The Future Marketing Organisation: Filling the data skills gap

Marketing Week research, in partnership with MiQ, reveals an alarming data skills shortage in the industry, so how can marketing leaders both attract and retain the right talent?


Game changing technology has altered the business and marketing landscape forever, so that data dexterity is now essential for those who want to thrive.

However, new research by Marketing Week entitled ‘The Future Marketing Organisation’ reveals firms are battling with a concerning lack of expertise in this area, given a quarter of marketers (24.4%) rank it as their biggest perceived skills gap. The study was conducted in partnership with marketing intelligence company MiQ.

The data skills gap compares with other perceived skills shortages, including research and insight, which 15.5% of marketers see as the chief issue, and management and leadership, which 12.1% see as the biggest gap.

Arguably, every marketer today needs to be comfortable with numbers and able to use whatever tools a company has invested in to analyse them.

Kristof Fahy, chief customer officer at Hostelworld, believes shaping and using data effectively is a key issue for the marketing industry, particularly when it comes to confidence. Although he claims Hostelworld doesn’t have a data skills gap he says “we’re always looking for super smart people to grow our teams” to ensure the business is at the forefront of new developments.

As data is not just about “poring over the numbers and hoping something magical will happen”, he says it is really important marketers understand what it is they are looking for and ask the right questions.

We need to rethink the way we approach marketing organisations. We need environments and roles that genuinely position data and analytics as core to the team.

Tom Daniell, Aviva

Data, formerly a niche marketing discipline, now touches everything marketers do and brands need to build this new reality into the way they recruit and manage their talent.

While Mark Evans, marketing director at Direct Line Group, says marketers must have a broad understanding of all the technology and knowledge available, he believes it’s more important to have prowess in management and leadership in order to identify missing skills.

“There will always be new data and analytics tools and methods arriving, so we need team members that are experts in their own fields to keep pushing the boundaries,” he says. “The most powerful marketers are the ones that are able to bring together and effectively manage teams that encompass all the skills needed.”

If the race is on to acquire the best and the brightest to help brands understand their customers, then many will be worried that The Future Marketing Organisation research finds just 33.6% of marketers rate their organisation’s data skills above average.

In addition, despite a widespread belief in the value of a single customer view, the survey finds many organisations are not set up to achieve this, with marketers scoring their organisations ability to do so at just 2.8 out of 5 on average.

Why is the marketing industry lagging?

Given its business is built on insurance analytics, Aviva’s retail and brand marketing director, Tom Daniell, says it has strong data foundations. But evolving that capability has been key. “We’ve done this through a combination of bringing in outstanding new thought leadership and creating training programmes for our existing skill set,” he explains. “For us it’s all about creating the right culture and environment for data, and those who understand it, to thrive.”

Daniell says finding the right data and analytics talent is hampered in many organisations because the marketing world remains too siloed in its thinking and structure, with many teams pitted against each other: above-the-line versus digital, creative versus analytics, ads versus content technical versus traditional.

“You can see it in the way teams are developed, role profiles are written and people are recruited,” he says. “We need to rethink the way we approach marketing organisations, we need people that are able and willing to stretch across it all and we need environments and roles that genuinely position data and analytics as core to the team.”

Hostelworld’s Fahy says another challenge is the need to take ownership of data and analytics. “Organisations need to look at where data and analytics teams are best placed to sit, and I would say next to their internal customers,” he adds. “Ultimately, you want any team in the organisation to have people within that team that are comfortable with data – this ensures knowledge is spread across the organisation and not sat in one ‘super group’ that everyone depends on.”

Attracting data talent

According to the survey, the biggest factor limiting marketers’ ability to hire data specialists is their lack of influence over hiring budgets, followed by organisations’ ability to match market salaries.

Ottokar Rosenberger, chief operating officer at online travel agent Iglu, believes there is also a deeper story about career progression behind this finding, and suggests marketing needs to convince data talent that they have prospects within the industry.

“We need to show and prove to data-driven people, who are often very smart and ambitious, that there is a career path in marketing,” he argues. “For example, over the years I have hired developers to run CRM teams, something that was unheard of and a challenge to get done at the time. And I would do it again.”

