Explore our Digital Marketing Strategy and Planning Toolkit

The Perfect Digital Marketer?

Author's avatar By Robert Allen 14 Sep, 2016
Essential Essential topic

The 20 core skills needed by today's digital marketer from A to Z

We love providing marketers with the best possible advice on digital marketing at Smart Insights. That’s what gets us up in the morning (no, seriously, it really is. Okay, well that and a coffee). Advising marketers about best practice across a huge range of topics all day means we spend a lot of time thinking about the knowledge needed by marketers today. As we’ve discussed before, we believe that a great marketer should be part artist, part scientist, and should be ‘T’ shaped - that is, they have deep expertise in one area and a good basic understanding in others.

T shaped marketer

Image source: Distilled

All well and good, but what would today's perfect marketer look like? Certainly, a perfect marketer would have skills in all the fields that are relevant in the rapidly evolving world of digital marketing. A tall order - sure? Impossible in reality? – Probably. But it is an interesting thought experiment for one simple reason: If you work out the range of skills a perfect marketer would have, you end up with a list of skills that will need coverage across all parts of the marketing department from management to practical activities.

As a marketing manager, digital marketing manager or account manager at an agency, you need a minimum knowledge of each of the 20 core skills areas we have identified to be able to ask the right questions and review results with others who are working on these activities either inside your company, or as an external agency or consultant.

Of course, skills needed will also depend on business size. If you’re a plucky start-up, you’ll have to make sure your small team of marketers have at least some level of skills across all these areas when their talents are pooled. However, if you are running a marketing department for a larger organisation, then you might want to make sure you have an expert in place for each of these key digital skills.

In this post, we'll review the characteristics of the 20 skills we defined in our managing digital skills report (free download). The research shows how difficult it is to develop skills across all of these skills areas.

The 20 core skills of the perfect Digital Marketer

1. Affiliate marketing

You could say that Affiliate marketing is the ultimate form of marketing communications since it's a "pay-per-performance marketing" method, i.e. it's a commission-based arrangement where the merchant or business selling products only pays when they make the sale or get a lead. However just because Affiliate marketing would on the face of it seem to guarantee ROI, that does not mean a specific set of skills are needed to manage it. To succeed with Affiliate marketing you will need to know:

  • How affiliate marketing can be used to expand your reach, and best practice regarding how to do so.
  • The different types of affiliates and how to manage them
  • How to grow affiliate sales by recruiting the right type of new affiliates
  • How to set commission and define programme terms and conditions for getting the best results

2. Analytical skills including reviewing digital analytics and business insight

We believe that in many businesses, the full potential of analysisng data collected in analytics systems like Google Analytics aren't used sufficiently for Digital Marketing Optimization.  Reviewing analytics helps identify inefficiencies and opportunities to improve digital media and customer experience, so this is why 'insights' forms part of our name and we look to help support this skill through many of our resources.

In the Skills report, we defined a specific skill of inventory and merchandising analysis, but we have kept this general here. To be able to monitor, manage and report on stock levels you will the following skills:

  • Be able to manage large databases and spot discrepancies from the norm and infer insights from trends within the data.
  • Use past data to predict future sales spikes around certain dates / events and plan stock levels accordingly.
  • Familiarity with major stock management systems.

3. Budgeting and Financial modelling skills

When it comes to many elements of a marketer’s role, from building a successful purchase funnel to event marketing, you will need strong budgeting and financial modelling skills in order to run a tight operation that delivers ROI. If your product sells for £37.85 and you make £6.73 on each purchase, and your site has a 1.8% conversion rate, how much should you be willing to pay-per-click on Google ad words? Easy, I hear you say, the answer is 12p or less per click – but unfortunately, it’s never that simple. You have to factor in the cost of the web hosting, the staff costs of your marketers themselves, and what website only has one product? What if you have 300 different products, where your profit margin per sale ranges of £60 to 20p? Needless to say such calculations get complicated, so strong financial modelling skills are needed to be able to make sense of it.

