Building the great modern marketer

Digital skills are in demand – no surprise there – but equally as important are the personal development qualities required of a marketing leader. With capabilities and time in short supply, Catherine Vallence explores how marketers can develop the right mix of attributes in themselves and their teams.

 

Now more than ever, resourceful marketing professionals who develop digital skills are likely to command high salaries for years to come.

While it may sound dramatic, recruitment experts are warning of a significant skills shortage in Australia, as increasing numbers of consumers interact with brands on mobile devices and digital channels.

Senior regional director of Hays Sales and Marketing, Peter Noblet, says digital skills are necessary because successful marketing strategies demand the right consumer insights and channel selection.

“There are few applicants who have digital marketing experience or qualifications and this is creating a significant skills shortage in Australia,” he says.

The roles that are in demand, according to Hays’ Quarterly Hotspots in Marketing, include marketing generalists, content managers, digital marketing managers and graphic designers.

Noblet says employers are looking for marketers who have the potential to work with data and make sense of user-generated content, such as online ratings.

As a result of these changes in the industry, he says a new kind of senior executive will be necessary: the chief digital officer (CDO), who will have management skills, operating experience and a strategic mindset to lead businesses in an increasingly technological future.

“This is a relatively new type of leader and one who is hard to find, attract and retain. The intersection of technology and marketing will be a rich breeding ground for jobs in the marketing field in years to come. In fact, marketing professionals may have no choice but to get involved in digital if they want to have a future in their field, as the lines between digital and traditional media planning are blurring,” he warns.

Managing director at specialist recruitment firm Chorus Executive, Christine Khor, goes one step further and says in addition to technical digital skills, employers are also looking for behavioural traits, such as leadership capabilities, complex problem solving skills, relationship management and the ability to extrapolate and understand insights.

“The talent pool might have a large number of quality marketing managers all with industry experience, product development skills and commercial capabilities but there is a perception that there is a lack of fundamental soft skills that will inhibit their potential for leadership.”

Khor says employers feel they do not have the time to train employees in these skills so those with the blend of soft skills and commerciality are immediately ahead of the pack.

 

Are educators keeping pace?

In terms of educators addressing this skills shortage, Khor says this is only part of the solution and that work experience or volunteering while studying is also invaluable.

“Australia seems to still operate under the false premise that academic progression from degree to honours and masters will equate to a better job, but savvy marketing students are volunteering or interning with businesses while studying.

“They have part-time jobs so when they graduate, they can demonstrate through experience, a high work ethic, accountability, time management skills and people management skills. This is much more attractive to employers than someone who has solely relied on academia.”

Noblet is similarly critical and says educational institutions need to play a greater role if Australia is to meet the demand for qualified and experienced digital marketers.

“The current skills shortage has come as a result of education providers not preparing graduates with the competencies needed to plan and execute world-class digital initiatives.”

He says industry requires digital marketing as an essential component of the marketing mix, but that there is a lack of investment in training.

While the majority of universities across Australia offer undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in marketing, not all have digital marketing units that are up to speed with industry standards.

Victorian-based Monash University offers a Bachelor of Business Marketing with a digital marketing unit that regularly attracts more than 100 students, while the masters degree also offers a digital marketing unit.

Senior lecturer in the Department of Marketing at Monash University, Irene Powell, has a background in advertising, brand management and much experience in education.

Powell says that in recent years many companies in the service industries and, in particular, the fast-moving consumer goods area, have asked about their students with digital marketing skills.

“This is an area that Australian marketers need to skill up because we have adoption levels with smartphones that are world leading and yet do we have the marketers managing that area well?”

Powell says they need to make sure their students are prepared and have the right skills because the students who have done well securing jobs have done so through data analysis.

“We are fortunate that we have a really popular digital marketing unit that is doing very, very well and that’s where a lot of students are finding their point of difference because they’ve got the skills based on what people are looking for.”

Powell says Monash University, like many universities, has industry advisor boards and her department also reviews the job market and advertisements to ensure their curriculum is current.

“Our marketing curriculum is a combination of digital and strategic, with technical skills that will still be relevant five years down the track. Marketers also need to talk the language of people from different backgrounds and we spend a lot of time developing that in our students no matter what level they’re at.”

