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How to bridge the digital & data skills gap within marketing teams

Whilst COVID-19 has been the catalyst many businesses needed to focus their attention on digital, it has also exposed the already significant skills gaps within marketing teams today and exacerbated talent shortages.

Despite the rapid rate of change occurring within organisations today (and marketing teams for that matter), many marketing teams are investing in upskilling and development as they historically have. In fact a study in the US found that more than 60% of marketing teams are investing little more than $500 on upskilling their teams and 1 in 5 are not investing at all.

When we look more closely to home, Australian business sentiment around upskilling is frighteningly telling and this is seeping into Marketing departments across the country.

According to a recent survey from Deloitte and RMIT Online out of 600 Australian businesses, 88% say it’s difficult to find skilled employees. The survey also found that many (49%) are relying on attracting new employees to fill the skills gap, opting to do so over upskilling the workforce.

Whilst training and other forms of development are perceived as a cost, the true impact of a lack of a skilled workforce is costing businesses far more through an inability to effectively execute on strategy and take advantage of the digital and all it affords.

What’s holding marketing teams back?

We’ve been fortunate enough to work with a number of blue-chip and SMB marketing teams over the past 12 months. This has given us unique insight into some of the challenges that are impacting many marketing team’s ability to bridge the skills gap.

These include;

Belief it can be solved through hiring – In a world where digital is pervasive and data is a source of competitive advantage – digital and data is everyone’s role – not that of a specialist few. When faced with a lack of digital or data expertise within marketing teams, leaders seek to hire talent to plug the skills gap. This approach can often lead other team members deferring to specialists rather than arming themselves with the knowledge and expertise. Whilst specialists play a vital role, this needs to be combined with upskilling the broader team in key areas of digital in order to drive appetite and adoption. Further still, in a market where talent shortages exist, the risk of poaching is which leaves marketing teams back at square one.

It’s a journey – not a once off Upskilling the team in areas of digital and data is something that takes time – it’s not something that can be done through a once off intervention. Unfortunately, too often employers and employees don’t have the appropriate plan in place to build skills over time.

Focus and importance placed on upskilling – As marketing teams struggle to balance the increasing list of priorities and demands – upskilling whilst perceived as important isn’t getting the time or energy it deserves.

Unconsciously incompetent – Many marketing teams simply lack an understanding of what good digital marketing looks like and how to effectively utilise data and insights. This lack of understanding means that they under-estimate the size of the knowledge gap that exists within themselves and teams.

A lack of digital and data leadership – A lack of buy in at senior levels within marketing and the wider executive still plague many organisations today. A lack of digital leadership, signals to team members how serious the business is (or isn’t) about building new skills to help drive and embed the plan.

A lack of honest conversations – Behind closed doors, many marketing leaders will admit they feel exposed and vulnerable by their own lack of expertise in the space. But despite this, many fail to take enough personal accountability to upskill – this reinforces to the team that these skills are not valued or important. Further still, if leaders aren’t prepared to discuss their skills gaps – team members aren’t likely to either.

Bridging the skills gap

Success in any transformation is based on people – without the skills, expertise and know-how nothing stands to change and unfortunately you can’t turnover your whole workforce in the hope this solves the problem.

So how can marketing teams bridge the skills gap?

1) Hire AND upskill - A team will only fully embrace digital and data when it is perceived as everyone's job. That means that marketing teams need to go beyond hiring a few specialists to upweight digital and data expertise. Without a plan to upskill the wider team (alongside of hiring), division within the team starts to emerge and unhelpful behaviours can occur. If we are to adopt a customer first approach - everyone needs to be empowered and armed with knowledge to drive the right decisions not those based on protecting their role and reinforcing their value.

2) Set clear expectations and led by example –If upskilling is important, team members need to understand why it is important and the role they play in the process. Upskilling is not the role of the leader exclusively – team members need to play an active role in identifying and owning their gaps and actively driving their development beyond what the organisation is investing in.

3) Assess current skill sets and create a robust plan to address the core gaps – According to the Deloitte Study – 15% of organisations have no means of tackling the skills gap. Without a plan, little will change. Development planning within marketing teams can often be done at an individual level and in silo’s which makes it difficult to determine if there are gaps which exist more broadly across the department. Undertaking a skills and capability assessment can provide an objective view of where the team is at and enable you to plan at a wider team level as well as at the individual level to ensure the core skills are being developed across the team.

4) Embed a learning culture – Embedding a culture which places importance and focus on learning and enables people to fail in order to learn is important. A learning culture sees the wider team take responsibility for learning and development beyond that of the leader/s. To embed a learning culture - leaders need to reinforce the importance of learning and the value it brings to their teams and model behaviours which demonstrate its importance.

5) Utilise a mix of techniques and formats – The best upskilling programs are those that utilise a mix of approaches to help the team to build knowledge and hands-on experience. A good upskilling program will combine training, on-the-job learning and learning from peers and networks in order to build knowledge of concepts and practical application. But what does this look like in practice? During my time as CMO at World Vision, we adopted an array of techniques to upskill the team. This included;

· Formal onsite training in key areas of digital marketing to upweight skills across the broader team.

· Lunch and learn sessions, run by our analytics team, were utilised to help marketers learn more about data and analytics concepts and how to effectively apply them.

· We crowdsourced learning and development opportunity from within our networks, bringing together speakers on an array of topics including digital transformation, data driven marketing, agile marketing and others.

· Mentors and coaches - where specialist knowledge and expertise was needed we used mentors and coaches i.e. agile to help assess and critique our approach and transfer knowledge.

· On the job learning including fortnightly performance review forums were just one example of how we embedded key mechanisms to build data literacy. These forums bought the wider team closer to business and marketing performance and accountable to actioning key insights.

6) Putting appropriate investment aside for upskilling Too little of the marketing budget is allocated to building the skills and capability for team members to effectively do their job and play their role. Whilst investing in MarTech, media and everything else is important, team members who don’t have the basic skills to do the job will render digital and data investment ineffective and result in a failure to move the agenda forward.

7) Getting the most out of training – Some organisations have begun to shun training as it is too theoretical – despite the vital role it plays in upskilling the team. These days there are a host of training options out there, some however are much better than others. Look for programs that are facilitated by those in the industry, who have hands on experience dealing with the challenges you face to ensure team members are learning more than technical best practice skills.

Looking to upskill in Digital and Data?

Arktic Fox’s Digital Marketing Masterclass is designed by industry experts to help mid – senior marketing and digital professionals build clarity around their digital strategy and practical skills to apply in their workplace.

The program encompasses:

· Digital strategy and how this fits into a wider marketing strategy

· Data & analytics - interpreting and leveraging data to drive outcomes

· Digital channel and experience management - A deep dive into search, programmatic, social, email and the role of content

· MarTech - Navigating the MarTech landscape and choosing the right tools to succeed

· Measurement - How to define and create a framework to measure short- & long-term success

· Agile marketing - How to introduce, adopt and maintain an agile approach

· Building a case for change - How to sell the idea and investment to stakeholders and gain long term buy-in

To find our next masterclass dates or where to enrol, click here:

Looking to assess your team’s capability?

Get in touch to find out more about our skills and capability assessments at


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