Thinking digital is the key to success beyond marketing

Most CMOs would probably agree that marketing has become more of a science, requiring strong analytical skills to create real insight from data.

The best and most effective marketers today are able to balance the art and science perfectly.

Yet, although marketing leaders recognise the need for digital skills, many are still focused on catching up on yesterday’s needs rather than embedding their organisations with the skills needed to operate in a fast-evolving digital world.

More than a channel

For many ‘digital’ is still viewed as just a channel in marketing, they don’t realise that digital technology has changed the lives of customers and brought about the evolution of industries.

This is especially evident in brands such as Uber and Airbnb. Although they are frequently used examples, they are both the benchmarks of modern business because their business models are built around digital.


Rather than develop market concepts and then think about how to promote them digitally, they realised that today’s customers manage more and more aspects of their lives digitally and that services must reflect that.

The business landscape has been changed by digital. A start-up can become a market leader by having a big idea, an appreciation of technology and the acumen to make a business work.

It’s clear that only broadcasting through email, social and paid search is not the correct approach when you ask yourself what digital can do for your business, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The digital skills gap

Recently, the MPs of the Commons Science and Technology Committee reported that the UK is facing a digital skills crisis.

The UK will need 745,000 additional workers with digital skills between 2013 and 2017 and 90% of new jobs today require digital skills.

It’s a crisis that affects the entire UK economy, the report says that it will result in a £63bn a year cost in lost potential for additional GDP. Businesses need to adapt or they will be left behind.

The report states that the digital skills crisis “will need to be addressed as a matter of urgency in the government’s forthcoming Digital Strategy.”

Marketing will face a significant challenge. According to research commissioned by Google, the average marketer’s digital-skills score is 57 points (100 points indicating best practice). The survey also showed the biggest shortfalls in some of the most important technology capabilities.

digital skills survey

According to research by the business intelligence company, Incite Group, only 50% of marketers surveyed said they are confident in their ability to use mobile marketing and 50% didn’t even rate mobile as critical in their marketing mix.

This is two years after mobile has overtaken desktop use. In order to maintain their competitive edge, marketers need to tackle the digital skills gap.

Thinking digital

Customers today are choosing brands based on how they speak to them, not the information in broadcast marketing messages.

Social media changes the way businesses interact with customers and gives the opportunity to increase customer engagement, it isn’t just an advertising channel.

More is required than simply hiring a digital marketing manager and waiting for results. Putting digital in place and then working to improve it isn’t the right approach either.

Brands need to reach a full understanding of what digital can do for the entire business, and they need to develop the foresight to anticipate what it might do to their industry.

It takes a shift in mind-set, a culture change within the company to embrace the digital opportunity. This needs to be driven by the CEO with full involvement of the whole executive board. 

The key to tackling the digital skills crisis

Businesses must develop overall digital strategy and manage digital within the business, they must understand marketing strategies in the face of digital disruption and champion digital business leadership – without which, businesses will stay ‘traditional’ and be overtaken.

For years, industries have been disrupted by digital. In order to survive, businesses should adopt a digital transformation learning approach that helps them get ahead.

Online, interactive learning, such as Squared Online, the award-winning digital marketing leadership programme AVADO developed in partnership with Google.

The digital approach has to be lived and breathed by all members of the organisation and it begins by building digital transformation skills.

Brands that don’t adopt a digital outlook will be left behind.

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