New research published today (21 May) by the training body Target Internet in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has uncovered a dramatic shift in the digital marketing skills of the sector’s junior level marketers.

Over the past two years, the skills of the marketing sectors’ interns, graduates and executives have improved dramatically, while those of the people who manage them have stayed at about the same level and in some areas fallen.

The results come from a benchmarking test of digital marketing skills of almost 9,000 marketing professionals, carried out by Target Internet in 2018 and repeated in 2020.  The test requires professional marketers to complete a series of tasks aimed at testing their knowledge in 12 areas of marketing, with a particular focus on digital. The result therefore is an accurate and comparable assessment of the digital skills of individual marketers.  

In some critical areas, such as data and analytics, social media and SEO, it’s clear junior staff have focused on their development, improving their digital skills to address key customer requirements or to further their careers. The specialists have become more specialist, improving their knowledge but not breadth of digital skills. Whilst, managers and heads have spread their skills and, in some cases, fallen back.

Two years ago, staff at agencies registered a better level of general knowledge of digital than most. However, there has been a decline in most disciplines, indicating the challenge of staying up to date in an increasingly complex and fast changing world. 

The most striking improvement in skills since 2018 has been among interns, suggesting that the newest generation of marketers are entering the marketplace far more highly skilled than their recent predecessors. 

  • Intern improvement – Interns’ scores on data and analytics skills jumped from 15% to 28%, on digital strategy from 6% to 24% and on general marketing from 12% to 30%. 
  • ’Head’ing downwards – Digital skills among Heads of Department have fallen across many digital disciplines measured by the benchmark, most dramatically on SEO. 
  • Directors are focused elsewhere - Two years ago it was clear the digital skills gap at director level was an issue. This has improved slightly in some cases, but gaps remain.
  • Email in decline – Scores for email marketing have fallen at the same time as industries have become less reliant on email as a marketing channel.
  • Growing complexity - Social Media, Search Engine Optimisation and Usability have all seen slight decreases in scores as these disciplines have become increasing complex.

Gemma Butler, director of marketing of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, said:

“The results reveal, the pace of technology has showed no signs of slowing down and the marketing profession continues to evolve in the range of skills required to be effective. Many organisations have changed marketing structures or staffing requirements to meet market demands. Technical roles such as PPC and SEO have been moved in-house, reducing both the cost and reliance on outsourcing, whilst ensuring those who carry out these roles are truly experts in their field.”

“The complex nature of digital means that marketers need to be continually upskilling themselves just to stay in the same place. The finding that junior marketers are seeing significant investment in their development and increasing their technical knowledge is positive.” 

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Commenting on the results of the benchmarking study, CEO of Target Internet, Daniel Rowles, said:

“The results of this year’s benchmark highlight some great opportunities, and great risks, for all types of business. Those organisations that embrace a culture of ongoing learning really do have the opportunity to stand out. It also shows that when budgets are constrained, cutting training is a counterproductive strategy.”

Methodology: Nearly 9,000 individuals (8,749) were asked a series of questions on 12 core digital marketing related topics. The questions were taken from a bank of questions on each topic that tested both tactical and strategic knowledge. These questions were weighted according to difficulty/ level of specialism, and a percentage score was calculated out of a possible 100%. The benchmark was tested in a range of commercial organisations before being made more broadly available. This was to make sure the results aligned with the reality of an individual’s skills. Questions are regularly updated to reflect the latest industry best practice and are aligned with the Chartered Institute of Marketing professional standards and qualifications. The data was collected and then cross referenced against third party industry data to check for validity. It was also manually reviewed to make sure the individuals and their organisations represented a broad range of roles, organisation type and size within each industry. We continue to collect data on an ongoing basis and this allows us to keep on increasing the sample size, as well as seeing changes over time.

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