Digital Marketing Trends 2018

DM1 Lead Graphic

By Kieran Luke

Thousands of people have taken General Assembly’s entry-level digital marketing skills assessment, officially named Digital Marketing Level 1 and affectionately called DM1. We mined data from the tests to see what we could learn about the state of digital marketing today and the people who drive the industry.

Why did we create DM1 in the first place? As educators who teach digital skills to individuals and teams worldwide, we’ve seen that the field of marketing has changed dramatically with the rise of digital media. With consumer habits changing as quickly as new platforms and tools emerge, we’ve seen professionals fall behind in their understanding of the landscape, not even realizing how much they didn’t know about new tools and methodologies.

In 2005, 1 billion people had internet access, and internet users 16 and older spent just under 10 hours online per week. Today, there are nearly 4 billion internet users who are constantly connected through their computers, phones, and smart devices. With consumer attention diverted from televisions and newspapers to browsers and apps, marketing budgets have followed suit. Indeed, 2017 was the first year that marketers spent more money on internet advertising than they did on TV.

To write our exclusive report The State of Skills: Digital Marketing 2018, we analyzed a sample of 10,000 professionals across major Fortune 500 companies, growth-stage startups, and everything in between, who took the DM1 assessment between May 2016 and September 2017. The assessment data includes each test-taker’s overall score as well as their performance in three key skills: calculating results, interpreting data, and applying concepts to solve problems. Assessment problems are posed in the context of six contemporary digital marketing channels (digital advertising, direct marketing, social media, content marketing, mobile, and multichannel), so we also investigate DM1 scores by channel.

We know how many test-takers got each question right or wrong, and, perhaps more interestingly, why they got it wrong when they did.

On top of this, we also have a range of non-assessment attributes that provide insight into who is taking our test: company, industry, function, and job title. We know that a marketer’s exposure to digital marketing differs greatly by the type of company they work for, so we created a broad classification of marketers based on where they work:

  • Corporate marketers are those who work at longstanding corporations; think brand manager at an established CPG company, who has deep experience in traditional channels like television and print.
  • Digital-native marketers are those who work at young companies born in the digital era; think email marketing at a venture capital-backed startup, who has never managed a television campaign.

(For more information about the DM1 assessment and the methodology behind the data in this report, download the full report and view pages 29 and 30.)

Top Takeaways

After poring through our data, here’s what we discovered.

Yes, there is a skills gap. The results from our DM1 data set support the notion of a wide-ranging skills gap between corporate marketers and digital natives. Digital-native marketers outscored corporate marketers on average by 73%.

The skills gap is driven by missing data skills. Across the three types of problem-solving skills assessed in DM1, corporate marketers lagged behind the most in solving calculation problems. In this problem type, digital-native marketers scored 109% better than their corporate counterparts. The most common errors made involved using the wrong steps of marketing funnels to determine conversion rates, suggesting a poor understanding of discrete steps. Elementary math mistakes were also common. For example, we would accept both 1% or 0.01 as the correct answer, but not 0.01%.

The skills gap is also driven by unfamiliarity with technical topics across channels. Corporate marketers scored well on questions that share an offline analogue, such as the process of setting up a campaign, or relate to their own digital experiences within a channel. However, there was a huge drop-off once questions went beyond the high-level concepts and dived into the technical requirements necessary for success. For example, the social media section had one of the lowest average scores, in part because marketers were unaware of the difference between paid and nonpaid social media tactics. Conversely, they were really good at matching audience segments with the best social network for that target, likely because of their own experiences as social media users. Other technical topics that proved difficult included programmatic advertising, A/B testing, and search engine optimization (SEO).

Top digital marketing talent can lie outside of the marketing function. The top 5% of performers on DM1 didn’t just come from marketing — they represented functions including sales, human resources, and information systems. This doesn’t mean traditional experience in marketing isn’t important — marketers still perform higher on average. But it does mean that you don’t necessarily need marketing experience to have some of the core skills needed in digital marketing. This in turn means organizations can’t rely on past marketing experience alone to infer digital marketing skill sets, and can be creative about talent management to highlight alternate pathways to digital marketing roles.

Seniority doesn’t predict skills below VP level. Individual contributors, managers, and directors had similar DM1 score distributions. At these three levels of seniority, there is no evidence to support the notion that more junior marketers are better versed in digital, or that deep marketing experience translates directly to digital marketing. This means that in general, recruiters can’t use marketing experience as a proxy for digital marketing skills. The exception to this is VPs and C-level executives, who scored higher on average, providing evidence that senior leaders either have more of the underlying skills needed or are learning the new skills at a faster rate.

Women outnumber men in marketing. Among DM1 test-takers, the majority were women. This was driven by the strong representation of travel, beauty, and retail industries in our sample, which saw higher prominence of women by 275%, 232%, and 100%, respectively. The pharmaceutical, technology, and industrial sectors saw higher prominence of men by 103%, 43%, and 3%, respectively.

Where Do We Go From Here?

These takeaways have led us to three essential conclusions that, when incorporated into hiring and team-building strategies, can help transform organizations into relevant, competitive, digital marketing players.

1. Professionals need to build data literacy and technical know-how. Marketing leaders need to focus on building the data literacy of their teams and on reinforcing a robust technical understanding of their most important digital marketing channels.

2. Experience isn’t enough. Human resources and recruiting leaders must verify the digital marketing skills of candidates. Past experience and seniority do not provide enough evidence to make strong hiring decisions.

3. Companies should cultivate creative hiring strategies. Leaders can be innovative in how they source talent and highlight pathways into the marketing function to grow the pipeline of candidates.

For more depth behind the takeaways, and a look at the data we analyzed, download the whole paper. We offer a deep dive into the numbers driving our conclusions, including performance around specific questions and topics, and explain what this means in building a world-class modern marketing organization. Learn more about assessing your team’s skills here.

The State of Skills: Digital Marketing

We tested 10,000 professionals’ skills. Here’s what we learned.