Cue the recruiter’s sigh heard ’round the world, and the hiring manager (usually a marketer) who knows just how hard it is to find excellent talent.
Or if you can’t find it, figuring out how to plant and harvest the skills needed to be competitive becomes a challenge as well.
The chart above from MarketingCharts.com shows the divide between which skills are most important versus an organization’s own confidence level that they are performing well. Or in other words, we all know what skills we need, but we’re only performing better than our competitors half the time.
If you search for digital marketing talent gaps or must-have digital marketing skills (or even just marketing skills), there’s always a clear pattern: let’s try to match skills to a channel or platform.
I would argue this isn’t exactly the best approach.
After doing quite a bit of research on the “digital marketing skills” blog posts out there, I realized something was missing. Something fundamental. If you try to match someone’s skills to a platform or channel and that platform / channel fundamentally changes, then you’re left with someone who must immediately adapt.
Multiply that scenario across time and space and you’ve got this huge talent gap that we’re all scrambling to fill.
Is it necessary to master channels? Yes – especially the ones you feel are going to be around for a long time – i.e. email is still the top channel for brands to reach out to prospects.
But I would expand this view.
Marketers should be mastering the fundamentals and ideas of Marketing. And dare I even say it? Sales.
Thus, this list was born.
The Top Digital Skills for Marketing Success
- Demand Generation
- Digital Strategy
- Email Marketing and Marketing Automation
- Analytics and Data-Driven Practices
- Lead Management and CRM
- Sales Experience
- Content Management Systems
- Customer Experience
- Paid Media
- Creative Skills
- Technical Experience
If you read nothing else in this blog post, know that Demand Generation is at the top of my list for extremely good reason. Because just in case you don’t make it to the bottom of the post, you at least know this: know what it means to create raving fans of your product or brand.
Know what it means to create raving fans of your product or brand.
Demand generation is defined as “the focus of targeted marketing programs to drive awareness and interest in a company’s products and/or services” according to Wikipedia.
But the “focus of targeted marketing programs” is the most important. Understanding what makes your brand’s clients and prospects tick and being able to translate that into campaigns is exactly what today’s marketers need to master.
Too many marketers get lost in the tactics of implementing and deploying campaigns on a channel, but really the magic happens in understanding demand for your product or service in the first place.
My favorite part about demand generation? It forces the basic fundamentals of marketing.
Remember the 4 P’s of marketing? Product, Price, Place, and Promotion?
Demand generation takes a lot of the guesswork out of marketing and puts much more emphasis on targeting specific messaging to specific people and motivating them to become raving fans.
Let alone the actual tools, platforms, and channels that a digital marketer must to master or at least understand – the biggest gap to close is figuring out how to tie it all together.
This means digital strategy is really the skill that marketing teams and executives across the nation are actually looking for – not necessarily mastery in any one particular channel.
Although, it’s not quite the silver bullet most people think it is. A digital strategist’s job is one of the most widely misunderstood positions to search and hire for, and a lot of it has to do with the emergence of the position in the first place.
But at its very core, digital strategy means tying all of the digital components together – potentially across multiple teams and departments – and aligning it to a strategy that accomplishes both marketing and business goals.
If marketers want to be successful with technology, digital strategy skills are a must.
Email Marketing and Marketing Automation
It should come as no surprise that marketers must learn email and marketing automation! I haven’t met a single great digital marketer who didn’t have a deep knowledge and understanding of email marketing and therefore marketing automation (which – those two concepts are technically different, but we can get into that in another post).
Digital marketers must learn how to wield both – from the very simple email marketing tools like ClickDimensions to the very complex like Pardot and Marketo. Once you learn one, you somewhat know them all, but each has its own little quirks you have to get used to.
But even larger than that, digital marketers must be able to understand what it means to test behavior and build successful lead-to-conversion email sequences.
The power to create powerful nurture programs is evident in any great digital marketer. They don’t just spew a bunch of random emails at you willy-nilly. They focus and target the content to you, and gently push you in the direction they think you’re liable to go in. But it’s discreet, and always with your permission.
Now THAT’S a powerful digital marketer.
Lead Management + CRM
Too few of these articles tout the need for a good, solid baseline in lead management (and effectively, data management).
Digital marketers who are able to pull targeted lists and also import important information for CRM users is paramount! I’m always surprised by the number of “top skills for digital marketers” posts that don’t mention the need for CRM experience.
Most digital marketers will use CRM – and therefore lead management – to enter leads, pull lists of leads, pass off leads to Sales, and so on.
Familiarity with CRM platforms is therefore completely and totally crucial! But also a great understanding of lead management. I talk a lot about the need for digital marketers to understand data and data management. What it means to have a lead or contact’s information and to add to it in a way that allows you to make better decisions about it.
That’s true lead and data management – when you have a clear understanding for how your data changes over time, how to manage it when it does, and how to make decisions from there. And most of this all starts with CRM – the hub of customer data.
Sales (and marketing) relies heavily on the psychology of the sale. It depends on the idea of value and what makes the brand special.
There’s also a huge emotional component to purchasing, and you’ll hear successful sales executive say time and time again: people love to buy – it’s all about how they buy and who they buy from.
