Tue 27 Oct, 2015

Skills For A Very Modern Digital Marketer

Burdened by choice or challenged by opportunity — whichever way you look at it, the modern marketer has much to contend with. The tools have changed, the skill set shifted and hungry newcomers fluent in the next big thing are one step behind.

Like the TV ad buyer of the last century who had just a few stations to choose from, five years ago there were just two primary paid channels for the digital marketer (Search and Display) and a single device (the desktop computer). Five years on, the available channels and devices have rapidly evolved and multiplied. In the field of digital marketing, step out for a few years and your knowledge quickly fades as the market sweeps past you. You need to constantly sharpen your skills to not just keep up but to keep ahead of the hungry eyes gazing at your title.

Facebook CPCs are up 30% while Google Search is up 13% year-on-year Q2 ’14-15, according to Merkle|Digital Marketing Report for Q3 2015.


The pace only quickens. As the market advances, new opportunities are thrown up and competition intensifies. New technologies, particularly the convergence of mobile apps and on-demand services, have pushed and cracked whole industries allowing nimble newcomers to take root. Innovative solutions have cropped up and traditional companies have been out-competed.

Just look at Uber versus the taxi industry, AirBnB versus hotels, and mobile gaming companies like King and Supercell versus the console game-makers. The world benefits from new ways to do old things. Established business models groan while newcomers rejoice.

Behind every shift in the market lies a team of marketers ready to pounce. Driven by a process of rapid growth and slowing maturation, established marketing channels have become increasingly expensive. Businesses that are hungry for growth need to be creatively crafty in keeping acquisition costs low and profit margins high. Their marketers must be forever on the look-out for the latest techniques and new arena in which to wield their craft.

It’s not just greater choice that the modern marketer has to contend with; the nature of the job has fundamentally changed. Where once there were manual processes, there’s automation. More platforms and tools pump out more data. Never has the marketer had so much data to drive their decisions. What capabilities do they need to be able to manage and make sense of it all?

For one, it’s clear that the modern marketer must be at home with numbers. They’re the bread and butter of any performance-focused campaign. But that’s not all; the increased need for numeracy is matched by the need for creativity. There’s tonnes of data to sift through and it requires a creative approach to unearth and interpret the nuggets of data that become the insights to act on.


For a long time, digital marketing has largely meant ‘pumping relevant and efficient traffic to your website or mobile app’. But these days, that’s just one side of the coin and the modern marketer needs to be able to polish the other side. The penny has dropped that marketing is closely linked to the product itself.

For example, if you run an ad campaign that’s not hitting the mark, there’s every chance that fault doesn’t lie with the campaign. Don’t be too quick to dismiss the campaign as failing. If the best way to put a bad bank out of business is through good advertising, then the problem might actually be the bank — or the web site or app in this case — itself.

You may have thought that we’ve just added web site optimisation to the marketer’s workbench. However, that’s not really the point. We need to rethink our organisational structures — that is how different functions interact with each other -and ultimately what skills are needed to be a truly complete marketer who can both find and convert.

Thankfully a model is being established that we can all consider. Forward-thinking companies on both sides of the Atlantic have started structuring their teams around business objectives with marketing, engineering and product experts all working together on how to move specific KPIs. A new feature is launched and marketers get the word out. The data comes back and the metrics moved up. Insights are fed back to product and so engineering tweak the feature and v2 is released.

You may recognise this as a “growth” team, which is when all sides are focused on moving the needle on one KPI, e.g. virality, in order to increase the likelihood of achieving that goal. By way of contrast, consider the implications of a more traditional setup, in which Marketing needs a change to the site in order to improve conversions only for Product to say, “thanks for that, take a ticket and we’ll get back to you”. Nimble it’s not.


If we accept that a less fragmented approach is how companies, particularly in tech, will be organised in the future, it seems fair to assume that marketers who are able to take on responsibilities of Product/Engineering will be at a significant advantage. In other words, if you can also code, you’re going to have a skill set that puts you in a very strong position.

It’s evident that analytical and technical capabilities are going to be essential for any future marketer. And you can bet that when the current generation of school students enter the job market, this will be the norm rather than the exception. They’re hungry to learn and eager to join the industry.


“I strongly encourage all members of my team to learn how to code. For marketers I think this is an essential skill if you’re going to get to the top of the game. Simply in terms of your ability to turn things around and affect change quickly, it’s going to give you a huge advantage.” Ankur Shah, Founder of Mahabis

In short, the modern marketer needs to add as many strings as possible to their bow It’s not good enough to just be an expert in Search or Social anymore — you need to expose yourself to as many different subjects as possible. Whether it be coding, paid channels (such as programmatic), different platforms (mobile), earned media (through content marketing) or owned media (conversion rate optimisation), the challenge is to know which to use, how to use them and in what combination to achieve the growth objective. That’s hard and requires dipping in and out of multiple disciplines that you understand to a good degree.

No one person can achieve meaningful depth in all of these subjects. It comes down to the right disposition. The modern marketer must stay hungry to learn, agile in acquiring the knowledge they lack and enticed by the opportunities that ‘growth marketing’ brings.


  1. Start a blog and learn how to drive traffic to it
  2. Go to a meetup. Hatch is hosting their inaugural Hatch Growth Marketing meetup on December 1st in Space Ape Games in Soho
  3. Take a training in Facebook, Mobile or Programmatic, for example
  4. Read GrowthHackers.com

If you’d like to hear more from Will on the topic of growth marketing, come along to his session — ‘Growth Marketing for the Uninitiated’ — at PerformanceIN on Friday 30th. He’ll be joined by Nilan Peiris, VP Growth at Transferwise, and Natalie Brieger, Marketing Manager at Facebook.