The Talent Revolution in Digital Marketing

The Talent Revolution in Digital Marketing

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The Talent Revolution in Digital Marketing

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    Transforming Marketing Talent

    Most marketers need to rebuild their learning and development capability. The first question a company should ask itself is whether its L&D plans, as currently constructed, will help it to close the digital-marketing skills gap—or whether they are just set up to do more of the same. Many organizations need to reassess their priorities through an evidence-based approach, one that not only reflects internal requests but also provides an objective assessment of where L&D investment is actually required.

    To find talent for newly defined roles, more and more companies are no longer looking at grads with marketing degrees or people with branding backgrounds. The need for technically proficient and specialized staff is leading companies to new talent pools. Demand is rising for data scientists, Ph.Ds, econometricians, mathematicians, agency managers, and media professionals. Marketers are hiring more people who have worked in nontraditional roles in digital and branded content as well as in media companies.

    As with many other things, where you start depends on where you stand, and companies should not try to address all their digital-skills gaps at once. Nor should they shy away from the time commitment this kind of step-change involves. Most marketing organizations can benefit from doing five things.

    Start with a strategic vision and roadmap. Companies need to identify early on the role that digital marketing will play in fulfilling business objectives, and this will help dictate the marketing platforms and capabilities that will enable them to better connect with consumers and create competitive advantage going forward. One consumer products company, for example, chose digital as the key to building competitive advantage for its brands because its assessment of the competitive landscape and the company’s financial resources showed little opportunity to win in traditional channels. The company established digital channels as a clear business priority, with the goal of becoming “the most advanced digital company in the marketplace.” This set the company on a multiyear journey: expanding its digital knowledge and capabilities, increasing digital spending, and embedding a digital-first mind-set throughout the organization.

    Understand the real gaps. Understanding what and where the gaps are between current performance and best practice—and how these gaps compare (or quite possibly contrast) with current L&D priorities—is an essential step. Advertisers looking to get a comprehensive assessment of their digital-marketing skills and how they compare with those of their peers can participate in the annual Talent Revolution survey, developed with the assistance of more than 30 advertisers, agencies, and marketing experts to help companies assess what they currently do well and where they can improve.

    Focus on today and tomorrow. The fast-evolving world of digital marketing requires marketing organizations to expand the focus of their L&D programs—and their marketing efforts generally. It’s no longer sufficient to optimize training and execution for today; forward-looking companies look to the future while fixing current gaps. Above all, their revamped learning programs need to be agile and able to evolve over time.

    Companies should think in terms of a roadmap rather than a snapshot solution; L&D programs need to be as fluid as the digital marketplace and to continually incorporate new technologies and applications. For example, while one team addresses shortcomings in Web search, another team can be looking at the challenges in social media. And when the upgrading effort moves on to social media, an advance team can be exploring mobile. Mandating a rising percentage of total spending on digital each year can help the entire organization learn by doing.

    Make a step-change in L&D. Changes in L&D should support a broader transformation in capability and focus. L&D is not only for digital specialists; most companies will need to expand the universe of executives and staff targeted for digital training. For a digitally oriented culture to take hold, all levels of the marketing organization, from the CMO to marketing assistants, need to be engaged. Content can and should be customized, but the importance of developing enhanced digital skills needs to be reflected across the entire organization. One European company requires marketers to attend 24 mandatory training sessions a year—which means essentially a session every two weeks.

    Our research shows that across all industries, the quality of digital L&D is seen to be wanting. Engaging, relevant, and memorable content is essential for any training program; it is all the more important in a technical field such as digital. Not everyone needs to know how to design a programmatic advertising platform, for example, but every marketer today needs to be conversant in how programmatic exchanges work and the advantages they bring to both advertisers and publishers. Similarly, performing data analytics or digital targeting requires a high degree of technical expertise and training, and marketers need to understand and appreciate the role these capabilities play in today’s marketing programs. Business and marketing teams need to be involved in the design of training programs and to play a role in program development. Off-the-shelf materials can be helpful, but customized, industry- and company-specific content will also be necessary.

    The pace of digital change is such that traditional training approaches will not keep an organization current. Companies need to foster an acceptance of and appreciation for self-learning, promoting ongoing learning as a basic responsibility of staff and executives at all levels. As with other key enablers, leadership from the top can play a critical role. Increasingly, we see top management going through digital-leadership programs with their entire teams in order to lead by example and seed a culture of continual learning.

    Enable a broader digital transformation. Revamping L&D may not be sufficient by itself. Rethinking the marketing organization more broadly may be necessary. For example, some companies may want to centralize marketing functions for greater control and efficiency. This can also make it easier to transform marketing initiatives into agile cycles measured in weeks rather than months. In addition, companies can create digital centers of excellence to facilitate sharing of best practices and promote digital education and adoption. Adjusting marketing’s interface with other corporate functions, such as legal, finance, and HR, is also critical to the effectiveness of an agile organization. No company will have all the skills it needs in-house; transforming how marketing collaborates with an expanding universe of agency partners is another critical component.

    No one can predict how digital technologies will evolve or how they will affect consumer behavior in the future. But it’s easy to see the digital-skills divide expanding between companies that have committed themselves to developing the marketing skills they need—and are consequently looking to the future with confidence in their capabilities—and those that are struggling to catch up. Much of the difference will be determined by which companies embrace the talent revolution in digital marketing now.