The rapid evolution of digital channels has led to a rise in demand for marketers with social-media, mobile and data-analysis skills. By Trevor Clawson.
It's a straightforward principle. If you want to market a product or company effectively, you take your message to the customer, wherever they may be.
If the principle is simple, however, the execution is complex, thanks in no small part to the rapid evolution of digital channels.
Marketers have had more than a decade to get to grips with the fundamental tools and techniques of multiplatform marketing, but in the past few years, the game has been changed by the arrival of smartphones and social media.
Facebook and mobile phones do not exist in a marketing vacuum, or even in a standalone space that can be comfortably labelled 'digital'.
Offline and online campaigning are not only linked by common brand values and goals, they are often integral to each other.
That integration might take the form of a voucher delivered to a mobile device being redeemed in the offline environs of a restaurant or a shop.
Equally, it could be a URL on a newspaper ad or poster that can be scanned or keyed in to take the customer to a landing page.
All this has implications for the way in which marketing departments are staffed and structured.
It's not all about social media
There's a temptation to think that gearing up for the digital future is simply about ensuring there are people in place who can engage with consumers via Facebook or the latest smartphones.
However Toni Weston, recruitment business partner at Home Retail Group, says technology has enabled greater data capture, which is the key imperative for marketers.
The group, which is part of the Nectar scheme, employs about 300 marketers. 'The digital space is a key area for recruitment,' she says. 'Particularly important are customer insight and analysis. At a time when consumer confidence is low, you really have to know your customer.'
Similarly, Ryan Broad, who has worked in HR and recruitment for Yahoo!, retail analytics agency dunnhumby and now MPC (The Moving Picture Company), says marketing departments should be beefing up their data-analysis skills if they want to take full advantage of the digitised information that is returned from EPOS machines, loyalty-card programmes, the web and mobile devices. 'The ability to crunch data will give marketing departments the edge,' he says.
Yet it's not all centred on knowing the difference between the Android and Apple OS, according to Marc Shelkin, senior digital consultant and marketing executive at recruitment firm Source.
While he claims social-media and mobile skills are much in demand, there is also a need for skills in 'user experience', search, email and affiliate marketing.
Brands have a balance to strike in terms of the shape of the marketing department. Do they hire staff with the technical skills to create apps or implement highly segmented email marketing campaigns, for example, or do they keep a core team of strategic thinkers who are on top of these channels, while outsourcing much of the day-to-day work to third-party specialists?
Seb Haire, digital team leader at recruitment agency Dylan, observes that brands are seeking to recruit digital specialists who can execute tasks and campaigns currently handled by agencies.
'Over the past 12 months, we've seen a trend toward bringing digital in-house,' he says. 'That's partly because agencies had something of a field day when times were good. Now brands are looking at the cost of that and employing more people internally.'
Whether or not that is cost-effective will depend on the perceived importance of a particular skill-set in terms of communicating with a customer segment and the volume of the work.
If full-time digital specialists don't meet the cost-benefit test, one solution is to hire people on short contracts. Although this is expensive, Broad says it helps transfer knowledge to the permanent members of the team.
Any influx of specialist digital skills won't necessarily upset or even signifi-cantly alter the hierarchy of the marketing department.
At the top, the marketing director remains pivotal, not only as a strategist, but also as the interface between the marketing department and chairman, chief executive, sales directors and product developers.
Equally, the broad description of a brand manager's role is unlikely to change.
Building the A-team
One emerging trend, identified by Haire, is the appointment of 'directors of innovation'. He says: 'The role of these "digital evangelists" is to educate management and bring in digital skills for everyone.'
Haire stresses that anyone bagging such a post is unlikely to be a digital purist. 'Brands are seeking people who combine digital experience with an integrated background,' he says. 'They have to know how digital fits into the broader marketing operation.'
Digital evangelists will not necessarily fit into traditional marketing department structures, but Weston says businesses shouldn't be bound by convention. 'If we come across an exceptional talent, we won't let the existing structure deter us from offering an attractive position.'
In terms of digital specialists, brands and agencies are recruiting from the same talent pool, which creates a competitive labour market. It is, as Broad notes, a sellers' market, and that has led to wage inflation.
'If you have someone who knows they can essentially get a job with one of five employers, the winning company is going to be the one that offers the most attractive package,' says Broad.
Brands can also offer to help staff with their personal development. 'People don't have to be confined to, say, their own digital skill-sets,' she says. 'We offer scope for people to do other things within the marketing department.'
Moreover, as companies take on digital specialists to deliver on their social-media goals, the skills coming into the company will be transferred to the wider marketing team. Meanwhile, the specialists will become generalists, and climb the department tree.
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