Tackling the digital skills gap and how marketers can 'buy the innovative'

Robin Charney, Business Director, Digital and Innovation, at the AAR
Robin Charney, Business Director, Digital and Innovation, at the AAR

The journey to digital transformation is not necessarily smooth, says Robin Charney, Business Director, Digital and Innovation, at the AAR, but marketers can take comfort that everyone is in the same boat.

In recent months, digital transformation has become something of a topic du jour. It is however, a bit like teenage sex… everyone’s talking about it, few are doing it and fewer still are doing it well.

So, what’s the problem? Developing a digital strategy can be a Catch 22, where the skills and experience needed don’t yet exist in the organisation but there is a pressing need to embrace the changes and opportunities that digital offers. Skilling up internally whilst also setting up the right agencies and partners to help marketers tackle this can be a challenge. 

For many, the journey of digital transformation starts with a few steps forward and, often, a few steps sideways. There are a host of questions to be answered. What is UX and do I need it? How do I balance the turf war between my above the line agency and my digital agency? What kind of agency is best placed to tackle social strategy? Who can figure out how to personalise my direct marketing? 

Buying the new and innovative

What it comes down to is one common problem – how to buy the "new" and the "innovative". Where do you even start, if you’ve never bought it before? After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. Marketers are faced with the dual challenge of keeping up to date with all the new areas of marketing they are asked to undertake, whilst at the same time being able to buy those services from the types of agencies they may never even have heard of. This is a difficult ask. 

In addition to this balancing act, it’s important to remember that the idea of what ‘digital’ means differs widely depending where you are on your digital transformation journey. For some, looking at eCRM is a big step, while others are rebuilding their entire web platform. Some brands are further along the journey and outpacing their peers.

But interestingly, no one believes they’re ahead, which just shows how disruptive this all is. Some marketers are even moving away from looking to agencies to partner with them for their digital marketing. They’re turning to innovation consultancies or start-ups. The pace of change is relentless and it’s not going to slow down. 

Tackling the digital skills gap

The ability to keep pace with this change is a key challenge for marketers. Research we conducted recently revealed that 93% of agencies and clients in the digital sector find it harder to recruit people with the right skills than ever before. Many organisations are lacking people with the skills to identify ripe new spend areas. 

This lack of client side staff with the key digital skills required is proving a bit of a boon for the agencies though, who are not only acting to fill gaps but are also being asked to act as trainers and advisors to their clients as they seek to skill up internally.

Many clients are happy to work in this way, where the "new" and the "innovative" is led from outside the organisation whilst it’s in its bedding in phase. Once the practices become more established and the necessary skills exist within the organisation we can see how certain areas can move in-house – community management is a prime example of this. SEO and PPC is another. 

The road ahead: it’s a two-brief landscape

Tracking current trends in digital marketing, we’re seeing recent client briefs falling roughly into two camps.

The first can be categorised as traditional comms briefs – looking for agencies to help with digital marketing across owned, earned and paid media. Particularly interesting trends here include predictive marketing, in-sourcing and personalisation. "Always on" digital marketing is becoming the norm for many brands, regardless of geography. 

The second type of brief has been driven by the desire for brands to become more relevant and useful. In recent years, many brands have neglected their owned platforms – seduced by the lure of new social platforms. They were not wrong to go where their customers are, but this cannot be the crux of their digital marketing strategy. They need to drive customers to somewhere with a purpose, where data can be collected. This, along with the proliferation of multi-screen media consumption is what is driving this type of brief. 

There are many other areas of growth in digital, whether it be the physical-meets-digital space or the nascent wearable technology areas, the evolution of digital is a constant. We are all adapting a ‘test and learn’ approach and gathering skillsfrom many different sources.

There is no set path on the digital transformation journey, it has many on-ramps, what’s yours? 


Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free