Tackling the skills shortage of the modern marketing age

Jodie Sangster

Jodie Sangster has been the CEO of the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) since 2011 and is also chairperson for the International Federation of Direct Marketing Associations (IFDMA). She has worked across the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific for 14 years with a focus on data-driven marketing and privacy, and began her career as a lawyer in London specialising in data protection. Her resume includes senior positions at Acxiom Asia-Pacific and the Direct Marketing Association in New York.

In an industry as fast moving as ours, it is hard to precisely predict what marketing will look like in five years’ time.

What we do know is that it’s going to be even more personalised, integrated, data-driven and mobile than today – and that is before you factor in the impact of augmented reality, virtual reality and the Internet of Things, which some of the large global marketers are already beginning to toy around with (as I type I’ve just received my first VR enhanced newsletter from an agency).

It’s a truly exciting time for marketing practitioners but alongside that excitement I have some core concerns as to how ready Australian brands truly are to embrace the changes, challenges and opportunities of the emerging marketing landscape.

We are now at the sharp end of digital transformation and while there is a lot of noise within organisations about the importance of digital, far less are actually walking the talk and focusing on training and developing their teams to properly equip them to adapt and grow. I say this as someone that fields multiple phone calls each week asking me if I know of any fantastic digital, content, data-driven marketers and analysts because they are extremely thin on the ground.

This is reflected in what I would characterise as the disproportionate number of 457 visas that are issued in Australia’s digital industry. At 10 per cent, this is 10 times higher than average, according to the latest AIMIA (the digital industry association) skills and salary survey.

Injecting fresh learnings and perspectives from overseas can of course be a positive, but there is a danger of over reliance on imported and already skilled workers; not least that these are ultimately a finite, and consequently expensive, pool (particularly in with the current value of the Australian dollar). However, we also know from our annual Global DMA research that one of the key inhibitors to advancing data-driven marketing is the lack of appropriately trained professionals, so it’s not just an Australian problem.

It’s not just the digital and technical arena where new skills are required. Fundamental skills marketers have required for decades, namely strategy and leadership, also need tweaking as CMOs look through the prism of the new marketing landscape.

For example, the days of putting together a year-long marketing strategy from customer segmentation, through brand proposition, creative and media plan, are gone. In an always-on world with rapid technological advances, it is no longer prudent to sit back, watch and wait. Strategic leadership now has to embrace testing, trialling and tweaking executions in real time. Strategic thought has to be much more nimble and immediate, using the constant flow of available data to inform throughout the year.

This can be a huge challenge for CMOs who need to balance the need to achieve immediate results versus building out a marketing capability for the future. Under such pressure, not to mention the rise of the zero-based budget and the need to prove value each financial calendar year, it is hardly surprising the average tenure for a CMO is shrinking.

Against this backdrop, it therefore becomes critical to ensure teams are equipped with the optimal marketing skills to drive engagement and results. There are a number of ways that this can be done.

For CMOs new to a team, a skills audit can be an excellent way to determine what skills need to be developed. Irrespective of how large the team is and what areas of specialism make up the team, each and every person in the team should have a working knowledge of marketing fundamentals, technology, content, creativity, data and analytics and social and importantly, customer experience.

Operational silos are becoming a thing of the past, so regardless of day-to-day responsibilities, the teams needs to have a functional understanding of how to work with each other in order to improve the customer experience. Further, the test, trial and tweak approach of today’s marketing means teams have to work together swiftly to solve and fix problems.

To quote Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. Marketing teams, more than any other department, have to become experts at working through the punches. And critically, CMOs themselves need to ensure they have an understanding of all functions. Otherwise it is incredibly challenging to lead a team effectively and properly respond to the various punches that are landed.

The pursuit of improving skills also needs to be built into the culture. Ongoing learning should be an everyday part of each and every member of the team, not just external industry training, which should be a given. It used to be that around 80 per cent of learning was previously ‘on the job’ but in today’s world things are moving so fast the expertise isn’t there to learn from. So then what do you do?

We are seeing more companies forming think tanks, which bring non-competitive companies together to learn while others are building foundation programs in house with accelerators. Role swaps are also becoming introduced in order to cross and up-skill. In addition, technology has enabled a sharing economy where global experts can more easily be leant on to guide and teach teams through new channels or practices. CMOs can then cherry pick the skills and knowledge that need to be developed internally.

Further, encouraging people to get out of the office to meet with their peers at networking and meet-up events is a key way to stimulate ideas and hone strategic thought and should be built into KPIs to ensure that it is prioritised.

Ultimately, developing a team of expert and constant learners makes a team more flexible, nimble and reduces the risk of over-reliance on third parties and inefficient technical and partner investments. I can’t think of a time in marketing when this has been as important or as pressing to ensure.

Tags: skills shortage, data-driven marketing, marketing careers

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