by Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) Nicola Kleyn, dean at Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), delivered her annual lecture/workshop for us this year on building marketing capacity. Partnering her at the masterclass was Jackie Carnelly, an experienced marketer herself who is currently completing her marketing doctorate.

“In a rapidly changing world, virtually all marketers are re-evaluating how they should do marketing.”

This was the start of the masterclass, which consisted of 18 leading marketers who were divided up into three groups of six in order to develop their ideas and maximise their input.

Participants were asked how they could prove they add value. Being in the learning zone, as opposed to the “doing” zone, was seen as being vital — it’s true that we are so busy carrying out the normal day-to-day tasks that there’s no time to think and reflect on ways to add value.

So we spent time in the class on the three big questions:

  1. What marketing capabilities do organisations need to compete with the challenges of doing business in the 21st century?
  2. Is there a way to categorise these marketing capabilities?
  3. Are these capabilities adaptable?

What capabilities are needed?

Marketers were then asked to list the various capabilities within their working groups and then to put the capabilities into four quadrants:

  • Dynamic — constantly changing
  • Routine — unchanging
  • Specific to a particular industry or to a few
  • General or common throughout the industry

The increasingly important roles that exemplify marketing capabilities needed were ranked as follows:

  • Data analyst warrior: not only the analysis process but defining what this data means from a marketing perspective
  • Politician and lobbyist: marketers agreed that, while marketing is “easy”, the conversations in their organisations are often hard. Learning how to manage the politics, and to lobby for what is needed, is part and parcel of the marketer’s role
  • Detective: asking the question, “Is it relevant?”
  • Inventor: always looking for new ways and methods, new ways of delivering core products and services

What is constantly changing and what is staying the same?

  • In a time of constant change, it is the learners who are best equipped — not the learned

So how does the organisation build marketing capability? And how may the marketer best drive this?

  • Identify two or three capabilities that you personally bring to your organisation. Where and how did you learn them — your marketing apprenticeship?
  • The culture that we create in an organisation creates the learning ability
  • Scientific methods matter
  • A culture of sharing drives capability-building

Traits associated with building marketing capability:

  • Curiosity
  • Appreciation of the aesthetics
  • Creativity

Seven key learnings

  1. Get personal — be involved in coaching and mentoring
  2. Go where the action is — on-the-job learning — apprenticeship
  3. It’s up to you
  4. Stay curious
  5. Art and science
  6. Phone a friend — learn from each other
  7. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole

We ended up with two frameworks: moving from individual to organisational capability and, as marketing problems vary, so should the way we solve them

From individual to organisational marketing capability

Individual capability –> amplification mechanisms –> learning exchanges –> explicit codification –>  embedded organisational capability

Categories of marketing problems and how to solve them





Enabling constraints Governing constraints Lacking constraints Tightly constrained
Loosely coupled Tightly coupled De-coupled No degrees of freedom
Probe/sense/respond Sense/analyse/respond Act/sense/respond Sense/categorise/respond
Emergent practice Good practice Novel practice Best practice


This is known as the Cynefin Framework by Snowden.

“Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn than when they teach.”


Johanna McDowellJohanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) is managing director of the Independent Agency Search and Selection Company (IAS), which is partnered with the AAR Group in the UK. Johanna is one of the few experts driving this mediation and advisory service in SA and globally. Currently she is running the IAS Marketers Masterclass, a programme consisting of masterclasses held in Cape Town and in Johannesburg. Twice a year she attends AdForum Worldwide Summits.

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