4. Community management

Community management is about managing social communities so they grow organically. It is about listening to your customers, helping them and maybe a bit of soft selling. Community management is where I started out. (Community Manager to Marketing Executive and Social Media Manager, to Marketing Executive and Blog editor, a well trodden career path?). You’ve got to always be able to offer a positive response, no matter what the disgruntled customer may have said! (Luckily we don’t get many of them at Smart Insights!). To be a great Community manager you will need:

  • Diplomacy (or wit if your brand tone is deliberately cheeky – See Paddy Power)
  • Customer advocacy
  • Empathy
  • An understanding of the brand – from brand message to brand style guidelines.
  • Great communication skills – being able to convey your message clearly in less than 140 characters is far from easy.

5. Content marketing

We believe that Content marketing is at the heart of digital marketing, supporting many of the other activities and skills listed here, so to create integrated content-led campaigns, you need a planned approach to develop an integrated content marketing strategy to engage your audience and support business goals.

Content marketing requires a strong creative streak. This is where the ‘artist’ part of the perfect ‘part artist, part scientist’ marketer really comes into play. To be able to create engaging content that is ‘sticky’ (keeps people on your site) and shareable is not easy. To be a great content marketer you will need:

  • Lots of creativity - if you write the same thing as everyone else in the same way you will never stand out and build a bigger readership than the competition.
  • Great communication skills - you have to be able to impart your ideas effectively, clearly and concisely.
  • Research skills and an ability to synthesize data – To write good content you need to back up your points with facts. Good research skills are thus a pre-requisite. As is the ability to spot trends in large amounts of data, as this will help you find topics to create content on. If you spot a trend towards the increasingly popularity of emails containing gifs on Smart watches that goes against what everyone else expected then you’re content will get a lot more views than yet another blog on ‘6 things you can do to improve your LinkedIn profile’.

6. Copywriting

Copywriting is about combining creativity with a really strong eye for detail. Plenty of people have one of those skills, but having both isn’t common! Other skills that you will need to be a great copywriter are:

  • Impeccable spelling and Grammar
  • Ability to craft concise calls to actions than compel readers to act.
  • Ability to work precisely to a brief

7. Customer data and Marketing Insight

Managing customer data effectively is probably the single most important technique a business can follow when looking to improve their customer acquisition and retention. But it is only useful if insights can be inferred from the data which can then inform actions and improvements to marketing across the customer lifecycle. Developing the skills to gather this data, identify key trends and then be able to take action to improve the conversion rate is key to succeeding as a digital marketer. To succeed with this you will need:

  • Familiarity with CRM packages able to collect customer data such as Infusionsoft/ Ontraport.
  • Awareness of best practice regarding the collection of customer data, and knowledge of the legal restrictions regarding consent for the collection and use of data.
  • Be able to run statistical analysis on large volumes of data to identify trends or discrepancies.
  • Be able to run A/B testing to ascertain what combination of copy/colour/positioning works best to optimise your conversion rate.
  • Be experienced with Google analytics and able to use it's more advanced features, such as segmentation and tracking outbound links.

8. Customer experience design, personalisation and merchandising (including CRO)

Delivering customized web experiences is one of the most powerful tools in the modern marketers arsenal when it comes to encouraging conversions and cross-selling. If you’ve ever bought anything recommended to you by Amazon because of what you previously bought then you are living proof of this. To succeed with Customer Experience design and personalisation you will need to:

  • Be aware of the different options for personalisation tools, and their strengths and weaknesses
  • Have a good knowledge of the techniques available for personalisation based on audience characteristics and behaviours.
  • Be able to deliver both ‘Inline’ and ‘Interruptive’ personalised content based on audience characteristics.

9. Customer service, support and assisted selling

Do you believe that every customer complaint is a gift?! We do, but customer support isn’t always easy. Even when you know how to do something easily, it doesn’t mean it will be easy to resolve problems diplomatically or explain how to do it when they are on the other end of a phone line or live chat. Managing volumes and response times while maintaining quality of response is tricky.

To be great at customer support you will need to be:

  • Polite
  • Empathetic
  • Patient
  • Good at articulating what needs to be done clearly.

Whilst to be great at assisted selling you will need to have:

  • Excellent people skills, and be able to develop a rapport quickly.
  • Ability to persuade whilst being genuine and not overly pushy
  • A real passion for the product/service and an ability to convey this.

