An open letter to CMOs: don’t wait until there is no one skilled enough to hire

Nick Mercer

Nick Mercer
Nick Mercer has worked in the DM industry for over 25 years, in leading agencies including K&D Bond Direct, JWT Direct and M&C Saatchi Direct. In 1999 Mercer and David Bell launched MercerBell, which has become one of Australia’s leading independent marketing and communications agencies. Mercer is a founding partner of Australia’s newest data analytics and planning consultancy, ngage and, when not working, you’ll find Nick training for triathlons.

Dear CMO,

While you grapple with the questions around how ‘big data’ can help your business, I can see a problem looming on your horizon.

No, it’s not privacy laws or data collection; it’s not the logistical issues some of you face when trying to pull together your various data sources. It’s not even how to make business decisions by using the data – though this is an area where you are scrambling to get up to speed and likely under pressure to do so from your CEO or board. While they want to know whether your spend in social media is a total waste of time, or the best strategies for customer retention, you will soon be asking, where are all the data analysts?

Because, the problem is this: there is a serious skills shortage on the horizon for the data industry in Australia that, by my predictions, will hit hard in about 12 months’ time. The McKinsey Global Institute backs this up and “forecasts a 50 to 60 percent gap between the supply and demand of people with deep analytical talent” by 2018.

The danger, for you, dear CMO, is that by the time you are ready to leap into the realm of data with some well-defined business outcomes you want that data experience to yield, there may not be anyone available with the right skills and experience to help you out.

The evidence suggests that the pre-eminent, momentous conversations that most marketing chiefs are having right now involve big data.

The media has been saturating us with big feature stories on big data for a good 12 months, and now it seems data has risen to the top of the priority list for many companies, not just within the usual finance and telco industries.

But even they have been shining the spotlight onto the capabilities of the people and firms they turn to for data analytics and insights.

The marketing chiefs for our biggest telco and our national bank have both used the marketing trade press to indicate their concerns that the skill set doesn’t exist in Australia. Telstra’s Mark Buckman and Commonwealth Bank’s Andy Lark have expressed their confidence that Australian marketers will make a successful transition to the world of data. But there may not be adequate support for you once you’ve crossed the threshold.

Why there is a shortage is something we can only guess at. It’s a fairly new growth sector without a dedicated industry body to encourage study among university students or promote data analytics and insights as a career.

While ADMA does include data in its remit – and now in what it stands for, the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising – this is also very recent and has not yet had an impact on skills growth.

You may have noticed, as you start conversations with data people, that UK accents appear to dominate. The UK and the US are more advanced in the data analytics sector, although both are still predicting shortages: “Between 140,000 and 190,000 unfilled positions of data analytics experts in the US by 2018,” says McKinsey, and a survey conducted by Big Data London group says, “77.9 percent of respondents believe there is a shortage.” Other markets such as India and China are also becoming bigger hubs for outsourcing (which presents its own issues that we won’t get into here), but in Australia the data jobs have, on the whole, been populated by Brits.

Those people may be sorely tempted to return home to the UK very shortly as the government has cancelled LAFHA (Living Away From Home Allowance), which many ex-pats relied on to supplement their incomes. The data industry would feel a loss such as this keenly, especially the loss of talent in data insights and planning.

So, while good data people are already thin on the ground and may be thinning, and there isn’t a horde of graduates in the wings, what should CMOs do to prepare for the skills shortage crisis? When you are ready to ‘activate’ a data strategy for your business, you will have a couple of options for the implementation.

Your first option would be to hire some data people, creating a team or department. Have them sit within marketing, and drive home the importance of marketing decisions within the organisation being based on data insights.

Your second option is to outsource your data analysis by appointing a data consultancy. These firms are already acutely aware of the staffing challenges to come, and have begun to sniff out and snap up the analytical superstars of the future, but capacity within these companies is filling fast.

There’s no time to waste for you to activate your data strategy, and secure your data talent. What are you waiting for?

 

Comments

  1. Excellent article of the state of the play downunder.

    This problem, being our reluctance to utilise data in marketing has been around a long time. When I worked at Xerox ten years back we had a small team like you described, with a mix of marketers and geeks, assisting customers utilise data more effectively in direct mail campaigns. Worked well, although has since been abandoned with the collapsing of that particular sector.

    Just getting a business owner to understand the inherent benefits of capturing, analysing and utilising data is always a very difficult sell. Most promotional campaigns today are run by agencies and marketers with a creative flair. Data analysis is like learning latin. Only those older types with a direct marketing background really understand it.

    But for a new sector or service to grow you still need sales. Data people often can’t compete against the slick ad agencies when going after the marketing dollar. SEO companies have similar issues. Data in marketing isn’t sexy and has no wow factor.

    Talent is certainly an issue too, meaning importing people from more advanced markets like the UK or US is the only viable option. It’s a generational thing too when it comes to selling these services. You really can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Seeking out the start-ups and entrepreneurs makes sense.