The demand for multi-skilled marketers has never been higher, but there is an ongoing issue that there is not sufficient talent in the industry with the right skill sets that employers are recruiting for. This could have a negative impact on the success and scope of marketing teams in the future unless we change how marketers are educated and trained to align more closely with business and consumer needs.

The future of intelligent marketing will not just be dependent on organisations investing in the latest technological advancements or adhering to regulations like the GDPR. It will require skilled marketing teams to innovate, interpret data, engage with customers and communicate the latest trends to senior management in order to develop effective marketing strategies. Perhaps even more importantly, it requires business leaders who acknowledge the importance of having a diverse, skilled workforce and are willing to invest in education, career development, paid internships, and apprenticeships.

What are the most important skills for future marketers?

The new ‘Business Skills Census 2019’ report from the DMA’s Institute of Data and Marketing asked marketers to identify the skills and challenges facing their organisations today, as well as their importance in the future.
Out of a total of 33 skills listed in the research, most marketers identified a select number of marketing channels that will become increasingly important to future business success. 

Both ‘Direct marketing’ and ‘Social media’ saw the most significant increases noted in the entire survey, with 86% and 88% of marketers stating their future importance respectively. ‘Email marketing’ (up +17% to 83%), ‘Search marketing’ (up +27% to 89%), and ‘Mobile marketing’ (up +13% to 74%) also look to become increasingly important. Evidently, more and more marketers recognise the importance of a multi-channel marketing approach to future business success.

An increasing number of marketers believe that ‘Analysing customer data/insight’ will be important to future business success, with 95% stating this – it is also the most cited ‘important skill’ featured in the survey. ‘Producing content or creative work’, the second most cited skill, also increased by 7% to 94%. As such, marketers must find the right balance between personalisation and privacy, using data insights to target consumers with the right opportunities via the right mediums using the engaging copy.

The DMA’s ‘Data & Marketing: Attracting the Next Generation’ report asked senior and manager-level marketers within organisations, large and small, what skills they look for when recruiting for entry-level positions. At a collective level, employers consider ‘Personal’ and ‘Social skills’ (i.e. teamwork, creativity, etc.) and ‘Core’ basic skills (i.e. Reading or understanding instructions, reports, good written and spoken communication, etc.) most essential for entry-level candidates to have. Some 83% named at least one ‘Social’ skill as essential and 76% named at least one ‘Core’ skill as essential for their entry-level marketing employees to have.

Employers are clearly looking for well-rounded marketing candidates, with a good grounding in soft skills – such as good communication – and also have a desire for key marketing skills. The responsibilities and remit of the marketing function are growing thanks to the GDPR – with data, accountability, software and technology now intertwined with many marketers’ job roles. This would explain the growing range of key skills now demanded of marketers, from the perspective of both marketers and employers.

The role of internships and apprenticeships  

The ‘Data & Marketing: Attracting the Next Generation’ report found that 62% of the employers surveyed are already using apprenticeships, and a further 32% would be interested in using one. This suggests that there is a strong current and latent appetite for apprenticeships roles among employers when hiring for entry-level roles.

A majority of employers offer work experience with internships and school work experience being the most commonly offered – over 80% of the survey sample offer these, while 64% offer university placements. Even though internships are more likely to be paid than unpaid, a few pockets of the industry are still not remunerating interns for their contributions. 46% in the sample claim to offer paid internships, 37% claim to offer expenses only paid internships but 21% still claim to offer unpaid placements. Unpaid internships are still an existing barrier to marketing experience for young people unable to cover their own costs of participation.

Industry-wide standards will be key for producing these skills

Students in the education system who are aiming to become data and marketing professionals in the future will need to develop soft skills, as well as more technical marketing skills in data analysis, creative thinking and campaign execution. These skills will play a key role in producing and communicating successful marketing campaigns.

The DMA’s research also asked marketers what the most needed changes to the industry over the next five years to support future entry-level recruitment. Industry-wide training standards was the top option, chosen by 38% of employers as one of their top three changes. As well as ‘increasing the use of apprenticeships’ and ‘growing awareness of the industry in the education system’.

As previously mentioned, we need cross-industry collaboration between businesses, the education sector and government to establish industry-wide standards. We could help to rectify these issues with better cooperation between these institutions. It all starts with creating universally acknowledged qualifications and learning programmes that equip aspiring marketers with the skills required for a career in the industry. So businesses are confident that a budding marketer applying for their apprenticeships, internships and even entry-level roles will have the tools they need them to succeed. 

There are two sides to the coin though and all businesses have a responsibility to provide paid, rewarding internships and apprenticeship programmes to give young marketers invaluable industry experience. These standards will also help businesses to recruit non-graduate prospects. Only then can we raise awareness about the industry as there will be clarity on what a data & marketing professional is and there is a clear path on how to achieve this.

What needs to change and how?

There are a number of areas that need to be enhanced within the data & marketing industry that not only provide aspiring marketers with key industry experience but also equip them with the knowledge about a career in the industry and what skills they need to develop to thrive.

Businesses, educational institutions, government and career development advisors all have a huge role to play. We need to start by being clear about what skills data & marketing teams need training in – it seems like most marketers will need to be generalists rather than specialists. We also must have realistic expectations about the range of skills junior employees will possess. If young, entry-level marketers, in general, are not equipped with the ideal skill set, employers must be willing to invest more in apprenticeships, paid internships and industry accredited qualifications to enhance their profiles.

The DMA will be hosting a roundtable in early October that brings together brands, educational institutions, government, career development advisors, and young marketers to enhance the conversation on how the industry can achieve this.