While not required to be a salesperson in a previous life, being able to keenly pinpoint the ideas that makes a product or service so unique and valuable is essential as a marketer. It just allows for better communication in any future content.
But when digital marketers understand exactly what makes a cold lead or prospect tick, then they can take those ideas and that messaging and put it out there to make the closing process even easier.
Sales teams also have tons of knowledge about the true value the product or service brings to the customer. Bring that out in your marketing campaigns, and you’re already a winner.
Content Management Systems
Sorry, NOT just WordPress. WordPress is child’s play compared to the big behemoth content management systems that emerging in the market today. WordPress might be the primary CMS for 75% of the businesses out there, but the second a marketer most into a large corporation or enterprise function, WordPress experience becomes much less useful.
A great primer, but nothing quite like Adobe CQ5, Sitecore, Kentico, or the many others that create connected, personalized experiences. Which leads me to the next point…
There’s so many similar ideas to this that might ring more bells for you. You might have heard this called “experience management” or “customer journey management” or “ominchannel engagement” and so many other buzzwords.
Basically, know your customer’s whole, complete experience. From the moment they wake up in the morning to when they hit the bed at night and they’ve engaged with your brand in some way.
Digital marketers live, breathe, and die by the customer journey. They know exactly what it means to launch a campaign, have all of their digital components kickoff as they should, and what the experience will be like from that point on.
But they also understand the whole breadth of the customer journey – all of the different channels someone can engage in and making sure they are all recognizably the same person, and reacting appropriately.
Some of my clients describe it as “connecting all the dots” or being able to “pull it all together”.
It’s a rare skill, but if you have digital marketers who have that kind of omni-channel or customer journey view, then you’ve actually got a unicorn and you should frame them in glass or something.
They’re rare, and you should fight to get one.
SEO / SEM
This is actually one that pops up a lot in other blog posts like this one, and I completely agree.
Remember when I said demand generation and content management systems and what not?
SEO and therefore, SEM, play HUGE roles in how your brand is found, perceived, and then bought into. Demand generation and overall growth-hacking becomes insanely hard without a solid understanding of both search engine optimization and search marketing.
Digital marketers without skills in SEO/SEM could fall victim to contributing to a somewhat shoddy, unclear brand image (which is never good).
If you don’t have the best understanding of it, check out Moz.com or Google’s own training programs for SEO. You’ll learn tons, and be able take control of your brand’s focus, content, and overall branding.
Paid Media and Media Buy
Along with SEM, skills with paid media and media buying have become much more common among digital marketers.
Brands have depended on agencies to manage paid media campaign and media buys for decades, but with looming pressure on the CMO to deliver better results for a lower cost per lead, both agencies and marketing teams are scrambling to find the happy medium and the best value for their buck.
But this also means that marketers are learning the trade of media agencies themselves and discovering ways to optimize the spend.
There are still sadly those, however, who would still prefer to outsource paid media campaigns to agencies without ever developing that skill even a little bit in-house first to at least better manage the agency and get the results they need.
Digital marketers looking to make waves and see quick wins are easily ones who can either manage their agency partners towards better results, or who can replace the agency entirely.
Finding a marketer who both a) understands the creative process when creating content and b) can manipulate documents using the common digital tools like Adobe Illustrator and InDesign is pretty rare. If you find one, snatch them up immediately!
That marketer might not be able to design full pieces of content, but changing a word or two or creating simple compositions becomes much more cost effective in the long-run.
Being able to speak to design, also, better equips the marketing team with a clearer vision of what they’re after. If you’ve ever critiqued a designer or producer’s work and couldn’t quite articulate what you were trying to say, then case in point.
Furthermore, understanding how the creative process is both influenced by and influences technology is crucial to a marketer’s success.
Let’s pretend we’re marketers in charge of launching a new website, for example. Understanding how a “simple” design change could affect the wireframes, architecture, and so on, for the technologists involved will give you pause – because you understand that it might not be so simple and could become a very costly change order.
But beyond that, marketers today are finding themselves in an age where creativity and technical are coming together in ways that challenge the status quo. When a marketer can handle both, they become even more adept at reacting to the market and proactively influencing the market – and working with both creative and tech teams alike.
All marketers need to be able to write – and write well. There’s a ton of books and articles that have been written about this incredibly necessary skill. Because digital marketers are exactly – digital – almost 100% of what they touch is in some way written.
This means copywriting becomes one of those “well, duh!” skills because of how crucial it is to the success of both the digital marketer and the marketing team.
Grammar and spelling aside, if the content isn’t quality, it will never be king, and yes, your clients CAN actually tell the difference.
Technical Experience / HTML / CSS
With content management systems and marketing automation platforms becoming more and more complex, the need for IT and Marketing departments to come together and work with each other has significantly inccreased! This means more and more Marketing having to navigate their way through having platforms talk to each other through APIs or complex integrations.
This means complete and total comfort with all the techy stuff we’ve been taught to avoid.
Digital marketers who are able to write simple HTML and CSS already have a huge leg-up amongst other marketers because they’re already comfortable with the idea of troubleshooting their own website issues or email issues (being able to pinpoint exactly where stuff is breaking or fix something in an email newsletter by themselves).
This dichotomy between both independence and dependence on IT is going to force the less-flexible marketers out and the savvy digital marketer in.
What are some of the skills you look for? Let us know below!