Marketing And The Digital Talent Gap

Finding the right employees isn’t getting easier, especially when it comes to marketing…

The marketing industry has had to adapt to digital change quickly. On the one hand, digitalisation has made it easier for marketers to reach customers through new channels. This has created a more level playing field, where big brands no longer dominate consumer interactions. On the other hand, the transformation of marketing means that marketers now have to fill even more roles. They must be socially and emotionally intelligent, and have a high level of digital literacy. This combination, however, is not always the norm.

How far is a lack of digital skills impacting the industry, and what can be done to address it?

Measuring the gap

In 2016, the Digital Marketing Institute carried out a survey of 908 marketing professionals in Ireland, the UK and the US. Worryingly, the study suggested an average digital skill level of 38 per cent. Following competency based tests, less than 10 per cent achieved entry level skills. Judging by these results, there is a dearth of digital talent in the industry.

According to James Sandoval, founder and CEO of MeasureMatch, the problem is a serious one.

“A marketing leader, commerce leader or an analytics leader will come into the platform and declare a need to get something done,” explains Sandoval. “That something will be data, analytics or technology specific to address marketing and/or customer experience business challenges or opportunities. So, an example would be creating data alignment across several MarTech, CRM (Customer Relations Management) and analytics systems, to unwind legacy data collection problems.”

Since 2016, MeasureMatch has built a network of almost 1,500 individual practitioners and small to medium consultancies with the skills to complete digital marketing tasks on demand. When project briefs come in, Expressions of Interest (EOIs) are submitted by experts to clients, and then service contracts are framed up and confirmed in the platform. These experts work remotely from all over the world.

“The big thing about the lack of talent is that it’s centrally a perceived lack of talent. The talent is actually out there, it’s just disorganised. And, importantly, it’s not local,” says Sandoval. “The big hurdle that companies need to overcome is building the confidence, trust, comfort and process to bring on board workers who are creating value remotely. The communications tools that we have right now, in our pockets, and a lot of the video conferencing and productivity management tools are free, so it’s a lot easier for companies to get work done from anywhere.”

From Sandoval’s point of view, the issue is not that talent does not exist – it’s that it is distributed across the globe, and sometimes in unlikely places. Short sightedness means that employers have been reluctant, or unable, to realise its potential. So, as much as digitalisation has made marketers’ jobs more complicated, it has also created an environment where a CRM expert in Australia can connect with a UK business. Tapping into connectivity, then, seems to be the first step to solving talent shortages. But what else can be done?

Talented technology

It will come as no surprise that businesses can look to innovative technology to alleviate talent shortages. Artificial Intelligence tools like Conversica and Drift  provide software for marketing and sales that can be used without extensive technological or digital knowledge. The democratisation of intelligent technology has made it far easier to cope with mass digitalisation, but this is not something that all businesses are ready to integrate or even afford. Luckily, there are a number of other techniques that don’t necessarily require AI. One option is outsourcing. Another strategy is to think differently about employment. Instead of hiring one full time marketer, it might be more productive to hire multiple part time marketers who each specialise in different aspects of the industry. In any case, the most useful response seems to be to adopt a mindset of flexibility.

“If organisations are willing to be flexible with regards to where the talent is located, then there will be no gap,” Sandoval says. “It may be really hard to find software developers, data scientists, marketing technology specialists in London. But those people, unicorns even, are indeed available in Manchester, in Berlin, in Mexico City or in Seattle, and they can do all of the work that needs to be done, and they can do it all remotely and beautifully well.”

Marketing to the marketers

As well as actively finding appropriate employees, businesses need to make themselves attractive to the right talent so that they are seen as a desirable option. Sandoval suggests the creation of incentives for employees (and perhaps even contractors) to upskill through platforms like Coursera and DataCamp.

“I also think it’s really important for organisations to give employees a lot more flexibility regarding how and where the work gets done – not just in the office, five days a week. It will no doubt be invaluable to develop the kind of organisational culture, especially across leadership levels, which, ultimately, doesn’t depend on or require specifics regarding where and how employees work – within reason – so long as the work gets done well.”

Marketers themselves need to recognise the multifaceted role they must play to have the best chance of success, whether that be in building a campaign or attending a job interview. This should be as important for major industry players as individuals. The Digital Marketing Institute, for example, offers accredited qualifications in digital marketing to provide an introduction to fundamental digital skills.

The digital talent gap has made it difficult to find marketers with relevant and proficient skills, but only, says Sandoval, if businesses don’t look far enough. That said, digital disruption has changed the requirements for employability, slicing the number of individuals who meet the criteria. There are ways around this, and it isn’t all about technology. Companies can meet their need for diverse skills by employing marketers on a part time or freelance basis, and can outsource campaigns to dedicated marketing agencies or platforms like MeasureMatch. The overriding attitude should be one of flexibility. For marketers, the challenge is to equip themselves with the skills necessary to meet digital needs. Just like all human job hunters in today’s economy, they will have to make a greater effort to sell themselves. Luckily for them, that’s something they’re presumably rather good at.

Is there a digital marketing skills gap? How else can businesses address the digital skills gap across industries? Will platforms encourage the development of freelance workforces? Share your thoughts.

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