Luke Sklar explains the future world of ‘bionic marketers’

The AMA Hall of Legends inductee suggests next-gen staffers need superhero qualities

Luke Sklar will no doubt be deeply honoured when he’s inducted into AMA Toronto’s Marketing Hall of Legends this Thursday, but some equally big accolades have been pouring in from his clients.

In announcing that Sklar will be chosen in the ‘Enabler’ category for those brand building expertise, his firm Sklar Wilton pulled together notes and testimonials from a range of well-known companies. These included Canadian Tire, M&M Meat Shops and several others.

Sklar will join Joe Mimran and Jeanne Beker when the AMA awards are presented at the Liberty Grand. He answered some questions from Marketing about his own take on the industry’s evolution.

This kind of achievement will help identify you to others as someone to learn from. With that in mind, what kind of advice would you have for the next generation of marketer who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Soak up as much as you can about business in general through experiencing , meeting people and reading. What drives revenue? What drives cost? How are decisions made? This context greatly raises your value as a marketer. Recognize that if you stay curious, marketing also opens up many doors  (which in my case was starting a business to serve marketers). Finally, seek work with purpose. Can you get emotionally charged by what you do?  Is it helping customers’ lives in a way that’s meaningful to you?

What do you see as the biggest challenge (and/or opportunity) facing the industry as digital technologies reshape the way brands connect with and nurture relationships with their customers?

Customers are moving very quickly, they are increasingly more savvy and demanding, markets are more niched, and clearly there is a broader array of tools. I’m dating myself, but when I started people had almost no data [and] today there is literally too much data. This demands preparedness. You must have clarity on who to win with, what to promise them and how to connect. Only with that vision can you identify the baseline data required. Finally, we still see the occasional generational divide with the C-suite less familiar with the new tools. Young marketers can help bring them along.

When you look back on your career, what’s been the biggest and best learning experience? 

Early on our client base broadened from CPG to retail. Suddenly, there was this world where all touch points mattered and where success was a visual, sensory experience. You also found out every day whether you won or lost. We had to initiate market research that addressed the senses with specifics on assortments or merchandising or else we couldn’t help with decisions. This foreshadowed today’s omnichannel world where the “path to purchase” is anything but direct. In fact, at SW&A we’ve coined the term “bionic marketer.” This superhero would have the discipline and strategic frameworks of a CPG marketer, the ability to execute with the passion and attention to detail of a retail marketer, the ability to innovate “based on needs before consumers know they want it” of a technology marketer and the “save me time, save me money or get out of the way” sensibility of a B2B marketer.

How do you see the needs/expectations of clients changing in 2016 and what are you doing to stay on top of them? 

Many Canadian sectors will be sluggish or [won’t experience] growth in 2016. There is a need to outsmart your competitors and win share. Marketers will also be asked to do even more with less [and] faster. The trends are clear in most sectors (food ingredients, sharing economy, ecommerce expectations, social responsibility expectations, etc.). The spoils will go to the marketers who have the conviction to act on these.  As strategy and insights partner, we have the good fortune to be agenda free and helpful support. Marketers welcome a fact based “cheerleader” who can help them pause, hold up the mirror on the customer, isolate the most critical facts and energize a decision. We recognize this challenge: If our work cannot stay ahead of the customer and if our work does not accelerate decisions then we will be failing our clients.

Who’s in your personal Hall of Legends and what’s the most important way they helped support you in your career? 

I have three. First of all my father was an Olympian and an entrepreneur — he and his brothers created Sklar Furniture. His work ethic, drive and kitchen table chats were a huge influence. Second is my partner Charlie Wilton. We lovingly call him “Yoda” because of his patient and thoughtful wisdom. He selflessly dedicates himself to helping others. I can think of several times when he held up the mirror to my more impulsive decisions. Third, are two very young marketers at a client of ours (yes, you can be both young and a legend). They keep us current on new tools and never let us believe our own bull.

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