The speed with which digital has taken over our lives is astounding. In 2016, digital ad spend grew to $72.5 billion, up 22% from the year before, with mobile marketing finally taking the long-projected majority. As mobile phones have become the epicenter of daily existence, and more and more millennials are “pulling the plug” on traditional TV, marketing teams have struggled to keep up with always-changing formats, platforms and consumer demands.
Successful CMOs with decades of experience are now faced with an industry they no longer fully understand, while under-experienced, younger hires think knowing how to Snapchat is deserving of a promotion. The new reality is that performance and skills across marketing teams are often unreliable and untested, leading to wasted data, imbalanced ROIs and over-investment in the wrong strategies and platforms. It should come as no surprise then that in 2013, a survey of Fortune 500 and ad agency executives by the Online Marketing Institute found talent gaps in analytics, mobile marketing, content marketing, social media, email marketing, automation and SEO—essentially every aspect of digital marketing. Which is probably why, in that same survey by OMI, only 8% of company executives believed their marketing team was “strong in all areas.”
So what are marketers and brands to do about the this growing talent gap?
Where Has All the Talent Gone?
Logic would dictate that implementing better training for your marketing team is an easy solution to the problem. Unfortunately, with the pace of development and evolution in digital marketing—and especially analytics and SEO—online educational resources themselves struggle to keep up with changing best practices. Many university degrees in marketing still lack basic digital components and online certification programs can lack depth or be outdated. With no industry standards or governing accreditation to speak of, precious company resources are often wasted without providing significant value on the other side.
So if training your existing employees isn’t a cost effective solution, then hiring new ones must be the answer. Sadly, this has also proven to be a source for the gap itself. When every digital marketing resume lists the same skill sets, your company has no internal method of testing and those hiring are often lacking the skills they’re looking to hire for, how do you differentiate between candidates? According to the 2016 Digital Skills Report, just 8% of over 900 candidates claiming they were digitally competent were actually able to perform at an entry level in general digital marketing tasks. Considering only 10% marketers report using any kind of testing to measure employees skills or knowledge, it’s not surprising these candidates were able to make it through the hiring process undetected.
No More Silos
Another major issue contributing to the talent gap is the fact that the digital age now requires one to be fluent in a handful of different positions and skillsets. While specialists are still required, especially in development and analytics, the need for generalists has grown ever stronger. For instance, writers and marketers used to be two different roles. But now, all content must be written from a marketing perspective with relevant buyer personas in mind while still maintaining a professional level of quality. In addition, most marketers should also understand technical SEO and the language behind basic tracking code for analytic purposes.
Some members on your marketing team may possess one, two or even a handful of the skills needed to be successful in digital marketing. But in that same 2016 report, the greatest self-reported shortfall was in strategy and planning—63% of U.S. digital marketing professionals admitted to struggling with this, illustrating that knowing how to hammer a nail is a vastly different skill than designing a house. When each of these roles lives in a different department or lack a larger, unifying strategy, both time and money are wasted and a consistent vision is often lost in translation.
Closing the Talent Gap
So is there actually room for drastic improvement in the hiring and vetting processes? Of course. Brands must choose to try and keep pace with changes in digital and implement advanced internal testing and training programs to ensure the talent they’re hiring truly possess the skills they claim. For many brands however, the cost of creating these programs or hiring top talent simply isn’t viable. That’s why finding strong digital talent who can perform across all areas of digital marketing is one of the biggest factors causing the talent gap in the first place. In an arena with such high levels of both specialization and generalization required, the most cost-effective method for most brands to bridge the talent gap is to find a digital marketing agency they can trust.
Hiring a qualified agency means you no longer have to worry about incohesive (or complete lack of) digital strategy, off-brand messaging or valuable data going down the drain. When trying to close the talent gap isn’t an issue on your agenda, it allows you to focus on improving your product, caring for your customers and driving more sales. In fact, most successful executives share this one particular quality: the ability to distinguish between what needs to be done themselves and what is better delegated to someone else.