How to equip your marketing team with the ideal mix of digital skills

How to equip your marketing team with the ideal mix of digital skills

So broad is the spread of channels and specialisms within the digital field, that identifying the right combination of members to form an effective digital marketing team can be a real puzzler. There are far more digital skills out there than any one team could elegantly encompass – so which should you prioritise?

This short guide presents a wide-lens approach to equipping your team with a good mix of digital skills. Instead of tackling the Sisyphean task of working through every digital skill that could benefit your team, we’re going to focus on how to weight and configure different types within your team.

Striking the right balance between digital skill types

Configuring a digital team becomes far easier when you stop thinking too hard about individual job roles and start concentrating on skill types. Almost all of the digital skills used in marketing and e-commerce fall into one of four categories, which for the purposes of this article we will label technical, strategic, creative and support.

  • Technical digital marketing skills include coding, site architecture edits for SEO, PPC bidding, and so on. These are the specialised, hard skills used to execute your campaigns.
  • Strategic skills harness technology to deliver efficiencies and insights that may enhance campaign performance. Data analysis, agile project management and marketing plan formulation can all be considered strategic skills.
  • Creative skills are used to create various types of content for B2C, B2B and in some cases internal use. This includes copywriting, graphic design, video editing, and so on.
  • Support skills facilitate the team’s work. These may include technical support and client account management.

Consider the weighting of skill types within your team. Whether there are two team members or 20, you will need to account for all of the categories above, in a proportion to suit your team’s particular needs and characteristics. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a need to employ this many dedicated strategic staff, and this many dedicated support staff, as multiple skill takes may be accounted for by multi-faceted individuals within the team. We call these people ‘T-shaped’.

T-Shaped people are the key to a lean digital team

‘T-shaped’ is a HR term used to describe people possessing a single deep specialism, plus a broad spread of side interests. Simply put, they’re fantastic at one thing and pretty good at several others. T-shaped professionals enable digital teams to experiment with potentially lucrative new channels, whilst solidly catering for their more fundamental needs.

For example, if a team has a pressing need for a copywriter and is also interested in exploring the opportunities afforded by a new channel – say, Instagram – then a T-shaped copywriter with a side interest in setting up and running Instagram accounts would be a perfect hire. The team gets the skills it needs the most, and at the same time is pursuing interesting new avenues without taking on the risk of hiring an additional specialist. If the Instagram work doesn’t achieve the desired results, the copywriter can focus fully on their deeper specialism; or, if it goes well, more resources can be allocated to developing the new channel.

Not only can T-shaped professionals provide a solution to unique skill requirements within teams, but people of this type may also be better equipped to develop new skills, which would help them to adapt to changes in the direction of their teams and of the digital marketing industry as a whole. Fully focused, I-shaped specialists may undoubted be the very best at what they do, but T-shaped people tend to have a greater natural predisposition towards learning new things. This is especially valuable in agile workplaces, where team members must be able to work across skill types and explore new channels in order to push projects to completion.

T-shaped professionals are not the only people capable of adding flexibility to a team. People with two clear specialisms can be equally valuable in terms of the options they add, and it’s always advisable to fill a certain proportion of any team with I-shaped people – especially in the areas which are at the heart of the organisation’s value proposition.

Achieve flexible growth through modular training

Who’d like to place a bet on which digital marketing skills will be most important ten years from now? In a fast-evolving industry like ours, it’s difficult to know which skills will remain valuable to a team and which are fated to slip into redundancy. Consider the trend towards automation in search, in content delivery and even in journalism.

The ability of digital marketers to move with the times is going to be a matter of existential importance over the coming years. It’s the prerogative and the duty of workplaces to help team members do exactly that; to grow through the acquisition of skills and knowledge by means of up-to-date training in new and evolving digital disciplines.

Modular training, tailored to each team member’s requirements, can be used to maintain a good balance of technical, strategic, creative and support skills within the team – the skill types discussed previously. Each team member can be assigned modules according to both their own interests and the needs of the team as a whole.

Training should be a steady fixture of every team member’s working life, built into period of work and discussed during each appraisal. Managers should play close attention to what team members are saying with regard to their continuing professional development, as most team members will tend to take more ownership of skill areas they have independently decided or agreed to develop.

Identifying skills gaps within a team

Developing an effective strategy for identifying the digital skills gaps within your team is fundamental in your ability to achieve a good mix of skills.

The four skill types discussed previously are a fine starting point – simply go through the team, member by member, to identify how many people are experts and how many are basically proficient in areas within each skill type. Weight these results according to specialism or basic skill (e.g. three points for every team member who’s a specialist and one point for every T-shaped team member who has a side interest which falls within the skill type). Add the points together to create a score for each skill type, and use the figures you arrive at to assess the relative prevalence of skill types within your team.

It’s not your objective to engineer the same level of commitment to each skill type; instead, track the team’s performance over time against its changing ratio of skill types, to gain insight into how the ratio of skill types affects performance. This will provide a good indicator of which skill type ratio works best for the team.

To ensure the team can deliver campaigns successfully, it will also be necessary to measure its abilities within each skill type by testing each member’s competence in the digital marketing skills required for every campaign, such as ad retargeting or mobile-focused email marketing . It should be made explicit that such tests are intended to identify skills gaps within the team, not to assess individual team members.

If the skills gaps within a team can be identified at the outset of a project, then the project’s success may be safeguarded through staff training, new hires or freelance commissions, as required.

How to choose which skills to add

Adding new skills can revolutionise a digital marketing team’s performance. Managers and team owners should consider the following points before deciding which new directions to pursue:

  • How well are your existing channels performing? If a channel is performing poorly, consider adding new skills relating to that channel. If all channels are performing satisfactorily, consider adding skills that will allow the team to expand into new channels.
  • Strategic and support requirements become more complex as a team grows larger.
  • Technical and creative skills should be supported by strategic skills. All activities should be insight-driven.

Keep abreast of the latest digital marketing news and comment to enable yourself to identify important new digital skills as they emerge. When a new skill catches your eye, research it deeply. Find hard stats and case studies to provide evidence of the skill’s value, and plan to acquire it not only in the belief it will provide good ROI, but also with a resolute plan on how it will do so.

According to a survey of over 2,000 marketers by Smart Insights, the three most valuable digital marketing areas in 2017 in terms of sales and lead generation will be content marketing (20.3% of votes), big data (20.2%) and marketing automation (10.3%) – an interesting mix of old and new that points to the complexity of the task facing managers and business owners today. Our advice would be to focus on creating a balanced mix of skills, and to employ flexible members who can help your team to navigate through this time of fascinating change.

If you'd like to hear more from Daniel Rowles, then take a look at our two-day Digital Marketing Masterclass course. The masterclass will show you how to build effective digital marketing plans and judge return on investment. 

Daniel Rowles Course Director CIM
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