We have now entered the age of the connected consumer, with clicks or swipes online creating fresh pieces of data and insight that marketers can use to understand their customers better. To put this into context, some estimates have the number of internet users at over 59 million, mobile users at 74 million and active users of social media at a staggering 38 million in the UK alone. That’s a lot of people creating a lot of data.
The challenge this presents to businesses is how to understand and create tangible actions from this increasingly large pool of information. To do that, you need the right digital skills within your business or marketing team to ensure you’re making the most of your data, whether that’s new developers, data protection specialists or one of the new breed of data scientists.
However, finding the right skills for the job is all very well on paper (or screen). In practice, it can be a lot more challenging to find the right people, as a survey from The Economist Intelligence Unit earlier this year pointed out. The research asked company executives about the digital skills within their business and found that nearly a third (30%) believed there to be a severe gap, with an astonishing 94% believing the gap to be a moderate or severe.
The UK is already a world leader in data-driven marketing, but to continue to sustain that position we must ensure we’re recruiting the next generation of fantastic creatives, data analysts and developers to do the job. The result of the EU referendum earlier this summer could put these skills under even higher demand, if some reports are to be believed, as the possibility of hiring talent from within the EU potentially becomes more challenging.
Ultimately, as the data and digital marketing disciplines continue to grow, the industry needs to make sure it’s also doing more to attract and encourage young talent to pursue a career in this field. In fact, this very publication recently held a very successful (and enjoyable) event to raise money towards the IDM’s Creative Data Academy, which is a programme specifically aimed at attracting more students into the data-driven marketing sector. The wealth of talent and skills in the UK is certainly not in question, but the industry must work to support and celebrate these talents to keep up with the demand of the growing digital economy.
Of course, with competition for this next generation of talent hotting up over the coming years, another option for businesses will be to upskill the current team in these new areas. Interestingly, tech behemoth Microsoft has gone one step further and actually created its own professional degree programme. Not only does this highlight that even the big tech players are concerned about the state of digital skills within their businesses, but also the importance of employees gaining quality qualifications. In this instance, Microsoft can be fairly sure its existing or prospective staff that have this qualification have the requisite skills the business needs as it is able to set (and update) the curriculum to fit the needs of the company.
Creating a bespoke qualification isn’t a realistic option for many companies, but offering staff training that the business has researched and trusts is still very important if the digital skills gap is going to be bridged. Training your existing team should not be underestimated, either. Beyond just widening the skills within your team, it can actually have a positive effect on staff retention levels, too, with employees feeling like they’re being invested in.
Ultimately, whether businesses decide to train the staff they have, hire new member with the requisite skills or outsource to an expert, doing nothing is not an option. The era of data-driven marketing is here, just make sure you have the skills to actually use it.