10. Digital strategy development, governance and campaign planning

You've likely heard us say that it's surprising that many businesses don't have a digital strategy given that there are compelling reasons you need an integrated digital strategy. The skills here are involved with following the right type of process that delivers effective plans - we recommend PR Smith's SOSTAC® model of...

  • Situation Analysis
  • Objective Setting
  • Strategy
  • Tactics
  • Action
  • Control

This can be applied to develop an annual plan or a plan for individual campaigns. Each of these have their own planning skills that have to be mastered, and in in online marketing have to be applied to each part of the customer lifecycle as defined by our RACE planning system.

The larger the company, the more need there is for governance - that's putting together a change management roadmap for digital transformation - this covers selection of the right people, process, tools and technologies to implement and optimize the plan.

11. Development and coding (e.g. basic HTML, CSS, etc.)

It's arguable that this is not a core marketing skill, but a job for specialists. Certainly, coding and development can seem baffling to those with no experience, but the basics are actually quite simple to pick up and can be learned fairly easily. Just as well, because the increasing importance of digital will mean HTML and CSS will become ever more important to marketer’s roles, even if it's just for making quick edits and fixes to an email or a web page. Sometimes just the basics can be really handy when you don’t need to code a whole website (because you have a design team for that) but just need to sort out some pesky formatting on your blog when you can’t get hold of a professional coder. Some key things you should know to do in HTML and CSS are:

  • Know how to assign headings, paragraphs, format text and add hyperlinks in HTML
  • Know how to add lists, change fonts, change text colours and sizes and build simple tables in HTML.
  • Know how to assign CSS selectors to your HTML, and create buttons in CSS.
  • Know how to use multiple selectors, universal selectors, and class and ID selectors in CSS.

12.  Email marketing, E-CRM and Marketing Automation

Email marketing is frequently rated as the top or in the top 3 channels for achieving good ROI. Despite claims that ‘Email is dead’, it remains a key channel for converting prospects into customers. To be successful with Email marketing you will need to be able to:

  • Build a relevant email list, and know key techniques for encouraging email sign ups.
  • Be able to conduct segmentation and targeting via your email service provider
  • Be able to create effective email templates and creative.
  • Know how to construct HTML emails whilst also having a plain text version.
  • Be aware of best practice to maximise open rates, click rates and conversions.
  • Good copywriting skills and ability to craft excellent calls to action.
  • Technical ability to run split testing to assess the effectiveness of different email copy/creative.
  • Ability to spot trends in data gathered from analytics and turns them into insights, which can be acted upon to boost conversion.

13. Graphic design

The day I realised I knew all the hex codes of our 5 brand colours off by heart and didn’t need to look them up was they day I new I’d made it...

Especially if you work for a small business that may not have in-house graphic designers, knowing how to use graphic design software effectively is increasingly important for digital marketers. Packages you should be familiar with include:

  • Photoshop
  • InDesign
  • Illustrator

14. Mobile marketing

Over half of web traffic now comes from mobile devices, and this rate will continue to increase in the coming years. This means your website will have to be mobile responsive in order to reach the majority of web users effectively. In addition, Google’s ‘Mobbilegeddon’ update means not having a mobile responsive site will seriously affect your search rankings. But mobile marketing is much more than just having a mobile responsive site.

To be successful with mobile marketing you will need to be able to:

  • Develop a mobile strategy
  • Create compelling mobile experience for your users
  • Plan how to set up or intergrade mobile commerce into the websites existing infrastructure.
  • Be able to intergrade mobile, local and social when it comes to your customer acquisition strategy.

15. Online advertising and programmatic marketing

To be a success in the complex and jargon-heavy word of programmatic advertising you’ll need:

  • Familiarity with using DSPs (Demand Side Platforms) to inform ad purchase decisions.
  • Ability to handle large volumes of data, run statistical analysis and infer insights.
  • Be able to set up and use RTB (Real Time Bidding) systems.

16. Pay per click / Google AdWords

PPC marketers are in-demand. PPC and Google AdWords offers the prospect of instant results that can be extremely effective if done right. In order to be a successful PPC/AdWords marketer you’ll need to be able to:

  • Identify and Target key phrases based on search volume
  • Know how to improve ROI by optimising account setup, match types, bidding and creative.
  • Use the latest Google Ad Extensions to inform ad-purchasing decisions.
  • Be familiar with the Google Display Network
  • Know how to test different sets of copy to discover which one gets the best results.
  • Be able to utilize mobile advertising features in AdWords.

