Where will marketing finds its maths men (and women)?

Waves of technology and the transformation of how media is traded via programmatic have not just expanded the definition of what marketing entails as a discipline – you could argue they have shredded it. Combined with the need to manage and analyse data, if you are tasked with ensuring your marketing department has the right skills, the job can feel nigh-on impossible.

Recent studies have helped to expose just how deep this challenge runs and how hard it is for companies to meet it. In “Modernising the mix: Transforming marketing through technology and analytics”, DataXu surveyed 532 global marketers about their concerns and identified very clearly the importance of the “marketing technologist”, but also found important proof of the continuing value of core marketing skills (see Figure 1).

“Creativity is a pre-requisite for marketing, so it is no surprise it is still rated at the top,” Chris Le May, senior vice president and managing director, Europe and emerging markets at DataXu, told DataIQ during a discussion of the findings. “It is apparent that you need two different sets of individuals – no one person will have a very high creative talent and also an analytical perspective. Those are two very different roles that are not encompased in one person.”

As the finding reveals, creativity is seen as increasingly important for success by more respondents in the survey than even understanding marketing technology. At the same time, the breadth of skills required in marketing is clear, ranging from understanding digital media and managing people to being data literate.

Little wonder that Le May describes technology as both “a wonder and a curse. It tends to make things very complicated and we are not yet at the stage where technology starts to disappear into the background.” He notes that across the suite of martech and adtech solutions vying for attention, the sheer depth of functionality is almost impossible to count. “There is no magic button to say, here is my £10 million, please distribute it [across media] appropriately,” he jokes.

Most important skills for marketing success - DataXu

Technology has clearly developed ahead of the skills base in marketing, creating both a fascination with what it might enable and also fears about what it conceals. Early issues, especially in programmatic where black box solutions and even dubious practices were rife, have led to a number of defensive reactions, from over-focusing on tactical metrics to obsessing about what is really under the hood of these marketing vehicles.

“KPIs are not aligned with what activity like programmatic can deliver to the brand. In fact, the measurements are all wrong. If the team is being hit over the head with the need to meet cost-per-acquisition targets and attribution models, it is very difficult for them to move forward with more strategic measures,” he says.

Le May adds: “A lot of marketers feel the need to try to understand the technology at a deep level. That is a reasonable reaction, but when we get 700-question RFPs asking about our algorithimic capabilities – we could wheel in the founders who wrote the kernel code to explain the combinatory maths, but will they understand it?”

With time, this attitude should develop as trust grows and benefits are better understood. Le May’s hope is that the way technology is making more of the marketing engine visible and measurable will bring about a real shift in mindset. “They will get to an understanding of where they are making an investment that is not causal to customer purchasing and find those areas which are so they can scale and get real incremental sales,” he says.

Elsewhere, the expansion of the skills set required to be successful in business or marketing has similarly been identified as a major challenge – although not necessarily one that British businesses are rising to as quickly as their European competitors. In “The ‘Business Grammar’ Report”, Alteryx surveyed 500 business executives in the UK, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Denmark.

Most important skills in new hires - Alteryx

It found that the rise of data and analytics skills is changing the fundamental grammar of what business is about and therefore the types of practitioners needed (see Figure 2). Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73%) said proficiency in working with and analysing data was essential or very important in new hires. Nearly one-third (30%) ranked data and analytics skills as the most important, just behind industry experience (33%), but ahead of management experience and multi-lingualism. Worryingly, respondents in the UK were the least likely of the five countries to rate data and analytics skills first. But there is good news for candidates who do possess these abilities.

“Our research found that European business leaders would be willing to offer a 36% higher salary to someone who is data proficient over one who isn’t,” said Stuart Wilson, VP EMEA, Alteryx. “The change in attitude that’s taking place in boardrooms today shows the value of being data-savvy and how important it is that effective analytics are made available to business users. It makes sense to equip every business analyst with self-service tools that allow them to ask questions of their data.”

To feed this demand and equip practitioners to reap the benefits, a large majority of business respondents favour making data analytics compulsory on MBA programmes. In the UK, 77% argued for this, ahead of 63% in Denmark, but behind the 83% in favour in France, 87% in Germany and 88% in The Netherlands.

Feedthrough of skilled candidates, even if every MBA introduced data analytics modules today, will be slow. In the meantime, a major study carried out by Venngage has revealed the real depth of the problem. “There is a massive shortage of marketers that are skilled in the art of data analysis. In fact, only 3% of all marketers are competent in crunching large sets of data at every job level,” said Ryan McCready, a data scientist at Venngage. “And the number of marketers with analytics skills is decreasing as the job levels increase toward CxO. This discrepancy between the demand and supply is the most in all of the experiment, at over 10x for every level! Wow.”

The study took a sample of 436,000 marketers on LinkeIn and identified 100 marketing skills, ranging from traditional abilities like public speaking through to Java programming, to understand the level of supply. It also looked at over 150 marketing job postings on The Muse job board to identify the areas of demand. For data skills specifically, demand was expressed in 45% of advertised roles, but only 3% of practitioners claimed this skills set – a 14-fold shortage (see Figure 3).

marketing skills versus demand - Venngage

McCready identified three reasons for this. The first is that traditional marketing degrees do not include data analytics. The second is that data analysts do not enter marketing, but find higher salaries by taking more technical roles. “I believe those that are truly skilled in data analysis leave the marketing field for greener pastures and better pay. They either become strictly analysts or data scientists. It’s the compartmentalisation that some of these big companies can afford to have,” he added.

Technology surging ahead of competence, demand for data skills outstripping supply – little wonder that marketing departments are in turmoil. Filling that gap will continue to be a challenge until data literacy becomes standard for all graduates and/or even more of marketing practice gets automated. It is hard not to have some sympathy for those currently trying to do the job.