Filling Digital Marketing’s Skills Gap

Digital marketing continues to be a priority for US-based marketers in 2022, according to a recent CMO survey. Investment in digital marketing has increased across the board, with data analytics being the most popular area for investment. These data-related investments highlight how companies are continuing to invest in capabilities to analyze, store / manage, and automate their data.

As businesses continue to build up their digital marketing infrastructure, the skills and knowledge needed to operate them are falling behind. Marketing technologies and social media platforms continue to release new functionalities and marketers are having to keep up. Recent research conducted by UK-based Chartered Institute of Marketing, reveals that marketers’ ability in key digital skills have either stagnated or declined between 2020 and 2021 at all levels of seniority. Content and social media marketing experienced significant declines relative to prior year; whereas skills such as ecommerce, digital strategy, online advertising and usability remained stagnant.

The role of marketing has become increasingly technical and data-driven. While traditional marketing skills with a focus on positioning, communications and creativity still remain relevant, employers are increasingly looking for professionals who can code, understand analytics and know how to use technology. The marketing skill set that is in demand is a combination of qualitative, quantitative and technical skills.

Businesses are exploring different ways to ensure their talent has the right marketing skills mix. Consumer goods company, Unilever, has invested in upskilling marketers around digital and other “future-facing” skills. “The complexities of working with many different e-commerce across pure play and omnichannel demands real expertise from our teams,” explains Connie Braams, Unilever’s Chief Digital and Marketing Officer to WARC. Unilever proposes internal training programs, including their Flex Experience program which allows employees to spend up to 20% of their time in a different job function. Other examples include having specialist marketers work with external agencies to gain new skills.

Universities are also taking note. Despite ongoing efforts by colleges and universities to update their marketing curricula, a 2016 report by the Digital Marketing Institute pointed at the role of universities in contributing to the digital marketing skills gap. Several studies have argued for curriculum reform in marketing that incorporates a digital-first approach. According to a 2019 review of digital marketing course offerings in US-based AACSB accredited business schools, the majority of marketing departments offer at least one digital marketing course. At the same time, many have yet to offer a plethora of elective courses on digital marketing that may enable students to explore and learn about the topic with more depth and breadth.

And then there are tech platforms that offer certification training for their products. Google Ads and Google Analytics certifications are popular, especially with dominance of the Google search engine. Meta also provides certification with Meta products in skills such as media buying, creative strategy, and community management amongst others. “Both entry-level and mid-career professionals are seeking to develop practical skills in digital marketing. It’s not only about knowing the tools, but applying them in specific contexts and projects. With that in mind, we design our courses to be both qualitative and tools-based, ”explains Anke Audenaert, CEO and Co-founder of Aptly, an online education production company specializing in digital marketing education.

Digital marketing will only accelerate as customers spend more time and resources on digital channels such as websites, mobile apps and other digital channels. Unlike traditional marketing techniques, digital marketing is driven by data and analytics, focused on personalization, interactive and iterative. It requires developing new and oftentimes tech product dependent-skills which requires constant updating. Filling this digital marketing skills gap requires an experimental approach and recognition that reskilling, upskilling and new skilling opportunities will come from a combination of both new and traditional educational service providers.

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