Questions that ask for a specific number of answers or bullet points are always harder for me to answer because at times it can be quite difficult to narrow down a veritable multitude of possibilities into whatever random discrete number of points is required. However, at the same time I appreciate the somewhat “forcing” nature of the question as it requires thought and intentionality over which factors (in this case) are of ultimate and penultimate importance. This style of question requires a greatest to least measure of success and in theory this isn’t all bad. (Just keep in mind that in practice there are many more criteria which may prove to be required for a world-class title!).

Understanding what makes a marketer world-class

As always when beginning a response like this it is important to consider what criteria we are using by which we measure success. There are certainly a variety of metrics that marketers are held to depending on their position, industry, and audience. It would be unfair in one instance to judge a marketer’s success on adoption rate of a product if the product has a free level offering as the barrier to entry is relatively low. On the flip side it’s also unfair to judge a marketer’s success on public visibility of a product if that product maintains a very niche market (such as government customers).

Understanding therefore the criteria by which success is measured requires a bit of case-by-case recognition and evaluation. As such, in this response I’ll highlight instead what I believe are 3 common success factors which can be seen predominantly across all marketing professionals and which are clearly evident in the marketers that many consider to be capital marketers.

1. The ability to listen to the audience

Okay, I’ll probably ruffle feathers with my first suggestion here due in part to the recent tweet storms that have been brewing around this individual. And although many would not immediately consider Elon Musk to be a world-class marketer I would suggest that in fact he exhibits many of the traits of one. This includes his ability to listen to the audience.

Almost everyone is aware of Elon’s proclivity to tweeting and his often rapid-fire responses to customer questions and suggestions. While his primary role may not be one of a marketer, his ability to listen to the audience and tailor his marketing message (or company direction) as a result is easy to spot and hard to deny its success.

I could go on here but I think you get the point. Regardless of your current opinion of Musk’s tweeting, there is no denying he listens to his audience.

Reasoning: When a marketer listens to their audience they are better able to tune their messages and improve their marketing strategies.

2. The ability to empathize with the audience

The second aspect of a world-class marketer involves their innate ability to connect with and subsequently empathize with their audience. Now, you may notice I called this an “innate” ability but that’s not really the complete truth. This is not so much a natural gift as it is a finely-tuned by-product from successfully listening to their audience as described in the initial success factor.

Notice though, the act of listening, while valuable, is more than just “hearing”, this second success factor implies that the listening results in action. The ability to understand the thinking behind the voice of the audience. This discerning nature is the second characteristic of a world-class, top-shelf marketer. We'll talk about the specifics of that action in the final factor below.

The example I would share with you for this point is the Ogilvy marketing campaign for Dove, entitled, “Real Beauty”. This decade-old campaign only grew more powerful in time and in less than a single month after launching the Dove Real Beauty Sketches it became the number one viewed online video ad of all time. There’s a whole host of blogs, publications, and write-ups on analyzing this campaign, why it was successful and the marketing genius behind it. I’ll leave that for you to explore later.

Reasoning: When a marketer empathizes with their audience and speaks to them in their “language” or otherwise tells “their story” they are able to truly connect with the audience in a meaningful way.

3. The ability to offer value to the audience

The final point in this top three list for cream-of-the-crop marketers I have to give to the ability of the marketer to add value to the audience. This in essence is the culmination of the previous two factors and a host of others not mentioned here. Adding value means you have listened to your audience, you have empathized with them, and you have strategically determined the appropriate time and method to share your message with them in a way that provides real value.

Too often in marketing their is a semi-prevailing (frequently denied) practice of automated bulk messaging to entire audience segments without regard for proper understanding and intelligent messaging. Unfortunately the advent of marketing automation tools has only caused this abuse to grow more evident.

The final real-world example of marketing done superbly well relevant to this point I’ll suggest is Jony Ive from Apple. Although, as with our first example, some may consider Jony a polarizing character, his style getting frequently parodied due to overuse — it’s hard to fault him for remaining consistent in his work and subsequent marketing. Jony consistently draws the audience to more than just another product. He focuses on the message surrounding a product, he emphasizes the value of what he’s doing as it relates to the audience!

The notion of how Apple markets their products is certainly one you will find discussed incessantly on marketing and product blogs the world over. I’d recommend researching the ethos behind their messaging if you haven’t done so already. They don’t focus on features they focus on the customer’s experience and how their product adds true value to a person’s life.

“It's a way that you demonstrate that you care for the people that you are making these products for. I think we see ourselves as having a civic responsibility to do that. It's important. It's right. It's very hard to explain why." — Jony Ive

I recognize this is by no means a comprehensive list (I was forced to choose only 3) and I’m also aware that there may be disagreement on the top 3. As I stated in the beginning there is an almost innumerable set of factors which when all working together complementary create a world-class marketer. However, regardless of the exact ordering, I think you will find it difficult to create a case where these three factors are not present in the world’s best marketers.

This post originally written as a response to a Quora question.