Stephanie Myers
Jul 10, 2014

How marketers can bridge the digital skills gap

Instead of bemoaning the seller’s market for digital expertise, marketing departments can take a lesson from those on the frontlines of tackling the digital skills gap: agencies.

Stephanie Myers
Stephanie Myers

We get it; there’s a digital skills shortage. It’s true for the marketing industry worldwide but it’s especially true for Asia, a region where the growing demand for digital marketing far outstrips the supply of qualified candidates. And as digital specialisms become ever more niche, the pressure on supply becomes even greater.

According to a CMO Council report on digital marketing readiness in Asia, half of respondents believed their current marketing teams didn’t have the skills and experience to take on advanced digital initiatives and another quarter said that they couldn’t find candidates with the right skills.

Despite the lack of available talent, there’s still an important job waiting to be done. The promise of digital as a channel for reaching consumers in Asia and building relationships is enormous. In advanced markets like Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, we already see what it means to have an audience of hyper-connected consumers. In these markets, brands have the opportunity to move well past basic online campaigns and social media activations. With the right marketing talent in place, brands can start using digital as a means for understanding consumer preferences and anticipating needs–much of it through mobile devices.

Meanwhile, the regional giants–China, India and Indonesia–are still in early days of their digital journey. Just a fifth of their collective population of 2.84 billion has smart phones, the device that is often the first and possibly the only connection to the Internet for consumers in emerging markets. Imagine the impact on digital marketing over the next five years as incomes continue to rise and the cost of mobile devices goes down.

Instead of bemoaning the seller’s market for digital expertise, marketing departments can take a lesson from those on the frontlines of tackling the digital skills gap: agencies. While agencies certainly haven’t solved the digital skill crisis, they’re under the greatest pressure to stay current in a rapidly evolving industry. It’s no easier for agencies to recruit the right talent; it’s just more urgent. Brand leaders look to agencies for digital thought leadership and best practices, forcing agencies to stay nimble. Here are some quick fixes from the agency world for bridging the skills gap.

Beg, borrow or steal. If a marketing department is part of a global or regional brand, chances are that someone somewhere has the needed expertise–or at least a relevant campaign or initiative that can be repurposed. Connect with counterparts in other markets to learn from their successes.

Hire eager learners. If the right skill sets aren’t available, at least hire for the right attitude: eager learners who are worth the training investment. Then make a commitment to help them develop greater digital understanding, whether through conferences, workshops or, at the very least, free webinars and white papers.

Get comfortable with trial and error. Since the best learning comes from doing, try at least one experimental digital project regularly. Consider the 70/20/10 approach to budgets: 70 per cent to proven performers; 20 per cent to innovate against what has worked in the past; and 10 per cent for funding high-risk new ideas. Fail or succeed, those ideas will provide important learning for the entire department. And trying something new is exactly how agencies gain experience.

Finally, take full advantage of existing agency relationships. Agencies can be a treasure trove of specialists, whether in a local market or across the global network. If digital roles are going unfilled, lean on the agency for expertise instead of letting strategically important projects gather dust. The agencies can do the begging and borrowing from their global counterparts in digitally progressive markets–and opportunities to connect online with Asia’s consumers no longer need to slip by.

Stephanie Myers is engagement director, Asia-Pacific at Possible in Singapore.

 

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