Before talking about present-day staffing needs in digital, here is a quick look back at the evolution. For a time, digital marketing was a sexy new career choice. People in offline businesses were jumping ship to digital.
Now, though, for any company who sells something, digital marketing is a means to an end: customers need to be followed and serviced in the channel in which they have chosen to interact with the business. First it was offline, then it was the internet, and now it is shifting quickly to mobile. People are choosing digital careers because it is where the jobs are. Al Gore spoke at Internet Retailer a year ago and said that he seldom addresses audiences who are working in double-digit growth industries. In spite of the proliferation of jobs in digital marketing, some choose it above all else because it is an intellectually stimulating and fast-paced industry that satisfies a need for challenge.
Back when people were still jumping ship to digital, ecomm and marketing departments were largely staffed with the digitally-minded, in-need-of-a-challenge type employee. They were early adopters, and there were not a lot of digital jobs back then. Most of these people are now in senior positions elsewhere in digital; whereas, today’s marketing and ecomm departments are fully staffed with lots more digital employees who simply do the work. Digital careers are mainstream: today’s staffers may or may not be intellectually stimulated by their work and chances are, the majority may be in it more for the paycheck.
Herein lies the problem with staffing for digital: technology is advancing faster than the rank and file can keep up with. Early adopters dove right in to master new technologies, but today’s talent pool will use the technology mostly to complete assigned tasks. Most of the best online platforms and technologies are all self-service. The power of some of these tools is amazing, but the staff is only using a small subset of what they can actually do.
It is important to note that the sophistication of the technology used by early adopters was at a level far below where it is today, so it is understandable that today’s staffers use only the bare minimum. An example of this is the multivariate testing technologies such as Monetate and Test and Target. These tools can do some sophisticated ad serving, which is why lots of people initially buy them. But they can also A/B split test landing pages, ultimately creating a totally optimized website. Practically every marketer I have spoken to who has one of these tools does not use it for multivariate testing. Nobody on staff has figured out how to streamline it for testing so it is incorporated in to the day-to-day marketing work. It is a big missed opportunity on the marketing side, but the complexity of the tool exceeds the abilities of the staff to use it. Another example is the availability of scripts in Google AdWords – a great, time-saving, sophisticated way to optimize campaigns en masse, however, beyond the technical abilities of many search marketers to execute.
When a company finds a person (who can be at virtually any level in the organization) who independently seeks out the unknown, figures out the benefits of these technologies, and then masters them, they should be held on to with all their might. These staffers are rare but gold to an organization. I have overseen large staffs of digital marketers, and see only about 1 in 25 who has the curiosity and know-how to fully leverage the great digital technologies most companies already have in-house. Having staff on board who will willingly raise their hand – often without their management even knowing it – to master them is a rare and valuable thing. Keep these people happy and well paid, give them room to experiment, promote them, and let them take credit for their achievements. If they feel as valued to the organization as the organization values them, hopefully you can retain them and ask them if they can train others. One thing certain in this business is that there will always be a new, incredible technology right around the corner, but its power is only as good as the team who is using it.