Experience doesn’t matter: Industry veterans and aspiring talent are equally qualified to break into digital marketing

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Digital Marketing Vs. Traditional Marketing Skills

All aboard! It’s never been a better time to embark on your digital marketing journey.

We all seek experience. Personally and professionally, experience captures what we’ve done and what we have the potential to do. In hiring, prior experience is used as a shortcut to qualify job-seekers for interviews, job offers, and higher compensation. This shortcut works well in steady fields where the practices of the industry rarely change. If someone has done it before, they can probably do it again.

But does this shortcut work in a field that is dramatically changing? Marketing is an occupation undergoing rapid change. Adults now spend six hours a day with digital media, compared to three hours a day in 2009. As consumers move social, professional, and personal interactions online, advertising has followed. 2016 was the first year that digital media overtook TV as the largest channel for ad spending. Successful digital campaigns now require proficiencies across a host of new platforms, and the question for veterans and aspiring marketers is: Does general experience in marketing still matter?

On one hand, many of the same principles apply across both digital and traditional marketing. All good marketers have to know their target audience, reach them, and engage them. On the other hand, marketing has morphed from an offline world with limited data and imprecision in targeting audience segments, to an online world where every consumer action can be tracked and every campaign can be personalized for micro-audience segments.

In this situation, it turns out that experience does not matter. More specifically, traditional marketing experience does not matter in predicting whether someone is a good digital marketer.

The Credentials division at General Assembly collaborated with marketing industry leaders like L’OrĂ©al, Google, UM, and Priceline to develop digital marketing assessments that help companies determine the capabilities of existing and prospective team members. Together, we recognize that both individuals and companies need a reliable, unbiased way to measure the new skills required in the digital world.

More than 1,000 marketers have now completed the advanced assessment, Digital Marketing Level 2 (DM2). In DM2, candidates have one hour to demonstrate their ability to set up, execute, and optimize digital marketing campaigns. The case studies in DM2 are based on a digital marketer’s day-to-day work, so we were not surprised to find that on average, practicing digital marketers score 22% higher than traditional marketers.

What we then explored was whether years of experience predicted assessment scores among traditional marketers. We expected to see one of two things:

  1. Experienced marketers would outperform newer professionals, indicating that traditional skills may translate over to the digital world.
  2. Newer professionals would outperform their experienced counterparts, indicating that digital natives may hold a natural advantage.

We learned that both hypotheses were wrong. Below are the results of comparing DM2 scores against their years of experience:

Digital Marketing vs Traditional Marketing Skills General Assembly Data

The plot shows a random scatter of data points, where there doesn’t appear to be a relationship between DM2 score and years of experience. To confirm, we calculated the R-squared coefficient, a percentage between 0-100% that measures the relationship between two variables. A higher number indicates a stronger relationship. The R-squared between years of experience and DM2 score is just 0.4% (for comparison, the R-squared between a man’s height and his shoe size is 54%, according to this study).

This means that there is no relationship between experience and performance. This data does not support the notion that deep experience in traditional marketing translates to capability in digital marketing. Similarly, the data does not support the notion that digital natives are generally better at digital marketing.

These results probably shouldn’t surprise us too much. As marketing has changed, industry professionals have expressed doubt in their own digital capabilities, as documented in surveys like this one from The Boston Consulting Group. Participants in the survey rated their own digital skills at just 57 out of 100. At the same time, there is no reason to expect that active use of social media leads to skills in social media marketing, which requires a keen knowledge of customer acquisition cost and lifetime value.

What does this all mean?

For companies, don’t use general experience in marketing as a proxy of capability. Instead, look for a track record of success in digital marketing or, given the short supply in experienced digital marketers, widen the talent funnel and consider a broader range of candidates by using objective measures of digital marketing skill.

For aspiring marketers, there’s never been a better time to enter the profession. Job postings for digital marketers have grown 145% since 2011, according to this report from Burning Glass, with a nationwide average salary of $76,783. It’s an open playing field for anyone who can acquire the skills needed to help businesses grow in our increasingly digital world.

Digital Marketing vs Traditional Marketing Skills Wizard of Oz

It’s a whole new world of opportunity. Gif via Giphy.

As marketing becomes an increasingly data-driven discipline, many of the open positions require analytical or data skills commonly found in fields like finance, business, statistics, IT, and project management. Individuals with these analytical skills, or with the capability to learn them, will be common among marketing executives in the future.

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Discover your talent for digital marketing. Learn on campus or online with General Assembly’s part-time, career-boosting programs. For an objective, industry-benchmarked assessment of your team’s digital marketing capability, explore our leading-edge Credentials program.

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