Why Marketers Need to Focus on Digital Skills Training

By BrainStation November 14, 2019

Continuous learning has become a way of life for marketers, who can’t afford to lag behind in a highly competitive and constantly changing industry. And as the lines between digital and traditional marketing blur and as companies prioritize digital strategies – Forrester forecasts that digital marketing spend will reach $146 billion by 2023 – it’s clear marketers of all experience levels need to focus their attention on digital skills training.

“Today’s job climate requires marketers to stay up-to-date with the latest strategic methodologies and dashboard tools,” said Alex Frias, VP of Digital at Fila. “Pairing top-of-the-funnel brand building with bottom-of-the-funnel tactics will provide you with an integrated marketing toolkit that you can immediately apply in your day-to-day.


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“What was previously seen by employers as an added value benefit, is now a must-have in order to stay current with your colleagues and positioned to take advantage of future opportunities.”

Indeed, the demand for digital skills in the marketing space has swelled in recent years. Research from Burning Glass Technologies shows that four in 10 marketing job openings now call for digital marketing skills, and the number of postings calling for digital skills nearly doubled between 2011 and 2016. Further, digital marketing roles grew 30 percent faster over that period than overall marketing postings.

Not only that, but digital skills quite literally pay off. The study found that digital marketing skills carried nearly a $7,000 salary premium over other marketing postings. That makes sense, given that hiring managers are having a hard time finding marketers with polished digital skills; the Burning Glass study found that those positions took 16 percent longer to fill.

That’s not surprising when taking a closer look at the digital literacy of most marketing professionals.

A study carried out by Target Internet with the Chartered Institute of Marketing painted a stark picture of the digital skills gap in marketers. Roughly 5,000 marketers were tested on their knowledge and skills in areas including analytics and data, content marketing, digital strategy, search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, social media marketing, and usability, and the marketers didn’t surpass a 36 percent score in any of the topics. They scored as low as 24 percent in some areas.

“While marketing directors surpassed their teams in general marketing and digital strategy, their lack of practical digital skills is a cause for concern in an industry in which digital channels are a growing part of the marketing mix,” read the report. 

With that in mind, we looked at a few of the specific digital skills that would benefit all marketing professionals.

Google Analytics

BrainStation’s 2019 Digital Skills Survey found that 89.1 percent of marketers use Google Analytics to measure their campaign performance, meaning that knowing your way around the platform is near-crucial at this point.

Marketers should know how to create an end-to-end analytics strategy that spans behavior tracking, data collection, and insight development. You should also be familiar with custom tracking, channel measurement, and platform.

Finally, knowing how to transform the data generated into meaningful, detailed reports that can be intuitively understood by internal and external stakeholders would likewise be an extremely valuable skill for a marketer.

“Now, more than ever, being able to quantify the value of investing in marketing and advertising is vital,” said Blair Thomas of EMerchantBroker. “Gone are the days of guessing whether or not a campaign was effective based on simple sales numbers. In-page tracking, coupled with analytics and metrics software, are the tools of the day for marketers, and we expect any new consultants or team members to be able to leverage those tools to ensure accuracy and efficacy.”

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) / Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

SEO and SEM have quickly become a top-level focus for companies around the world as they vie for attention online. Studies have shown that companies spending more than $25,000 a year on marketing reported that SEO provided the best return on investment, with 65.9 percent listing SEO as an extremely high priority or very high priority going forward.

If your company isn’t positioned near the top of search results, it may as well be invisible. A study of all web searches in May 2018 found that the click-through rate for the top-ranking search result was just under 30 percent – a number that plummeted to four percent for the fifth-ranked result.

Also, consider that the number of available SEO jobs increased by 43 percent last year.

All marketers would benefit from knowing how to use SEO and PPC strategies to develop a comprehensive SEM plan, drive web traffic and improve lead generation. 

Further, learning how to create effective, data-driven ad campaigns with the Google Ads platform is another valuable skill for marketers, given that Google’s products cover more than 45 percent of the global online advertising market.

Social Media Marketing

Simply put, the audience you’re trying to reach is on social media. There are now 3.196 billion global social media users, with the number of people using it increased by almost one million every day in 2018. Facebook alone counts 22 percent of the world’s total population in its base of users (and 68 percent of U.S. adults).

If that doesn’t illustrate the reach of social media, consider this: YouTube reaches more 18-49 year-olds than any cable network in the U.S. In fact, YouTube is now used by nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults, and 94 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds.

And BrainStation’s survey found that 77.2 percent of marketers leveraged social media, with 67 percent reporting that they also leverage paid social media. 

There’s definitely value for any marketer in learning how to build a social media marketing campaign, create engaging posts, evaluate and optimize campaign performance, and develop a social media strategy.

User Experience (UX) Design / User Interface (UI) Design

Simply put, UX Design skills are in high demand. In fact, Indeed recently ranked UX Designer as the fifth-most in-demand role in tech, and an Adobe study found that 87 percent of managers said hiring more UX Designers was their organization’s top priority.

You don’t necessarily need to become a design expert, but it’s important to know how customers are interacting with your products, digital offerings, and ad campaigns. A good marketer should know how to identify user needs, conduct user research, develop personas, and create intuitive and navigable layouts.

Those skills will be helpful whether you’re communicating with the UX/UI Designers within your company, or simply trying to evaluate the experience offered by any of your products.

Web Development

While you don’t necessarily need to become a coding whiz, it’s worthwhile for all marketing professionals to learn at least the basics of web development and web design.

Particularly for those working on small teams, you’ll want to build some level of comfort using HTML and CSS. Being armed with those tools will also mean that you won’t need to rely on a front-end developer to make simple changes to your website, improving your efficiency and giving you more control over your work.

It will also benefit you to learn how to inspect and break down each piece of code on any website on the internet as you research competition or search for inspiration for a campaign. And having a handle on coding will also help you communicate with interdisciplinary teams.

“I think a good marketer nowadays is one that is very customer-centric, one that looks for insights around solving the job to be done for the customer and relieving their pain points,” said Karen Lewis of Employsure. “The ability to code comes from the ability to problem-solve, and marketers already have the advantage of being problem solvers, so it is merely an extension of their skillset.”

Design Thinking

The Parsons School of Design found that 71 percent of organizations that practice design thinking noticed an improvement in their work culture on a team level. 

At its core, design thinking is about finding creative solutions to problems, which is a skill that would benefit anyone – but especially a marketing professional. Marketers would gain a lot from understanding customer empathy and learning how to formalize the ideation process to identify opportunities and solutions. Design thinking will also boost your pitches and buy-in strategies.

Really, design thinking strategies have become essential in knowing your customer better – and what marketer doesn’t want that?

“Design thinking starts by emphasizing with a specific need, then learning about it until everyone truly understands it. The approach helps to properly define the focus or problem,” said Alexander Handcock, Director of Global Brand Strategy at Selligent.

“Consumers have unprecedented choice. They can make purchases and brand loyalty decisions based on very specific preferences. Some may care about price, while for others convenience or customer experience matters most.

“As a marketer, you can’t promise that your company will offer the best of everything, but you can give them the best of something. Do you know what elements matter most to your specific consumers?”


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