17. PR and influencer outreach

10 years or more ago PR was about having the right contacts and being able to develop the right relationships. That is still important, but with the growth of social media influencer outreach requires a whole new set of skills. To run an influencer outreach program successfully you’ll need to be able to:

  • Know how to use free and paid tools and the features within Twitter and LinkedIn to identify and monitor influencers.
  • Develop a process to engage influencers and convert them into social media advocates.

To be able to achieve these things you’ll need a number of soft skills, including:

  • Charisma- you’ll have to be charming in order to convince them to help you.
  • Polite – If you come across as demanding you won’t get far
  • Persistent- you might have to try reaching out to large numbers of people before you find people willing to share your content.

18. Planning integrated, multichannel campaigns

We’ve previously called integrated, multichannel campaigns the ‘holy grail of marketing’. It’s not easy to do right. Integrated marketing is about carefully integrating and coordinating companies many communications channels to deliver a clear, consistent message about the organisation and its brands and products. When it comes down to delivering this day in, day out without diluting the message this is really hard. To deliver an integrated marketing campaign you must be aware of the ‘4 ‘s of integrated communications, and be able to create a campaign that delivers these things. The 4 Cs are:

  • Coherence – different communications are logically connected.
  • Consistency – multiple messages support and reinforce, and are not contradictory.
  • Continuity – communications are connected and consistent through time.
  • Complementary – synergistic, or the sum of the parts is greater than the whole!

19. SEO

SEO is a science, yet often seems and feels like the modern equivalent of wizardry. You’ll have to be switched on to the latest trends if you are going to be able to offer good SEO strategy and tactics. Search engines are updating their algorithms regularly if you fail to account for a major change you could be left high and dry. To be a good SEO manager you will need to know:

  • How the latest Google algorithm updates including Panda, Penguin, Pigeon and Hummingbird will affect your ranks and how to avoid being down rated by them.
  • How to research keyword volumes and create a keyword targeting strategy for your content
  • Advanced knowledge of Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools.
  • Best practice regarding on-page optimisation, link-building and the use of canonical links.

20. Social Media marketing

Social Media Marketing is about engaging with customers and keeping them loyal so they can be brand advocates and prime prospects for re-selling. Social Media marketing sometimes gets a bad press because people expect instant results, when in reality it takes time and is unlikely to ever become your main selling channel. But that doesn't mean it isn't important. Social networks reach billions every day, which is an audience so vast you can't afford to miss out on it. To be successful with social media marketing you will need to know how to:

  • Set goals for ROI and performance from social media marketing
  • How to create an integrated social media marketing strategy
  • The tools and techniques to start a social listening programme

Whoa! That's a serious amount of knowledge. Did you know you did this much work if you're involved with managing marketing agency or client side?! What do you say when someone says 'What's your job involve?'

So, those are the 20 core skills we have identified as part of our research. Does the breakdown make sense, or is the emphasis wrong for you? We wonder about 'brand development' is that a separate skill - certainly it applies across many of these activities.

Auhtor's avatar

By Robert Allen

I was the Editor of Smart Insights between 2015-2017. I managed the blog and you will find blog articles on a range of subjects- Marketing Technology trends and latest tech developments are a regular focus, as well as exploring key marketing concepts. You can get in touch with me on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn. The new Editor is Carolanne Mangles.

This blog post has been tagged with:

Digital Marketing Skills

Start the discussion on our community and social networks

Turbocharge your results with our

Digital marketing strategy and planning Toolkit

Get FREE marketing planning templates

Start your Digital Marketing Plan today with our Free membership.

  • FREE fast start guides to review your approach
  • FREE digital marketing plan templates
  • FREE alerts on the latest developments

Need help with your Digital Marketing?

Get more from your digital marketing with in-company or remote training and consultancy from Smart Insights

Get FREE marketing planning templates

Start your Digital Marketing Plan today with our Free membership.

  • FREE fast start guides to review your approach
  • FREE digital marketing plan templates
  • FREE alerts on the latest developments

Recommended Blog Posts

Popular Blog Posts