Just as you wouldn’t leave on a trip without a roadmap, a company should not steer the ship into the unknown digital waters without a marketing plan or strategy. But, interestingly enough, many companies do not have marketing or communications plans implemented within their organization.

With the advent of social media, search engine marketing and interactive marketing, there are so many marketing choices out there – it’s easy to get caught up in the outbound efforts. Yet, few companies understand the importance of a well-defined social media communications plan or a marketing project management plan.

Just as important  as theplan is having a well-developed marketing team. The skill set of a marketing professional today are rapidly changing. For example, in the social media realm, there are hundreds of tools such as Social Oomph, Social Mention and Tweetdeck. Marketing is now entangled in a medium that is defined by technology— it’s not just helpful, but almost a given, that a marketing professional needs to have at least a basic understanding of programming and digital technology. Developing a website requires more knowledge than designing a print brochure. Many Marketers without knowledge of digital applications have been left out in the cold, while their proactive counterparts were soaking up web application classes and learning what API was.  They must also be not only creative thinkers and understand mashable skills but have a certain level of business acumen.

Marketing has become more analytically driven than in years past. Webmaster tools give us a view of traffic driven to sites and inbound links. Marketing is at the center of data frenzy, with a constant swiftness of information — twitter feeds, web analytics, transaction histories, behavioral profiles, industry aggregates, social community feedback and dashboard metrics. Having a good understanding of data is a required skill, as is proficiency with tools such as Hootsuite and Google Analytics.

Because marketing speed is accelerating, yet another desired skillset is project management. The lavish days of planning a few well-contained major campaigns for the year are largely gone. Now, you’ve got hundreds of micro-opportunities, swirling around the extensive enterprise every week, the best of which must be quickly snatched and efficiently executed. Large advertising agencies who once enjoyed several large clients requiring enormous management teams, have been replaced by a nucleus of small business clientele. Priorities for these many clients can change overnight, and near instantaneous social media feedback demands a near instantaneous response. Old school project planning can’t keep up in that environment. You need Agile methodologies (originally invented for rapid software development) that are now being successfully adapted for use in the marketing department, such as a Scrum approach to marketing. (And, of course, it’s especially relevant when marketing needs to engage in its own software development projects.) Running an agile project well, however, is a skill in its own right — especially in an organization whose embedded culture may be, shall we say, less than agile. If you can master the art an “agile facilitator”, you can guide many initiatives to nonlinear management success.

Systems approach to marketing is also a must these days. Marketing is no longer being managed in silos. Tactics in one area (for example, a particular trade show presentation) can impact the effectiveness of other campaigns (such your search marketing ads) almost immediately. Social media has not only accelerated cross-channel effects, it’s blended and mashed-up channels and partners with independent communities into a completely new, living ecosystem. If engaged properly, that can be a powerful force multiplier; if mismanaged, it can be a train wreck.

According to a recent article by Scott Brinker, CMO,  he states that navigating the web and understanding mashable software fluency is also an important ‘must have’ skill in the marketing repertoire. “Not all marketers have to become programmers, but those who understand how software is built and deployed in the new “mashable web” — a world of mashups, widgets, and APIs — will have a competitive advantage. Digital marketing is no longer just about great content, a cool design, and good search engine optimization. The new battleground is the web as an open, malleable, interconnected application Lego set, where your clients and partners can leverage functional components and data from site in conjunction with feeds and APIs from Google, Amazon.com, and their own value-add streams into a whole new kind of software. Take a look at the thousand-plus APIs available on ProgrammableWeb from not just Yahoo, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, etc., but also The New York Times, Salesforce.com, the BBC, Zillow, FedEx, and hundreds of other companies that are locking in digital relationships through useful services and data.”

It all begins with a powerful marketing plan that is designed to move your company forward with a measurable return. Then it continues with a scalable project management team with the knowledge and  patience for absorbing technology as quickly as they can learn.  Your marketing professional doesn’t need to be a fluent programmer, but she does need to have a basic understanding.