Powell says the masters degree is very popular with marketers who have been in the industry with mid-level experience and may have done a bachelors degree in another discipline, but their career has taken off in the marketing direction.

“It’s usual for our masters students to get their degree while still working but do it on a part-time basis and they are very often interested in the digital unit also.”

Other options for marketers with more industry experience, such as marketing managers, executives or even through to CMO-level, include distance online learning and online courses, which have digital components.

The Australian College of Marketing is affiliated with the world’s largest organisation for professional marketers, the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), meaning it is recognised internationally, and incorporates work-based assessment to apply the theory while studying.

Principal at Australian College of Marketing, Emma Blackburn, says digital marketing is without question the top area of demand right now and for the foreseeable future.

“Digital allows marketers to track campaigns more easily and to gather customer insight faster and more efficiently than ever before, so demand in this area will no doubt continue to grow.”

She says universities seem to struggle with maintaining a digital curriculum that keeps pace with changing tools “and therefore many have chosen not to deliver education in this area”.

Blackburn says the College’s Diploma in Digital Marketing is updated every three to six months due to the rapidly changing nature of the environment. “For example, we are currently making updates to reflect recent changes in SEO and Google’s search algorithm.”

Another player in the online education field is Open Universities Australia, which has partnered with sales/marketing training firm Digital Chameleon to develop a number of units on digital marketing through the Open2Study program.

The executive general manager of Open2Study, Jose Herrera Perea, says it is critical for marketers to have current knowledge because increasingly companies look to them for advice on the latest technologies and trends and how to exploit them to the benefit of their business.

“Keeping up with new developments and determining the best marketing spend is made ever more challenging and our courses offer marketers an opportunity to maintain their currency in knowledge in a low risk environment.

“For senior marketers Open2Study is a simple, convenient way to ensure they are well versed in the skills and language their more junior marketing counterparts are bringing to organisations,” he says.

Single subjects at Open2Study are free and the digital marketing units include ‘Big data for better performance’, ‘Innovations for powerful outcomes’, ‘User experience for the web’, ‘Online advertising’ and ‘Writing for the web’.

 

Developing the professional

Other, less formal options for marketers at different stages of their careers include organisation or industry-related activities such as mentoring. Mentoring, either through a formal mentoring program or an informal arrangement, is a great way to develop new skills and learn quickly through others’ experiences.

Chorus Executive’s Khor says research indicates people with mentors are more likely to achieve their career success sooner.

“When you look at some of the most successful people in business today – Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman – the majority will attribute their success to effective mentoring.”

She says managers these days are time poor so savvy marketers are seeking their own mentors. “Someone already in your dream role is a good option, but also be creative about who you can learn from,” she says.

You can also develop professional skills by contracting in different departments, industries and sectors, gaining varied experiences, because marketing careers do not have to be linear.

Khor advises that it is great to see a marketer who has some sales experience so they truly understand how the sales function operates and how marketing can best support sales.

Another way to develop skills is to gain experience working for both small and larger organisations, she adds. This ensures employees are diverse in their experiences and understand the unique nuances of both small and large enterprises, making them well rounded for any employer.

“Above all, people need to invest in developing themselves – it is up to the individual to grab opportunities, think strategically about their career and increase their skillset. It is also crucial to develop in a personal way, whether that is in taking up yoga, painting or reading, but as long as your brain is free to be creative, flexible and challenged.”

Her advice for marketing leaders to develop their own staff is to spend time with them, support them in taking risks and allowing them to fail.

“It was Kerry Packer who famously said that if someone hasn’t failed before, they are no good to him. This is because if one doesn’t fail, one cannot learn something new, grow or innovate.”

Khor says managers can also develop their staff by simply being a role model.

“Show your staff that asking for help is not a sign of weakness by asking them for help. Attend courses or seminars to learn something new and encourage your staff to do so too. This demonstrates to staff that learning is an ongoing journey and one that they will be supported in.”

Meanwhile, fellow sales and marketing recruiter Noblet believes the most beneficial way to stop the skills shortage and professionally develop marketers is through investment.

“The business community’s unwillingness to foster digital marketing skills by investing in digital marketing initiatives has hampered the development of marketing staff.

“More investment in training and resources will enable marketers to glean the insights they need from data, new ideas and learning new skills,” he adds.