How brands can close the marketing skills gap

Written by: Jonathan Bacon
Published on: 2 Nov 2016

Brands need to address the missing skills in marketing departments by focusing on core abilities, offering training and adapting quickly to change.


The rise of personalised marketing and digital channels is “exacerbating skills gaps” within the marketing profession, according to a new report by recruitment company Hays. The study suggests employers are falling into the trap of hiring junior staff with specific technical skills without considering the core skills that marketers need, such as budget management or strategic thinking.

Hays surveyed around 300 UK marketing managers and executives about a range of issues, including their organisations’ hiring preferences, existing skills gaps in their businesses and the core skills they consider vital for a selection of marketing roles. The study finds that analytical ability is in demand among marketers, with 27% citing this as the most essential core skill.

This is followed by copywriting (16%), creativity (12%) and the ability to think in a customer-centric way (12%). Meanwhile, one in five marketers (21%) believe the biggest skills gap for senior managers is strategic thinking, followed by creativity (16%).

The Hays report suggests that businesses are starting to take steps to address the skills gap challenge, with 83% of respondents stating they would hire a candidate who could demonstrate core marketing skills even if they lacked specific role experience. Furthermore, 71% say ‘team fit’ is more important than experience, while 65% focus on ‘internal training’ to improve skill levels in their organisations.

READ MORE: Mark Ritson – Maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t an ‘expert’ in marketing be trained in marketing?

Helen Moss, UK channel director for marketing at Hays, says employers are also using external agencies to boost skill levels in their companies, while others are providing funding so that staff can take recognised marketing qualifications. “More and more employers are trying to encourage [those qualifications] so they can bring in core skills – things like commercial awareness and project management skills,” she says.

    “The pace of digital disruption and change mean that no marketer can possibly understand all of the nuances of every digital channel.”
    Matthew Barwell, CMO, Britvic

With regard to different job specialisms, the research reveals big differences in the core skills that are deemed essential. For example, analytical skills are considered the most important attribute for PPC (pay-per-click) specialists, selected by 37% of respondents, whereas copywriting is seen as the most essential skill for email marketers (21%).

The ability to think in a customer-centric way comes out on top for social media specialists (28%), while copywriting is viewed as by far the most important capability for content marketers (47%).

Respondents were also asked to identify the areas where skills are most lacking within different levels of job seniority. Commercial awareness is deemed the core skill area in which there is the biggest shortfall among junior marketers and graduates, selected by 31% of respondents, while strategic thinking (17%) is considered the biggest problem area for marketers working in middle management.

“Those middle managers tend to be good on technical skills, but they are also going to be future leaders in five to 10 years time,” says Moss. “The challenge for companies is how can they work with those individuals to improve their core skills so that they enhance their careers and ensure they are the best possible future leaders.”

READ MORE: Would you hire a marketer without a formal qualification in marketing?

Focusing on values

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Matthew Barwell, CMO at Britvic, suggests brands need to be pragmatic when dealing with any perceived skills gaps within their organisations. He states that Britvic has developed its own “marketing philosophy” that helps to guide the drinks company’s approach to training and personal development.

“The pace of digital disruption and change mean that no marketer can possibly understand all of the nuances of every digital channel available,” explains Barwell. “What is important is that they stay curious and knowledgeable about how digital is changing the world our consumers and our customers live in, and that they are knowledgeable enough to ask the right questions of their agencies and media partners.”

He adds that one of the core attributes that Britvic looks for is “people with great brand building skills who have the right values to work in our business”. It also seeks to develop technical skills by encouraging all of its marketers to think about how digital technology could have an impact on its brands in the long term.

“[That includes] how digital will help us to glean insights, and therefore to plan better, and of course how that digital landscape should change the way we brief our agencies and the types of assets that we should create,” notes Barwell.

    “Our business environment might be changing rapidly, but the fundamentals of good marketing remain.”
    John Rudaizky, global brand and marketing leader, EY

He also agrees with a statement in the Hays report that “the core skills of yesterday are still the most sought after skills today” and that it is only the application of those skills that has changed.

“What is so exciting today is that there are many new ways to engage with people and to build your brand that weren’t even imagined a decade ago,” adds Barwell. “Having people that can bring both the art and the science – or at least the ability to ask the right questions – I believe remains the winning combination.”

Creativity is king

John Rudaizky, global brand and marketing leader at professional services firm EY, agrees that brand purpose and values can play a key role in guiding staff training. “Our business environment might be changing rapidly, but the fundamentals of good marketing remain,” he says.

“Ultimately, marketers are still expected to deliver creative, inspiring content that sets their brand apart from their competitors. The catch is that they have to do this in a more complex environment. What we are seeing is that when this is driven through a strong core purpose, it can help cut through complexity and in a simple way reflect what a brand does for its customers with a human touch.”

Rudaizky is also conscious of the need to bring together technical skills with core skills, arguing that while digital capabilities are vital in a marketing team, its primary function is to articulate and communicate the brand’s values. “We need digital craft, but [also] the ability to apply it in a creative way,” he suggests.

Ultimately, Rudaizky argues that having core skills around content and creativity is more important than developing technical skills around new marketing channels – “even in our vibrant, multichannel age”.

He says: “Creativity is still king. You can have the strongest purpose or content in the world, but if you don’t express it in a simple, creative way, then people won’t engage with it inside an organisation or out.”