Marketing’s digital skills gap could become ‘unmanageable’ as proficiency declines

New research from the Chartered Institute of Marketing suggests marketers are failing to keep up as marketing technologies and social media platforms innovate “at pace”.

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Marketers’ abilities in key digital skills have either stagnated or declined between 2020 and 2021 at all levels of seniority, according to new research.

The study, conducted by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and training body Target Internet with more than 7,000 marketers, finds  proficiency in analytics and data has fallen the most, declining by 6% to a score of 29%. Almost seven in 10 marketers (67%) fall into the lowest two quintiles for their analytics and data abilities.

While the tumble is “easy to explain”, as new analytics options and changes in cookie rules raise the overall complexity of digital marketing, it is nonetheless a “worrying” indication of marketers’ ability to analyse and improve their work, the study claims.

The research is based on the results of a benchmarking test of digital marketing skills, taken by marketers in 2018, 2020 and 2021. The test asks participants to complete a series of tasks aimed at testing their knowledge in 12 areas of marketing, with a particular focus on digital skills, and calculates a percentage score for each.

Content marketing experienced the second biggest decline, down 4% to a score of 24%, followed by social media, which drops 2% to 32%. Three-quarters of marketers fall into the lowest two quintiles for content marketing.

Mobile marketing and SEO both recorded a small backwards step, with a 1% reduction each. Others areas remain stagnant, including ecommerce at a score of 37%, digital strategy at 34%, online advertising at 31% and usability at 28%.

The only discipline to have significantly improved over the past 18 months is ‘general marketing’, which increases by 7% to a score of 54%. Email and PPC both saw small improvements, up 1% each to 49% and 32%, respectively. The 2022 Agenda: The need for upskilling rises as the war for talent intensifies

Unlike previous years, this year’s results also reveal a closer alignment between seniority and digital marketing skills level. In most cases, digital marketing skills ranking increases with the seniority of the marketer – however, analytics and data skills are still down 7% at a director level. According to the study, the trend reflects a “stagnation” of skills among marketers at management level roles, rather than an improvement at senior levels.

“The latest digital marketing skills benchmark should act as a prompt for organisations across sectors,” says the CIM’s director of marketing, Gemma Butler.

“With marketing technologies and social media platforms continuing to innovate at pace – and consumer use of digital channels showing no signs of slowing – the range of skills expected from marketing professionals will continue to expand.”

Butler notes a “distinct shift” in focus to broader marketing skillsets, with recent CIM data having revealed that six in 10 marketers who were furloughed over the pandemic used the time away from their jobs on personal development and upskilling, particularly in areas such as brand, copywriting and strategy.

However, improving broader marketing skillsets “cannot be to the detriment of digital skills”, she warns, adding that marketing teams must find a balance so they can meet the needs of both customers and their organisations.

“The risk of getting left behind needs to be highlighted on the basis that technology isn’t going to wait. The need to continue upskilling in order to just stand still was apparent before the pandemic – the risk now is that it will only continue to grow and the skills gap could become unmanageable,” she says.

“Employers must invest in the on-going development of their marketing teams.”

Earlier this month, Marketing Week identified upskilling as one of the key challenges and opportunities marketers will face in 2022, as brands including Unilever, M&S, and General Motors invest in skills programmes.

The push comes as the jobs market remains highly competitive, with demand for marketers with digital skills sky high and senior brand marketers reporting difficulty in filling roles.

Furthermore, in November the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), Market Research Society (MRS) and Advertising Association (AA) urged the government to invest more in industry-led training programme, after claiming it had “missed a huge opportunity” to involve trade bodies in its £2bn “skills revolution”.