Hiring a digital marketer for the first time must be a headache for HR managers. Dedicated academic qualifications are thin on the ground, the KPIs are often obscure, and applicants are likely few and far between.

There’s a skills gap in digital marketing – so said Google Digital Academy Director Shuvo Saha in The Guardian last October. He went on to reveal the damning outcome of a recent survey of digital businesses in the UK and Germany: “If “full adoption of all digital best practices” was a score out of 100, the industry scored itself 57, and it looks like there are quite significant capability gaps in mobile, video and use of ad technology.”

Corporate leaders are feeling downbeat about digital proficiencies within their organisations, and irate fingers have been pointed in a whole forest of directions to apportion the blame. Is this down to the universities, colleges and schools who fail to teach digital marketing and its requisite skills? Perhaps digital marketers themselves are to blame – too greedy to share the secrets of their subtle arts with the next generation of competitors.

Or maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way. Maybe there isn’t a skills gap after all.

Emphasis on the ‘skills’

Every industry in history has had its pioneers. Vendors were marketing goods long before ‘marketing’ was defined as a subject. Healers were healing long before we had hospitals. There were translators before there were translators.

The essential skills of the job were there and widely in practice – we just hadn’t quite refined, defined or organised them yet. That’s roughly the situation in which digital marketing finds itself today.

This may be an exceptionally young industry, but all the skills required to make your business competitive in this field are out there in the workforce – they’re just not packaged as tidily as you might wish.

When recruiting a digital marketer, yes look at their work history and digital marketing KPIs, but also pay very close attention to their skills and characteristics. By selecting the candidates with the greatest natural aptitudes for specific marketing tasks and then training those candidates to an exceptional level, you can create a world-beating team.

Teams > specialists

There’s no such thing as a ‘Digital Marketing Specialist’. Digital marketing is a field too broad and intricate to accommodate deep, holistic specialism. Instead, there are specialists within the field of digital marketing, whose very different roles and interests zoom in on the multifarious workings of the industry’s machinery, down to the tiniest cog.

These people are AdWords bidding experts, infographic designers, old-fashioned copywriters and coders, PR people, brand managers, email marketing officers and project managers. People with a world class talent for more than two or three of these jobs are as rare as hen’s teeth.

Your company may not have the luxury of – or the need for – a digital marketer specialising in every conceivable role. But understanding that a single digital marketer cannot be expected to excel in every area of the field is important.

Creative meets technical

On the most basic level, a digital marketing team should be built around a mixture of creative flair and analytical nous; a right-brain and a left-brain, so to speak.

If you possess the hiring capacity, enlisting multiple specialists to cover both halves of the process (and that’s an over-simplification) can deliver the best results. On the one side you have your analysts and strategists – they’ll obsess over your campaign data, extract meaningful findings to influence your future actions, and they’ll heartily enjoy themselves while they’re at it; on the other side you’ll have your SEO-savvy copywriters and content creators, who will take a similarly scientific approach to selecting the exact words with the greatest power to enchant – and convert – the reader.

If your company can only commit to one full-time digital marketing hire, you may benefit from breaking that down into two part-time or freelance roles. By using one thoroughbred creative and one thoroughbred data buff, you’ll more adequately cover the proficiencies which the task demands – and you can also be sure that your employees are happily and productively focused on their true specialisms. Don’t think of digital marketing as a job role. It’s an industry.

None of this is to say that an individual digital marketer can’t work to improve in whichever area of the industries they like. But for teams, dividing up tasks which are diametrically opposed in nature is demonstrably sensible.
These are the some of the traits that you’ll find in any truly great digital marketing team

  • The ability to measure and prioritise – the effect of a digital marketing project impact can always be measured to at least some degree of accuracy, whether that’s through direct metrics like click-through-rate (CTR), or less directly linked metrics like overall sales. A good digital marketing team measures the value of their work and prioritises future work accordingly.
  • Attention to detail – digital content often comes bite-sized, whether that’s in a brief mailshot or a yet briefer AdWords listing. This means digital marketers need to take exquisite care to load every unit of content – in whatever form that content takes – with maximum effectiveness. It’s the art of the advertising executive, transposed onto a wider and wilder medium.
  • Long-termism – Google can take months to bump your site up their SERP rankings after an SEO treatment. Prospects can take even longer than that to convert. Digital marketing is a long-term business, and everybody needs to be comfortable with that.
  • UX sensitive – while important, digital marketing is not the be all and end all. You need creative digital marketers who understand the need to carry out their work without impinging on the quality of your product or platform. There’s little or no good in funnelling thousands of users to a shoddy website.
  • EXCEL – your digital marketing team should be spending at least as much time on Excel as they’re spending on Word.
  • Lateral thinking – the opportunities for digital marketers to benefit the brands they work with are diverse and ever-changing. With a bit of lateral thinking, any form of digital content can be turned into a worthy asset. Balancing the kind of opportunism with sensitivity to the brand is a fine art – and its masters are in short supply.