Digital Skill Levels 2016: How Do You Measure Up?

Author Sophie Elizabeth Smith
Topic Careers

This year, digital technologies and channels have made more of a social and economic impact than any other. They have transformed the way we connect and communicate. They influence how we study, work, and buy. This has resulted in incredibly lucrative marketing opportunities for businesses of all sizes across every industry. For example, Deloitte has reported that consumers who use social media as part of their shopping process are up to 4 times more likely to spend more – sometimes significantly more – on purchases than those who don’t.

Digital can bring serious benefits, and as more businesses begin to acknowledge this, the demand for skilled digital professionals has increased exponentially. Though as it stands, this demand is far outweighing the availability of viable talent. Exacerbating the situation is a fundamental misalignment between how competent digital marketers perceive themselves to be and how skilled they actually are - our 2016 Digital Skills Report found that 51% of digital marketers rated themselves as very or fairly competent, but in a test based review, digital skills across the USA, UK and Ireland are equally low, scoring 38% on average. Not only that, only 8% of marketers tested achieved entry level digital marketing skills.

Whether you’re already established in the digital industry or aspiring to gain a foothold, it’s important to be able to benchmark your capabilities against those of your peers. Below, we’ve broken down five key takeaways from our 2016 Skills Report that will help you to figure out how you measure up. 

Takeaway 1: Strategy and Planning accounts for the main skills gap in organizations

Across the USA (58%), the UK (55%) and Ireland (42%), strategy and planning capabilities were found to constitute the most glaring digital skills gap within organizations. This is an essential skill, and the foundation upon which

Before you can execute an effective digital marketing strategy, you need to be able to conceive and plan it. Strategy and planning is the foundation upon which all digital marketing activity should be built. If digital marketers fail to understand the core tenets of digital at the most basic level, this can result in underperformance, a sense of frustration and lack of motivation.

Research and insights, as well as Analytics and Reporting were also cited as pronounced areas of difficulty. This highlights a widespread struggle amongst marketers to examine and measure the effectiveness of their digital efforts.

Every digital professional possesses their own individual strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you excel at social, but fall down with your mobile advertising abilities. Perhaps the concept of campaign planning defeats you, but you thrive on a data-driven approach. You can conduct a mini skills audit by documenting the specialisms at which you succeed, and those with which you struggle. Don’t forget to address why. 

Takeaway 2: The technology sector boasts the best digital skill levels

Somewhat unsurprisingly, of the marketers who participated in our test-based review, the top performers worked within the Technology sector. US employees in tech enjoyed an average skills score of 46%, 8 percentage points higher than the general average. Interestingly, UK marketing professionals in the Education sector also performed well, scoring 44%. This could be an indicator of the prevalence of organizations who have acknowledged and adapted to digital transformation, and are enjoying enhanced skill levels and success as a result.

For the Financial Services sector, strengths seem to lie in strategy and planning, and mobile marketing, with American marketers achieving average scores of 41% and 40% respectively. The Education sector achieved impressive results in Ireland, scoring 51% in strategy and planning.

Meanwhile, the poorest performing industries are Retail and Food & Beverages, with consistently low scores across every specialism. UK marketers in the Food & Beverages sector struggled significantly, scoring 20% in display advertising, and 25% in search.

According to Adobe, companies with a plan for their digital maturity seek to train and advance the skills of their existing workforce, and hire the people they need to get the most from digital tools and technology. This means that, regardless of industry, every organization has the opportunity to excel, and those that do are implementing education plans to keep pace with competitors and get the most out their employees. Access our full skills report here to compare the performance of each sector by specialism, and see how you compare.

Takeaway 3: Millennials are the least skilled digital marketers

Millennials have already surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living generation. Because they have been born in an era defined by digital, we often assume that their skill levels will reflect this. However, despite the fact that many are digital natives, millennials are the least skilled digital marketers of all age groups scoring 38% in the USA, 34% in Ireland and 31% in the UK. Employees aged between 18 and 34 also struggled most with analytics and reporting, which is worrying, as these abilities comprise the most important part of any digital campaign.

In all three countries, the 35-49 age group is most skilled. This suggests that there’s still a lot to be gained from incorporating years of experience and more traditional techniques. Digital may be more targeted, measurable, and cost effective, but at its core, traditional marketing is built upon a solid foundation of strategy and planning skills, and principles such as the 4 P’s – Product, Price, Promotion, and Place – which can provide a much-needed structure to any digital efforts.

Whatever your age, you can take comfort in the fact that you’ll be able to infuse and enhance your digital marketing with your own unique skillset.

Takeaway 4: Attitudes to digital are preventing success

A pronounced reluctance to embrace digital transformation is impeding sufficient skill levels. Marketers across the USA (63%), UK (52%) and Ireland (72%) believe that becoming more digitally focused will be critical to their organization in the next two years. However, there are some key obstacles that need to be overcome in order to achieve this, including the fact that a lack of urgency towards adopting digital exists in many organizations.

Other challenges include a widespread belief amongst marketing professionals that their pace of technology change is simply too slow to align with the ever-evolving digital landscape, and a fear of losing power within their organizations, which was a marked concern for employees aged between 18 and 49 (a significant bracket) across all countries surveyed.

A final prevailing attitude highlighted the fact that though many organizations are involved in digital marketing, their marketing professionals conclude that they aren’t very competent at it. This was an opinion held by marketers across every industry, from Food & Beverages (78%) to Marketing & Comms (56%).

Are you a business owner who believes in the value of digital and adopts it accordingly? Or are you an employee struggling to gain senior buy-in? If it’s the latter, we’ve developed an informative free ebook that will teach you how to convince your boss to pay for essential digital skills training and teach them about the benefits of digital marketing. You can download it here. Whichever category you fall into, attitudes are everything, and the more positively you promote digital marketing, the more successful its adoption will be.

Takeaway 5: There is a recognized need to upskill

Alarmingly, digital skill levels have decreased since our last skills report in 2014. In Ireland, marketing professionals had enjoyed an average score of 42%, which has now dropped to 38%. Of course, this decline does, to an extent, reflect the unstoppable advancements that characterize the digital industry, which can make it hard to stay on top of.

Nevertheless, over two thirds of marketers in the USA and UK believe they will need to improve their digital marketing skills, to remain competent in their current role going forward. In Ireland, this statistic jumps to 86%.

Marketing professionals also acknowledge that improvements to their abilities need to be made if they want to progress their careers in future. 67% of US marketers agree with this statement, compared to 59% in the UK and 80% in Ireland!

In essence, all signs point towards the need to invest much more in fundamental digital skills training at all levels of an organization, from entry-level employees to senior managers. The more widely disseminated digital knowledge is, the more likely it is that it will inspire adoption, and incentivize positive change at the highest levels.

Are you still interested in seeing how you measure up? Our digital diagnostic enables both individuals and organizations to and benchmark performance across a number of core digital marketing competencies. Visit testyourdigital.com to assess your digital skills and formulate a plan for 2017 based on the results!

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Sophie Elizabeth Smith
Content Marketer