A Revolution in Digital Marketing Capability?

A new report by BCG, in partnership with Google and The Marketing Academy, promises to shed light on how to transform your organisation's marketing capability for the digital age – with some help from Google's L&D arm.

BCG perspectives: The Talent Revolution in Digital Marketing

The report surveys industry professionals on their views on the place of digital marketing in their businesses. Some of the key points highlighted by the paper are:

  • Marketers don't know their current strengths and weaknesses, listing among their top learning and development needs "strategy development and planning ... an area of broad current strength" 
  • Programmatic advertising is effective but underused, and "to achieve these gains in large-scale campaigns, advertisers need ... to make effective use of individuals with advanced digital skills". But how should they access these individuals?
  • Hiring the right people is difficult: "In theory, companies can choose to build or buy talent, but in practice the current imbalance in supply and demand means that acquiring talent from outside is both difficult and expensive"

Here’s what we think:

  1. Yes, marketers should strive to educate themselves on the ins-and-outs of digital channels. But marketing shouldn’t lose its soul in the process. There is a danger that digital channel marketing could dilute perceptions of ‘effectiveness’ to purely commercial metrics or bland indicators of interaction. Some marketers may be intimidated or fascinated by the possibilities of digital, but devaluing their strategic skills might ultimately prevent marketing from adding its unique value – a level of mid-term and more qualitative consumer focus (or even old school creativity) that provides future value and can even inspire or surprise an audience.
  2. Programmatic skill sets: yes, there is a need for client-side talent in this area – and this can be hired from ad-tech companies or media agencies. But the secret to lasting success through this channel is not entirely found in a technical knowledge of real-time bidding, but in the quality, consumer sensitivity and relevance of the content. The classical marketer’s toolbox remains an invaluable ally here. 
  3. Is hiring in digital talent an expensive option vis-à-vis a learning and development programme? The most senior digital profiles can be expensive, but the important operational and technical skill sets that BCG outline as so important are often the preserve of those at a lower level who actually practice them, due to the speed at which the technology advances. Focussing on the hiring of more up-and-coming individuals who can work in alliance with existing marketers may ultimately be the most cost-effective accomplice to L&D.

Ultimately, effective and industry-leading digital marketing will require a cultural shift for most organisations. Training is of course a necessary tool, but to get ahead of the game, hiring the right people and creating an environment which champions experimentation and permits failure will ultimately reap the greatest rewards.

What might such experimentation look like? Randomised Control Trials – where a new initiative is applied to a treatment group and compared to a control group – are used for all sorts of business processes, but can be applied particularly quickly, easily, and affordably to digital endeavours. Google themselves are cheerleaders for this form of management – something worth remembering when you’re thinking about splashing out on the latest Learning and Development programme.