The Future Marketing Organisation - Filling the data skills gap

Rosenberger also argues that marketing has to convince the tech community that the work is interesting. Tech talent is not necessarily attracted by the standard offerings of big business, he says; rather it is a group of people that seeks out work that’s interesting and enables them to deliver impactful results.

“Tech people need to know marketing has big data sets, that there are problems to solve which will have a real impact on driving business growth,” he says. “You also need to make sure the tech platforms themselves are cutting-edge. We can attract people if they know they can work with the best tools available and that means removing legacy tech and legacy solutions from the business.”

Organisations’ ability to recognise and identify relevant skills is the fifth-largest barrier to getting the right data talent on board, out of 14 options in the survey question. Companies therefore need to define what type of analytical skills they require, whether that’s data-based decision-making, algorithmic thinking or pattern recognition.

“The kind of people you hire are going to have a very high standard, they might well be from a digital environment rather than a pure data-based marketing one. They will be people who are day-in, day-out used to working at a fast pace to turn data around,” says Pete Markey, marketing director at TSB Bank.

Businesses have to be nimbler today and factor in the ability to shift strategy and campaigns as and when it is required in relation to newly emerging data.

“You need people who can get their hands dirty – roll up their sleeves and get into the data and understand what is going on, but then can help you as a business translate the findings into action,” explains Markey. “The sort of skills you need are different from a traditional marketing team and different from what is called traditional analytics because of the speed of it, pace of it and the tools you have.”

Hiring teams rather than individuals

Direct Line’s Evans has further thoughts on how recruitment processes can be reformed. “As an industry we’re struggling to attract the mix of talent we need to create whole-brained marketing teams,” he says. “A large part of this is the fact we’ve still not adapted our recruitment processes and ways of working to create a level playing field for those with dyslexia and autism who have diverse minds, or neurodiversity to give it its technical term.”

Those diverse minds can sometimes be naturally more gifted when it comes to data and analytics, seeing very knotty problems in different ways. Direct Line has been working with Auticon, specialists in placing people with autism.

You can’t switch off your brand or ease off in the hope deep-level analytics is going to solve everything. You have got to do both.

Pete Markey, TSB

“One person who joined recently has added significant value to our business in challenging the status quo and standards across several key processes,” explains Evans. “However, he would not have made it through a traditional recruitment process. As an industry we need to get better at finding relevant techniques for managing and recruiting those whose brains are wired differently to encourage innovation from the edges.”

Another noteworthy approach to recruitment is that of Swedish fintech company Klarna, which hires in teams rather than individuals.

The fast-growing payment provider currently has 2,000 employees organised into approximately 250 smaller teams, functioning as small startups within the company. There is no classic marketing department.

“We aren’t really structured in departments, since we feel that it is slow, inefficient and fundamentally uninspiring,” says David Sandström, CMO at Klarna.

“This means that data talent is embedded throughout the organisation and although we’d love to hire an entire team of talented data analytics professionals, we are even more interested in teams that already are structured in a more modern way, where many different competences co-operate in order to take on challenges.”

At Klarna, marketers, engineers and analysts working in the same team is standard procedure. “We are already organised in teams of up to eight people with their own mission, vision, objectives and KPIs,” explains Sandström. “We want to give great people who work well together the chance to elevate their careers together.”

Future-proofing marketing

Recruiting high-quality data and analytics talent is crucial to the future success of marketing. TSB’s Markey, however, cautions against “chasing the analytical dream at the expense of your brand”.

His strategy at TSB is a heavy focus on brand health. This means carefully planning how the company is driving net promoter scores, customer consideration and keeping the brand healthy, as much as what it is doing throughout the sales funnel with smart data, analytics and working with different partners and tools.

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“You can’t switch off your brand or ease off in the hope deep-level analytics is going to solve everything. You have got to do both,” he says. “The future of the marketing team fuses brilliant campaign managers who are curators and guardians of the brand and merges that with great analytical fire power, which gives you an almost dream-team world of what marketing should look like now.”

Marketing Week’s The Future Marketing Organisation research was carried out in partnership with market intelligence company MiQ. Look out for further coverage next month and on the Insight & Marketing Intelligence Stage at the Festival of Marketing.