How to Cross the Marketing Skills Gap in 2017

January 3, 2017 Kyle Harper

skills gap

Ah, the new year. Fresh calendars are being hung in homes around the world while gyms across the country fill to capacity from a crush of resolutioners looking to improve their health. Packs of cigarettes are thrown away en masse. A wave of new online dating profiles is born. Container stores are stripped clean by all of us looking to “get more organized.” It’s a time of year when many people look to cross a skills gap, change a habit, advance their career, or try something they’ve always meant to do.

So it’s not surprising that so many marketers fall into the same thinking. From specialists looking to diversify their skill sets to move toward management, to marketing neophytes looking to become experts in their favorite field, to managers and marketing directors who want to more specifically understand all the work they manage, literally every marketer can benefit from some form of continued training in 2017.

But as it goes for many New Year’s resolutions: if only it were so simple.

New Year

From random YouTube videos to online graduate degrees, staying educated in marketing (while also still working) presents too many options with too little guidance about where best to turn. What options present the best marketing ROI, if you will, in terms of value gained for time put in?

Goals, Meet Credentials

One of the biggest mistakes that professionals make today is failing to set personal learning goals. It’s one thing to have your eye on a position in the future, and another entirely to have that dream position aligned with specific learning goals that will ensure you arrive on time. In the digital world, marketing skills are developing and changing faster than ever—and marketers who don’t make a concerted effort to keep up will quickly find that all the “experience” they slowly accrue over time is worth less and less in comparison to much younger marketers with full jackets of skill credentials and a couple projects under their belts.

One of the key changes in the marketplace is the rise of new credentials. In years past, universities typically provided formal credentials through undergraduate and graduate degree, while “experience” would slowly accrue and demonstrate worth over a long career. This dynamic has changed. Between the inaccessibility and difficulty of trying to earn a degree while working and the ever-growing demand for technical skills that colleges have difficulty staying up to date on, formal credentials have exploded into a far wider spectrum for marketers. From online learning to certificates and “micro degrees,” employers are becoming increasingly accepting of numerous form of demonstrated knowledge (only about five percent of HR professionals are still holding out against online credentials.)

Choosing what type of learning path is best for you is often just a matter of thinking briefly about what your professional goals are for the immediate future:

  • Self improvement: Maybe you’re looking to reinforce a skill you should already be good at in your position, or you want to stay up to date on the latest changes to your most used platforms. This is an attitude that every marketer can benefit from, and presents some of the best skills gap marketing ROI in terms of time required. Keeping up with platform update blogs or watching some technical instruction videos doesn’t have to take more than a hour of your day, but the knowledge you gain will accrue over time.
  • Position improvement: Are you looking for a raise or another line to pad out your yearly performance review? You might even be looking to hop jobs in the next year, but be feeling uncertain about your resume. Microcredentials or short-term professional development programs are a great way to demonstrate drive and knowledge without investing much (if any) money or time. These will need to have some kind of formal credential process to be of any use on a resume or in a conversation with your manager, so make sure to read up on your programs value before committing. Employers will also often recommend and subsidize this kind of learning, so consider speaking to your manager or HR department for guidance and support.
  • Career change: There are all sorts of reasons why marketers today might want to make a dramatic career change, whether it’s in response to job security speculation or just general interest in pursuing something new. This represents the biggest change that someone can make professionally, and it’s going to require a bit more than some week long credentials to accomplish. Marketers in this position should look at online degree programs, intensive skill workshops, and other forms of credentials that take more than three months to earn.

It's a new year, and a perfect time to advance your marketing career. But what's the best way for marketers to approach their skills gap in 2017?

What to Learn?

You might have a clearer idea of how you can learn, but that still leaves the big question of what to learn. With marketing becoming an ever more digital and integrated practice, the sheer number of applicable skills can be overwhelming to parse through. Here are some recommendations for best ways to start spanning your marketing skills gap in 2017:

  • For content creators: Spend time trying to learn the technical side of the content you produce. From brushing up on your SEO knowledge to learning about the broader web design sensibilities that affect how your material is distributed, there’s a lot of technical back end that can help improve how you pitch, craft, and optimize your material for clients or your employer.
  • For content distributors: For marketers who spend most of their day positioning and amplifying content across social media, websites, email, or other channels, there are two great ways to improve. From the creative side, think about learning more about copywriting so that your own writing does its best to promote your producers’ work. From the technical side, automation is becoming an ever increasing part of how we interact with communities and distribute material, so taking specialized training on your distribution platforms can help give you an edge in the market.
  • For digital specialists: For those marketers who spend most of their day building tracking and analytics schemes, tweaking PPC campaigns, or advising on web site structure, additional programming knowledge can always provide immediately applicable skills while also helping to future-proof your resume against marketing projects that continue to grow in complexity every day.
  • For marketing leadership: If it’s been a little while since you’ve “been in the trenches” with your marketing team, there are two powerful paths to consider for self-improvement. On the management side, taking the time to read up, practice, or be formally trained in communication can help dramatically improve your team’s success while also improving your ability to “sell” ideas to leadership and stakeholders. Alternatively, taking the time to brush up on a specific area of your marketing workflow can help bring you closer to the work your employees are doing, and likewise improve your ability to help guide decision making that supports your people to do their best possible work.

Ultimately, the best place for any marketer to be is in a mind-set that embraces constant and ongoing learning, whether it’s reading an article every morning or coming home to work on an online degree at night. Credentials can help fill out resumes and interviews, but ultimately they are meant to reflect knowledge and skill sets that should be apparent from the work you do. Seek out ways to learn the most for as little monetary investment as possible (though, excellent learning can sometimes cost) and don’t be afraid to bring your employer into the conversation for both guidance and possibly financial support.

The ever-changing landscape of marketing doesn’t have to be frightening. In fact, it presents an amazing opportunity for marketers to remain dynamic in their careers. But for those who want to remain mobile and dynamic, it will require a likewise ever-growing and dynamic love for learning that spans your entire professional lifetime.

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