What are the most important skills marketers will need in the future?

Kate Burnett discusses some of the major skills gaps that are present in the data and marketing industry and what skills will be important to marketing teams in the future.

Reading time: 5m 30s.

The future of intelligent marketing will not just be dependent on organisations investing in the latest technological advancements or adhering to regulations like the GDPR.

It will require skilled marketing teams to innovate, interpret data, engage with customers and communicate the latest trends to senior management to develop effective marketing strategies. Perhaps even more importantly, it requires business leaders who acknowledge the importance of having a diverse, skilled workforce and are willing to invest in career development.

However, with the demand for marketers that are multi-skilled higher than ever, there may not be sufficient talent with the right skillsets that employers are recruiting for. This could have a negative impact on the success and scope of marketing teams in the future.

Data-related skills continue to grow in significance

It is hard to imagine any marketing role that will not be driven by a need to use data to develop the customer insights that inform every aspect of the customer journey. Employers increasingly need marketers who think like data analysts and data analysts who think like marketers.

Marketers surveyed in the ‘Professional skills census 2018’ identified a range of technical skills that will become more important in the future. Amongst the data-related skills listed, ‘Analysing customer data/insight (+12%*)’, ‘Data analysis & reporting (+10%)’ and ‘Data & database management (+7%)’ were among the most prevalent skills gaps observed out of the 33 included in the survey.

When looking at individual skills, the most likely to be deemed essential for young entrants to have by employers were teamwork (51%) and good written and spoken communication (50%). 

Data skills are essential to the smooth functioning of any marketing team as real-time data analysis continues to be a key part of marketers’ roles. Marketing teams now need to identify opportunities and act on them instantly.

AI, marketing software and technology, not to mention increasing consumer trust in brands, will only increase the availability and scope of data.

This means modern marketers must be able to interpret vast amounts of information effectively, use insights to effectively use the latest software and technology, and understand how to communicate findings back to senior management teams so they are able to adapt marketing strategies accordingly.

The most important technical area of expertise?

The ‘Business skills census 2019’ asked marketers to identify the skills and challenges facing their organisations today and their importance in the future. Interestingly, it reveals that AI and machine learning are the most important area of expertise that organisations must develop staff skills in.

Nearly half (45%) of marketers stated that skills in AI and machine learning were currently present in their organisation. 64% stated that these skills would be important to the future success of their respective organisations, revealing that these specific skills will become increasingly important in the future and that a skills gap could appear (19% difference).

Furthermore, 87% state that developing skills in AI and machine learning is vital to their organisation’s current success. This highlights the urgency with which businesses will have to address this knowledge gap if they hope to succeed.

Soft skills are integral to an entry-level marketer

The ‘Data & marketing: Attracting the next generation’ report asked managers of organisations, large and small, what skills they look for when recruiting for entry level marketers.

At a collective level, employers consider personal and social skills (i.e. team work / creativity etc.) and core basic skills (i.e. reading or understanding instructions, reports etc. / good written and spoken communication etc.) most essential for entry level candidates to have.


83% named at least one social skill as essential and 76% named at least one core skill as essential for their entry level marketing employees to have. When looking at individual skills, the most likely to be deemed essential for young entrants to have by employers were teamwork (51%) and good written and spoken communication (50%). 

This is no huge surprise considering most employers will always state in job specifications that they are looking for candidates with good soft and communication skills when hiring for marketing roles (and most others). However, it is concerning to note that these particular skills are among the hardest to recruit for.

What skills do employers find difficult to recruit for?

The ‘Data & marketing: Attracting the next generation’ report indicates that many organisations are struggling to find new staff who demonstrate the key skills they are looking for – there are some significant gaps in the skill sets of young people from the perspective of prospective employers.

Just over half of the sample (52%) stated they struggle to find at least one of the social / personal skills deemed important. Data skills are also difficult to locate with 35% of the sample indicating this – although the findings also suggest that many employers find more technical skills slightly easier to recruit for, compared to personal skills.

Employers are clearly looking for well-rounded marketing candidates, with a good grounding in soft skills, basic skills such as good communication, and also have a desire for key marketing skills.

The responsibilities and remit of the marketing function is growing thanks to the GDPR – with data, accountability, software and technology now intertwined with many marketers’ job roles. This would explain the growing range of key skills now demanded of marketers, from the perspective of both marketers and employers.

There are two sides to every coin though and if employers are to find the right candidates they need to be clear about what they are looking for – a generalist? Or a specialist? They also need to be realistic about the skillsets entry level employees will already possess. If they don’t necessarily have the ideal skillset, employers must be willing to invest in training and development.

Addressing the skills gaps

Evidently, soft skills in particular are in high demand and hard to recruit for entry-level roles within the data and marketing industry and so measures must be taken to invest in developing these skills prior to employment.

In addition, there is increasing demand for rapidly-evolving technical skills (i.e. data and AI and machine learning) that must be addressed to prevent a future skills gap chasm in the industry.

These findings highlight a wider issue within the data and marketing industry. Evidently, the industry needs to further align employer expectations more closely with the skills that young and inexperienced candidates are developing so that they are better equipped for a career in data and marketing.

In addition, more young people need to be made aware of what the industry can offer them and how possessing specific skills will help them carve a successful career.

Check out the DMA Talent microsite for more information about the initiatives that help equip young professionals with these skills by bridging the link between education providers, employers and government.


About the author

Kate Burnett is general manager of DMA Talent


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