’ve developed rubrics behind each of these levels and roles. The rubrics explain, to both individuals and non-marketers, what the roles are and what it takes to succeed in those roles, as well as provide assessments and credentials.

We’re offering the Level 1 assessment across all of our major clients and in the first four months, we’ve had over 8,000 marketers take the assessment across 40 different countries. We see an average score of just under 50%. Recently, the board signed off on a threshold by which we can give someone their Level 1 certification, knowing that a score over a certain threshold means they have a really good cross-section of skills across Level 1. So far, only 20% of test takers have actually reached that threshold, meaning it’s not a kind of participation award, but rather, the certification clearly demonstrates mastery. Level 2 is only opened up to those who met the Level 1 threshold.

Kleinfelter: What happens to those marketers who fall short in their assessments? How can leaders help their teams develop?

Luke: There are three broad ways to use the assessment. One use is just as a standalone, a marketing leader objectively trying to pinpoint issues on her team. She can bring data to the conversation and be very specific about these topics, down to a question level that the team may have struggled with. The second use is being able to design training and offer training specific to those struggles. Training is GA’s bread and butter and the core of our business model. Marketers anywhere can take our courses to improve skill sets. We’re also opening up the standards to allow other educators to teach to them. The third use is hiring and ensuring your recruits are at or exceeding the existing benchmarks of your current team.

Most importantly, the assessments can be used to build a team and continually fine-tune their performance. They can serve as a symbol of investment into the team, a way of nurturing the next set of leaders. The assessments and courses are designed to be a tool for leaders to provide structure, expectations and a path forward for their teams.

It was great sitting down with Luke to learn more about GA standards and foundations of successful marketing teams. No matter where a marketing team is in its evolution, it’s always a good time to pause, assess and plan. In every way, marketing is constantly changing—in its analytics, its technology and the experiences it supports—so how will you make sure your team is keeping up?

If you’re interested in learning more about GA’s credentials program, take a look at their site.

Also, register for CommerceNext 2019 on July 31st and August 1st in NYC to see Luke’s panel and find out how top retailers and brands are using these standards to boost their marketing success.