What Does It Mean to Be a Good Digital Marketer? Defining Digital Marketing Competencies and Landscape

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In this digital age, employee roles and responsibilities are changing as quickly as industries are evolving. Most jobs available today don’t have higher education programs, standardized exams, or textbooks that definitively tell people which skills they need in order to land them. Without this industry standardization, employers also struggle; they don’t have clear boxes to tick when evaluating job seeker’s qualifications. How can companies get a better sense of which skills job candidates and employees need? How can job seekers become more savvy about developing and communicating their qualifications?

At General Assembly, we work every day to answer these two questions. We provide job seekers with the competencies they need to be successful in today’s workforce. We also help employers understand how to evolve with their industry and connect with skills and talent that will enable them to grow. But in order to provide guidance to employers and job seekers most effectively, we must have a clear definition of each field ourselves. As the job landscape changes and General Assembly grows, we constantly refine our offerings and frameworks to better unite our product and message.

Let’s look at the field of digital marketing, which has seen exponential change in the last few years.

“Digital marketing is an increasingly complex, multifaceted, technical area. There’s a need for marketers to have both the breadth and the depth to be truly successful. But it also means that a strong high-level direction and smart strategic thinking that pulls everything together and serves as a guiding light is more important than ever.” — Andrew Stephen, L’Oréal Professor of Marketing, Oxford Saïd Business School

Having a thorough understanding of the breadth of digital marketing landscape today and where it is headed is extremely important, so we formed a team to do just that. To begin this process, we had to review how we were conceptualizing and teaching digital marketing across our organization. General Assembly has a wide assortment of digital marketing offerings that span audiences and modalities. We teach digital marketing to both individuals and companies. We offer in-person courses, blended learning courses that have in-person and online elements, and synchronous and asynchronous online classes. We offer courses that span 10 weeks and others that span two hours. We provide off-the-shelf curriculums, as well as programs that can be customized for a specific company and audience. We have two assessments that measure assess marketers’ proficiency in the field.

Altogether across our products, we have more than 300 lessons, totaling more than 600 hours of unique digital marketing content. Therefore, before we could even begin to work out a digital marketing framework, we had to first disassemble all these products to their basic building blocks. We broke down every course and program into long lists of their essential parts. Then, we began to look for themes and patterns across these lists.

Digital Marketing Skills

In addition to gaining a clearer picture of how General Assembly teaches digital marketing across our products, we also needed industry validation through the perspectives of digital marketers actually working in the field. What concepts, skills, and tools do expert practitioners think are essential to digital marketing? How does this vary within organizations and industry verticals? We began to workshop with subject matter experts and credible industry leaders in order to craft a framework that provided a holistic representation of the field with as diverse and as many inputs as possible.

Upon examination, we started to see two distinct categories emerge among this broad variety of digital marketing topics: channels where digital marketers work (e.g. social media, paid advertising), and proficiencies that marketers must have to be successful in those channels (e.g. data storytelling, customer focus). The areas in which marketers work could be further classified into three different types of marketing: paid, earned, and owned.

Digital Marketing Skills

Paid marketing is the type of advertising that is, well, paid for. Paid marketing includes search engine marketing (SEM) and native, video, and display advertisement. Earned marketing cannot be bought or owned. It must be gained organically, driven by the quality of a brand’s content, product, or services (e.g. SEO). And, finally, owned marketing occurs on digital platforms that a brand owns and controls, such as a brand’s website, social media channels, marketing emails, and mobile app.

These three categories represent the majority of channels within the marketing field. While marketers should not be expected to demonstrate expertise in all areas, it is essential that they understand the landscape as a whole and do not maintain a siloed perspective of the field.

Digital Marketing Skills

In addition to three main categories of marketing — paid, earned, and owned — we also identified competencies that marketers needed to exhibit to be successful, regardless of their marketing role. First, all marketers must be able to leverage analytics and testing to inform their work. Marketers who are able to use data to inform their decisions and explain that data in a meaningful way stand out from the crowd.

Digital Marketing Skills

Second, all marketers must have a toolbelt of strategies and frameworks they use to approach their work, such as being customer centric and using an objective-first framework when planning marketing strategy. Marketing is an ever-changing field. Having a strong foundation of marketing strategies and data proficiency provides an anchor to marketers as they navigate these continual adjustments.

Digital Marketing Skills

View an image of the full framework here (click to enlarge):

Digital Marketing Skills

“The future of digital marketing and its critical role/impact on business will require us all to rethink and prioritize the skills and knowledge needed in our marketing organizations. What marketing professionals will need is a combination of both the art of marketing and the science of technology. This mix will be critical for organizations that wish to continually innovate and transform themselves.” — Kim Peretti, Global Head of Digital Learning Services, Adobe

Once we had a sense of the breadth of digital marketing topics we covered, we needed to think about depth. In one course, we may introduce a topic at a basic level, whereas in another we may dive deep to help an existing marketer optimize their performance in a given area. The depth of knowledge of that skill will be very different for these two use cases. Using our newly developed framework, we began to map out the depth to which we teach each digital marketing topic in each of our courses, tagging each competency by the level at which someone could execute. We divided knowledge depth into three categories: explain, apply, and lead, noting that after learning that skill, a student would either be able to explain it to someone else, apply it in their own work, or lead another in developing it. The more you are able to practice a given skill, the deeper your knowledge becomes. This exercise was performed for internal use as a way for us to identify any curriculum gaps and to help our admissions teams better place students in programs based on their incoming skill levels and desired outcomes.

We found this process to be extremely eye-opening and beneficial to the development of our courses. It was important to repeat this process with each of our topic verticals, enabling our business units to get on the same page and be thought leaders in the worlds of business, design, data, and tech education. Since then, we’ve gone through this exercise with many of our other product lines and verticals, identifying the breadth and depth of each course we teach, and developing a framework to compare them, as you can see in this user experience design graphic below.

Digital Marketing Skills

Developing these frameworks is useful for many stakeholders at General Assembly. It enables our instructional design team to identify gaps in curriculum and short-term efforts to address them. On a larger scale, it provides our team us with a better, more deliberate process for entering into new topic areas: Research and build the framework first, then create the programs that align to it.

For our admissions and account teams, it helps to best match GA programs with incoming student and client needs as well as expected outcomes.

And of course, most importantly, it helps our students and clients. Large global companies are actively addressing the marketing skills their teams need to power their digital transformation. For example, one of our clients, L’Oréal, is training its entire marketing team in digital vocabulary and knowledge.

“We at L’Oréal have been working alongside General Assembly to accelerate our capability shift within the business. We are fast evolving away from having a number of digital specialists that support beauty marketers, to having a unified business filled with beauty marketers fluent in a digital age.” — Hugh Pile, Chief Marketing Officer, Western Europe, L’Oréal

With our digital marketing framework, we now have a simple conceptualization of the industry and a way for users to self-identify their own skill gaps to pursue the work they love. At General Assembly, we are ensuring that our courses are not only in line with the industry, but helping to shape it.

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