How to Develop Sustainable Digital Marketing Talent

March 20, 2014 by

Whether you are a marketer on the agency side or on the brand side of the table, a common challenge all marketers face is recruiting and retaining digital talent. At the core of this issue is the available talent pool.

For context, we discussed key findings from the study with the same name: The State of Digital Marketing Talent.I recently interviewed Aaron Kahlow, founder and CEO of OMI to discuss this topic on my Social Business Engine podcast. Following is a summary of this podcast interview titled The State of Digital Marketing Talent. The podcast interview is available here.

Key Findings

There is a pervasive, deeply running digital marketing talent gap - a substantial difference between what employers value and what talent is available to them.

This study interviewed 1,200 marketers around the world. One of the most dramatic key findings is that there is a strong demand for quality digital marketing talent at all levels. Unfortunately, there are just not enough skills available. The universities are not training people with digital marketing skills. The industry is moving very fast, but the skills haven’t kept pace with the need. Consequently, talent acquisition and retention is the number one challenge for agencies and brand marketers.

The industry is rife with missed opportunities in existing training and skills acquisition efforts - level setting programs are infrequently used and underutilized, impeding returns on marketing investment.

Most companies have not invested enough training time on the basics including email marketing, social media, analytics, etc. The fundamentals simply have not been taught. People are forced to learn in trial-by-fire settings. As we know from all education best practices, when the fundamentals are taught properly you can build on that knowledge to improve and optimize those skills. This need for education in digital marketing is at the entry level, the mid level and executive levels. It’s likely that the mid level needs it the most. The challenge is that mid level managers are so busy doing “more with less,” they just don’t have time to go for formal training. Consequently, they get by with limited skills, often making costly mistakes. Executives also need digital skills training but most are unwilling to learn. Executives need to understand how human behavior has changed in the digital age and how it affects the way business is conducted. 

Skill assessment plans lack consistent implementation, characterized by frequent dissatisfaction. Organizations recognize the value of assessment and measurement, yet an absence of industry wide standards and insufficient onboarding programs puts employers at a competitive disadvantage, hampers career growth and makes it increasingly difficult for individuals to prove their worth. 

The hiring manager struggles with assessment of digital marketing skills because the hiring manager often doesn’t have the skills. The HR department cannot easily discern these skills either. Candidates often sell their skills with ease because the hiring managers are limited in their ability to vet the validity of the candidate’s skills. The industry needs standardized certificates, as they exist in other disciplines such as PMP for project managers. Understanding a candidate’s digital IQ in comparison to others would provide a keen understanding to the hiring manager of a candidate’s true digital marketing skills. A standardized IQ certificate would allow people to understand where they stand in comparison to others.

There is a broad sense of entitlement among young employees. Employers report a wide spread attitude of entitlement among young hires. This attitude results in significant risk of career self sabotage, and also interferes with the ability of the organization to generate results.Digital Marketing Talent

Most hiring managers feel their talent pool is strong, but the younger demographic often has a sense of entitlement, causing strife between some managers and their staff, not to mention among other employees. The question to address is can this generation step up to what they feel they’re entitled to and prove their worth? Are their total skills real or perceived? The wide spread media coverage of young entrepreneurs who hit it big contributes to an entitlement attitude. It’s incumbent upon the middle managers to provide coaching and mentoring to the younger workforce to walk along side them and help them develop their business skills. 

There is currently a need for solid, measurable and accurate digital talent education. Programs are sorely needed but few organizations implement any organized formal team training programs. Organizations aware of existing programs feel that these programs are not adequate or sufficient for their needs.   

The challenge is to deliver training that is sustainable. Since universities are generally not providing adequate digital marketing skills training, the need exists for people to learn the latest best practices in a way that can be reinforced. Some companies invest in inhouse training one time. This isn’t a bad thing. The challenge is we are not wired to learn by “dunk and learn.” A workshop that lasts a day or two or three, and then we go back to work will have some impact. But, we need reinforced training to keep up with the latest practices. Attending webinars, public workshops, conferences are helpful. But, they are not sustainable. The e-learning approach to training delivery allows for sustainable education from the best instructors over a consistent period of time.

My 2 Cents on This Issue

There are 4 million jobs open in the U.S. I don’t know if there is any available data to inform us the percentage of digital marketing jobs that are open. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a small percentage because companies are filling these jobs with candidates that have limited skills. The lack of standardized training and certification in digital marketing is a detriment to our economy. Consider the wasted marketing being executed by people with limited skills. If the aggregate economic impact was measured, I’m sure it would be in the billions. Companies would be well served to calculate wasted marketing that can be attributed to lack of digital marketing skills. Apply a simple ROMI (return on marketing investment) formula. If improved marketing produced just 10% better results, what is that amount? Compare that to the cost of sustainable online training for employees. The case for sustainable digital marketing training is cut and dry.

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