What are the essential skills today’s marketers need to know?

A successful marketer today requires a wider set of skills than ever before, excelling in creativity, number-crunching, networking, and flexible working. But how do you know which skills to look to add to your repertoire?

Looking online, there are thousands of articles offering advice and training courses, but with time short and everyone’s skill set different how do you make sure you invest wisely?

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) partnered with Target Internet to address that very issue. We launched a free benchmarking tool which allows marketing teams to test their skills across 12 areas. We then tested the benchmarking tool with 5,000 marketers and the results were surprising.

Marketing directors were shown to have an insufficient working knowledge of the essential skills to be able to effectively oversee digital marketing campaigns. On average, marketing directors had a lower understanding of PPC, SEO, Ecommerce and data and analytics than junior executives with only 1-2 years of marketing experience.

While marketing directors surpassed their teams in general marketing and digital strategy, their lack of practical digital skills is a cause for concern in an industry in which digital channels are a growing part of the marketing mix:

  • PPC: Directors scored only 29% in the test of their knowledge of PPC, compared with executives (34%), managers (31%) and of department heads (39%).
  • Ecommerce: Directors scored only 26% on Ecommerce compared with executives (37%), managers (41%) and department heads (42%).
  • Data and analytics: Marketing directors scored only 32% on a test of data and analytics skills compared with 33% by executives, 35% by managers and 42% by department heads.

Across the marketing profession, professional marketers’ skills were strongest in email marketing and general marketing, but weakest in content and mobile marketing and in skills related to usability and the user experience.

Programmatic marketing was particularly poorly understood, with many marketing professionals answering questions incorrectly rather than skipping questions or saying they did not know an answer. Programmatic marketing has caused problems for a number of major brands, especially where products have been displayed alongside controversial content on YouTube, an issue that might have been foreseen by marketers with a fuller understanding of how the process of programmatic advertising works.

So, once you’ve worked out what your strongest skills are, which skills do you need for a sector to succeed?

I spoke to some of CIM’s sector specialists across industries such as: charity, social marketing, higher education and food, drink and agriculture, to find out what they thought the key skills marketers in their sector need in order to succeed in their roles.

Charity and Social Marketing sector

Liz Barnes, secretary of CIM’s Charity and Social Marketing sector interest group said: “Demonstrate the ability to ‘understand’ the customer, supporter, client and service-user. Whether that was formally through demonstrating experience using research, data analysis or whether it was informally through other ‘customer-closeness’ activities such as listening in, observing or just taking a real interest etc. But they need to make the customer, supporter, client and service-user, the reason why they are doing their job.

Willingness to and demonstration of how they can learn from all sectors, product types and services, B2B, B2C – not just stick with charity or public sector paradigms. The need to cross-fertilise ideas and examine practices across industries to develop best practice is key.”

Food, Drink and Agriculture sector

John Giles, president of CIM’s Food, Drink and Agriculture sector interest group said: “It is clear that digital marketing skills are going to be more and more important in the future and we all need to be au fait with what can be done and what the impact of this can be. At this stage, most of us seem to be able to handle a few apps, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – but there is so much more we can do. There is no shortage of help out there on how to learn and so there is no excuse not to.

“We also need people who can handle increasingly large and complex data sets on all aspects of agri food production and marketing, as well as the environment. We need to have the imagination and commercial flair to see how they can be used in new situations and the possibilities to create new data sets with genuine added value. We also need people who have strong analytical skills and can interpret what this all really means and how we can best use these (data sets) to commercial advantage.”

Continuing Mark Dodds, chair of CIM’s Food, Drink and Agriculture sector interest group added: “A key general characteristic which is much underrated is resilience. Because we work in a creative and highly visible role, everyone has an opinion on what you do. A skilled marketer will not only be able to take the inevitable criticism in their stride, but more importantly be able to explain why they have taken their actions and why they make business sense. I believe this makes us a stronger and more analytical breed of people.” (Some may say thick-skinned!)

“Moving towards a sector, I think the key aspect is to know the pressures and challenges your clients are facing. We work in farming, food and agriculture so it’s critical that the marketing team know what’s happening with for example, prices, climate change, political issues and other aspects. It’s only by fully understanding your sector that you can develop innovative solutions to the challenges they face. The good marketers in our sector are those who can chat with clients about the real issues they face on a day-to-day basis.”

Higher Education sector

Julia Weston, chairwoman of CIM’s Higher Education sector interest group said: “Marketing in education is different from many sectors. Higher and Further Education options are many and varied for potential students and it is a competitive market for institutions. With courses aimed at a wide range of students from the UK and globally, including 18-year-old school leavers through to mature student returning to full time education and a range of courses at undergraduate, postgraduate, part-time, degree apprenticeships and so on we operate in many different markets.”

“Understanding who students are, where they come from and what their motivations are has become increasingly important. An understanding of our competitors and the markets are crucial to this. The shift of marketing and communications to online platforms including websites and the range of social media channels has been highlighted as an area for increased development and training to enable our staff to keep their knowledge and skills up to date.”

Some final thoughts

Having the right skills can revolutionise your team’s performance and therefore drive business growth for your organisation. Consider using CIM’s free benchmarking tool to find out what your skills are. As a professional marketer, or someone starting out in their marketing career, it’s always good to push yourself outside the comfort zone and learn the benefits of agility.

From face to face networking events to local training events, find out how you can join CIM’s East of England community and CIM’s range of sector industry groups, by visiting: https://www.cim.co.uk/resources/our-networks/

MARIE LAKE, chairwoman of CIM’s East of England region

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