The biggest challenges facing digital marketers today

By April 28, 2023 No Comments

With some big challenges in digital marketing, marketers are being pushed to change with new tools and talent. In this article, we look at the skills and technology needed to feed the appetite of consumers and businesses in current times.

“In digital marketing, you need to keep learning just to stand still,” said CIM course director, Daniel Rowles, in an earlier episode of the CIM Marketing Podcast. This is not a new maxim, and indeed not unique to digital marketing, but this ideology has undoubtedly taken on new meaning as marketers face perhaps their greatest challenge yet as global attentions turn to recovery post-lockdown.

According to CIM’s Impact of Marketing research in 2020, seven out of ten (70%) marketing professionals currently see themselves as fairly or very well-equipped for the tasks they need to perform. However, these results are contradicted by the 2020 Digital Skills Benchmark from Target Internet, which revealed shocking gaps in the levels of digital skills present in today’s marketers. This could mean two things: either marketer are grossly optimistic about their own skills, or businesses aren’t making use of the full digital marketing skillset.

As businesses turn to strategizing the recovery, these concerns will need to be addressed. In this article, discover the starting conclusions from the Digital Skills Benchmark 2020, which uncover some of the biggest challenges marketers face in the digital sphere today, and why today’s modern marketers need to conquer them.

Content marketing

Content is king, and the understanding of what makes compelling content has exponentially shifted in recent years as video and audio have soared in popularity. But this is not necessarily a new trend. In 2016, Mark Zuckerberg predicted that Facebook could be mostly video by 2021, and, even if that was slightly overstated, it is the direction that the platform has gone it. 500 million viewers watch 100 million hours of video content on Facebook daily. Insivia have reported that viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video, compared to 10% when reading it in text, making it a powerful medium for marketers.

Organisations are increasingly recognising that content is a powerful engagement tool and should not be underestimated. Rich media content can enable marketers to communicate in new and exciting ways, growing reach and relevance with key demographics that have previously been hard to engage. We have seen the rise of TikTok as a viable platform for business growth during the pandemic, but this is just one example of a rapidly advancing trend towards video output.

Marketers across the industry have been upskilling themselves to take advantage of this, the Digital Skills Benchmark reports. Knowledge of content marketing has improved by 4% across the board, with considerable uplift in some industries and levels of seniority. However, it’s worth noting that the skills improvements we have seen are in relation to the fundamentals. This could indicate that consumers are getting more content, but not necessarily content that follows absolute best practice.

Embedding business-wide digital literacy

Working with stakeholders who have only a rudimentary understanding of digital marketing, and an unrealistic sense of what it can achieve, will be a familiar challenge to many. This is often a problem when collaborating with departments across an organization and strategizing how digital output can meet wider business needs and objectives. These skills gaps are nothing new, but a growing concern is the knowledge gaps in digital that are emerging within marketing teams themselves.

The Digital Skills Benchmark 2020 revealed that skills seem to be fairly static at management level – which is itself a slight concern – but, for many head of departments, knowledge has slipped over the last two years. Rowles, who is also CEO of Target Internet, believes this is fair indication that there is a growing mid/senior-management level skills gap in many organisations: “This should really be a wake-up call for many organisations, as the very people they rely on to manage the teams implementing their digital plans, are seeing their skills worsen.”

There is an opportunity emerging, however, at director level, where the report highlighted some improvement in digital skills. Whilst there is undoubtedly a need for continued focus in this area, an acknowledgement in the C-Suite that digital skills are important is an encouraging sign. This will become vital in the coming months, where the aforementioned mid/senior management skills gap could have a very significant impact on an organisation’s ability to implement and manage any digital strategy.

The complexity of digital tools

One of the biggest barriers to upskilling is surely the complexity of digital skills and the tools needed to make full use of them. Perhaps it is not just the complexity, however, but the rate at which these crucial tools get ever more complex. As the benchmark report revealed, the picture is not optimistic when it comes to the level of knowledge that exists around the most commonly used digital tools.

Social media, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and usability have all seen slight decreases in knowledge levels since the initial benchmark two years ago. As user expectations increase across these key areas, as well as brand adoption of more complex apps, websites and social media, the opportunity for enhanced digital journeys and experiences has seen a dramatic increase in the complexity of these disciplines. As a result, the level of skill required to fully utilise these tools has increased with it.

Concerningly, in CIM’s 2020 Impact of Marketing report, data analysis and search engine optimisation were the two skills that were reported as being least common within the industry. Notably, social media was identified as being the most needed skill among marketers, whilst also being the most common.

Whilst understanding of the core principles, such as email marketing and general marketing knowledge, still scored above 40% in the Digital Skills Benchmark, all other skills ranged between 20%-40% with only small changes in a few key areas versus 2 years ago. Rowles summarises this as a poor show of marketers’ ability to keep up with rapid rates of change: “This report still indicates a generally low level of knowledge in digital marketing and a workforce struggling to stay up to date.”

The need to continually upskill

When comparing the levels of knowledge now against two years ago, when the Digital Skills Benchmark was first compiled, there have been only small percentage increases in some areas, and no change at all in others. These ranked skillsets include analytics, strategy, PPC, mobile marketing and more.

Whilst this is a worrying picture for the marketing industry, with little to no skills development apparent on the surface, it’s worth noting that there have been some significant upward shifts across seniority level, most commonly at junior and director level, where there has been marked progress in digital knowledge. This is a promising indication that organisations are prioritising digital training and encouraging learning across this vast area of marketing across even the highest echelons of their structure.

However, the need to continually upskill cannot be underestimated. With digital disciplines changing quickly, many growing in complexity, and the line between traditional marketing and its newer counterpart increasingly blurred, marketers need to be constantly learning just to stand still. If the Digital Skills Benchmark teaches us anything it’s that right now, marketers are too comfortable with the knowledge they already have, at exactly the time they should be looking to upskill.

Rowles summarises this as being a key moment in the marketing landscape, and one that requires a re-evaluation of our approach to learning: “This rapid pace of change means a simple process of ‘one-off’ training is no longer fit for purpose. You can no longer expect to sit on your current skill set and progress. Skills need to be updated on an on-going basis, and a culture of ongoing learning needs to be developed by organisations and adopted by individuals. Culture is an essential element of the solution to any skills gap, as simply providing learning opportunities and training does not necessarily lead to its adoption and usage.”

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